Monday, 30 May 2011

The Silver Key

"The Silver Key", first published in Weird Tales, January 1929.

This is the the twentieth entry in my read-through of the commemorative edition of Necronomicon: The Best Weird Tales of H P Lovecraft.

This story sees the return of Randolph Carter, the narrator of The Statement of Randolph Carter (obviously) and The Unnameable. These two earlier stories form incidents in this longer-term narrative which examines the circumstances of Carter's life and describes his efforts to discover a purpose in life after he loses “the key of the gate of dreams” exiling him forever from a nocturnal revelling in Orientalist fantasies.

Thursday, 26 May 2011

The Shunned House

"The Shunned House", first published in an amatuer booklet that was printed but not distributed in 1924, then in Weird Tales, October 1937.

This is the the nineteenth entry in my read-through of the commemorative edition of Necronomicon: The Best Weird Tales of H P Lovecraft.

It's possible that to really know HPL, you must know Providence, at least in passing. Visiting gives you the scope of his territory, the physical constraints of his days, the shape of the streets and quality of the landscape that shaped his mind. The geography of a place defines it, after all, the places that are easy or hard to get to, the natural borders between districts or neighbourhoods marked by hills or valleys or streams and the agency of human civic planning.

Jane at The Shunned House, just about visible on the left

Sunday, 22 May 2011

The Suspicions of Mr Whicher

The appearance of the detective in real life and in fiction seem to me to be entwined. The autobiography of the great French thief taker Eugene Francois Vidocq seems to have been an influence on both the establishment of the first detective unit in Britain and in Edgar Allen Poe's creation of what many argue is the first literary detective, Auguste Dupin in Murders in the Rue Morgue, published in 1841. The first detective department in Britain was created in 1843.

Detectives quickly started popping up everywhere – Dickens was a big fan of the real life and fictional detectives, and packed his monthly magazine All the Year Round with fictions and features on the new agents of order.

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Cool Air

Cool Air”, first published in Tales of Magic and Mystery, March 1928.

This is the the eighteenth entry in my read-through of the commemorative edition of Necronomicon: The Best Weird Tales of H P Lovecraft.

...for you see I died that time eighteen years ago.
Well, after that run, I suppose it was going to happen that we'd end up with something a little less compelling. It's another one of those “sting in the tail” type stories, like In The Vault or The Hound. It's a favourite HPL trick, and even a few of the better stories aim at this sort of macabre climax – The Rats in the Walls, for example or The Outsider - but I find this kind of shock ending cheapens a horror story. The italicisation of the last line also puts me off these – I have this vision of the narrator turning to me and shouting the punch line in my face while pointing at the scary thing with a big arrow. It could be Vic Reeves actually.

Sunday, 8 May 2011

The Call of Cthulhu

"The Call of Cthulhu", first published in Weird Tales, February 1928.

This is the the seventeenth entry in my read-through of the commemorative edition of Necronomicon: The Best Weird Tales of H P Lovecraft.

This is one of – if not THE - archetypal “Lovecraftian” story. It has all the elements you expect from HPL: dreams; ancient myths; degenerate cults; and impenetrable and incomprehensible ancient horrors. The structure of the story is also typical of what we've come to expect from him: a distant, anonymous narrator; the aggregation of information from diverse sources, the slow build up of suggestion and dread.

Thursday, 5 May 2011

The Immortalisation Commission

The Society for Psychical Research was founded in 1882 by a circle of serious minded Victorian intellectuals who wanted to explore the curious range of phenomena that had manifested across the West (in particular) since about the 1850s. It was an attempt (which still goes on!) to find some order in all those tantalising phenomena that seemed to suggest an invisible world of ghosts, seances, ESP, predictions, reincarnation and all manner of weirdness that hovers the border between science, superstition and mental illness.

Among the founders were the philosopher and fellow at Trinity College Cambridge, Henry Sidgwick, the Classical scholar F W H Myers, who both asserted that when they passed over they'd try and get back in touch. The first part of The Imortalisation Commission tells the story of this pursuit of reliable evidence of an afterlife.