December 14th, 2006


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?