I’ve often believed that my daughter’s dream job would be a marine biologist. She loves the sea and everything in it and is rarely happier than when she’s in water. At the moment she still wants to be a vet, scientist, astronaut, teacher, doctor, mermaid AND unicorn (simultaneously) which delights me no end. Anything is possible for her, as long as the sea is involved somewhere.
It’s just that it’s not really a passion I share. I alternate by being fascinated by deep sea creatures – tales of giant squid and coelacanth are catnip to my soul – and being convinced that everything in the sea is there to kill me. If I’m honest, stories like Dagon don’t help. It’s basically the tale of a sailor adrift in a small boat who happens upon a strange – somewhat fishy – island. Traversing the same, he comes across gigantic statues of hybrid fish/men and other creatures not known to science. He loses his mind when he believes one of these creatures appears from a chasm and worships at the statues and wakes in hospital some months later.
It’s often stated that we know more about the surface of Mars than we do about the depths of the oceans and this is probably true. How else can one explain creatures believed to be extinct suddenly reappearing decades later? In truth, we simply don’t know what is lurking at the bottom of the Marianas Trench. While I doubt that there is an entire piscine civilisation or tentacled gods of the deep plotting against the creatures of the land, I can’t entirely rule it out. I can just say I think it’s a bit unlikely. Makes a blooming good story though.
A fellow blogger has written extensively about this story and how the sea inspired a great many of Lovecraft’s creepiest tales. We shouldn’t be surprised; there is something about sailors’ yarns that attract an audience – perhaps because most of us will never spend any significant time at sea, we have slightly romantic notions about what it is like. And, of course, there is no way a non-sailor in Lovecraft’s day could possibly correct stories of sea monsters or underwater cities. It’s a good introduction to his Cthulhu mythos and may even be enough to put you off paddling on the shore for a good few years yet.
It’s been interesting reading HP Lovecraft – a man who’s works I don’t really like but I can’t resist reading, just to remind myself why I don’t like them – recently, in particular his well-known story “Herbert West: Reanimator”. It would be churlish of me not to admit that it is one of my favourite of his stories and I think that because it is one of his longer tales, Lovecraft has managed to develop and construct a very chilling story. The other reason why I like it so much is because I seem to see how the idea that started way back in Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein” has evolved and developed into something much – MUCH – scarier. Make no mistake, “Herbert West: Reanimator” is not bedtime reading.
The main subject of both tales is the reanimation of the dead; both main characters start off as medical students, but their taste for “unhallowed arts” results in isolation and obsession. Each has a dedicated assistant, usually unnamed, but is instrumental in finding and transporting the corpses and also keeping a record of events, without which, obviously, we would have no stories. The main difference is in the result of the experiments; we don’t really hear a great deal about Victor Frankenstein’s early experimental failures, and his final triumph is both intelligent and articulate. Herbert West tells a different story on this point; we see a number of failures, some which do not reanimate at all, and some which become mute, bestial and incredibly violent. If I’m pushed, I would have to admit that Lovecraft’s version of events seems a little more realistic, both in terms of the results and the scientist’s frustration that he seems so near and yet so far to a “perfect” result.
Of course, the resurrection of the dead is not a new idea; it’s in the Bible, after all. It’s the idea of a scientific reanimation which is new and it’s interesting to see how two very different authors approach the subject a century apart. Obviously, science and medicine have both developed considerably since Mary Shelley wrote her classic, but there is a humanity to her story which simply isn’t in Lovecraft’s tale. That said, Lovecraft ends on a wonderfully supernatural note, a path which Shelley chose not to tread – and it doesn’t feel at all out of place.
Both stories are interesting reads; similar and yet so different. It would be interesting to see how this idea develops further in the hands of other authors; so I’m going to find my copy of Pet Semetary and see how we get on there.
Not that I wish to cast aspersions on HP Lovecraft’s character – I’m not sure it’s possible, given some of his stories – but I do wonder what kind of person writes so much about opening tombs and the contents found therein. It’s rather ghoulish if I’m honest; although that might just be jealousy because I’m still trying to work out how so many different tales can be written on such a basic framework. Let’s face it, there’s nothing like a bit of grave robbery to unleash a Pandora’s Box of hellfire and fury, is there?
One of my favourite crypt-kicking tales is “The Statement of Randolph Carter”. Written in the form of a statement given to someone investigating a disappearance, it tells a very pragmatic story of two young men, involved in a variety of occult studies, deciding to open a tomb in a long-deserted graveyard and see what can be found. It reads like a piece of reportage. There’s not a lot of backstory; we are briefly introduced to the characters and then we’re off to the tomb. I’ve read this tale a few times now and I’m still not entirely sure what it was they were going to do down there!
What I did like was the use of contemporary technology; these days we would have mobile telephones but Carter and his companion have the use of a portable telephone with considerable lengths of cable. This adds to the horror of the story, as Carter never actually SEES anything; he only hears firstly Warren’s reaction and then a strange voice telling him that Warren is dead. And there the story ends. It’s very short but incredibly effective and illustrates what can be achieved in the space of a couple of thousand words.
I think this was one of the first Lovecraft stories that I read – it certainly was one of the first that made an impression on me and even if I forgot the title, I remembered the last line clearly. It’s one of those Lovecraft stories that make me forgive his inherent racism and misanthropy and poorly written tales! I just wish there were more like it, that’s all.