November 30, 2009

Episode 18 - The Dark Adventures of H.P. Lovecraft

“The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents… some day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the light into the peace and safety of a new Dark Age.”

H.P. Lovecraft in “The Call of Cthulhu”

Everyone knows Stephen King, everyone knows Edgar Allan Poe, but ask your friends and I bet you'll get the same answer from 9 out of 10: "No, I don't know H.P. Lovecraft. Should I?" Well, there is a strong enough reason why Danse Macabre kicks off its journey through the long list of literary and cinematic horror authors with the candle-carrying fellow pictured above and below. It just wouldn't be possible to continue with the show at this point without introducing the most influential horror writer of the 20th century - Mr. Howard Phillips Lovecraft out of Providence, Rhode Island, United States, born in 1890 and passed on in 1937.

If you're asking yourself whether you've seen any film based on his works, please don't. Although there are numerous films that carry the Lovecraft name, few of them can even begin to compare with the written word. Of course, there's the cult horror comedy known as Re-Animator (1985) based on the short story "Herbert West: Re-Animator" but it's the exception rather than the rule. Besides, the film never deals with the philosophy that festers at the roots of Lovecraft's work and makes this skinny fellow influential to this very day.

OK, so let's try to sum Lovecraft in a couple of paragraphs. As you'll notice, it takes bits and pieces from another author we have discussed i.e. Mary Shelley, and more importantly, every current author of the macabre worth his salt is indebted to some extent to Lovecraft (King and Barker, especially). Well, here it goes...

As deep as the human imagination might seem to us, humanity cannot really grasp concepts that go beyond its existence, beyond that which makes itself apparent. Science does give us new answers each day but it has its limitations. We are as small in the grand scheme of the World as a microbe is small in comparison to us, so how could we ever aspire to understand what lies on the other side of our current knowledge? How could we aspire to control it? To surpass it?

Lovecraft's heroes, stranded before alien civilizations and strange cults, are aware of the power hidden behind these great truths, yet they continue to challenge them in their search for a semblance of real knowledge. When faced with the truths of the Universe, though, these same characters go on to become clinically insane, as true knowledge becomes so horrifying to them that they feel it would be best to shun it. Ignorance would be bliss in face of the horrors they come to know, but still, they try to grasp them and never give up until it's too late.

Lovecraft’s cynicism towards science and human knowledge is pervasive, thus molding dark, brooding worlds where no light can be shed about its ancient, occult secrets, and where mankind faces indescribable horrors, powerless to defend itself against them. Just check out the Cthulhu mythos in all its glory.

This and more is the subject of the 18th episode of the show, originally aired on 2 October (we know we're late with the episodes but we promise, we'll get in step soon!). Musically speaking, it's time for some prog rock via King Crimson and Caravan as well as the perfectly suitable Isis and Nick Gisburne's reading of Lovecraft's early story "The Beast in the Cave".

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