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.

Part of it, I guess is the suggestion of “ghoulish humour”, that sort of EC comics story where the protagonist's fate is always a painful metaphorical pun on their actions, a PUN-ishment, if you like. When I was a horror movie-obsessed kid, it used to frustrate me that so many 80s horrors were more black comedies than real shockers (that's why Hellraiser was such a revelation). I like black comedy, too, of course, but these stories at their weakest descend into parody and slapstick. Horror and comedy share the characteristic that they are done best when they are played with a straight face.

An H P Lovecraft Encyclopedia points out that this story was rejected by Weird Tales, suggesting that perhaps the gruesome climax made Farnsworth Wright nervous about censorship. On the other hand, perhaps he felt this minor work was below HPL's usual standard.

The final horror of the story revolves around the doctor's de-coalescing corpse. In A Life, Joshi makes an interesting observation about the frigid Dr Munoz, saying “Munoz, clearly, embodies Lovecraft's ideal type: a man who belongs both to the aristocracy of blood and the aristocracy of intellect; who is learned and in his field but also dresses well.” It's another variation on the theme of hopelessness and degradation that HPL's so fond of. Even the urbane Dr Munoz can could do nothing to prevent his eventual decline into, essentially, a pool of runny shit. Like the genteel degenerates Pickman and Robert Suydam, even a man as upstanding as he is doomed to descend to the level of the grossest form of matter.

Next: “The Shunned House


  1. See, this was (I think) the first HPL that I read, and I tend to feel that this is the kind of story best suited to his talents -- kind of funny, but also very stylish. I like him better when he's pretending to be Saki, I guess.

  2. Maybe it has its roots in those sorts of Edwardian tales - M R James stories often have quite fruity tone for something that's supposed to be see scary. It seems a very "trad" approach - it probably covers Roald Dahl as well, and people like R Chetwynd-Hayes.

    It's definitely a popular type of tale, and I would certainly agree that HPL makes a decent fist of it here. It's clear that HPL understood several different takes on the horror tale, I'm just not fond of this particular style, I think.


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