Tuesday, March 15, 2011

H. P. Lovecraft's "The Nameless City"

That's me with pen & pad in hand as I sit inside ye Fleur-de-Lys Building in Providence, the very building that figures in "The Call of Cthulhu."  I love remembering my four days spent in Providence, one of the supreme highlights of my life as an obsess'd Lovecraftian.  At ye moment I am listening to the H. P. Lovecraft podcast (hopefully ye link provided will take ye there) and their wonderful discussion of "The Nameless City," with bewitching readings from ye tale by the amazing Andrew Leman.  If you have not listened to these literary podcasts, you are really missing out.  They are delightful.  And informative.  The two hosts are delightfully inform'd Lovecraft fans and often bring perspectives to Lovecraft's weird tales that are as unique as they are fascinating.  I'm listening (for ye third time -- these podcasts are so good they can be listen'd to repeatedly) to their discussion of "The Nameless City" because earlier to-night I made a wee video commentary on the tale, & I do not feel I said enough.  I am now preparing to read a weird tale of mine own, set in Sesqua Valley, inspir'd by "The Nameless City."  The podcast offer'd is truly haunting, for throughout one hears the daemon-wind that haunts Lovecraft's tale, & it really enhances the experience.  Superb.

"The Nameless City" has oft been dismiss'd as a bad story.  It is nothing of the kind.  The prose style with which Lovecraft penned the tale has been condemn'd as bad, as overblown.  Perhaps I am a clueless yob who cannot recognize bad writing when it swims before my eyes -- but I find the writing of this story smooth, poetic and effective.  As often with Lovecraft, we do not know if we can rely on the narrative to be an authentic presentation of reality; it could be the relating of a dream, of a vision spawn'd in lunacy.  This adds to the beguiling mystery of the tale for me. 

In the first volume of his biography of H. P. Lovecraft, I Am Providence, S. T. Joshi has some ungenerous things to say about the story.  (One of the real pleasures of I Am Providence are its fascinating and informed discussions of Lovecraft's fiction.)  S. T. writes of "The Nameless City":  "The absurdities and implausibilities in this tale, along with its wildly overheated prose, give it a very low place in the Lovecraft canon.  Where, for example, did the creatures who built the nameless city come from?  There are no indications that they came from another planet; but if they are simply early denizens of the earth, how did they come to possess their physical shape?  Their curiously composite nature seems to rule out any evolutionary pattern known to earth's creatures.  How do they continue to exist in the depths of the earth?  The narrator must also be very foolish not to realise at once that the entities were the ones who built the city.  Lovecraft does not seem to have thought out the details of this story at all carefully."  Now this is simply absurd criticism.  Had Lovecraft explained any of these things, he would have ruptured the mystique of the spectral race and robbed the story of much of its atmosphere.  This is like saying that, in my tales of Sesqua Valley, I should explain the origin of the valley's shadow-spawn, these queer creatures with silver eyes who spill into reality from a realm of otherness.  I have no intention of explaining any of this.

"The Nameless City" remains one of my favorite tales by H. P. Lovecraft, despite maturity and repeated readings.  So there.


  1. A reread of this is in order! Thanks for the reminder.

  2. HPL repeatedly said his aim was to create a mood with his writing. Nothing can kill a mood faster than over-thinking. Analysis is fun & can enhance the pleasure of reading but sometimes it can get in the way of the pure fun of reading. Ain't it great tho? Going on a century & HPL can still stir up passionate disputes.