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

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

Sunday, June 30, 2019

Re-reading Lovecraft: The Thing on the Doorstep [1933]

Have I read "The Thing on the Doorstep" before? I'm sure I did at some point in high school. I remember the man-pretending-to-be-a-woman psychic takeover body-swap of the daughter by her old dead wizard father. It shocked me that once Ephraim Waite was ensconced in Asenath Waite's body and vice versa, he murdered his daughter with poison.

Prior to this Asenath was a headstrong young student of her father's arts, a social oddball straight out of a Shirley Jackson short story. A young woman who pined to be male. (Apparently only the male brain can ultimately master the occult.)

"The Thing on the Doorstep" is an occult thriller. A singularly odd choice for Thirties Lovecraft, who was supposed aesthetically to be producing masterpieces of cosmicism, not good-versus-evil yarns like this. But it has its moments, and Lovecraft does not stint.

Narrator Daniel Upton chronicles the nightmarish reversals suffered by his friend Edward Pickman Derby (a decadent trust-fund aesthete) at the hands of daughter and father Waite.  I doubt I'm spoiling the tale to report it ends in tears for one and all.

Chesuncook




But along the way Lovecraft gives a few paragraphs to Chesuncook, Maine. They are fascinating because they are suggestive and not fully spelled-out.



....Edward's calls now grew a trifle more frequent, and his hints occasionally became concrete. What he said was not to be believed, even in centuried and legend-haunted Arkham; but he threw out his dark lore with a sincerity and convincingness which made one fear for his sanity. He talked about terrible meetings in lonely places, of cyclopean ruins in the heart of the Maine woods beneath which vast staircases led down to abysses of nighted secrets, of complex angles that led through invisible walls to other regions of space and time, and of hideous exchanges of personality that permitted explorations in remote and forbidden places, on other worlds, and in different space-time continua.

He would now and then back up certain crazy hints by exhibiting objects which utterly nonplussed me — elusively coloured and bafflingly textured objects like nothing ever heard of on earth, whose insane curves and surfaces answered no conceivable purpose, and followed no conceivable geometry. These things, he said, came "from outside"; and his wife knew how to get them. Sometimes — but always in frightened and ambiguous whisper — he would suggest things about old Ephraim Waite, whom he had seen occasionally at the college library in the old days. These adumbrations were never specific, but seemed to revolve around some especially horrible doubt as to whether the old wizard were really dead — in a spiritual as well as corporeal sense....

Derby had been married more than three years on that August day when I got that telegram from Maine. I had not seen him for two months, but had heard he was away "on business." Asenath was supposed to be with him, though watchful gossip declared there was someone upstairs in the house behind the doubly curtained windows. They had watched the purchases made by the servants. And now the town marshal of Chesuncook had wired of the draggled madman who stumbled out of the woods with delirious ravings and screamed to me for protection. It was Edward — and he had been just able to recall his own name and address.

Chesuncook is close to the wildest, deepest, and least explored forest belt in Maine, and it took a whole day of feverish jolting through fantastic and forbidding scenery to get there in a car. I found Derby in a cell at the town farm, vacillating between frenzy and apathy. He knew me at once, and began pouring out a meaningless, half-incoherent torrent of words in my direction.

"Dan, for God's sake! The pit of the shoggoths! Down the six thousand steps . . . the abomination of abominations . . . I never would let her take me, and then I found myself there — Ia! Shub–Niggurath! — The shape rose up from the altar, and there were five hundred that howled — The Hooded Thing bleated 'Kamog! Kamog!'— that was old Ephraim's secret name in the coven — I was there, where she promised she wouldn't take me — A minute before I was locked in the library, and then I was there where she had gone with my body — in the place of utter blasphemy, the unholy pit where the black realm begins and the watcher guards the gate — I saw a shoggoth — it changed shape — I can't stand it — I'll kill her if she ever sends me there again — I'll kill that entity — her, him, it — I'll kill it! I'll kill it with my own hands!





Jay
30 June 2019




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