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Tag Archives: The Colour out of Space

Today: An essay about the modern relevance of H.P. Lovecraft, written by someone who is probably much better informed than I am!

colour

The Cultist

I’m not a game person.

the rapture is coming

I never was allowed to play video or computer games as a kid, so I don’t really have the hand-eye coordination or basic know-how to do so as an adult.  And for the most part, I’m fine with that.

rapture3

But sometimes a game comes along that I’m just desperate to play, and when that happens, I make one of my more skilled friends play it for me while I watch over their shoulder.

TRIHAYWBFRFYH-ss-1

I have very patient and wonderful friends.

The Rapture is Here And You Will Be Forcibly Removed From Your Home is one such game.  Thankfully for them, it’s only 20 minutes long.

Buzzfeed (yes, I did find this on Buzzfeed, and no, I am not ashamed of this fact) wrote up a pretty good piece on it.  It’s visually striking but simple.  There’s no real goals, nothing to do.  It’s an exploratory game, and the premise is simple.  The world is ending in 20 minutes.  You have 20 minutes in which to walk around, and do whatever it is one might want to do in the last 20 minutes of the world.

For my money, the stark beauty, the growing oppressiveness, and the feeling of hopelessness encapsulate the best aspects of Lovecraftian horror.  I’d recommend it to anyone who loves the existential side of weird fiction.  If you’re all about the tentacled monstrosities and the protoplasmic jello…well, there’s none of that here.  But it’s only a 20-minute commitment, so I feel comfortable recommending it anyway.

The Cultist

P.S. Does anyone have any recommendations for weird horror games?  I’d love to check them out, and by check them out, I mean holler directions, commentary, and expletives over my husband’s shoulder as he makes his way through them.

When I was 9 or 10 years old, I read both The Andromeda Strain (purchased, if I recall correctly, at a book fair) and The Hot Zone (brought to a family reunion and abandoned by a unknown relative). Now, don’t get me wrong: I was not a brilliant child. HUGE swathes of both books completely evaded me—I think I just unconsciously skipped over everything I didn’t understand. But, to this day, I can’t quite pry either book out of my brain:

The Andromeda Strain: A perturbed 10-year-old’s summary

  1. All your blood will clot instantly.
  2. Everyone in the small town where it originates either dies in seconds or kills themselves in bizarrely elaborate ways.
  3. They cut into one guy’s heart and chunks of spongy blood fell out.
  4. I don’t see why this couldn’t happen in real life.

 

The Hot Zone: An increasingly terrified and despondent 10-year-old’s summary

  1. It’s real. This really happened
  2. The guy on the plane threw up what looked like coffee grounds and then his intestinal lining sloughs off.
  3. Sometimes your testicles swell up and get rotten.
  4. We are all going to die of Ebola.

(Yes, during the Great U.S. Ebola Panic of 2014-15, my parents did congratulate me for being ahead of my time.)

So, this exposure (har!) had three major consequences:

  • It turned me into a life-long hypochondriac
  • It kick-started my interest in medicine and health (although try working that seamlessly that into a graduate or medical school essay)
  • It sowed the seeds that would become my full-blown love of body horror*

 

I would define body horror rather loosely (“Anything that really squicks you out”), although I’m sure there are much better and much more formal definitions**. And, for reasons that may be at least somewhat obvious, I particularly like the horror of contagion. (If you want a fantastic example of this, check out The Best Horror of the Year Vol 2, edited by Ellen Datlow. It’s an amazing anthology, and one of the first stories—and neither Google nor Amazon is particularly helping me out here with title or author—is a very modern take on the Masque of the Red Death in the most satisfying possible way.)

Initially, when I started to write this post, I didn’t think that it would be possible to find good examples of body horror in Lovecraft’s work. I could only think of the gray and brittle wasting of the farmer in “The Colour out of Space”. But there are indeed some good examples if you broaden your definition beyond illness, and I may touch on these in a future post:

  • The devolution of man to pale, maggot-like humanoids of “The Lurking Fear” and “The Rats in the Walls”.
  • The metamorphosis of Innsmouth residents in “The Shadow Over Innsmouth”
  • The monstrous appearance of the Whateley twins in “The Dunwich Horror”

But on the whole, I’d say that these examples take a backseat to the cosmic, indifferent horror that plagued and intrigued Lovecraft to no end. But never fear, lovers of body horror—mythos writers have taken up the torch, and taken it up handily since the 1930’s. Here are a couple of prime examples:

  • “The Hour of the Tortoise”, Molly Tanzer: Excellent depiction of unwilling metamorphosis, plus the only Lovecraft fiction I can think of that makes liberal use of Victorian smut. (Think Fanny Hill.) The smut alone would probably make it worth reading, but it’s an excellent story in its own right.
  • “I Only Am Escaped Alone to Tell Thee”, Christopher Reynaga: An excellent re-telling of Moby Dick: much shorter than the original, and guess how Ahab lost his leg!

But in terms of contagion/disease horror, I can only think of a handful of mythos stories:

Even if you’re not as disease-oriented as I am, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this story, both for its detective-like story arc, as well as the sheer joy the enthusiastic narrator takes in the unusual biology of the Tibetan plains.

“[We arrived]…in the midst of the Summer Grass Festival, which celebrates the harvest of Cordyceps sinenis, the prized caterpillar fungus…Phupten led me several blocks to the café—and what a walk it was! Sidewalks covered with cordyceps!   Thousands of them laid out to dry on tarps and blankets, the withered little hyphae-riddled worms with their dark fungal stalks outthrust like black mono-antennae, capped with tiny spores…never have I seen so many mushrooms in one place, let alone the rare cordyceps; never have I visited a culture where mushrooms were of such great ethnic and economic importance.”

cordyceps100% not made up, for the record: You can find tons of references to cordyceps on alternative health websites.  You eat them.  For your kidneys, apparently.

Let me know if you know of other examples of fear of disease in Lovecraftian works—I desperately want to read more!

The Cultist

 

*Although, for completion’s sake, I’d throw in the original “Violet Beauregarde turns into a gigantic blueberry” from the original Gene-Wilder-as-Willy-Wonka movie. To this day, I’m still faintly amazed they show that to children.

**“Horror fiction in which the horror is principally derived from the graphic destruction or degeneration of the body. Such works may deal with disease, decay, parasitism, mutilation, or mutation. Other types of body horror include unnatural movements, or the anatomically incorrect placement of limbs to create ‘monsters’ out of human body parts.” Thank you, Wikipedia!

Scene 1: I learn of the existence of H.P. Lovecraft on my 15th birthday party. I am handed a package containing both Dreams of Terror and Death and The Road to Madness. They are a gift from my recently ex-boyfriend (with whom I am still desperately in love and grieving the tragic demise of our freshman romance). I raise an eyebrow, but thank him and try really hard not to read anything into it. (In the days that come, I read a lot into it.) As I fret and mope and occasionally sob into my pillow, I pick at the stories. I conclude the following:

  1. Lovecraft really liked cats. A lot. Perhaps too much.
  2. Eldritch is a word. Tenebrous is too. So is diarite, regardless of what Spellcheck claims.
  3. Arcane rituals require Saltes. A buttload of them. Gotta get those Saltes.

Slowly but surely, I make my way. I read it all, even “The Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath”, which (to my uneducated, plebian eyes) is Lovecraft writing Lovecraft fan fiction. A few months later, I borrow Bloodcurdling Tales of Horror and the Macabre from a friend. I read “The Picture in the House” while babysitting, which turns out to be a terrible mistake. I’m a wreck until I hear the dad’s car entering the garage.

Scene 2-2.5: I am a sophomore in college when I celebrated H.P. Lovecraft’s birthday. I still re-read Lovecraft. I have a new boyfriend who loves Lovecraft too. He has a DVD of short films based on Lovecraft stories, and let me watch them when I was sick with the worst cold I’ve ever had. Sitting amidst a pile of used Kleenex and cough drop wrappers, I was amazed. I was enthralled. I had never imagined that the ponderous, Victorian-sounding imagery and unbelievably pompous vocabulary could be translated into something so compelling, so viscerally gripping.

It’s a year after we met. We’ll break up in another year, but right now, it’s Lovecraft’s birthday. We walk to a local bookstore, me in the Miskatonic baseball cap he had bought me, him with a Cthulhu plushie in his shirt pocket. We eat ice cream in Lovecraft’s honor and take our seats to listen to a reading. A professional story-teller will perform “The Colour out of Space”.

A brief word about “Colour”. In On Writing, Stephen King discusses the need to know your strengths as an author. He cited Lovecraft as an example: he avoided dialogue as much as possible, and you only need to read “The Colour out of Space” to understand why. Take, for instance, the freakin’ half-page-long monologue from the dying, plagued farmer as proof: “…can’t git away…draws ye…ye know summ’at’s comin’ but tain’t no use…I seen it time an’ agin senct Zenas was took…” Jesus fucking Christ.

I agree wholeheartedly with King’s assessment, and I’m pissed that this story (of literally all of Lovecraft’s stories) has been chosen. I mentally steel myself against snickering.

30 minutes later, I walk out of the bookstore, silent and amazed. A living voice had lent the story terror that I had never encountered before. How was it possible?

Scene 3: I am in graduate school. I am a biologist. I have a few books of Lovecraft mythos—I’ve learned something about the writers of Lovecraft’s time, how he corresponded and encouraged them, and how they built off what he created. I find it endearing. I find it beautiful. I love to read a story about some imagined god, or cult, and then read another story building off the first. A correspondence that takes years, decades to create, free of competition or judgment. There is no plagiarism, there is only a shared desire to build.

It is, if I’m being honest and I’m in one of my more self-pitying moods, everything I had hoped science would be. And I’ll spare you my thoughts on this, because if you wanted to read about how graduate school is terrible you would read one of the other thousand rant-laden blogs currently in existence. Suffice it to say: the creativity, the curiosity, the open sharing free of ego and judgment that I imagined…they’re not there. Maybe they don’t exist, maybe they never did. Or maybe I just got unlucky, or maybe I just have a bad attitude. Who knows. But Lovecraft fiction fills that void.

I take up running. I’m very slow. I have bad feet, I probably shouldn’t be running, but it helps my mood, it makes me feel accomplished. I run a half-marathon. I fly with my husband to Seattle to run a full marathon. The day afterward, as I stagger around and imagine that this is what it feels like to be 90 (not truly sore, really, but stiff, oh my god so stiff, my muscles can’t react to changes quickly, I stumble and flail and fall easily), we visit a huge bookstore. I make my way (as I do automatically, anymore) to the horror section, and oh my god. I have never seen such riches. I choose one. I choose another.

20 minutes later, I stumble to the register with a comically-large pile of Lovecraft books. The total comes to three digits. I don’t even blink. My husband smiles but does not scold. I am tremendously grateful for this.

Conclusion: I now have a bookshelf of Lovecraft mythos. I’m always on the lookout for new additions. As I read more and more, my tastes are honed. I won’t call them refined, because that suggests some level of expertise that I don’t have. I’m not a Lovecraft devotee. I’ve never read any of his biographies, I’ve seen one documentary on his life that was available on Youtube. But I love these stories. I love to read them, to think about them, to wonder about what makes some amazing, what makes others fall flat. Even the ones I don’t like draw my fascination, because why am I so irritated? This blog represents a distillation of these thoughts. I’m not a writer, but I hope other Lovecraft and mythos fans read this and respond…if only because I want in on that dialogue. I love this community. My hope is for this website to be a contribution, however paltry.

The Cultist