Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Cold Unyielding

Oh, this compulsion that draws me to act of madness.  Oh, this itching in my fingers, to go to ye blog of Daniel Jose Older and reassure him yet again that his head is up his arse.  I must resist.  Older, for ye whut don't know, is the fool who has begun a petition to replace the image of H. P. Lovecraft as the World Fantasy Award with that of Octavia Butler.  This Older thug calls Lovecraft "a terrible wordsmith," and that is suffice to reveal his complete inadequacy as a literary critic.  But, stop--I do not need to reply again to the blog of this grotesque idiot, because S. T. Joshi has done so, brilliantly.

To seduce me away from my stupid compulsion (I do no good on these blogs, because people see my pro-Lovecraft rants as merely the signs of a diseased mind, the reverberations of fanboy fanaticism), I spent ye morning reading the wondrous essay, "'The Outsider,' the Terminal Climax, and Other Conclusions," by Robert H. Waugh and found in his book from Hippocampus Press, The Monster in the Mirror: Looking for H. P. Lovecraft.  I then listen'd to Roddy McDowall's reading of "The Outsider" -- and that always reminds me that it was the gift of this record from a neighbor who owned a record store, back when I was a young teenager, that served as my introduction to H. P. Lovecraft.

"The Outsider" seems, still, such an important tale in ye Lovecraft cannon, one that I find hypnotic and full of suggestive depths; and it is the one editorial flaw of The New Annotated H. P. Lovecraft that editor Les Klinger chose not to include the story in that otherwise magnificent edition.  This powerful story affects readers emotionally, and thus it is assumed that it must express some profound mental anguish of Lovecraft's own.  When the story's narrator states, "...I know always that I am an outsider; a stranger in this century and among those who are still men," readers sometimes assume that Lovecraft meant this as an autobiographical pronouncement.  Lovecraft never claimed this, and he came to disown the story as an artistic failure.

There are stories of Lovecraft's that take place in the real world, the world of wakeful men, in solid reality.  Yet even the most scientific of these realities, such as "At the Mountains of Madness," are touched by myth and ye poetry of the Necronomicon.  There is another kind of Lovecraft tale, a kind that intrigues me more and more, and has influenced my own attempts at writing weird fiction, wherein we cannot be certain if the narrative is a memory of a real incident or ye recollection of some dream.  These stories take place on a borderland between mundane reality and the Outside.  Such tales include "The Music of Erich Zann," "The Nameless City,"  and "The Festival."  "The Outsider" is another.  Commentators have found the narrative perplexing, because they are trying to understand it with intellectual logic.  S. T. complains, in his Notes to ye story in his first edition of Lovecraft from Penguin Classics, "On the level of plot, 'The Outsider' makes little sense.  What exactly is the nature of the 'castle' in which the Outsider dwells?  If it is truly underground, how is it that the creature spends time in the 'endless forest' surrounding it?  Taking these and other implausibilities--if the story is to be held to rigid standards of realism--into account, and noting the epigraph from Keats's Eve of St. Agnes, William Fulwiler has suggested that 'The Outsider' is merely the account of a dream.  There is something to be said for this, and this explanation would certainly account for the seemingly 'irrational' elements of the tale..."

Reading Professor Waugh's excellent essay this morning made me focus on the one aspect of solid reality found in "The Outsider" -- "a cold and unyielding surface of polished glass."  This seems to be a reality from which there is no escape, and yet the creature that expresses it is one that rides with the mocking ghouls on the night-wind, an activity that can be experienced, one would imagine, in dream alone.

What can we decide regarding the Outsider's gender?  Mollie Burleson has written an essay in which she explains why she considers the creature female--but I find the essay unconvincing, as it seems, to me, to paint a limiting and uninspired picture of that which constitutes womanhood.  However, I find the idea intriguing, and in the novella that I have recently written with David Barker, "In the Gulfs of Dream," I have presented the Outsider as one of female gender.  Professor Waugh writes (THE MONSTER IN THE MIRROR, page 115), "Since this is a first-person narration, the 'I' prevents the specificity of either 'he' or 'she' from being uttered (as I have tried to avoid those words, though 'it' is surely unsatisfying also); we cannot know whether the Outsider is a man, woman, or a something to which gender is indifferent..."  But I think it is clear that H. P. Lovecraft saw the Outsider as male, for the first three words of the story are, "Unhappy is he..." (my emphasis.)

This is one example of why I find the superb weird fiction of H. P. Lovecraft endlessly fascinating, to ye point of obsession.  I have not mention'd ye prose style of the story, which Lovecraft described (if indeed he was speaking of narrative style in this statement), as representing " literal though unconscious imitation of Poe at is very height." (Selected Letters III, page 379).  That's a delicious word--"unconscious."  Lovecraft blasted the prose style of the story years after writing it, and seems to be the reason why he came to dislike the story; but I find the prose exactly right, and very beautifully evocative.  Each time I read or listen to the story, I delight in it more than ever.  It is a classic example of that wondrous creature we call "Lovecraftian horror."

[postscriptum:  I found that I cou'd not resist returning to Older's anti-Lovecraft blog one last time; but instead of calling him rude names I concentrated on promoting the genius of H. P. Lovecraft.  Older mocked me because I used the word "genius" in reference to E'ch-Pi-El--but I found another writer who has also used the word, in a scattering of pre-publication reviews of Leslie S Klinger's forthcoming The New Annotated H. P. Lovecraft:
"Erudite and informed, often playful, just as often dryly funny, Klinger's remarks open up a breathtaking, authoritative, affectionate vision of this cherished but often misunderstood genius of weird fiction."  --Peter Straub, author of Koko and A Dark Matter, editor of H. P. Lovecraft's Tales from The Library of America.]


  1. What a wonderful blog post. I, too, am enamored of The Outsider. I re-read it every year or so, and I like it more each time.

    - Matt

  2. It is rare to find a person whose ignorance is rivalled only by their stupidity, but Daniel José Older is such a man. I, too, contemplated expressing such opinions on his blog, but I refrained. It wasn't worth the effort.

  3. Correct, Robert. Those who agree with him will see us as rude ranters, and nothing is accomplished. Rather than insult him, the best response, for me, is to praise H. P. Lovecraft, as a person and artist. This does not mean that we ignore or try to diminish those aspects of his personalty that we abhor--but we see that there is so much more to Lovecraft than his bigotry, and when we read the numerous remembrances concerning him from the people who actually knew him, he shines forth as a very kind and worthy soul, and in most cases as a rather ordinary fellow who possessed an extraordinary imagination.