[Spurred by my recent purchase and rereading of Lovecraft’s Complete Fiction – the Barnes & Noble edition. Naturally.]
H.P. Lovecraft liked tentacles. This is clear. His legacy is riddled with them. Cthulhu, the Shoggoth, Yog-Sothoth. He made up his own little alien pantheon. And I respect that – I really do.
The truth is, however, that his monsters, awesome as they might be, are not why I love him.
It seems that in our quest to immortalize his fantastic figures, we have forgotten the simple fact that Lovecraft crafted sentences sexier than anything you can find in the ‘erotica’ section. The man never wrote about sex, and there seems to be good reason for this: his words themselves are such an orgy of gorgeous language that if any sex act were referred to beyond the concepts of marriage and lineage, the story would explode. Kaboom.
I am often accused of geekdom because of my penchant for reading books in lieu of going out to bars and regularly getting laid.
Let me tell you… reading Lovecraft IS like getting laid. By language.
#5, from ‘The Colour Out of Space:
[The trees] were twitching morbidly and spasmodically, clawing in convulsive and epileptic madness at the moonlit clouds; scratching impotently in the noxious air as if jerked by some alien and bodiless line of linkage with subterrene horrors writhing and struggling below the black roots.
‘Scratching impotently’… Lovecraft didn’t need to write about sex to come up with explicit sexual metaphors. For a crazy dude who married once and regretted it almost immediately, he sure was in touch with bodily movements and ‘writhing’. Then, the ‘alien and bodiless line of linkage’ – damn, dude. Just say that the trees looked like they were having really bad sex. Though that wouldn’t be half as much fun, of course.
#4, from ‘The Call of Cthulhu’:
The Thing cannot be described—there is no language for such abysms of shrieking and immemorial lunacy, such eldritch contradictions of all matter, force, and cosmic order. A mountain walked or stumbled. God! … The Thing of the idols, the green, sticky spawn of the stars, had awaked to claim his own.
This is admittedly more than one sentence. But look at the variance in phrasing – ‘A mountain walked or stumbled. God!’ The single-word exclamation allows him to go overboard afterwards and have it work. Don’t even get me started on ‘green, sticky spawn of the stars’. The alliteration there is pure gold. Only Lovecraft could turn a ‘sticky spawn’ into something beautiful.
#3, from ‘The Unnamable’:
There was no beauty; no freedom—we can see that from the architectural and household remains, and the poisonous sermons of the cramped divines.
This is as simple and purely poetical as it gets. Beauty, freedom – the gods of the poets [Keats, anyone?], then regretting their absence for the sake of ‘poisonous sermons of the cramped divines…’ Cramped divines. Holy shit. The use of ‘divine’ as a noun? UNFFFF.
#2, from ‘The Silver Key’:
Only on closer view did he mark the starved fancy and beauty, the stale and prosy triteness, and the owlish gravity and grotesque claims of solid truth which reigned boresomely and overwhelmingly among most of its professors; or feel to the full the awkwardness with which it sought to keep alive as literal fact the outgrown fears and guesses of a primal race confronting the unknown.
Lovecraft had no stomach for religion; it’s true, but look at the way the words are wrangled: it’s dissing fundamentalism, not spiritual belief. ‘Literal fact’ as ‘outgrown fears’… a race which was primal, and couldn’t deal with the unknown, so they ‘guessed’ and did not develop further. Tragic and ‘starved’. I can’t even.
Finally, #1, from ‘He’:
Garish daylight shewed only squalor and alienage and the noxious elephantiasis of climbing, spreading stone where the moon had hinted of loveliness and elder magic; and the throngs of people that seethed through the flume-like streets were squat, swarthy strangers with hardened faces and narrow eyes, shrewd strangers without dreams and without kinship to the scenes about them, who could never mean aught to a blue-eyed man of the old folk, with the love of fair green lanes and white New England village steeples in his heart.
Okay, Lovecraft has a rather evident boner for the word ‘noxious’. But ELEPHANTIASIS? Are you fucking KIDDING me? Who uses that word, aside from twelve year olds amused by pictures of dudes with giant balls in biology class? Plus, SQUAT and SWARTHY… it’s like dirty pirate-speak. ‘Arrghh, those swarthy strangers!’
And as always, as in ‘The Moon-Bog’ and so many other stories, the moon ‘hints at loveliness and magic’. The moon is the source of dreams. There is innocence there, among all the cynicism. There is hope for something pure.
See, Cthulhu? You’re poetry’s bitch.