Genre Collision

Monday’s assignment concerned Lovecraft’s response to another writer’s mythos-based story, and it’s true that the Cthulhu mythos lends itself to a sort of literary “riffing.” Most writers of horror or weird fiction have tried their hands at some tale involving the Old Ones, and even popular writers have not been immune to this practice.

Today’s story is by Neil Gaiman, who is by no means a stranger to mainstream popularity. It’s an odd one, too – even by Lovecraftian standards. It’s difficult not to be skeptical with the premise: a story that combines the Cthulhu mythos with the world of Sherlock Holmes? It sounds like the sort of mash-up one sees in amateur fan fiction, not the 2004 Hugo Award winner for best short story, and yet…it’s also oddly compelling.

The in-jokes have added punch if you have more than a passing interest in Sherlock Holmes, but I don’t think encyclopedic knowledge of his many Baker Street adventures is necessary to enjoy the narrative.

Your assignment today is to discuss any aspect of this story you’d like – pro or con, praise or censure, anything you’d like to elucidate or argue. (Pardon me for leaving the field wide open, but there were too many avenues to choose here – and I trust your collective judgment, as well as the many individual perspectives you have. I also did not want to introduce any “spoilers” for those who have yet to read it.)

Reading: Neil Gaiman’s A Study in Emerald (PDF)
Task: 300 words or less on any aspect of this story

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We All Visit the Old Well

Though our exercise here is just beginning, we do need to discuss our final project – the “fearsome final,” as we termed it last year. This calamitous composition (or whatever secret alliterative phrase pleases you) looms in the distance, but, much like the fabled objects in automotive side view mirrors, it is much closer than it seems.

All sequels have a twist, and Vacation Necronomicon School is no exception. This year we will take our inspiration from Lovecraft himself, and the snippets listed in his commonplace book. This is not a new idea, to be sure, but it does add a challenge: how will you use one of his ideas in your own way?

Your final project can be any form of creative output: a story, a painting, a poem, a song, a work of collage, or a very short video – whatever appeals to you. Simply choose a concept from Lovecraft’s commonplace book and find a way to make it your own. (I have included Bruce Sterling’s cheeky 21st century explanations of Lovecraft’s entries below as a humorous example to aid in creative interpretation.)

We only have a limited amount of time, so choose wisely. Projects are due the 30th, our final day this term…

Reading: H. P. Lovecraft’s Commonplace Book
Task: Choose an idea from the list for your final project
Extra Credit: Bruce Sterling’s Lovecraft Vs. 21C

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Quick Reminder

Late enrollment will remain open until Wednesday the 20th, so there is still time to join us in our endeavor. Simply contact the Headmistress if you wish to do so.

Cthulhu fhtagn.

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Another Summer Sequel

The sweltering heat of midsummer now torments us in the northern hemisphere, and it is a maddening sort of affliction – more to be borne than truly remedied. Still, hope of a antidote beyond central air conditioning may send some in search of metaphorical chills – such as those that course down the spine when one encounters true horror.

We have re-opened Vacation Necronomicon School for a second term just for those seekers – call it a sequel, if you will.

It’s true that film sequels tend to have a higher body count and more explosions, but literary sequels need not be so unimaginative. We do have many returning cast members (if you’ll pardon the term) and a formula to follow, but the similarities mostly end there. However, I think it’s fitting that our first Lovecraft story up for discussion is a sequel of sorts.

“The Haunter of the Dark” was a response to another writer’s story – Robert Bloch’s “The Shambler from the Stars,” which was a mythos-type tale, and dedicated to H. P. Lovecraft. However, Bloch killed off his Lovecraft-inspired character, so Lovecraft correspondingly killed his Bloch-inspired character in today’s story, a move I choose to interpret as genteel ribbing between the two authors. (Though of course my interpretation may not be correct.)

In “The Haunter of the Dark” we encounter another facet of the ever-fascinating (and terrifying) Nyarlathotep and witness yet another unsuspecting man’s descent into madness. Your assignment today is to discuss insanity as an inevitable consequence of encountering the unknown. Are these characters actually mad if they have actually encountered such things? Why is loss of rationality so often the horrifying result? Is disbelief of others the key? If a normal condition such as darkness can become a living presence that means literal harm, is madness a rational response rather than an irrational one? Ponder an aspect of this, in 300 words or less.

Welcome back to Vacation Necronomicon School!

Note: Neither Bloch’s “Shambler from the Stars” nor the subsequent “The Shadow from the Steeple” (which he wrote to complete the trilogy), are in the public domain and are therefore unavailable online. However, all three tales in the cycle are included in the Del Rey edition of “Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos.”

Reading Assignment: The Haunter of the Dark
Task: 300 words or less on madness and the unknown

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Some Repitition & Reiteration

New members may not be familiar with our methods here at Vacation Necronomicon School, so here are a few notes of orientation.

Starting tomorrow – and for each of the following 13 days – we will once again present new exercises in Lovecraftian lore.  We include lessons on literary criticism, personal opinion, pop culture, and, as is standard fare for the church-based day camp from which the name of our informal academy is derived, simple handicrafts. Regular lessons require only computer and internet access to complete, though craft lessons require a few extra supplies. (These lessons will still have an alternate assignment for those who wish to abstain.)

Work isn’t graded, and may be kept private – as the lurkers amongst our ranks well know. (We are well haunted by lurkers here, who are always welcome.) Most of us share our short completed assignments in the comments (or provide links to longer compositions), so this is our standard practice.  Also, we understand that each individual may not have the time or inclination to complete every lesson – or the more complex final project – but please put forth your best effort.

There is still time to enroll formally if you haven’t already done so – simply contact the Headmistress.  As always, formally enrolled pupils will be awarded a special token of appreciation when the term is finished.

And once again: “Please note that comments are moderated; swearing will be tolerated, but abuse of others will not be.” We have always had congenial commentary here, but it is well worth repeating that we do have an official policy regarding the unfortunate practice of “trolling.” It will not be tolerated, and offenders will be deleted and banned from further participation.

That being said, we are simply here to have some fun and explore the works of H. P. Lovecraft. Thank you for joining us!

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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

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Imminent Madness.

Between the heat distortion shimmering from the pavement and forbidden knowledge I’ve obtained from various dusty tomes, it has become clear to me that the time for Vacation Necronomicon School is once more at hand.

Though new pupils are always welcome, I do hope that many of our previously matriculated pupils will be able to join us again, and as such I have compiled all new lessons for our second term – the details of which shall be posted on an updated Corrupt Curriculum page quite soon.*

Our second term begins 18 July 2011, with an additional orientation lesson for newcomers posted on Friday the 15th. Those interested in formal enrollment should e-mail the Headmistress, and all curious parties are encouraged to do so, as formal enrollment comes with formal acknowledgement.

More information to follow as the appointed time of commencement grows near…

*Week One’s reading assignments are now posted, as of 12 July 2011.

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Expedition’s End

I would like to extend a sincere and hearty thank you to everyone who participated this summer.  It has been an arduous journey in a way — packed with words, and yet more words, plus images, sounds, and madness as only Lovecraft can inspire.  We’ve experienced both serious scholarship and humor — and, though I can only speak for myself, I have learned a great deal.

Thank you for that.

As promised, I will e-mail Certificates of Participation to all official enrollees, as well as special Certificates of Cyclopean Accomplishment to all who complete the final assignment.  (Note to those who e-mail assignments: Please be sure to let me know whether I have permission to publish your project on the final project page, and what name you would like listed as author — an internet handle is fine.)

There may be future projects in store here at Vacation Necronomicon School — one never knows when the stars might align again.  I will keep you posted as to further developments.

Again, thank you.  I hope we meet again…

Class dismissed.

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Elder God’s Eye

Elder God's Eye Peering ObscenelyToday’s lesson requires no reading, just a willingness to remember the crafts most common amongst children at summer camp.  Just to maintain the spirit of our enterprise, I felt we needed to include one “camp classic” — and in the end it was either this or weaving a lanyard key chain, and this seemed more appropriate as a wink to the Lovecraftian mythos.

You simply need two sticks, some scraps of yarn, and the patience to make a repetitive weaving motion.  You may use craft sticks, or even reclaimed popsicle sticks, but you’ll have greater luck at achieving asymmetry if you use the fallen detritus of trees, as I have in the example pictured here.

As you weave the eye, meditate on the Elder Things themselves — both the ones easy to picture, and the ones which almost defy visual recognition.  Try to hold these images in your mind as the coarse wooden sticks scrape against your hands, as the itchy wool binds them in place and constructs the abomination before you.  Weave until you are finished and admire the results.  Maddening, isn’t it?  The eye leers at you from the junction point of the two sticks, the unholy center of it all — the place, I daresay, where our dimensions collide.

Shudder at what you have wrought.

(I think I will use mine to guard my bookshelf, which seems a fitting literary end to me.)

Today’s alternate non-craft assignment is to explain which story you would recommend to someone unfamiliar with Lovecraft’s work (other than the glimpses seen in pop culture).  Which story seems most accessible to the new reader?  Which do you think makes a good introduction, and why?  Explain in 200 words or less.

The only thing remaining is our final assignment: your own composition.  The time has come to finish and polish, for they are due tomorrow.  I will set up a separate page for those who wish to share their works with others — and will post these over the weekend as I receive them.

I truly hope each of you has enjoyed our time here as much as I have.

Class dismissed.

Leering and jeering from beyond space and time.

Note: I apologize for posting this lesson in such a tardy manner; it must be heat delirium setting in.

  • Assignment: Weave an Elder God’s Eye; complete your final composition
  • Alternate assignment: Explain which Lovecraft story you’d recommend first — 200 words or less
  • More information: Ojo de Dios (Clear instructions with photographs)
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Cephalopod as Modern Totem

The searing summer days we have spent together at Vacation Necronomicon School are quickly coming to a close — though there seems no end in sight to the heat itself, or the horror of forbidden knowledge.

I designed our curriculum with the procrastinator in mind — so if you’ve been dragging your feet on your final composition, now is your chance to attain completion.

Today’s reading is an essay on the current popularity of the cephalopod from H+ Magazine, and though we’ve covered most of its material already in our discussion of Cthulhu, I still felt it was a worthwhile read as it ranges widely in its analysis.  There is no official writing assignment today (beyond your final composition), though you may report your opinion on any aspect of this essay in the comments, as usual.

Class dismissed.

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