Tag Archives: Lovecraft

“Pickman’s Model” by H. P. Lovecraft: An Exploration of Art and Horror

Art has the ability to express that which standard forms of communication are unable to convey. This is particularly true when it come to the expression of the deeper regions of the subconscious. Often, these recesses contain our darkest thoughts, the fodder from which our nightmares take shape. It is this realm that the artist in this tale by Lovecraft delves into for inspiration.

You know, it takes profound art and profound insight into Nature to turn out stuff like Pickman’s. Any magazine-cover hack can splash paint around wildly and call it a nightmare or a Witches’ Sabbath or a portrait of the devil, but only a great painter can make such a thing really scare or ring true. That’s because only a real artist knows the actual anatomy of the terrible or the physiology of fear—the exact sort of lines and proportions that connect up with latent instincts or hereditary memories of fright, and the proper colour contrasts and lighting effects to stir the dormant sense of strangeness. I don’t have to tell you why a Fuseli really brings a shiver while a cheap ghost-story frontispiece merely makes us laugh. There’s something those fellows catch—beyond life—that they’re able to make us catch for a second. Doré had it. Sime has it. Angarola of Chicago has it. And Pickman had it as no man ever had it before or—I hope to heaven—ever will again.

Artists who explore these darker regions of the psyche are skirting the fringes of insanity. But often, an artist must temporarily let go of sanity in order to glimpse the internal landscapes which provide inspiration for truly powerful creations.

He shewed me all the paintings and drawings he had about; including some pen-and-ink sketches that would, I verily believe, have got him kicked out of the club if many of the members had seen them. Before long I was pretty nearly a devotee, and would listen for hours like a schoolboy to art theories and philosophic speculations wild enough to qualify him for the Danvers asylum.

Lovecraft uses tunnels and wells as symbols for the entry and exploration of the buried realms of the subconscious. When the characters enter the cellar and uncover the well, leading down into the tunnels below Boston, they are symbolically letting go of their fragile sanity and opening themselves to the darker mysteries of the psyche.

My host was now leading the way down cellar to his actual studio, and I braced myself for some hellish effects among the unfinished canvases. As we reached the bottom of the damp stairs he turned his flashlight to a corner of the large open space at hand, revealing the circular brick curb of what was evidently a great well in the earthen floor. We walked nearer, and I saw that it must be five feet across, with walls a good foot thick and some six inches above the ground level—solid work of the seventeenth century, or I was much mistaken. That, Pickman said, was the kind of thing he had been talking about—an aperture of the network of tunnels that used to undermine the hill. I noticed idly that it did not seem to be bricked up, and that a heavy disc of wood formed the apparent cover. Thinking of the things this well must have been connected with if Pickman’s wild hints had not been mere rhetoric, I shivered slightly; then turned to follow him up a step and through a narrow door into a room of fair size, provided with a wooden floor and furnished as a studio. An acetylene gas outfit gave the light necessary for work.

The danger that artists face when exploring the subconscious is that they may ultimately plummet into insanity, losing all touch with the world of light and getting lost forever in the realm of shadows.

Richard Upton Pickman, the greatest artist I have ever known—and the foulest being that ever leaped the bounds of life into the pits of myth and madness. Eliot—old Reid was right. He wasn’t strictly human. Either he was born in strange shadow, or he’d found a way to unlock the forbidden gate. It’s all the same now, for he’s gone—back into the fabulous darkness he loved to haunt.

Creative people should never shy away from looking into the depths of the soul for inspiration. But they should do so with care. It’s important to stay grounded when unlocking the forbidden gates of the mind.

Thanks for stopping by. Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section below.

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“The Music of Erich Zann” by H.P. Lovecraft

Illustration by Andrew Brosnatch

This short story is unique in its subtle creepiness and explores the way that art, especially music, can directly affect a person’s psyche. Hence, it is way more psychologically unsettling than a straight-out horror story. There is also some great symbolism used here, which we will examine.

The tale is narrated in first person by a student of metaphysics in an unnamed city, but which appears to possibly be Paris. He describes the area and the prominence of the river.

The Rue d’Auseil lay across a dark river bordered by precipitous brick blear-windowed warehouses and spanned by a ponderous bridge of dark stone. It was always shadowy along the river, as if the smoke form the neighboring factories shut out the sun perpetually. The river was also odorous with evil stenches which I have never smelled elsewhere, and which may some day help me find it, since I should recognise them at once. Beyond the bridge were narrow cobbled streets with rails; and then came the ascent, at first gradual, but incredibly steep as the Rue d’Auseil was reached.

Here Lovecraft is setting up the river as a symbol for the threshold between the two states of consciousness. The crossing over the river, moving through the shadows, represents the shift from normal consciousness to the darker subconscious regions of the psyche.

The protagonist rents a room in this shadowy liminal area and soon hears strange music coming from one of the rooms above.

Thereafter I heard Zann every night, and although he kept me awake, I was haunted by the weirdness of his music. Knowing little of the art myself, I was yet certain that none of his harmonies had any relation to music I had heard before; and concluded that he was a composer of highly original genius. The longer I listened, the more I was fascinated, until after a week I resolved to make the old man’s acquaintance.

The distant strains of the weird music cause the student to experience momentary subtle shifts in his consciousness. He is not able to identify what is happening to him, because his conscious mind is still dominant, but he is beginning to open ever so slightly to the possibility of other states of awareness.

Finally, the student is in the room with Zann, when Zann slips into a reverie and begins to play the strange music, which ultimately leads to the student’s complete shift in awareness.

It would be useless to describe the playing of Erich Zann on that dreadful night. It was more horrible than anything I had ever overheard, because I could now see the expression of his face, and could realise that this time the motive was stark fear. He was trying to make a noise; to ward something off or drown something out—what, I could not imagine, awesome though I felt it must be. The playing grew fantastic, delirious, and hysterical, yet kept to the last the qualities of supreme genius which I knew this strange old man possessed. I recognised the air—it was a wild Hungarian dance popular in the theatres, and I reflected for a moment that this was the first time I had ever heard Zann play the work of another composer.

Louder and louder, wilder and wilder, mounted the shrieking and whining of that desperate viol. The player was dripping with an uncanny perspiration and twisted like a monkey, always looking frantically at the curtained window. In his frenzied strains I could almost see shadowy satyrs and Bacchanals dancing and whirling insanely through seething abysses of clouds and smoke and lightning. And then I thought I heard a shriller, steadier note that was not from the viol; a calm, deliberate, purposeful, mocking note from far away in the west.

At the point in which the student finally experiences his shift to the subconscious, he looks out of the window, which here is another symbol for the separation between the conscious mind and the subconscious. As he peers out, he is actually peering deep into his psyche and becoming aware of the primal darkness that lurks within.

Then I remembered my old wish to gaze from this window, the only window in the Rue d’Auseil from which one might see the slope beyond the wall, and the city outspread beneath. It was very dark, but the city’s lights always burned, and I expected to see them there amidst the rain and wind. Yet when I looked from that highest of all gable windows, looked while the candles sputtered and the insane viol howled with the night-wind, I saw no city spread below, and no friendly lights gleaming from remembered streets, but only the blackness of space illimitable; unimagined space alive with motion and music, and having no semblance to anything on earth. And as I stood there looking in terror, the wind blew out both the candles in that ancient peaked garret, leaving me in savage and impenetrable darkness with chaos and pandemonium before me, and the daemon madness of that night-baying viol behind me.

As a musician, I am keenly aware of the power of music to communicate directly to the psyche. Sounds and tones evoke emotional states in a way that is difficult to explain. For that reason, as well as the superb crafting of language, this tale has earned its place among my favorite Lovecraft tales.

Thanks for stopping by, and feel free to share your comments below.

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Monstress: Issue #05

Monstress_05

So far, I’ve been very impressed with this arc. The writing and artwork are both excellent and the storyline is engaging. In this installment, I was particularly intrigued by a passage near the end that sounded like it could have come from an H.P. Lovecraft tale.

… And then, there are the old gods. We know next to nothing about these mythic beings except that they are creatures of immense and destructive power, who the poets believe once threatened nearly all existence. Now only their shadows haunt the world. Many Arcanics worship them, or attempt to placate them with offerings, but there is nothing divine about the old ones. They are horrors. It is said that the most terrible of the old gods was not banished with its kin — that it yet slumbers in our world. When it wakes, may Ubasti save us all.

Reading this again, it also feels as if the creative team was drawing on Greek mythology as well as tapping into Lovecraft. I see similarities between the old gods and the Titans. I suspect the idea of elder gods is something found in many myths.

Anyway, I just wanted to share an interesting quote. Hope you all found it as thought-provoking as I did. Cheers!

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The X-Files Season 11: Issue #02

XFiles_11-02

As I mentioned in my review of Issue 1 of Season 11, the overarching storyline seems fragmented. And it still feels that way in this installment. But having said that, I confess that I enjoyed this issue.

This issue draws on an episode from the television series that was quite controversial when it aired. The TV episode was called “Home” and was the second episode of Season 4.

“Home” was the first episode of The X-Files to receive a viewer discretion warning for graphic content and the only to have carried a TV-MA rating upon broadcast. Critics were generally complimentary, and praised the disturbing nature of the plot; several made comparisons to the work of director David Lynch. Some reviewers nevertheless felt that the violent subject matter was excessive.

(Source: Wikipedia)

Creepy scene from "Home" episode.

Creepy scene from “Home” episode.

The television episode was basically about the Peacock family, which practiced incestuous inbreeding to keep their family lineage pure. The result was disturbing, to say the least. So in this comic, titled “Home Again” Part 1, Mulder ends up at a secluded farmhouse where the surviving Peacock family has been regenerating. He is captured and informed that he has been chosen to “mate” with the grotesquely deformed mother of the clan.

What intrigues me about this comic is that it bodes well for a possible tie-in to the upcoming X-Files television reboot. It appears that in this season, the writers may be going back and using “unsolved cases” as inspiration for the issues. I really like that and hope that this is the intention. Also, on a personal note, the whole concept of inbreeding and the genetic deformities that result from it is kind of fresh in my mind after reading “The Lurking Fear” by H.P. Lovecraft. It’s kind of strange when things that you are reading have parallels or connections.

Anyway, if you are an X-phile, then you will probably enjoy this issue; if not, you might as well skip it. This is definitely written with a clear target audience in mind, one who is familiar with the X-Files mythos and who has been following the graphic series. As always, feel free to share your thoughts and comments.

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Symbolism in “The Lurking Fear” by H. P. Lovecraft

LurkingFear

This is a tale that is terrifying and disturbing on various levels. It has insanity, cannibalism, inbreeding, and psychological terror, all cast against a dire setting that includes a decrepit mansion in the Catskill Mountains. There is also some dark symbolism woven into the story that adds another level to the horror evoked by this piece. Rather than summarizing the story, though, I am just going to point out some of the symbolism.

Shadows appear frequently throughout this tale, and my interpretation is Jungian, that the shadows which the protagonist sees are the dark, shadow aspect of his own psyche.

As I shivered and brooded on the casting of that brain-blasting shadow, I knew that I had at last pried out one of earth’s supreme horrors—one of those nameless blights of outer voids whose faint daemon scratching we sometimes hear on the farthest rim of space, yet from which our own finite vision has given us merciful immunity. The shadow I had seen, I hardly dared to analyse or identify.

As I mentioned, inbreeding is a theme in this story. The inbreeding is symbolized by tree roots, particularly in the graveyard, where the roots connect the present to the dead ancestors.

The scene of my excavations would alone have been enough to unnerve any ordinary man. Baleful primal trees of unholy size, age, and grotesqueness leered above me like the pillars of some hellish Druidic temple; muffling the thunder, hushing the clawing wind, and admitting but little rain. Beyond the scarred trunks in the background, illumined by faint flashes of filtered lightning, rose the damp ivied stones of the deserted mansion, while somewhat nearer was the abandoned Dutch garden whose walks and beds were polluted by a white, fungous, foetid, over-nourished vegetation that never saw full daylight. And nearest of all was the graveyard, where deformed trees tossed insane branches as their roots displaced unhallowed slabs and sucked venom from what lay below. Now and then, beneath the brown pall of leaves that rotted and festered in the antediluvian forest darkness, I could trace the sinister outlines of some of those low mounds which characterized the lightning-pierced region.

The mansion also figures prominently in this story and is the scene of much of what occurs. The house represents psychological decay, where reason gives way to insanity, the result of inbreeding among the previous inhabitants of the house.

Meanwhile there grew up about the mansion and the mountain a body of diabolic legendry. The place was avoided with doubled assiduousness, and invested with every whispered myth tradition could supply. It remained unvisited till 1816, when the continued absence of lights was noticed by the squatters. At that time a party made investigations, finding the house deserted and partly in ruins.

There were no skeletons about, so that departure rather than death was inferred. The clan seemed to have left several years before, and improvised penthouses showed how numerous it had grown prior to its migration. Its cultural level had fallen very low, as proved by decaying furniture and scattered silverware which must have been long abandoned when its owners left. But though the dreaded Martenses were gone, the fear of the haunted house continued; and grew very acute when new and strange stories arose among the mountain decadents. There it stood; deserted, feared, and linked with the vengeful ghost of Jan Martense. There it still stood on the night I dug in Jan Martense’s grave.

Finally, there is a great scene where the protagonist discovers tunnels beneath a grave, into which he enters and crawls, in search of the daemon. This is symbolic of the protagonist entering into the subconscious mind, burrowing deep into his primordial psyche to the place of his most base animal instincts.

What language can describe the spectacle of a man lost in infinitely abysmal earth; pawing, twisting, wheezing; scrambling madly through sunken -convolutions of immemorial blackness without an idea of time, safety, direction, or definite object? There is something hideous in it, but that is what I did. I did it for so long that life faded to a far memory, and I became one with the moles and grubs of nighted depths. Indeed, it was only by accident that after interminable writhings I jarred my forgotten electric lamp alight, so that it shone eerily along the burrow of caked loam that stretched and curved ahead.

Lovecraft’s genius is that he was able to craft truly scary stories and weave in complex psychological symbolism. This is a great example of his literary prowess and definitely worthy of reading on a dark, October night.

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Chilling Adventures of Sabrina: Issue #1

Sabrina_01

I have been eager to begin reading this graphic tale ever since I read the Afterlife with Archie comics. It took some effort to acquire this first copy (it seems Sabrina is in high demand), but persistence paid off and I luckily came across a copy last week at a local shop.

As with the Afterlife series, the Chilling Adventures of Sabrina is dark, creepy, and reminiscent of horror from the 60s. Stylistically, the creative team draws on writers like Lovecraft, films like “Rosemary’s Baby,” and of course the classic horror comics of the era. All in all, the team has created something fresh and unique while tapping into familiar motifs that have become a part of the darker regions of our society’s collective consciousness.

This first issue traces Sabrina’s early years, from birth to her early teens. Sabrina is a “half-breed,” whose father (Edward Spellman) was a black magician and whose mother (Diana) was human. At age 1, Sabrina is taken from her mother and given to her two aunts to be raised as a witch. Diana resisted and Edward scrambled her memory, then had her committed to a mental institution where she was lobotomized. In a very eerie image, Edward is later depicted as trapped within a tree. It is not revealed why this happened or who was responsible, adding a level of mystery to the tale which works quite nicely.

I think the most impressive aspect of this comic is the wealth of references. The pages are strewn with allusions to occult figures, mythology, literature, and history. I had to look up a couple references with which I was unfamiliar, such as Ed Gein. I discovered that he was a most unsavory character who was a serial killer and body snatcher, exhuming corpses from graveyards and fashioning trophies out of bones and skin. He was supposedly the real-life inspiration for characters such as Norman Bates from Psycho, Leatherface from The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, and Buffalo Bill from The Silence of the Lambs.

The issue leaves off with a very dark cliffhanger, where two foolish teenage girls have summoned a female demon from Gehenna. The imagery associated with this is nightmarish and the implications hinted at suggest that the upcoming installments will be nothing short of terrifying.

The bottom line is, I LOVE this comic and if you are a horror fan I strongly urge you to seek this out and read it. Issue #2 has not yet been released, but I have placed a request for my local comic dealer to hold a copy when it is finally published. One last thing, at the very end of this issue is a short comic strip from the original Sabrina which was published in October 1962. It serves as a nice contrast between the two comics, while at the same time giving a nod to the source of this amazing comic.

As always, feel free to share your thoughts and comments below. Cheers!

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Afterlife with Archie: Issue #6 (Blending Lovecraft and Pop Culture)

AfterlifeArchie_06

Alright, I’ll admit it. I am completely hooked into the Archie horror comics. They are so damn good, I can’t get enough of them. In fact, after reading this issue, I am going to delve into the Chilling Adventures of Sabrina series. I believe there are two or three issues out, so I should not have a problem getting those.

This issue focuses on Sabrina, who is in a mental institution run by Doctor H. P. Lovecraft. There are lots of great allusions to Lovecraft’s writing, which works really well in the story. In addition, the artwork is downright creepy and draws on Lovecraftian imagery that crawled right out of the primordial slime and onto the pages of this comic. At this point, I’m issuing a spoiler alert, because I could not do this review justice without revealing what happens.

Sabrina discovers from another of the youths at the institution that Lovecraft plans to resurrect the old gods.

Erich: Lovecraft? He’s not a doctor, he’s a procurer. He procures for them.

Sabrina: What?

Erich: And Godzilla? From the movies? He’s one of them—one of the elder gods—Yig. Same with the Creature from the Black Lagoon—he’s Dagon.

At the end of the issue, Sabrina is offered as a bride to Cthulhu, who is summoned from the depths. And while the imagery and artwork are outstanding, it is the writing which is really the most amazing aspect of this comic. It is some of the best writing I have ever encountered in a graphic horror publication.

Then they all back away from me, and I’m alone in the Temple of R’lyeh, and I hear it, the sound of thunder… Of the world cracking in half… Of a universe being born… or dying… And it rises in front of me, from beneath the ocean’s depths, where it had been asleep… until I—I—awoke it by reading that spell that was meant to save Hot Dog… It blots out the sun—or maybe the sun simply ceases to be… And in the forever-darkness, I hear Dr. Lovecraft, on the edge of reality, saying: “All hail, Sabrina Spellman, Queen of Carcosa…bride of Cthulhu.”

This passage really captures the psychological symbolism which makes Lovecraft’s stories so engaging. It expresses the surfacing of the darker shadow aspects of the subconscious mind seething up to the forefront of the psyche. I personally got chills when I read it.

I am going on the assumption that this leads into the Sabrina comics, and honestly, I cannot wait to start reading them. This is one of the best graphic series I have ever read. If you are a horror fan, I guarantee you will love these comics.

Thanks for stopping by, and keep on reading!

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