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June 8th, 2011, 04:11 PM #1
Do you find the following criticism of H.P. Lovecraft to be flawed?
You know, I was just listening to some King Diamond (for those of you who don't know him, he's a very talented traditional heavy metal singer that puts makes a lot of heavy metal concept albums with horror stories in them) and I started thinking about H.P. Lovecraft. I've heard alot of criticisms of him and I have to say one that I definitely don't agree with is the criticism of him veiling the appearance of his monsters/demony critters.
This critism states that him describing his beasties as "maddeningly indescribable to the point it would drive a mortal man mad to look upon it" as a unimaginable cop-out. To me, this simply is not true. From what I've seen, Lovecraft gives you a bit of a peek as to what his monsters look like and then covers the rest up to scare you and really dig into your brain and bother you relentlessly.
To me, this is one of the terrifying cornerstones of gothic horror literature; not what you see, but what you don't see. It's like when you watch a horror film or read a horror book and you hear screaming and you see a shadow on the wall, but that is all you see. You know the individual is undergoing some horrible torment or torture but you don't know what it is. And you want to know, but yet you don't, and that feeling scares the hell outta you.
I think this is one of the many reasons why horror films suck so bad nowadays; because EVERYTHING is shown. You just get so desensitized and it just isn't scary anymore. It actually makes me laugh and I find it hilarious now when a guy gets his brains blown out, that's how desensitized I have become by these piss-poor horror films and I'm sure a lot of folk out there feel the same way.
But anyway, the real question I'm driving at is do you agree with this criticism of Lovecraft or no?
June 8th, 2011, 04:29 PM #2
I'm sort of with you on the horror thing, but not. The Thing was incredibly scary and horrifying (It might have been because I was younger), but it showed you quite a lot.
Anyway; No, I don't think it's a valid criticism. The horror of Lovecraft isn't just the visage of these Old Ones and other creatures, its their very presence and even their existence. It's the way they warp people and turn them into something inhuman and insane. The idea of them being indescribable, from my view point, is to get across how much of an impact they have on one's wits and sensibilities. They're so intimidating and oppressive, even in just their presence, that you just get overloaded.
June 12th, 2011, 03:09 PM #3
Indeed - I think Lovecraft's beasties would have been less horrible if he'd described them in detail. Nothing an author makes up can ever be truely as scary for the reader as whatever your own worst nigthmares are that you use to fill in the gaps.
King Diamond though... (potters off to find his old Mercyful Fate albums)
June 13th, 2011, 12:05 AM #4
It's much scarier to imagine the worst rather than have it presented to you.
When I saw this thread, I thought it would be about his alleged racism or something. It's unfortunate, but doesn't detract from my opinion of his work.
June 13th, 2011, 12:16 AM #5
June 13th, 2011, 03:04 PM #6
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Many readers and critics who don't care for Lovecraft focus on his prose (his abysmal and cyclopean constructions of archaic and eldritch adjectives), the ineffectualness of the majority of his narrators, and the racist undertones of some of his stories. Every so often someone strikes at his non-descriptions of the indescribably indescribable, and sometimes I agree with them, but usually only after I've read several of his stories in succession. I think his stories gain power when read one or two at a time. Most short stories aren't written to be read one after the other, and that may have been especially true for writers for the old pulp magazines. Sometimes what they wrote was a bit too much of the same, story after story.
Still, in the best of his stories, I think Lovecraft implies what the eldritch, tentacled, ichorous thing is through what it’s capable of doing and what the ichorous, slimy, chthonic bugger has accomplished so far. Sometimes he gets carried away, though, as with his descriptions of architecture. But again, in his best works, those descriptions attempt to make his imaginary edifices as ... er ... concrete and textured as possible and indicative of an alien physicality -- again, a more or less indirect way of describing the kinds of creatures that would use such buildings.
I like your comparison to shadows in film. One of my favorite uses is in an old movie, Cat People (1942) in which a tracking shot follows two women along a night-time sidewalk, focusing on first one, then the other, the first frightened and looking over her shoulder ... the second trailing the first from light post to light post ... the camera following their shadows along a long stone wall, first the shadow of the woman in the lead, then the shadow of the woman behind, the shadow of the stalking woman moving swiftly through the light, lost in the darkness, appearing in the next light, then in the next, and ... and in the next light, the shadow of a large cat.
That method of implication is the filmic equivalent of what Lovecraft and many horror writers before and after him tried to do, to imply more than they state. M. R. James did a wonderful job of implying an entity using a bed sheet in “Oh, Whistle, and I’ll Come to You, My Lad”; the sound of hair being brushed indicates a haunting in “The Beckoning Fair One” by Oliver Onions; Ambrose Bierce in “The Damned Thing” and Guy de Maupassant in “The Horla” imply the nature of their invisible entities by what they do.
Somewhat tangetially, I've read a couple of novels in the last few months that do interesting things with Lovecraftian situations: The Mall of Cthulhu by Seamus Cooper (pseudonym?) and House of Windows by John Langan. In a late chapter the former takes a character to Cthulhu's home, R'leyh and very neatly, through careful use of language, indicates how such a different perspective of space and time might appear to our senses. The latter, even more neatly, pulls into the discussion both Lovecraft and Moby Dick, offering a metaphor of the whale beneath the sea as an equivalent to our perception of something greater just beyond us, vaguely discernable through the thinner parts of the fabric between dimensions. Again, both try to illustrate rather than define and describe directly.
June 14th, 2011, 01:02 AM #7
I heard convulsion in the sky,
And flight of angel hosts on high,
And monsters move beneath the sea,
And the sap creeping in the vine.
June 14th, 2011, 08:42 AM #8
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June 14th, 2011, 11:37 AM #9
I think his stories gain power when read one or two at a time. Most short stories aren't written to be read one after the other, and that may have been especially true for writers for the old pulp magazines. Sometimes what they wrote was a bit too much of the same, story after story.
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They lose their power a bit en masse, but singly, purple prose and all, they have a certain something.
And as Randy so clearly writes, despite the weaknesses, the fact that these 70+ year old stories are still being talked about and written about: must be something.
June 15th, 2011, 07:59 AM #10
One big exception. In At the Mountains of Madness, Lovecraft describes the Elder Things in great detail, as frozen specimens are found by the expedition and all but autopsied.
June 15th, 2011, 08:11 AM #11
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By the way, S271, thanks again for directing me to that poem by Pushkin. I'm still thinking about it. What I enjoy about HPL and about the other books I mentioned was their non-reliance on Christianity. Still, Pushkin manages to give a similar feel through the use of Christian symbols and it is effective.