Tuesday, March 22, 2011
I ♥ H. P. Lovecraft
I knew about H.P. Lovecraft by the time I started working for Collectors Bookstore in the Pike Place Market during the early Nineties. Collectors was a small store down just one of the ramps to the lower floors and across the hall from a Chinese cafe that served dim sum. It was run by the same couple that own Golden Age Collectables, the comic book store that has been an anchor store in the Market for many decades. On Collectors's shelves held a wide range of books including many regional titles, cookbooks and a children's section, but they specialized in hardbacks and special editions of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror books.
This is where I learned how popular H.P. Lovecraft's stories are. We barely could keep hardback editions, from the notorious publisher, Arkham House, in stock, they were so popular. Of course, nowadays, years after role-play gaming has brought much of our American fantasy literature alive for younger generations, as well as, film and other popular media, Lovecraft is mined by such popular properties like South Park.
I mention my stint at Collectors because it was at that time that I decided to read some of his stories, which I'd avoided partly because I didn't want to believe what every fanboy (and quite a few fangirls, too) I'd talked to said, "he is one of the best, most influential horror writers of the twentieth century. And his monsters 'kick ass'!" A friend offered to lend me his cherished paperback, collecting short stories by the author. And so, I read.
Lovecraft is not a terribly good writer, his style is similar to many writers who've taken a page from Edgar A. Poe or the lesser known Sheridan Le Fanu; but Lovecraft manages to ease you into his ideas so that by the end of the story you are truly startled by what happens and he does it often without being explicit about what does happen. In other words, he enlists your own imagination against you, so you fill in all the details he leaves out. For example, my favorite story in the collection I read (I don't remember the collection's title now) is "The Music of Erich Zann" which involves little more than the interactions between a lodger and his upstairs neighbor, who happens to play the most strange music at night, keeping the protagonist awake.
You can imagine there will be an intense final encounter with the mysterious musician, but I won't elaborate more, because the story really stuck with me and it is certainly worth tracking down and reading. Anyway, I soon outlined a sequence that I still think would make a wonderful animated film. In researching this post, I stumbled upon a few attempts by people recently who do just that. Nothing notable enough to link, but if you're still interested, a search on YouTube.com will get them. Anyway, as I come across my drawings for the sequence I will make mention of them.
Now for the above illustration, which unfortunately is something of a spoiler if you haven't read the story it's from. I don't remember the story name, so perhaps you will be surprised anyway. I barely remember the story, but I think it was about an old abandoned cathedral on the top of a hill. A man sees lights in one of the cathedral towers and later decides to investigate. The protagonist climbs to the top tower where he encounters recent evidence of someone performing an occult ritual, burnt candle wax and charcoal markings on the floor. One of the tower windows is boarded up and the cracks filled with fabric. Upon breaking back some of the boards the protagonist encounters a creature that carries his likeness, but is naked, has wings growing out of his back, his hair is frizzed out and his feet are blackened, as if he was hit by a bolt of lightening.
My attempt to research this story didn't elaborate further, but short of rereading all of Lovecraft's writings, which I think I would enjoy, I still do not know if the seraphim-type creature is unique to this story or occurs again. I was so taken by Lovecraft's description of it, that I had to draw my version of the moment before the protagonist opened the shut window. I had a distinct impression that the wings were not typical or traditional, i.e. bat-style or bird-style, but more like fans or fins. After reading these stories I began creating my own impressions of his creatures, based on dreams I had featuring them. I will have to dig around to find them before I can post them here.