Saturday, March 8, 2014

Progress Report

The R’lyeh Tribune is now almost 10 months old—still young for a blog—and features just over 200 posts.  Most of these are reviews or short essays, and reflect the reading I have done of such authors as H.P. Lovecraft, Robert E. Howard, and Clark Ashton Smith, among others.  Since May of last year I have sampled the work of about 30 different authors who were active in the early 20th Century, and ruminated on close to 200 of their short stories.  However, there are still several important writers from this period I have yet to study.  So this is by no means an exhaustive review; I have really only just begun to mine the deep vein of horror, science fiction and fantasy published in the pulp magazines of the 1920s and 1930s.

This is a fascinating body of literature, produced somewhere between the “Radium Age” and the “Golden Age” of Science Fiction, before horror, fantasy and science fiction became more clearly differentiated from each other.  Gadgets and gizmos and pseudo-scientific theories appear in these stories, but so do ghouls and ghosts and the Unausprechlichen.  Science and technology vie with supernatural explanations of the unknown.  Depending on the author, one or the other of these perspectives will win out.  Cosmicism and religious sentiment also struggle in these stories over questions of ultimate meaning and fate.  The tensions among these various perspectives indicate a period of great transition, and more broadly reflect a modern society also going through many rapid changes.   

Admittedly, the pulp fiction of this time contains appalling racism, chauvinism, and a variety of other ‘isms’ that would be considered politically incorrect these days.  These stories are filled with anxiety about miscegenation, subversion, war, disease and loss of the familiar and traditional.  This is the base metal of cultural nightmares transmuted into contemporary horror, science fiction and fantasy—our society’s journal of bad dreams.  To be fair, our own cultural blind spots will probably be undetectable for another 100 years.   Here and there are glimmerings of more enlightened views—or at least what we from our 21st Century perspective would consider enlightened. 

Given the subject and timeframe under study, three authors have so far received more attention than the others:  H.P. Lovecraft, Robert E. Howard, and Clark Ashton Smith.  The plan is to continue perusing the work of the latter two writers, and explore some of the lesser known authors who appeared side by side with them in various pulp magazines.  Readers are welcome to make suggestions or recommendations if I have overlooked anyone of significance.  (At the moment I am thinking of taking a deeper look at the work of P. Schuyler Miller, Wallace West, and Manly Wade Wellman.)

For me, The R’lyeh Tribune has essentially become an ongoing study of H.P. Lovecraft and his colleagues, and perhaps an accumulation of notes for a dissertation I may yet write.  What fascinates me most about the material is the recurrence and development of certain ideas and patterns of imagery:

1.  Why is the color green so often a signal for the approach of the awful or unknown? 

2.  Why don’t any of the lead characters have jobs? 

3.  Why were so many of these authors preoccupied with pre-Christian religious ideas or busy creating their own pantheons of “Elder Gods”?

4.  How are relationships among authors in the Lovecraft circle depicted in the characters of their stories?

5.  Where in this literature is evidence of changing attitudes toward women, minorities, and other cultures?

6.  What form do contemporary advances in science and technology take in these stories?

And so forth. 

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