Sunday, May 27, 2012
Putting aside the possible symbolism, psychoanalytic or otherwise, of Lovecraft's monsters, they are there as material creatures. In the later works of Lovecraft, works of science fiction such as "At the Mountains of Madness" and "The Shadow Out of Time," the monsters do cross illimitable expanses of space and weave in and out of unending aeons of time, but even there they appear as material beings. Edmund Wilson, in his mordant review of Lovecraft in The New Yorker, ridicules one of the more famous of these monsters as "an invisible whistling octopus."
While I do not agree with Wilson's sweeping dismissal of Lovecraft, I do find the latter-day monsters of Lovecraft to be anything but horrifying or even interesting. They are somehow much too far out to be all that alarming. Even H. G. Wells in one of the final chapters of his The First Men in the Moon (1901) does better in his suggestion of the monstrous. After the hero Cavor is abducted by the insect-like Selenites and taken deep into the cavernous interior of the moon, he has an opportunity to relay via wireless some account of the moon's natural history. One passage in passing catches the eye: " . . . . not infrequently Selenites are lost forever in their labyrinths. In their remoter recesses, I am told, strange creatures lurk, some of them terrible and dangerous creatures that all the science of the moon has been unable to exterminate. There is particularly the Rapha, an inextricable mass of clutching tentacles that one hacks to pieces only to multiply; and the Tzee, a darting creature that is never seen, so subtly and suddenly does it slay. "
Here Wells is practicing the same type of cryptozoology as is Lovecraft, but the monsters are more framed, just slightly off-stage, and all the more striking for that reason. Part of the difference is that Lovecraft's latter-day monsters are somewhere off in the illimitable reaches of outer space while Wells has his monsters in an almost sublunary locale. One notch down from the Selenites one would find the denizens of the UFOs whom M. K. Jessup believed to be lurking around the moon and in the gravitational neutral areas, the Lagrangian points, of the earth-moon-sun system.
To me, the most chilling of Lovecraft's monsters are those which appear in the following of his tales: "Pickman's Model," "The Lurking Fear," "The Outsider," "The Shadow Over Innsmouth." In these tales the monsters are all the more chilling because they are, far from being totally alien to humans, in a way all-too-human. They are weird intergrades or hybrids, usually the products of some suggested miscegenation between humans and non-humans. Sharing some of our chromosomes, they are all too believable. The religious would see in them living blasphemies, travesties of man as a creature made in the image of God.