Sunday, 24 July 2011

From Beyond

“From Beyond”, first published in The Fantasy Fan, vol 10, No 1, June 1934

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

. . . . I have harnessed the shadows that stride from world to world to sow death and madness. . . .
This is another of the weaker “shocker” style stories, where HPL tries hard to give a shocking weight to something we all figured out pages ago using the mighty power of italics. Once again the climactic line depends on a revelation that's painfully obvious from the start. I'm finding this a surprisingly common weakness in these stories.

"The Dreams in the Witch House”, for example, keeps going after Gilman's final attack to the “OMG It Was All Real” moment. In “The Whisperer in Darkness”, the real climax comes with the arrival of Akely's final letter, but Wilmarth continues on against all common sense. In “The Dunwich Horror” the problem is slightly different, in that this is more like two stories stitched together, but even so the revelation that Wilbur and the thing in the attic were twins has already been made clear and so the italicised final line can't help but appear bathetic.

Perhaps HPL pursues objective horror at the expense of the subjective terrors that make his stories so vivid. Looking at "The Dreams in the Witch House", for example, again, HPL thinks he's writing a story where – OMG! - the witch legends are true and malignant forces slowly destroy poor Gilman. What I saw, though, was a powerful portrait of mental disintegration, leading eventually to infanticide. Gilman's grisly final fate is the climax of the story, where the subjective and objective worlds collide in a moment of gory catharsis. The story ends at that point, and HPL probably has a paragraph to leave the image in our mind and get out. Instead, he goes on for three pages (and another false ending) before the story finally peters out in a sift of dusty bones.

This is a shorter story, and so the weak ending occupies just a couple of paragraphs. I'm not sure where the story should have ended, but surely nothing could match the promise of Tillinghasts's magnificent demented rant. Imagine this delivered by Vincent Price, Bela Lugosi or Boris Karloff, or even Sam Neil, Jeffrey Coombs or Jeremy Irons (sorry for the extended quote, but it's a beauty):
You think those floundering things wiped out the servants? Fool, they are harmless! But the servants are gone, aren’t they? You tried to stop me; you discouraged me when I needed every drop of encouragement I could get; you were afraid of the cosmic truth, you damned coward, but now I’ve got you! What swept up the servants? What made them scream so loud? . . . Don’t know, eh? You’ll know soon enough! Look at me—listen to what I say—do you suppose there are really any such things as time and magnitude? Do you fancy there are such things as form or matter? I tell you, I have struck depths that your little brain can’t picture! I have seen beyond the bounds of infinity and drawn down daemons from the stars. . . . I have harnessed the shadows that stride from world to world to sow death and madness. . . . Space belongs to me, do you hear? Things are hunting me now—the things that devour and dissolve—but I know how to elude them. It is you they will get, as they got the servants. Stirring, dear sir? I told you it was dangerous to move. I have saved you so far by telling you to keep still—saved you to see more sights and to listen to me. If you had moved, they would have been at you long ago. Don’t worry, they won’t hurt you. They didn’t hurt the servants—it was seeing that made the poor devils scream so. My pets are not pretty, for they come out of places where aesthetic standards are—very different. Disintegration is quite painless, I assure you—but I want you to see them. I almost saw them, but I knew how to stop. You are not curious? I always knew you were no scientist! Trembling, eh? Trembling with anxiety to see the ultimate things I have discovered? Why don’t you move, then? Tired? Well, don’t worry, my friend, for they are coming. . . . Look! Look, curse you, look! . . . It’s just over your left shoulder. . . .
ETA: An H P Lovecraft Encyclopedia informs us that although this story wasn't published until 1934, it was written at the beginning of HPL's career in 1920. Some of the problems in this story, therefore, must spring from inexperience.

There is a movie of this one, from the makers of Re-Animator, but I recall being disappointed by it. I went looking for the trailer (which I found) and happened across this fun video called “From Beyond vs Mr Oizo”, which makes the movie look lots more fun than I remember it.Warning: Includes gore, sexual objectification and cauliflower.

Next up: Through the Gate of the Silver Key

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