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I’ve talked this week a bit about some of the characteristics that I think makes a mythos story authentically Lovecraftian, beyond slavish devotion to his characters (or, at worst, pure imitation of his writing style). I think if I had to chose the most essential element, it would have to be the indifferent universe: the blackness that swallows you up without noticing you, the destruction that’s as automatic and unthinking as a computer algorithm, the despair that comes from recognizing your complete insignificance. But lately, I’ve been noticing a strange element in a number of mythos stories that have really stuck with me: complete lack of concern on the part of the protagonist.

I don’t think that most Lovecraft mythos stories are particularly heart-wrenching—in fact, a lot seem to go out of the way to establish that our protagonist is (at best) pathetic and incompetent or (at worst) a complete asshole, so we don’t get too personally torn up when he’s ripped limb from limb by elder god peeved by how badly said asshole mangled his summoning ritual, or what have you*. But the one way in which we expect to relate to these doomed souls is in our reaction to the unknown: the inability to process what is about to occur, gut-wrenching fear at our eminent destruction, and, on some level, the anger at the knowledge that it was never personal, and there was never a way out. This existential dread typifies this type of weird horror. When the story is stripped of this characteristic, things become immensely bizarre.

In this story, the passiveness of the protagonist leaves me distinctly unsettled. For some context, I had a very vivid dream as a young teenager. It was night, and I was walking up the driveway to my house, when I saw myself standing there, waiting for me on the porch. I didn’t feel any fear or confusion, but a blinding, visceral rage. At being impersonated, maybe, at being replaced in the universe, possibly—but I didn’t pause for a second to figure out where it was coming from. I tackled my doppelganger and started to rip and tear at it with my bare hands, mutilating it however I could. As I rent and tore it more and more, it started to shrink, until eventually it withered into something like those old-fashioned apple head dolls.

apple head dolls


Folk art is terrifying

My point is that I can’t imagine a scenario in which one would give up their own place in the world so easily. But maybe that’s the real point of the story—maybe there was already something so broken, so underutilized in the protagonist that he can slip out of humanity without too much fuss. Maybe it was that emptiness that enabled something—a stack of pillows?—to take his place so effortlessly. And that potential strikes me as truly terrible.

These sorts of stories, I think, turn typical Lovecraft completely on its end, and almost always are stronger for it. I hope I encounter more stories of this nature as I read more—as always, your recommendations are deeply appreciated!

-The Cultist


*I have been surprised, and usually delighted, by more evocative mythos stories, but that’s a post for another day.

**Check out “Possession”, an essay about apartment-hunting abroad by David Sedaris.

***A play on “What we talk about when we talk about love”, by Raymond Carver. I haven’t read it yet, but I suppose I ought to—it might put the story in a different perspective.

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