An Eldritch Ending

View Between Village Houses

New England Village - Photo Courtesy Library of Congress

Today we leave behind our ramble through Lovecraft’s cursed New England villages, and bid farewell to the Innsmouth seaside and any lurking Deep Ones we may have roused – at least for a while.

We have only one task remaining: your final composition. Simply post a link here in the comments, or e-mail it to me and I will post it on the finals page.

I would like to personally thank you for your participation in Vacation Necronomicon School! I hope you’ve enjoyed this term as much as I have.

Class dismissed.

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Albino Penguin Appreciation Day

Giant Albino Penguin, Felt-BasedOf all of the horrifying creatures that inhabit Lovecraft’s stories, the most ignored must surely be the Giant Albino Penguin. It always seems to be overshadowed by all of those Elder Things and Old Ones hogging the spotlight. This hardly seems fair. How would Shoggoths survive in the Antarctic without them?

Today we will feed our inner Shoggoth with a simple felt depiction of these nearly-forgotten birds.

Penguin PiecesYou’ll need craft felt in off-white, white, and pink – and embroidery cotton in white and red, along with a very small amount of fiberfill stuffing. Borrowing heavily from this tutorial, cut out two body pieces, two wings, and a body bottom from off-white felt; two eyes, a soft edible belly,  and two under wings from white felt; and the beak and feet from pink felt.

Sew the white belly onto the front off-white body piece, then the pink beak, and white eyes. (I attached the eyes with red satin stitches to make creepy unseeing pupils.) Sew the body front to the body back, and tack the pink feet to the bottom of the body front. Gently stuff with polyfill, then sew on the body bottom. The penguin should have a flat bottom and be able to stand at this point. Stitch the wings to the underwings, and attach to the sides of the penguin.

Voila! Shoggoth dinner is served!

As today’s craft assignment deals with a lesser creature, today’s alternate reading assignment is one of Lovecraft’s lesser stories – but, much like the way our penguin friends feed greater horrors, “From Beyond” is an exploration of themes that would become more prominent in later (and better) stories. Your brief writing assignment is to relate some aspect of today’s reading to another Lovecraft story.

Remember, final projects are due tomorrow…

Task: Make your own Giant Albino Penguin
Alternate reading: From Beyond
Alternate task: 200 words or less on a theme from today’s reading that carried into Lovecraft’s later work

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Reader’s Choice

Since today is basically a free day to work on your final project, I have only one question to ask: what is the best Lovecraftian story or novel you’ve come across lately? It doesn’t have to be from the man himself, just something in that vein that piqued your interest.

I’m never exactly on the cutting edge, so I only recently read the graphic novel version of Stephen King’s short story “N.” It was decidedly Lovecraftian in nature – and it had interesting art. It was posted as an animated series on the web before it came out as a graphic novel, but I didn’t know that until a few weeks ago. I can’t vouch for the animated version, but both the short story and the graphic novel adaptation are engaging.

I can also recommend “The Terror” by Dan Simmons. With an arctic expedition gone horribly awry, and something horrible and unknown out on the ice…it seems to fit. It’s partially based on a historical expedition, too. (Wait, did we mention that last year? I can’t remember.)

What have you been reading?

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Restless Nights

Lovecraft suffered from night terrors as a child (he called this assault by “night gaunts”), and that is one of the few things I have in common with him. I also suffered from severe nightmares in my younger days – including terrifying hypnogogic and hypnopompic hallucinations, where nightmare elements would appear to be present in my actual surroundings as I fell asleep or woke up. I’ve seen floating heads, disembodied hands crawling toward me, and a skeleton with flaming eyes climbing down the wall near my bed – a horror I still recall, and fervently hope never to repeat.

Knowing Lovecraft’s history, it seems natural that he would make nightmares a recurrent theme in his work. Both of today’s selections are earlier short stories (written in 1919 and 1922 respectively), and both concern the territory of sleep and dreams. Pick either reading assignment, then examine Lovecraft’s use of dreams as a theme, starting from the story you choose.

Remember, even Cthulhu dreams.

Reading (A): Beyond the Wall of Sleep
Reading (B): Hypnos
Task: 200 words or less on Lovecraft and dreams

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Words, and Yet More Words

Cthulhu Chick recently formatted Lovecraft’s original works into eBook format, a process which allowed her to make a count of Lovecraft’s favorite words. There are a few surprises on the list – “squamous” appears only once, shockingly – and a few obviously preferred choices (“hideous” appears 260 times, “nameless” 157 times).

Despite its comparative brevity, today’s story has no shortage of words – including a handful on the above mentioned list. Though a fairly standard horror story, it has an almost poetic undercurrent of descriptive language. Phrases like “after an infinity of awesome, sightless crawling up that concave and desperate precipice,” or “it was a compound of all that is unclean, uncanny, unwelcome, abnormal, and detestable,” are the exact language-based gymnastics expected of Lovecraft by casual readers – or outsiders, if you will forgive the pun.

Your assignment today is very brief: which of Lovecraft’s favorite words (or phrases) are your favorite? Briefly explain your choice. (It needn’t appear in today’s reading.)

I must personally confess an unwholesome affection for both “eldritch” and “gibbering,” and was oddly gratified to see that Nyarlathotep was mentioned 47 times…

Reading 1: Cthulhu Chick’s Count of Lovecraft’s Favorite Words
Reading 2: The Outsider
Task: Which Lovecraftian word or phrase is your favorite?

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The Houdini Connection

“Under the Pyramids” was ghost-written by Lovecraft for Harry Houdini, the first of several small (but lucrative) jobs. They had even planned to collaborate on a book called “The Cancer of Superstition,” but Houdini died before it could be completed. Lovecraft’s continued association with Houdini could have changed the course of Lovecraft’s career, but we cannot know for sure. (And we covered speculation yesterday.)

Today’s story has elements both in and out of harmony with Lovecraft’s usual subject matter. It contains horrible revelations of an expected sort, but it’s also notable in that it allows the protagonist to survive with sanity intact. Lovecraft used a great deal of “artistic license” to punch up Houdini’s supposedly true adventure in Egypt, but as it was about Houdini himself, it would be difficult to structure the story differently.

Your assignment today is 200 words or less on any aspect of today’s reading – your choice. What do you think of Houdini’s tale?

Note: Assignments will be shorter this week to accommodate work on the final project.

Reading: Under the Pyramids
Task: 200 words or less on any aspect of today’s story

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Howard Himself

I have previously resisted the urge to peek behind the curtain at Lovecraft the writer, mostly because I didn’t feel qualified to discuss his history. I have read some biographical information, and some of his correspondence, but I am not an expert. I’m a fan, an enthusiast, an advocate – but not a biographer.

Still, I felt it would be a slight not to touch on some aspect of his real life, so today’s reading is a quick overview of Lovecraft’s life and work. (The article also makes clear his view on the occult and religion, which is a point I’ve had to clarify many times amongst the sort who believe the Necronomicon is real.)

Your assignment today is pure speculation. What aspect of modern culture do you think would have influenced Lovecraft if he were writing today? What contemporary scientific or cultural developments do you think would have enthralled him? Make your case in 300 words or less.

Note: The final is fast approaching. Procrastinators, take heed!

Reading: Lovecraft Profile from Fortean Times
Task: 300 words or less speculating on modern inspiration
Extra Credit: The Shunned House

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Corrupted Comedy

We may not have an official day of rest at Vacation Necronomicon School, but we can have a day of Lovecraftian humor.

My first selection is “Boats: an Elder God’s Only Weakness” from Myths Retold, which is a fairly honest (if somewhat vulgar) retelling of “The Call of Cthulhu.” It contains such gems as “reading one paragraph of this cthulu shit is roughly equivalent to TWELVE WEEKS IN VIETNAM” and “so yeah some dude falls like six degrees to bumfuck turnways.” The author of this little recap doesn’t use punctuation, but does have something against polysyllabic adjectives, as his mid-narrative critique of Lovecraft’s writing proves. (It just makes it funnier, though.) This was my favorite bit of Cthulhu-related silliness all year, honestly – though I know it’s not for everyone. (It’s “not safe for work” mostly just because of salty language.)

My second selection is “Late Bloomer,” a short film that I came across last spring, though it’s a few years old. I included it just for the over-the-top narration, really. Again, not for everyone – though it is nearly perfect Lovecraftian parody. (This one is “not safe for work” mostly because of throbbing animated diagrams, which seems incredibly silly, but many workplaces are incredibly silly about such things.)

We have a new lesson coming tomorrow…so enjoy your day off!

Note: Feel free to share any recently encountered (or favorite) Lovecraft-related humor in the comments.

EC: Myths Retold – Call of Cthulhu (NSFW)
EC: Late Bloomer (YouTube, NSFW)

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Under the Sea

Unlike many, I have always had a lack of curiosity about my family tree. I have no illustrious forebears, and what little I’ve gleaned regarding my ancestry has been disappointing at best, and scandalous at worst. However, I had an interesting conversation with my father just this week, wherein he related the somewhat infamous story of the progenitor of our particular line of Crowders – another family secret revealed. (Don’t fret, I have been assured that we are not of Innsmouth stock. Our secrets are more mundane than that.)

Innsmouth is no stranger to secrets, or infamous family lines – as the narrator of today’s tale discovers. It’s difficult to have any amount of horror without secrets – think of ancient dwelling places hidden beneath reefs, or Rochester’s attic-hidden wife, or even Norman Bates’s mother. Without furtive whispers and things unseen, we would have very little to discuss here, so your assignment today is to discuss some aspect of secrecy in horror, using “The Shadow Over Innsmouth” as a starting point.

Please note: there will be no official assignment tomorrow due to the length of today’s reading.

Reading: The Shadow Over Innsmouth
Task: 300 words or less on the nature of secrecy in horror

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Safeguarding Sanity

The Elder Sign is one of the only things known to man that can provide any measure of protection against the Deep Ones. I felt it would be prudent to make one, considering the reading we will begin tomorrow.

However, most of us do not have a chunk of granite handy, or the necessary tools (or skill) to carve it, so we must make do with a crude approximation.

You will need oven-bake clay like Sculpy or Fimo, and a tool to etch it (even a toothpick will do). As you can see, I’ve used a type of clay that looks a bit like stone when baked – for that authentic Innsmouth feeling.

Elder Sign StonesBe sure to pre-heat your oven (follow the directions for your particular clay), and cover your work area to prevent stains. I generally roll out my clay on the same parchment paper I use to bake it.

The method is simple: break off a small stone’s worth of clay from your brick and roll it between your hands and against a hard surface, kneading it until it is pliable. Form it into a rough stone shape (or a flattened pebble shape, if you prefer a pendant), and smooth its surface. Carefully carve an Elder Sign into it, removing excess clay as you go. I have used the simpler Lovecraft version here, though those with greater artistic ability may attempt the more complex Derleth version.

Elder Sign PebbleYou may mutter a few incantations of protection over your clay before you slide it into the oven, but then bake according to the package directions. Allow it to cool thoroughly before handling, then enjoy your new ward against the Deep Ones.

 

 

You may well need it before all is said and done.

Reading: Elder Sign (Wikipedia)
Alternate Reading: “The Shadow Over Innsmouth” (for tomorrow’s lesson)

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