oy, old age........
I am at page 410 of Lovecraft and a World in Transition, and as I devour'd the marvelous essay on The Case of Charles Dexter Ward, I ask'd myself, "Why have I never seen this essay before??!!" Reading the essay made me ache to begin a new reading of the novel, and so I got out me hardcover of the annotated edition from University of Tampa Press -- and, of course, this essay that I had "never read before" is the Afterword of that book, & I have read it more than once.
I remember watching the 1992 film version, The Resurrected, and thinking that Chris Sarandon as Curwen was a stunning portrayal--and it occur'd to me that part of the power of his performance came from the fact that it was true to the character as Lovecraft wrote it. This helps to confirm my belief that Lovecraft was indeed capable of creating memorable characters, people that stay within one's imagination and are effective as story props. Lovecraft's characters are, in fact, perfect for the part they play in the story; any elaboration of them in an attempt to bring them more to life wou'd have been an artistic error. We need not know more about Erich Zann to be moved by the mystery of his existence, that existence wherein he seems to exist half in the real world and half in dream. Indeed, "The Music of Erich Zann" is one of those fabulous tales that leave one questioning--was it real, or a dream? Does this fantastic street and the house of nightmare where the story takes place historical fact, or is the entire story a confused retelling of what was naught but dream? And what a seductive dream--for although the narrator flees the realm in terror, he is soon consum'd with trying to relocate, to return to nightmare.
Some clueless twat at alt.horror.cthulhu, who obviously has no understanding of Lovecraft, wrote "Lovecraft wrote simple prose, albeit in a depressed, possibly mentally infirm, mien--he never contemplated the deviant evolution which followed. Fans and mimics changing the tenor of his stories which were written for money with which to pay rent and buy food." Everything in that statement is stupidly false, and The Case of Charles Dexter Ward is but one example of why. The story, Lovecraft's lengthiest work, was not written for money, was never polished and submitted to a publisher, and is written in a gorgeous style that is anything but "simple." I imagine Lovecraft wrote for the reason I write--we are compelled to do so. We are, first and foremost, writers, and to write is our existence. There is next to no money in it. This short novel is one of the many pieces that HPL compos'd after returning to Providence from two years in New York, and he thought so little of it that he couldn't be bothered to type and submit it to publishers, even though they asked him for something longer than short stories. We are lucky that Grandpa didn't ultimately destroy the manuscript, as he destroy'd so may other experiments that he consider'd failures.
The novel pulls me into it, each time I return to it. I was so temp[ted to read it in the ARC I received of The New Annotated H. P. Lovecraft, where it is amply illustrated and annotated by editor Les Klinger; but I decided I wanted to wait and read the novel in the actual hardcover edition of Klinger's book, so I am re-reading the hardcover from U of Tampa Press. I am always struck by the hints concerning Yog-Sothoth and black magick. That Ward is a novel of black magick cannot be deny'd, containing a similar kind of alchemy to that found in "The Dunwich Horror." This is ageless magick, spawn'd Outside mortal time & space, incomprehensible and fatal to humankind. Whatever Yog-Sothoth is, he/it is absolutely not a mere alien from outer space (indeed, none of Lovecraft's daemons or monsters can be so simply defined, they are far too original and contain aspects of Outsideness that are more than "cosmic").
Ah me--how I wish sometimes that I was an actual scholar, so that I cou'd explain with precision why The Case of Charles Dexter Ward is a great work of art. I can express only my passion for it, as a fan. Happily, there are others who understand why Lovecraft is excellent Literature.