Tuesday, November 03, 2020

"The Statement of Randolph Carter" by HP Lovecraft

With Halloween behind me, I got to thinking about possible topics for next year's countdown and it's led me down a rabbit trail. I really enjoyed watching my way through the Friday the 13th films and am considering going through the Nightmare on Elm Street movies next, but I also watched a couple of HP Lovecraft movies this season and they got me thirsty for more. The thing about those though is I don't know if I really want to wait a year for either of them. And when I figured out what I'd need to do for the Lovecraft project, it's more than a month-long thing anyway.

Part of the issue is that I'm not super familiar with Lovecraft's work. I've read maybe six of his original stories, so most of what I know about his stuff is what's leaked into the general pop culture: Cthulhu, the Necronomicon, that kind of thing. I didn't really want to write about Lovecraft adaptations when I've never read the stories they're based on, so that's what I'm doing for a while: cover a different Lovecraft story that was eventually adapted into a movie. Once I finish with those, I'll start watching (in some cases re-watching) the films. 

I had to think about how to organize my approach to the original stories. As was typical of stories submitted to pulp magazines in the early 1900s, many of them were published in a different order than how Lovecraft wrote them. Rather than tackle them in the order in which they were released to the public, I've decided to read them in the order in which Lovecraft created them. 

My understanding is that the so-called Cthulhu Mythos was an idea imposed on Lovecraft's work later and not something that he planned out. Obviously he returned to various locations like Arkham and its Miskatonic University. And the Old Gods are a concept that he used a lot. But it was apparently never his intention to create a cohesive canon. By reading the stories in the order that he wrote them, though, my hope is to see the development of whatever loose continuity there is and create my own canon in the process.

First up is a very short story called "The Statement of Randolph Carter" that Lovecraft wrote at the end of 1919. It's formatted as a transcript of a testimony given by Carter regarding the disappearance of his friend Harley Warren. Carter appears to be under suspicion for Warren's possible death, so Carter recounts his experience following Warren on an expedition to a crypt where Warren hoped to uncover a doorway to the underworld. To make a short story even shorter, Warren went in, but he never came out.

At the risk of offending Lovecraft fans, "The Statement" exemplifies my problems with some of his other stuff I've read. He tends to be very Tell Not Show. Carter doesn't remember much about the evening, which is explained as the result of the horror he experienced, but comes across simply as a way for Lovecraft to avoid filling in details. And once Warren enters the tomb, Carter stays up top listening to Warren describe what he sees via wired transmitter. The horror is all just Warren's freaking out about whatever he's witnessing below:
“I can’t tell you, Carter! It’s too utterly beyond thought—I dare not tell you—no man could know it and live—Great God! I never dreamed of THIS!” 
As short as the story is, this goes on longer than I would like.

But I do like the final line of the story. It's not especially shocking after all that build up, but it's a good, chilling line.

And I like the introduction of one of Lovecraft's recurring themes. Carter explains that Warren became convinced of the existence of a demonic underworld after reading one of his "vast collection of strange, rare books on forbidden subjects" that was "written in characters whose like I never saw elsewhere." I know just enough about Lovecraft to know that forbidden knowledge in ancient tomes is a huge deal, so as I build a canon for myself to compare the movies to, this idea is foundational.

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