There is another world, but it is in this one.

Paul Eluard. Œuvres complètes, vol. 1, Gallimard, 1968.

Saturday, June 22, 2019

Re-reading Lovecraft: The Colour out of Space [1927].

....They were failing curiously both physically and mentally, and no one was surprised when the news of Mrs. Gardner's madness stole around.

It happened in June, about the anniversary of the meteor's fall, and the poor woman screamed about things in the air which she could not describe. In her raving there was not a single specific noun, but only verbs and pronouns. Things moved and changed and fluttered, and ears tingled to impulses which were not wholly sounds. Something was taken away — she was being drained of something — something was fastening itself on her that ought not to be — someone must make it keep off — nothing was ever still in the night — the walls and windows shifted. Nahum did not send her to the county asylum, but let her wander about the house as long as she was harmless to herself and others. Even when her expression changed he did nothing. But when the boys grew afraid of her, and Thaddeus nearly fainted at the way she made faces at him, he decided to keep her locked in the attic. By July she had ceased to speak and crawled on all fours, and before that month was over Nahum got the mad notion that she was slightly luminous in the dark....

"The Colour out of Space" is Lovecraft at his best. Controlled, calculated, architectural in its groundwork, here the author never lets the old easy pulpish rhetoric drown his material.

In 1945 Edmund Wilson wrote:

....One of Lovecraft's worst faults is his incessant effort to work up the expectations of the reader by sprinkling his stories with such adjectives as 'horrible,' 'terrible,' 'frightful,' 'awesome,' 'eerie,' 'weird,' 'forbidden,' 'unhallowed,' 'unholy,' 'blasphemous,' 'hellish' and 'infernal.' Surely one of the primary rules for writing an effective tale of horror is never to use any of these words....

Wilson makes a serious point, and "The Colour out of Space" is the strongest story where Lovecraft is victorious over his own authorial vices. Granted, there are other ambitious stories of similar finished authority, but "Colour" is the one where brevity is matched with simplicity and real emotional poignancy.

Our narrator at the end is not dragged off while putting the finishing touches on his last journal entry. Beyond "Don't drink the tap water in Arkham," there is no panicky warning to the world. There is only heartrending summation:

....Something terrible came to the hills and valleys on that meteor, and something terrible — though I know not in what proportion — still remains. I shall be glad to see the water come. Meanwhile I hope nothing will happen to Ammi. He saw so much of the thing — and its influence was so insidious. Why has he never been able to move away? How clearly he recalled those dying words of Nahum's —"Can't git away — draws ye — ye know summ'at's comin' but tain't no use —". Ammi is such a good old man....

22 June 2019

No comments:

Post a Comment