Rites for the Uninitiated

Welcome, newcomers, to Vacation Necronomicon School!

Soon we will begin our customary 13 day foray into forbidden knowledge and madness, but there may be some pupils who have never encountered our subject. Looking through last year’s archive is encouraged, but time is always short, and a more concise introduction to H. P. Lovecraft may be in order.

However, it is always difficult to say which story to read first if you are truly unacquainted with H. P.  Lovecraft. If you’ve found your way here, however, you must be curious – and you will, for better or worse, soon become acquainted with Mr. Lovecraft’s output – tentacles and all.

But where exactly to start? There are so many stories to choose from, all with differing charms and strengths. Do we choose ease of reading or an introduction to the famous Cthulhu mythos? Do we wet our feet gradually in the pool, or plunge into the depths without a care? It’s a difficult choice.

In fact, we discussed this very topic last year, in the comments of this lesson, and though the suggestions presented there were all quite good, the sheer number of them presented a smaller version of the original problem.

I therefore tactfully suggest a dual approach for the Lovecraftian beginner: one introductory story for the toe-dippers amongst our ranks (A), and another for the brave divers (B).

Our first choice is “The Cats of Ulthar” – a wonderfully dark fable – and quite unlike many Lovecraft stories, though it shares his signature use of language, and a suitably horrific ending. It’s a true short story, easily read in a single sitting, and a delightful way to begin our course. (My thanks to Borrowind for this suggestion.)

Our second choice, for those of you who cannot wait to encounter an Elder Thing, is “At the Mountains of Madness.” This is a much lengthier story – it is very nearly novella length – but it is one of the Cthulhu mythos stories, and my personal favorite. If you are the sort to delve in as quickly as possible, this may be the tale for you. (My thanks to acrasis for this suggestion.)

A certain hardy sort may feel inclined to read both, but only one is required. There is no written assignment for this preview lesson, though you are welcome to share your impressions in the comments.

In the meantime, enjoy your final weekend of sanity. Remember, regular lessons begin Monday, and once seen many things cannot be unseen.

Today’s assignment:
Reading (A) – The Cats of Ulthar
Reading (B) – At the Mountains of Madness

About Headmistress

Sarah L. Crowder, current headmistress of Vacation Necronomicon School, was once a pupil at the prestigious Miskatonic Academy for Girls -- though she did not graduate, as the school closed under mysterious circumstances shortly before her studies were completed. She spent many years contemplating both the arcane arts and hidden dimensions of commonplace life, and now lends her talents to our little online haven for workaday scholars.
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8 Responses to Rites for the Uninitiated

  1. Pingback: Vacation Necronomicon School – preliminary taster « TENTACLII :: H.P. Lovecraft blog

  2. Borrowind says:

    I made a new audio recording of The Cats of Ulthar, and made it Creative Commons on Archive.org…

    http://www.archive.org/details/TheCatsOfUltharByH.p.Lovecraft-AudioReading

  3. dylan says:

    I really enjoyed The Cats of Ulthar. Nice easy read with a twist. I am looking forward to listening to your recording Borrowind. Also purchased the Necronomicom as it makes it easier for me to read than on a monitor, plus its a pretty cool book too. I am going to attempt to tackle At the Mountains of Madness this weekend.

    Thanks so much for putting together the VNS Sarah, I have always wanted to read Lovecraft and with your guided tour I think I will.

  4. dylan says:

    Also any chance of an RSS feed or facebook group or some other way of keeping up with posts other than just checking the site when I think about it?

  5. Headmistress says:

    @Borrowind – Thank you for the audio links! I’m so pleased you could join us again this year, and I’m very much looking forward to hearing your version…

    @dylan – I’m very glad you’ve decided to join us, and that you liked the story. I confess that I also prefer reading on paper – you are not alone there. I did add the the RSS widget to the sidebar, but I have had problems with RSS feeds from WordPress in the past. You may actually have more success subscribing via Google or another reader service. Also, if you’re using a recent version of Firefox, there should be an RSS symbol in the address bar that will give you feed options.

    Thank you!

  6. Nina says:

    It was stories like “The Cats of Ulthar”, short, turgid, obvious, and easily anthologized, that kept me away from H.P. Lovecraft as a teenager. In retrospect, this was a great favor, because I never got around to Lovecraft until I was in my 40s, with an extensive vocabulary and a working knowledge of Gothic novels, including the Brontes, Poe, and Hawthorne. When I finally read “At the Mountains of Madness”, my response was wild, unhesitating glee. “Zounds!” I said, “Where has this been all my life?” There are things you read as a teenager that are then spoiled for you for the rest of your life: someone once said that whichever Shakespeare play you study in high school will forever be unwatchable, and I’ll admit that I can’t see the merit in “Julius Caesar” thanks to those end-of-scene question sections that asked “Why would no one listen to Cassandra?” or “What would you do if lions whelped in the streets?”. Even elicit teenage reading can’t escape this curse: I loved Kurt Vonnegut as a teenager, but you could not pay me to read him now. So I would not be here now if I had hated “The Cats of Ulthar” less.

  7. Headmistress says:

    @Nina – I had never heard that about Shakespeare, but find that it’s true in my own experience – I cannot abide “The Taming of the Shrew” for much the same reason! I’m always fascinated by how different the literary routes to Lovecraft appreciation can be – and I’m glad you’re here, however ironic your journey. (Incidentally, my cursed former teenage favorite is Dorothy L. Sayers…)

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