Monday, June 24, 2013

1. What Happened to Randolph?

Randolph Carter is a character who appears in several of Lovecraft’s stories, spanning a decade or more of his published fiction.  He appears for the first time in The Statement of Randolph Carter, and then again in The Unnamable.  Later stories that involve Carter include The Silver Key, Through the Gates of the Silver Key, The Case of Charles Dexter Ward, and The Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath. 

He is interesting because in some respects he is not a typical Lovecraft character, and may be an alter-ego or representation of the author himself.  It also appears that he undergoes significant personality change as a result of his several adventures.  What does his development reveal of Lovecraft’s own changing perceptions of his life?

Extensive study has already been done of this character’s traits and fictional biography.  Randolph Carter is also a character in fiction created by other authors.  Over the next several posts I would like to gather some facts about this gentleman and how he changed over time, to get a better understanding of his role in Lovecraft’s fiction.   

Your comments are always welcome, especially if you have any special insights to share on the identity and significance of this character.

The first story in which he appears, The Statement of Randolph Carter, is a short one.  Carter accompanies a friend on an expedition to an abandoned graveyard.  His friend is a dabbler in forbidden knowledge, and while Carter has also explored this subject, he is less enthusiastic and is the more cautious of the two.  His friend descends into an ancient crypt, while Carter remains above, communicating via portable telephone.  Subsequent telephone conversations reveal an unanticipated horror below.

The story is very effective in its sense of urgency and terror.  Carter wants to help his stricken friend, but is paralyzed by fear.  He can hear but not see the awful danger his friend is in down below, and much is left to the reader’s imagination, even the final voice he hears:  “I heard it and knew no more…heard it well up from the innermost depths of that damnable open sepulchre as I watched amorphous necrophagous shadows dance beneath an accursed waning moon.”

Unlike many Lovecraftian protagonists, Carter does not descend, but sits on the surface as someone else goes down instead.  In the story it is clear that he wants to join his friend in the subterranean exploration of the tomb, but is prevented from doing so.  His friend describes Carter as having 'frail nerves', and adds that “…I couldn’t drag a bundle of nerves like you down to probable death or madness.”

Carter is irritated by this, and says at one point early in the story “Warren always dominated me, and sometimes I feared him.”  Near the end of the story, his friend again deters him from going down into the crypt to help him in his distress “and through my fear I felt a vague resentment that he should deem me capable of deserting him under such circumstances.”

So there may be an element of passive-aggression in Randolph Carter.  Did he perhaps feel at some level that his friend Harley Warren got what he deserved? 

Initial Facts and Impressions of Randolph Carter
•He was the close friend, for several years of the late Harley Warren.
•He is fluent in several languages.
•He made a half-hearted study of occult and forbidden subjects, which on occasion also involved digging in an abandoned graveyard.
•He is easily swayed by others, and is more of a follower than a leader.
•He once visited the Big Cypress Swamp, (about 45 miles west of Miami, Florida), at 11:30 in the evening.
•He appears to manage conflict with others in a passive-aggressive manner.
•Some might find him tiresome or annoying.

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