Friday, December 11, 2009

Lovecraft for Christmas, Kenneth Hite, Seamus Cooper, and "From Beyond" on Hulu Recommendation Friday

All this month, Tor is hosting a "December Belongs to Cthulhu" event on their website. I mentioned earlier the historic connection horror and the winter season have with each other, as perfectly described by Manly Wade Wellman.

The Tor site has even begun a series of posts entitled "The Twelve Days of Lovecraft" as a part of the celebration. The "Twelve Days" posts feature a discussion of twelve of Seamus Cooper's favorite Lovecraft tales, with a discussion of why they are so effective and what their greatest problems are. Cooper wrote the entertaining Mall of Cthulhu, which I reviewed earlier this year, and is a natural selection for a series of articles about Lovecraft's fiction.

I think it would be interesting to compare the entries to the indispensable "Tour de Lovecraft" web entries provided by polymath extraordinaire, and author of the Trail of Cthulhu roleplaying game (the BEST Lovecraftian RPG ever written, though the author would quibble with that praise), Kenneth Hite. Hite's "Tour de Lovecraft" is the yardstick by which I measure all story discussion blog posts.

Let's just say that in presenting this story, Hite's entry is useful to the neophyte and the veteran where Cooper's entry is useful primarily to the neophyte -- though Cooper does sprinkle in some good humor. As I noted in my review of Cooper's Mall of Cthulhu, Cooper makes a point of discussing Lovecraft's racism and the obscurity of Lovecraft's prose. Two things that are interesting to point out to the neophyte, but which without new insights into root causes (as William Jones has done in his discussions of Lovecraft and Eugenics) it's really beating a dead horse. Hite references the racism as well, because it really is blatant and must be mentioned, but focuses his post on comparing Lovecraft's storytelling with Edmund Burke's aesthetics. Now that is a connection that I might not have made, and I've read Burke's Enquiry.

Both authors note that "Dunwich Horror" is a Gospel-esque tale, but only Hite notices that there are two Gospels being presented. There is the supernatural Gospel of the creature and the secular Gospel of Armitage. Hite also discusses the work as pastiche. Something fans of Lovecraft often overlook is the influence prior authors had on Lovecraft's own writing, and Hite is right to remind us here that Lovecraft's story is not purely Lovecraft. It should be noted that while Hite's article is the "deeper" of the two, in this case, it is also the more confusing one to the uninitiated. If you haven't read the story before diving into Hite's conversation, you could quickly become lost. This is not the case with Cooper.

The sharpest distinction between the Cooper and Hite posts is their reactions to Lovecraft's description of the town. Cooper is bored by the length and clumsiness of the description of the town and Hite draws maps of Innsmouth based on the description. One can imagine that for most readers a description long and accurate enough to base a map upon might be a trite dull. Cooper and Hite also disagree with regard to Lovecraft's use of the "native" in the story. For Cooper, it is further evidence of Lovecraft's obsession with racial purity -- and it is. For Hite, it is something more. He sees Lovecraft's use of primitive mythology as a subversive one, where he inverts which mythology (Western or "other") is more important. In this tale, the mythical worldview of the other is more accurate. Though the eugenics narrative is still overpowering.

But this isn't "analyze Cooper and Hite Friday," this is Hulu Recommendation Friday. Given the Lovecraftian bent of the post so far, I feel that I must give a Lovecraftian offering. Without further ado, I give you the awful (as in not very good) , From Beyond.

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