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December 14th, 2006


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01:45 pm - Seeking the Sunset City
Altogether, it was not well to meddle with the Elder Ones; and if they persistently denied all access to the marvelous sunset city, it were better not to seek that city.
    -H.P. Lovecraft, The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath
I've been reading the stories Lovecraft references in The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath and remembering why the Cthulhu mythos interests me so deeply. This started when I picked up a copy of Phil Hine's Pseudonomicon and started reading again. I like Hine's work, really, even if it is more than a little weird sometimes.

Last night I read Pickman's Model and The Cats of Ulthar. I started on The Other Gods and will likely finish that tonight. Also on the list is Celephais. None of these are long stories (The Cats of Ulthar is the shorest), but I am hoping to understand The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath a bit better through reading them, and perhaps one day seek the sunset city on my own.

I am not sure I can explain why Lovecraft's horrors fascinate me so, but they do, probably because Cthulhu, Yog-sothoth, and Shub Niggaruth are not, to me, "real" entities, but rather embodiments of real things that we as humans have not and never will explain. They are not "real" like my gods are, even when I work directly with (or, as the case is more likely, succumb to) them, which is rare in its own right.

Really, it was Hine's article Cthulhu Madness that sparked this interest. Each step into the mythos creates a thirst for a deeper step. The mythos explains things perfectly: the age of a place, the depths of what humans are capable of, and the raw power of primeval nature. In this mythos, answers are not given. In this mythos, answers are felt. Cthulhu does not bring madness; he brings clarity and perspective that are otherwise inaccessible. It is the clarity and perspective that is gained that others believe to be madness.

I like to think of my interest as more sophistocated than the teenager who buys the paperback Necronomicon and tries to scare his parents or friends with it. I don't know whether it actually is. Working with Lovecraftian mythos is strange, in that it draws you in. The world as Lovecraft describes it doesn't make sense to those outside of it, who never enter it. Slipping into the mythos has been described to me as "stupid", "immature", "poorly thought through", and "frightening."

The thing about the Lovecraftian mythos, though, is that it doesn't have any power over those who don't choose to step into its world. When Lovecraft bumps against your world, you can escape easily, so long as you, personally, don't take that first step into the darkness. It's an easy dismissal, an offhand acknowledgement of its fictive and imature nature. It can be written off as simple stupidity or weirdness. Nothing can force you into the Lovecraftian mythos; indeed, the sanity of Thurber, who viewed Pickman's model, is not truly in danger: he avoided the madness merely by refusing to take that first step.

Entering the mythos is something that is done voluntarily. You cannot and will not be dragged in. In every story, as in every initiation into every mystery, everything begins with a voluntary step.

In other news, perhaps Slepnir was a deer, not a horse?

Current Location: Southeast of Disorder
Current Mood: thoughtfulthoughtful
Current Music: "Nautical Wheelers", -JB

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From:episkopos
Date:December 14th, 2006 07:23 pm (UTC)
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Would you mind being quoted on this?

I'm writing a dissertation on the development of mythology and symbolism in Lovecraft's writing, and you've given me a wonderfully quotable viewpoint on the Mythos as a functional belief set.

Thanks for the Hine links as well.
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From:chronarchy
Date:December 14th, 2006 07:29 pm (UTC)
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Of course, feel free. Have you read through the Cthulhu ritual I did?

If you look through my Cthulhu et al tag you might find more interesting posts, too.
From:snakesinspace
Date:December 14th, 2006 07:31 pm (UTC)
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Have you read Cthulhu 2000? Not H.P., but inspired by him. The last story has mention of henro, which I find delightful as I am one.
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From:chronarchy
Date:December 14th, 2006 07:41 pm (UTC)
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Ooh, I have not! I should go find that, obviously!

I wanna be a henro. I will be one day.
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From:ferrelux
Date:December 14th, 2006 08:13 pm (UTC)
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Re: Hines. I also enjoy his stuff a lot, mostly since he does a much better job of making Chaos accessible than Carroll himself ever did, IMNSHO. In fact, I find myself picking up Hines' "Condensed Chaos" about every other year for a refresher.

The thing about the Lovecraftian mythos, though, is that it doesn't have any power over those who don't choose to step into its world.

Hrm, I wonder. That's a chestnut that seems derived from any number of old horror movies -- that whatever is lurking there can't affect you as long as you don't believe in it. I wonder what the implications are if, instead, this presumption is wrong. Relatedly, can any of the other Gods affect you if you don't believe in them. Interesting mind candy....

Entering the mythos is something that is done voluntarily.

Speaking of horror movies, this is a theme that is touched upon in some of Cronenberg's early films (I'm thinking of Videodrome, perhaps, in particular). One may have to actually step into the mythos voluntarily. However, what if the circumstances leading up to entering it leave one with only that choice? Is that entrance then truly "voluntary"; especially if a person doesn't recognize that they've been manipulated by circumstance at every step up to that point?

Now, start to add in elements of Behaviorist Theory (that there is no true "free will", for instance, but that we are only engaging pre-programmed reactions in response to the environment), or Memetics (that certain information itself is viral and has a volition -- or will -- all of its own, which may or may not entice actions in the individuals it "infects").

You could then make an argument that merely knowing about the Mythos is the first of many steps leading to an inevitable immersion in its influence. Further, you could also make an argument that completely unrelated actions far back into one's past were actually careful manipulations designed to bring one "to the threshold", as it were...

Ain't paranoia fun...? ;)

_
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From:chronarchy
Date:December 14th, 2006 08:47 pm (UTC)
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I actually thought a lot about those points you make, particularly about the "voluntary" movement into the mythos, while I was writing it.

I was thinking particularly of the story of Pickman's Model when I wrote that, actually, and remembering the echoes of others.

Thurber is one of those who takes his first step toward the madness and stops there. He becomes enthralled with Pickman's work, and seeks to go deeper. It is the choice to go deeper that allows him to take that step, to actually catch the first glimpses of the madness that is the mythos.

He ends up with about the lightest of experiences one can have with the mythos: he sees it, experiences a taste, and says that he wants no part of it. He burns the picture at the end, and while he will forever live with the fear, it is a fear he can overcome and continue to work through. He says he may never be comfortable with subways or cellars again, but you get the distinct impression that he is still outside the mythos, that he can overcome those fears. In that case, I would probably say that he actually stands on the threshold, but he pulls himself out when he realises he can't handle it. I would liken him to a man who has done all the work to be initiated into a fraternity, but decides not to be initiated. His understanding is imperfect, and I might argue that he doesn't actually know enough to be truly afraid, to be truly incorporated into the mythos.

Pickman, on the other hand, has willfully embraced the mythos. He has stepped into it and been initiated. And I imagine that he, in a situation similar to Thurber's, made the choice to do that.

In At the Mountains of Madness, we have Danforth and Dyer. At the end, Danforth chooses to look back, and Dyer believes he has gone insane. What I would argue has happened is that Danforth, knowing that horror lay behind, made the decision to enter that realm. All the time they were being chased, they are being set up for that moment when they can choose: look and be initiated, or don't look and go back.

What I see the mythos as doing is creating a set of initiatory steps: revelations. Each time you get to that step, it seems more horrible, but in crossing the threshold, it makes a strange kind of sense, ordering the world a bit more. That world-ordering would be opposed to the ordered world that "sane" people see, and thus you appear to have gone insane. The worst joke, I think, is that you, yourself, feel more sane than those who run your asylum: you know what is out there.
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From:chronarchy
Date:December 14th, 2006 09:23 pm (UTC)
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I'd also think that the idea that "if I don't believe in it, it can't affect you" probably isn't the case. There are lots of people and things that become soggoth food throughout the mythos without any warning or initiation into the mythos. Generally, they're like the nameless red-shirts on Star Trek: you know they're not coming out of this alive.

But I find that, so long as you live an interesting life and get some good camera time every few episodes, you're not going to die immediately, which will afford you the choice to enter or exit the mythos as you see fit.

Just don't be a greyface, and you'll be just fine, I think.
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From:maugorn
Date:December 14th, 2006 10:13 pm (UTC)
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Some more good insight into Lovecraft's inspirations can be found in a collection called _The King In Yellow_ by Robert W. Chambers. It's a collection of short stories and you can see the seeds of the Necronomicon in the "cursed" play _The King In Yellow_ that gets referenced in several of the stories. The play seems to be an Oedipus-style tragedy, but with it's staging, and even it's reading, come doom despair and agony.

Personally, I've come to believe that _The King In Yellow_ inspired the song "In The Court Of The Crimson King", but the name was changed for aesthetics and scansion.
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From:chronarchy
Date:December 14th, 2006 10:45 pm (UTC)
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I actually have not read that yet, at least not all the way through. I have wanted to for a long time, though.

I do know that it's one of those really key texts to understanding Lovecraft's influences. I really must read it sometime.
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From:sparkliedragon
Date:December 15th, 2006 01:31 am (UTC)
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And Loki's been to Wisconsin? Not surprised.
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From:romandruid
Date:December 15th, 2006 02:50 am (UTC)
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Did I tell you that I read some Lovecraft this year?

(Please pick your jaw up off the floor, dear.)

Yes, I actually sought out and *reserved* the Joyce Carol Oates edition. Checked it out of the library AND read it. Well... about half of it. I'll be honest -- I gave it my best shot, but I got so bored halfway through "At the Mountains of Madness" that I gave up and took it back to the library. Out of the hundreds and hundreds of books I've read in my lifetime, I could count on one hand the ones I gave up on and didn't finish. And I love detail -- but *OMG* could you puh-lease just get to the heart of the mountains and YOUR POINT?

Sorry, not my bag. Nope, nuh-uh. You can have all my share of the Lovecraft pie, thankyouverymuch. Enjoy.
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From:chronarchy
Date:December 15th, 2006 01:33 pm (UTC)
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Haha. Yes, that is Lovecraft, to a T. I mean, the guy throws so much shit at the wall and hopes that a bit of it will stick that it's overwhelming, and then quickly becomes overwhelmingly boring almost instantaneously. I mean, take, for instance, the second paragraph of The Doom That Came to Sarnath:
It is told that in the immemorial years when the world was young, before ever the men of Sarnath came to the land of Mnar, another city stood beside the lake; the gray stone city of Ib, which was old as the lake itself, and peopled with beings not pleasing to behold. Very odd and ugly were these beings, as indeed are most beings of a world yet inchoate and rudely fashioned. It is written on the brick cylinders of Kadatheron that the beings of lb were in hue as green as the lake and the mists that rise above it; that they had bulging eyes, pouting, flabby lips, and curious ears, and were without voice. It is also written that they descended one night from the moon in a mist; they and the vast still lake and gray stone city lb. However this may be, it is certain that they worshipped a sea-green stone idol chiseled in the likeness of Bokrug, the great water-lizard; before which they danced horribly when the moon was gibbous. And it is written in the papyrus of Ilarnek, that they one day discovered fire, and thereafter kindled flames on many ceremonial occasions. But not much is written of these beings, because they lived in very ancient times, and man is young, and knows but little of the very ancient living things.
"the brick cylinders of Kadatheron"? "the papyrus of Ilarnek"? "the land of Mnar"? "Bokrug, the great water-lizard"?

Most of this stuff isn't really integral to the story, minus Bokrug. And his descriptions: they're dancing when the moon was gibbous? You know he used that word just to sound impressive. And that's just one paragraph of an entire short story.

Lovecraft's major influences were, of course, Poe and Dunsany (he once wrote, "There are my 'Poe' pieces and my 'Dunsany' pieces--but alas--where are my Lovecraft pieces?"). He writes a lot like the two of them do, which makes for a weird sort of synthesis. That descriptive, long-winded style that was so common in those writers and in the early twentieth century pulp sci-fi novels really don't feel right to us now. We're more used to "horror" as we see it in the movies, not as we read it in Lovecraft.

But hey, to each his or her own. :) I'm not surprised that you got bored with the overboard, seemingly pointless detail.

But then, once you start to slip into the mythos that he creates, each of those things, "the brick cylinders of Kadatheron", "the papyrus of Ilarnek", "the land of Mnar", and "Bokrug, the great water-lizard" start to make a strange sort of sense. Of course they would dance when the moon was gibbous: when else would the servants of Bokrug dance?
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From:chronarchy
Date:December 15th, 2006 01:40 pm (UTC)
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I don't think that the call can go unheard. It can, though, be mistaken for something else.

I heard the Call last summer as I stood in the cold winds that nearly pushed me over, penetrated my clothes, and sprayed me with the water from the breaking waves on the rocks twenty feet below, as I stared out into the dark night. I was on rocks above the Atlantic, alone, and there was no question to me what lay beneath the waves just off the Massachusetts coast.

But to anyone else standing there, they might have thought to describe it as "cold" or "magical" or "frightening" or just "windy". Again, it is a question of taking that step and entering that world. Once you do, you will know the Call every time it comes.

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