Friday, July 26, 2013

So Many Tombs, So Little Time

All of Lovecraft’s poetry and stories form an intricate organic whole, with interconnections that link images, themes and characters.  And because virtually all of Lovecraft’s work is autobiographical, he has left his readers an elaborate and detailed map of his psyche.  While each of his stories can stand alone, a deeper appreciation and enjoyment of them can come from reading works at different points in his life and career. 

The Lurking Fear, Pickman’s Model, The Unnamable, and The Hound all contain an evolving conception of a predatory graveyard ghoul.  In the Vault, The Outsider, The Tomb, and The Statement of Randolph Carter are all meditations on what goes on in the crypt ‘after hours’.  The limits and fragility of eternal life are explored in Cool Air and He.  Obsession leading to demonic possession is a theme in The Case of Charles Dexter Ward, The Haunter of the Dark, The Dreams in the Witch House, and The Rats in the Walls.  The author’s fascination with dreams and especially nightmares is clear in such stories as The Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath, Beyond the Wall of Sleep, and The Festival.  These are all general examples of how Lovecraft’s stories interconnect around his favorite topics.

On a more micro level of analysis it is interesting to see how specific images and characters are reiterated in various fictional settings.  In The Tomb (1922), Jervas Dudley falls asleep beside a padlocked crypt and awakens with the knowledge of where the key is located:  it is in an old rotting chest in the attic.  Seven years later, in The Silver Key, an apparition of Randolph Carter’s grandfather tells him where to find a key that will allow him access again to his dreamland: it is also in an ancient ornate wooden box in the attic.  Not only that, but the locked door is in a location very similar to the crypt Dudley explores in his dream—“a haunting sepulchral place whose granite walls held a curious illusion of conscious artifice.”

Near the end of The Tomb, Jervas Dudley is helped by an old servant, an old man who shares his interest in graveyards and necromancy.  The old man confirms the reality of his visions, which everyone else had assumed were psychotic delusions.  This validation by an older man occurs in several of Lovecraft’s stories, among them, The Alchemist, The Strange High House in the Mist, He, and The Festival.

In The Tomb, as Dudley’s obsession with the contents of the old Hyde family crypt grows, he experiences subtle changes in his personality and appearance, and finds himself becoming someone or something else.  He discovers that he is actually related to the Hydes, in fact, he is the last of their line—as Lovecraft was in his family.  The uncovering of an hereditary horror occurs in stories as diverse as The Shadow Over Innsmouth, The Rats in the Walls, and The Case of Charles Dexter Ward.

The fact that The Tomb takes place in and about, well…a tomb…links it to all the other stories Lovecraft has written about grave site explorations and meditations.  In a future post I would like to explore Lovecraft’s preoccupation with graveyards and what lies beneath and beyond them.  Suffice it to say that whenever a character descends in a Lovecraft story—and this action occurs over and over again in his fiction—it almost always is toward the grave.

It seems unlikely that the repetition of images, themes and characters in Lovecraft’s fiction and poetry is mere recycling.  Rather, I believe it represents the author’s heroic struggle to understand and make peace with the issues that troubled him, using a vocabulary of images he arranged again and again in various permutations, in hopes of getting the clearest resolution.  It is what makes reading even relatively minor stories of his like The Tomb compelling and memorable.

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