Friday, January 15, 2016

Ye Antique Critique

I couldn't find my copy of Carter's book on ye Mythos (a friend in Australia sent me ye Panther Horror pb edition some few decades ago), so I order'd an inexpensive copy on Amazon; but to-day, while trying to read ye damn thing, I grew more annoy'd at Lin Carter's critiques of Lovecraft than ever before. Now I know that the book, written in ye early 1970's, was the first full book about Lovecraft to be publish'd, and it was written at a time when so much rancid misinformation concerning HPL was being hurled by clueless idiots; yet, still, so much of Carter's criticism is so harsh that one wonders why he felt compell'd to write the book. Of course, the book is much more than a volume about Lovecraft, being an investigation of the thing we have come to call "the Cthulhu Mythos". The Mythos can put a person into a state of fannish fever--and when I first read this book, I caught that fever big-time. I knew that I had to try and become one of these Mythos guys, to plant myself into that coven of writers.

Of course the paragraph that really gets to me, that makes my blood boil with rage, is this: "Lovecraft was such a bundle of contradictions that he will be the despair of his eventual biographer. How does one deal with a man so quirky and changeful and perverse that within a month after selling his first story to Weird Tales, he turns around and writes a piece of snobbish idiocy to [Frank Belknap] Long such as the following: 'I am well-nigh resilv'd to write no more tales, but merely to dream when I have a mind to, not stopping to do anything so vulgar as to set down the dream for a boorish Publick. I have concluded that Literature is no proper pursuit for a gentleman; and that Wrighting ought never to be consider'd but as an elegant Accomplishment, to be indulg'd in with In frequency, and Discrimination.' In that passage you have much of what I would call the worst of Lovecraft, his weakness and his folly: the absurd pretentions to gentility on the part of a man who had lived barely above the level of utter poverty for three years; the ludicrous self-delusion of thinking himself an "artist"--the snobbishness of spelling "literature" with a capital L..."   I would whisper to Lin Carter's ghost that it was this "ludicrous self-delusion", and Lovecraft's striving to write works of fiction that exhibited the best of his abilities, the effort made toward writing excellent weird fiction, that resulted in H. P. Lovecraft's eventual edition from The Library of America.

What made me toss the book away from me as I was reading it just now in me bathtub was the castigation aim'd at Lovecraft for one of his finest pieces, the prose-poem "Nyarlathotep": "He appears in a story fragment (prose poem?) called Nyarlathotep, and those already familiar with the figure of this devil god, one of the most prominent in Lovecraft's later pantheon, will be surprised to see him appear in this brief tale or sketch as a sort of traveling showman or charlatan. The story (or whatever it is) is unfinished; it is most unsatisfactory, too, and its flawed ineptitude seems to have haunted Lovecraft. He turned the initial impulse behind the yarn into a sonnet...and later employed Nyarlathotep in the Cthulhu stories and elsewhere, as if the original germ of the story, which he had left undeveloped in his initial treatment, haunted him and would not let him move on to other things until he had utilized it to the hilt." Gawd, what a load of clueless idiocy! Lovecraft knew exactly what he was doing when he compos'd his initial prose-poem (Carter seems too stupid to actually grasp the form in which the piece is cast), and wove references to the Strange Dark One in future works as he did with several other entities in his cosmic pantheon. Lovecraft couldn't "move on to other things" after having written this piece? His very next effort is one of Lovecraft's most powerful tales, "The Picture in the House," followed quickly by such outstanding works as "The Outsider" and "The Music of Erich Zann". Carter makes these outlandish statements that have no foundation of truth. He knows little, but assumes much. Of "The Nameless City" Carter writes, "This is now universally recognized as the first of the stories in the Cthulhu Mythos...", and that is entirely untrue, for there are scholars who do not consider the wee story part of ye Mythos at all. Let me go find my copy of LOVECRAFT: A BIOGRAPHY to see what de Camp says of "The Nameless City"...[ha!! in seeking my copy of de Camp's book, I found, instantly, my Panther pd edition of A Look Behind the Cthulhu Mythos, right there in plain sight...] "'The Nameless City'(1921) is the first story of what was later called the Cthulhu Mythos." Thus de Camp, wiriting a few years after Carter's book was publish'd, is agreeing with him chum. He disagrees, however, in his assessment of ye tale: "...the story is rather good of its kind". Carter dismisses it as "not much of a story": "The Nameless City itself is essentially a trivial exercise in Poe-esque gothica". Okay.

My own feeling re: "Nyarlathotep" is that it is perfect as is, and that it is exactly what Lovecraft intended it to be. I agree with S. T. Joshi, who writes in I Am Providence, "The entire prose-poem is one of Lovecraft's most powerful vignettes, and shows how deeply imbued was his mingled terror of and fascination with the decline of the West." The figure of Nyarlathotep has so haunted me that I publish'd an entire book of stories featuring Lovecraft's dark entity. The Strange Dark One appears in S. T. Joshi's Lovecraftian novel, The Assaults of Chaos, and as a major character (Reverend Nye) in Robert Bloch's vastly entertaining novel, Strange Eons. Chaosium has publish'd a source book devoted to Nyarlathotep, and for them Robert M. Price edited an anthology, The Nyarlathotep Cycle. I used to think that my story, "The Strange Dark One," was my ultimate "tribute" to ye Crawling Chaos, but now a few friends have help'd to convince me that it's a poor story, overlong and confus'd, and so I need to write a new really long story concerning Nyarlathotep that will be my essential tribute to this creature that has so haunted me over ye strange aeons of my mortality.

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