In Defence of “Dagon”
The end is near. I hear a noise at the door, as of some immense slippery body lumbering against it. It shall not find me. God, that hand! The window! The window!
Critics find faults with the final paragraph of the tale. For example, how could Dagon physically appear, much less discover the location of the narrator? Well, the man has been writing under a mental strain complicated by drug taking. The monster has already visited him several times (“It is at night … that I see the thing”). Alcoholics may see purple snakes, and this addict’s mind is subject to “a hideously vivid vision”. He hallucinates a sound and a hand. In fairness Lovecraft’s use of reportage through ambiguity--did it happen this way or didn’t it?--is more successful in “The Tomb” and more intricate in “The Rats in the Walls”.
An objection far more troubling is that the paragraph moves the written story from the past to an experience as it happens. The print medium does not support it. This requires performance, as in theater or television or movies or radio or even stream-of-consciousness. For example, in the notorious 1938 The War of the Worlds broadcast by Orson Welles, an announcer is witnessing the fire produced by a Martian heat ray: “It's coming this way. About twenty yards to my right . . . (Crash of microphone ... then dead silence . . .)”. And in the 1956 Godzilla, Raymond Burr plays a reporter who tape-records his reactions as the monster approaches, and he is cut off when the building collapses. It works because taping is live, whereas writing demands an interval, seconds of intervention before an experience is detailed. Possibly for a few individuals (like Lovecraft) writing is as second nature as speaking.
A story with a similar ending is William Hope Hodgson’s The House on the Borderland; HPL hadn’t yet read it but there are parallels, as if through a telepathic link. The diary in that novel concludes “There is something fumbling at the door-handle. O God, help me now! Jesus—The door is opening—slowly. Somethi—" (at least he didn’t add “The window!”). Still, the question is, how likely is someone to write down an experience as it is happening? Publishers Weekly has a 2014 article “12 Books That End Mid-Sentence”, but none of them show that the narrator was cut-off.
Due to its immediacy, the story’s end is much better performed than read. Imagine that after reciting on stage all of the text but the last, the reader turns to the audience and says “The end is near…” (and adds what is equivalent to a stage direction “God, that hand! The window!”) As drama the ending works. Perhaps his stories are most effective when read aloud to an audience--are better than reading them to yourself.
If Lovecraft had been a more experienced storyteller, he would have dropped the ending lines, concluding the story with the previous and poetic, “I dream of a day when they may rise above the billows to drag down in their reeking talons the remnants of puny, war-exhausted mankind--of a day when the land shall sink, and the dark ocean floor shall ascend amidst universal pandemonium.” That seems satisfactory, but he has needlessly piled Pelion atop Ossa with the “appearance” of the monster and the suicide.
Skinner’s Myths and Legends in HPL
Several narratives from Myths and Legends of Our Own Land by Charles M. Skinner have been documented as being incorporated into his stories. The following may or may not also have been used.
1) In “The Rival Fiddlers” a black man has a fiddling contest with the Black Man, who loses--maybe a hint of “The Music of Erich Zann”?
2) “Edward Randolph’s Portrait” concerns a sinister portrait that hung in the home of the royal governors. Later “the picture was seen to be that of a man in antique garb, with a despairing, hunted, yet evil expression in the face, and seemed to stare…” Joseph Curwen’s portrait stares at Charles Dexter Ward.
3) “The Salem Alchemist” searches for the elixir of life, but drinking it before it is finished, finds it an elixir of death. “The Alchemist” bears slight resemblance, and in theme the Salem legend comes closer to that of Nathaniel Hawthorne; indeed, there’s a few stories in Myths and Legends of Our Own Land that are the genesis of several Hawthorne stories, such as “The Minister’s Black Veil”. Numerous Skinner stories involve Indians, but they aren’t a big presence in Lovecraft’s fiction.
Held in Nashville, “Cthulhu Calling 3: A Lovecraftian Art Show” also presented films. *** The Case of Charles Dexter Ward is the Lovecraft contribution to the exhibit “Library Macabre: A Vision of Literary Fright” that Shreveport’s artspace has put on.
The Broken Hours (HarperAvenue, 2014) by Jacqueline Baker has HPL hiring--as though he could afford it--a personal assistant in 1936.
In Morphologies: Short Story Writers on Short Story Writers (Comma Press, 2014) 15 contemporary writers have essays on 15 masters, with Ramsey Campbell tackling HPL. *** The Ashgate Encyclopedia of Literary and Cinematic Monsters (Ashgate, 2014) by Jeffrey Andrew Weinstock includes HPL’s concoctions.
In honor of his birthday, a read-athon was held at the Providence Public Library.
The Moaning Words by Alan Dean Foster involves Cthulhu Mythos cards that are used by mobile gamers.
“Crypt of the Mind: H.P. Lovecraft, St. Michael’s and a Nightmare Vision of Marblehead” will be delivered by English professor Thomas Connolly in Marblehead, home of St. Michael’s Church, the oldest Episcopal Church in New England still conducting services. Retrieved 14 October 2014 from Wicked Local Marblehead.
The Necronomicon crashes the Guardian’s “Libraries in Fiction Quiz”.
The surname appeared in a 1914 New Zealand newspaper.
Poems Dead and Undead (edited by Tony Barnstone and Michelle Mitchell-Foust; Everyman's Library, 2014) includes “Nemesis” and Howard’s “Dead Man’s Hate”. Ironically, no Smith.
Dread Falls Theatre (London) presented in August Father Dagon, based on HPL’s writings. *** The Visceral Company put on in Hollywood H. P. Lovecraft’s “The Call of Cthulhu”. *** Starring as HPL, actor David Crawford performed the one-man show Lovecraft's Monsters at the Edinburgh Fringe.
McFarland is publishing J.R.R. Tolkien, Robert Howard and the Birth of Modern Fantasy by Deke Parsons.
Some Place Names
A) “Irem, the City of Pillars”
Appearing in “The Nameless City” and “The Call of Cthulhu”, it seemed one of those made-up, Dunsanian names, used like Olathoë or Leng for verisimilitudinous effect, but no. The Qurān (sura 89, verses 6-8, 13) spoke of “how your Lord dealt with `Ad Iram of the pillars, the like of which was never created in (all) the lands” on which was poured “a scourge of punishment”. Shades of “The Doom That Came to Sarnath”.
The Richard Burton translation of The Arabian Nights offers “The City of Many-columned Iram and 'Abdallâh ibn Abî Qilâba”, which tells how Shaddâd ibn ‘Ad “wanted to build an imitation of paradise and had gathered all kinds of precious materials, as well as architects, engineers, artists, and laborers from all over the world. Three hundred years later, when the city was finished and Shaddâd was on his way to see it, there came a mighty rushing sound from heaven, destroying them all.”
Lovecraft’s spelling of “Irem” has poetic antecedents. Robert Southey’s 1801 epic Thalaba the Destroyer has Irem as a ruined city. “The Garden of Irem” by Bayard Taylor begins “Have you seen the Garden of Irem?/ No mortal knoweth the road thereto” and goes on to talk of “afrite-guarded treasures”. Richard Henry Stoddard’s “The Black Camel”, in an 1890 collection, has for its second stanza “The world is the garden of Irem,/ Or would be, with one thing more —/ The absence of Death's black camel,/ That is kneeling at every door”. In fiction The Weird Orient: Nine Mystic Tales (1900) by Henry Iliowizi includes “Sheddad's Palace of Irem”.
B) Olney Court and Stamper’s Hill
“... a very old house in Olney Court, on Stampers' Hill, which Curwen was known to have built and occupied.“--The Case of Charles Dexter Ward
“At a town meeting in January , permission was given to such as pleased to erect a fort on ‘Stampers' hill.’ It has been handed down by tradit[i]on, that soon after the settlement of Providence a body of Indians approached the town in a hostile manner. Some of the townsmen, by running and stamping on this hill, induced them to believe that there was a large number of men stationed there to oppose them, upon which they relinquished their design and retired. From this circumstance the hill was always called Stampers’ Hill or more generally, the Stampers. Stampers street passes along the brow of this Hill. At the same meeting another court was erected having jurisdiction over all disputes not exceeding forty shillings in amount. The persons chosen for the judges of this court, were, Roger Williams, Thomas Olney, and Thomas Harris”. Thomas Olney (ca. 1600-1682) was a minister at “the exquisite First Baptist Church”, which HPL attended in his youth and admired up to his death. Ward has several references to the Church and to Baptists in its text.
Described as a Virginia plantation the name may be borrowed from Carfax Abbey in Dracula. However, keep in mind that Lovecraft was an avid reader of Sherlock Holmes, and one of the latter stories (collected in the 1917 His Last Bow) is “The Disappearance of Lady Frances Carfax”; Lovecraft could have seen it earlier in The American Magazine (December 1911), where “Frances” was omitted from the title; while the story is not atmospherically Gothic after the manner of Dracula, coffins and funerals are important to the plot. In 1917 The Clever Mrs. Carfax involves as an amateur detective the famous female impersonator Julian Eltinge, to whom Lovecraft referred in a letter several years later.
As a real place, Carfax is an area in central Oxford, England, the name deriving from the French carrefour ("crossroads"). There is likewise a community in Virginia with the name, though I doubt Lovecraft knew of it--yet on a map it shows up north of Kingsport, Tennessee. I have a hutch, based on Lovecraft’s naming strategy, that he chose “Carfax” due to its sound similarity to the Virginia city of Fairfax. Its first syllable is a half rhyme with that of Carfax. In whatever combination, Dracula, the Holmes story, the movie, and the sound of Fairfax may have reinforced one another in his mind, and the result was Carfax.
D) Rakus (The Case of Charles Dexter Ward)
There’s no Rakus, Transylvania, though several Eastern European places do begin “Rak”. Whence the name? The clue is the Transylvanian locality, which has a popular association with Dracula; in this case I’d vote for a single influence, unlike “Carfax”. One Slavic transcription of “Dracula” is “Drakule”, and by dropping the “D” the result of “Rakule” easily becomes “Rakus”, also a Slavic surname.
The Princess of All Lands (Arkham House, 1979)
The nine stories by Russell Kirk are not much to my taste, though I’m willing to credit them with technical skill, polished prose, and effective storytelling. Most belong to the tradition of the ghost story, and time-travel is a prominent theme. All possess a spine of morality, sometimes mingled with religiousness. I read these awhile ago, and don’t have much recollection of them, hence the sketchiness. In “Sorwoth Place” a man protects a woman from a malevolent spirit. “Behind the Stumps” tells of a tax official who goes to a rural area where he crosses a reputed witch. “The Princess of All Lands” concerns a woman kidnapped by evil people--who may or may not be alive--and the psychic power she has to vanquish them. “The Last God’s Dream” is a fine character portrait of a man relating his journey to old Roman times. “The Cellar of Little Egypt” has murder and its ghostly discovery. “Ex Tenebris” concerns a poor woman being forced out of her home, with a friend in a high place intervening. “Balgrummo's Hell” has an unknown Fuseli and other art in a lord’s home that tempts a thief. The best story, “There's a Long, Long Trail A-Winding”, packs a poignancy as it tells of a good but down-on-his-luck man who interferes in a dastardly attempt from years past. “Saviourgate” is Kirk’s indirect view of Sartre’s No Exit; with an adjustment it could have been an episode of The Twilight Zone.
Martin (Aurora Borealis): At least one title of your useful Chaosium Cthulhu Cycle Series compilation awakened my acquisitive interest. The Antarktos Cycle has several interesting works, but as it turns out some are incomplete and, according to Amazoner reviews, this is a scan, so there are typos. If only there had been copy editing oversight.
David (Sanders Grove Picayune): I welcome the heads up about the new Poe statue in Boston and the background about Poe Square.
Leigh (Mantichore): Thanks for the sleuthing about Maxwell Bodenheim. You can borrow the books about him that you list through your library.
Scott (Continuity): The prose poem “The Abominations of Yondo” “‘evoked many loud, lugubrious and indignant howls from the readers’”. The first paragraph remains the high water mark of evocative, imaginative prose--it’s astoundingly fine and I’ve never read anything better of this nature. The rest of the tale falls off, as it is the only way it could go.
After abandoning piracy an eighteenth-century Englishman with the surname of Carfax is knighted and comes with his new wife to Virginia where they have a great estate and descendants. In “The Rats in the Walls” a man flees from England to Virginia, where eventually there are descendants who own the plantation of Carfax. The first incident occurs in a novel, Atavar, the Dream Dancer (Harper & Bros. 1924) by Arthur B. Reeve. The novel’s date of publication makes it impossible that Lovecraft had read it before his composition. Still there are intriguing circumstances. Called the American Sherlock Holmes, Reeve would have one appearance in Weird Tales (May 1935), an issue he shared with Lovecraft (“The White Ape”). Inventor of the detective Craig Kennedy, he appeared in Pearson’s, The Red Book, Cosmopolitan, etc. where he was probably read by HPL. It’s possible that both he and Lovecraft chose the name of Carfax due to the Sherlock Holmes story (see “C) Carfax”
Fiend Without a Bust
Wikipedia summarizes the 1958 Fiend Without a Face: “The film tells the story of mysterious deaths at the hands of an invisible life-form that steals human brains and spinal columns.” Should members of the World Fantasy Committee vote to rescind the Lovecraft bust, they would prove their immunity from losing one of the stolen human possessions, at least. The reader can determine which.
Did Bob Hope Read Weird Tales?
In the 1940 comedy Gothic movie Ghost Breakers Bob Hope ad libs to the mother of a zombie that he is soliciting subscriptions to “Weird Stories magazine”. What else could this be but Weird Tales--no other magazine had “weird” in the title. (Along with Hope elsewhere mentioning Basil Rathbone and Baby Snooks, this is one of the movie’s references to contemporary culture.) The screenplay was by Walter DeLeon, who drew from a 1909 play The Ghost Breaker by Paul Dickey and Charles W. Goddard, written before the advent of Weird Tales. After DeLeon the most likely suspect to have thrown in “Weird Stories” is Hope or an uncredited writer.
“‘Think you I am credulous enough to believe … that a city was eaten up of rats to punish one Hatto for comparing the poor to mice…?’”--Charles Reade, The Cloister and the Hearth (1861)
Thanks for reading the 2,920 words of The Criticaster (no 82; Esoteric Order of Dagon mailing 168 for Hallowe’en 2014); eventually published online as The Limbonaut (no. 53). Written by Steve Walker in Georgia font, sizes 11 and up.
 This is, of course, an echo of lines from the last paragraph of “The Call of Cthulhu”: “What has risen may sink, and what has sunk may rise. Loathsomeness waits and dreams in the deep, and decay spreads over the tottering cities of men.”
 Quoted from A.J. Droge, The Qurʼān: A New Annotated Translation (Equinox, 2013), 433. See notes 4 and 5, which latter states the “pillars” as “perhaps a reference to the remains of their monumental buildings”. Another reading is “Iram, /With lofty pillars”. “Iram” may refer to a hero rather than a place. See note 6114 in The Holy Qurān : English Translation of the Meanings and Commentary (King Fahd Holy Qurān Printing Complex, [1994?]), 1949.
 Ulrich Marzolph and Richard van Leeuwen, The Arabian Nights Encyclopedia (ABC-CLIO, 2004), 232.
 Collections of the Rhode Island Historical Society, Volume 5 (1843), 117.
 Spoiler alert: the American Magazine advertises the story, “Why should the two mysterious ‘missionaries’ bury Lady Carfax when Lady Carfax wasn’t dead?” (New York Times, 27 November 1911, I16)
 That “drakus” is one of the Bulgarian words for “vampire” is probably a coincidence. See Mercia MacDermott, Bulgarian Folk Customs (Jessica Kingsley, 1998), 66.
 For more on Reeve’s career, consult “Crime: From Sherlock to Space Ships” in Sam Moskowitz, Strange Horizons: The Spectrum of Science Fiction (Scribner, 1976). I suppose it is barely possible that Reeve read “Rats” and thereby got the Carfax and Virginia connection.