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Thread: Lovecraft Q.

  1. #1
    Secondary Hivemind Nexus Rii's Avatar
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    Lovecraft Q.

    WARNING: OBTUSENESS AHEAD

    I recently finished The Shadow out of Time and was left non-plussed by the ending, an ending which is apparently jaw-dropping. Would anyone care to enlighten me as to exactly what the implications of the final passage are that I'm evidently missing?

    To help jog folks' memories, this is the passage in question:

    "No eye had seen, no hand had touched that book since the advent of man to this planet. And yet, when I flashed my torch upon it in that frightful abyss, I saw that the queerly pigmented letters on the brittle, aeon-browned cellulose pages were not indeed any nameless hieroglyphs of earth's youth. They were, instead, the letters of our familiar alphabet, spelling out the words of the English language in my own handwriting."

    Da-da-da-dum.

    Doesn't this merely affirm that the narrator's memories (of having been in aeons past a 'captive mind' in an alien body) were real rather than the dreams he'd previously rationalised them away as? And if so ... so what? I can't imagine any reader ever having thought otherwise even if the narrator has to plot his own course. What am I missing here?
    Last edited by Rii; 14-10-2011 at 12:51 PM.

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    Lesser Hivemind Node ntw's Avatar
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    I think it's all context and your background.

    A similar thing IMHO is the "grand reveal" in Soylent Green, which if you've ever read any 2000AD, only prompts a "meh, so?"
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    Took me some time to realise you re not talking about videogames there...

    I think the point of the end is just to reaffirm what we already know, that he was in fact captive. I think it is more for the protagonist than for us, if it makes any sense. That in the end all his horrible suspicions, dreams and all the stuff he doesn't want to accept, is real. Also you have to bear in mind the time when this was written, there was no 2000AD or movies or comics. At the time it must have had a very different effect to the reader, as he/she had not been bombarded with all the sci-fi/horror stories we have seen since we were young.

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    Lesser Hivemind Node TillEulenspiegel's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by kataras View Post
    I think it is more for the protagonist than for us, if it makes any sense.
    Yes! Lovecraft is so much more about the vicarious horror than actually creeping out the reader.

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    Secondary Hivemind Nexus Rii's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by kataras View Post
    I think the point of the end is just to reaffirm what we already know, that he was in fact captive. I think it is more for the protagonist than for us, if it makes any sense.
    It makes sense, but if that's really all there is to it, well, I'm disappointed and in that light would consider the last third of the story to be a waste of time. The idea of bodily exchanges with time-travelling elder species is an interesting one explored and related well enough, but the exploration of the ruins adds nothing to the reader's appreciation of it.

    And there were certainly elements that could've been used to good effect: we learn very little of the things under the trapdoors wot the Great Race fears and which eventually lead them to abandon their present bodily forms for others in another time and place. Why not have our narrator a little hazier in the past about the future of the Great Race, and have him discover that future in the course of exploring the ruins with the implication that the thing wot the Great Race fled is still there, brooding, with terrifying implications for the future of humanity?

    That would've been far more interesting than spending the last third of the story having the protagonist become convinced of that which (and only that which) he has already related to us.

    Also you have to bear in mind the time when this was written, there was no 2000AD or movies or comics. At the time it must have had a very different effect to the reader, as he/she had not been bombarded with all the sci-fi/horror stories we have seen since we were young.
    This was one of Lovecraft's later tales, first published in Astounding Stories. I find it difficult to imagine that the average reader of the day would (1) not already be familiar with Lovecraft's proclivities and (2) would be surprised at encountering such fantastic material in such a publication.

    And it's not like Lovecraft does this all the time. His tales often feature a narrator relating past events, but most of them are deliberately constructed - often painfully so - so as to leave certain details obscured from the reader until the appropriate time, such that the reader does not have the complete story until, well, the end of the story. The Shadow out of Time is the only Lovecraft tale I've read to have disappointed in this particular fashion, and this coming nearly at the end of my Lovecraftian explorations.*


    * Actually I thought I was done with the superlative At The Mountains of Madness, but learning (via that tale's entry on Wikipedia) of a Lovecraft tale set in Australia caused me to hasten onwards. As it stands I have only The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath ahead before I think I'll call it a day.
    Last edited by Rii; 19-10-2011 at 05:44 AM.

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    Network Hub Donjo's Avatar
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    <a href="http://hppodcraft.com/">I don't have anything to add but if you haven't checked it out already here is the H.P. Podraft!!</a>

    Great for bedtime stories....

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    Secondary Hivemind Nexus Xercies's Avatar
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    Oo I think Dream-Quest was my favourite book of his when i was a bit younger, its a little different since its more of an adventure book then an out-right gothic horror.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Rii View Post
    This was one of Lovecraft's later tales, first published in Astounding Stories. I find it difficult to imagine that the average reader of the day would (1) not already be familiar with Lovecraft's proclivities and (2) would be surprised at encountering such fantastic material in such a publication.
    Lovecraft wasn't the first to use a similar plot (in fact he was inspired by Berkeley Square, a 1933 film with a similar theme). It really depends on how familiar you are with Lovecraft's work as a whole on what you get out of it, in effect the story is an inversion of his usual tropes. I guess you could see it as Lovecraft playing with his audience - those who were familiar with his work would be expecting the usual mind-shattering horror to be revealed at the end of the story, usually just as the protagonist had pieced together the puzzle. Here we have a reversal; the eldritch horror occurs before the start of the story and we simply have the narrator confirming it.

    Also it is implied the hideous things under the trapdoor are still around. This is really one of his more overt sci-fi stories than a horror piece though, his own explanation is that he'd been intrigued by the notion of time travel as presented in the film (in which an American is transported back to 18th century London where he meets his ancestors) but saw some issues with the idea of bodily time travel; he considered the method utilised by the Great Race of Yith to be the answer to those perceived problems.

  9. #9
    Secondary Hivemind Nexus Rii's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Xercies View Post
    Oo I think Dream-Quest was my favourite book of his when i was a bit younger, its a little different since its more of an adventure book then an out-right gothic horror.
    So far it reminds me of Poe's "The Thousand and Second Tale of Scheherazade" in its rapid-fire transition from one fantastical situation to the next. I can only read a few pages at a time - it'd all blur together otherwise, which would be a pity as there's some fantastic stuff here.

    EDIT: OMG he met Nyarlathotep!

    Quote Originally Posted by archonsod View Post
    It really depends on how familiar you are with Lovecraft's work as a whole on what you get out of it, in effect the story is an inversion of his usual tropes. I guess you could see it as Lovecraft playing with his audience - those who were familiar with his work would be expecting the usual mind-shattering horror to be revealed at the end of the story, usually just as the protagonist had pieced together the puzzle. Here we have a reversal; the eldritch horror occurs before the start of the story and we simply have the narrator confirming it.
    Ah. Yeah, that's just the sort of subtlety to pass by the uninitiated contemporary reader such as myself. Thanks!
    Last edited by Rii; 21-10-2011 at 05:10 AM.

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