Necronomicon – Parody and Prop

Though I now live in the fourth largest city in the United States, I’m originally from rural Missouri.  Today’s reading, “The Dunwich Horror,” has for me a recognizable sense of the Other in its decaying backwoods setting — though watching one’s hometown degenerate from a normal stoic Midwestern hamlet to the sort of place where illicit meth labs regularly explode makes Dunwich seem rather quaint in a way.

Today’s reading also includes a great deal of information about our school’s namesake: The Necronomicon.

Though Lovecraft invented The Necronomicon as a sort of recurrent literary prop, it has certainly achieved a separate notoriety outside of his mythos.  (I for one would love to see a Venn diagram mapping the overlap between people who believe The Necronomicon is “real,” and those who believe the British Royal family to be shape-shifting reptilian aliens.  But perhaps that is rather unkind of me.)  It has appeared in many non-Lovecraftian works, and is a consistent object of parody — as in this pitch perfect take on a certain religion’s classic television commercials.  The Necronomicon has come to exist in this strange territory on the periphery of pop culture where it is either treated too seriously or in the most flippant manner possible — but either way, I think it is the most recognizable element of Lovecraft’s mythos for those who have never read his stories.  Even people who have no idea who Cthulhu is have some idea of The Necronomicon, at least through some half-remembered horror movie where it served as a plot point.

Your assignment today is simply to to discuss some aspect of The Necronomicon, either in Lovecraft’s writing or in one of its other guises — in 200 words or less.  You may examine any aspect you like; there is certainly no shortage of related topics.

Class dismissed.

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Othering and Other Artists

It is perhaps fitting (or telling, depending on your position) that yesterday’s lesson concerned Lovecraftian sound, and today’s lesson uses a musical excerpt as our focus.

“Eldritch Musicks” by The Contrarian (otherwise known as Casey Rae-Hunter), is an homage to the works of H. P. Lovecraft, Arthur Machen, and Algernon Blackwood — and is therefore well within our purview here. The album also includes four “drones” by The Ten Thousand Things meant specifically to convey a sense of “Otherness” — and these are musically fascinating in and of themselves.

Although in my opinion the entire album is excellent, it is 1970s style “occult rock” (think Blue Öyster Cult) and not likely to appeal to all of us in equal measure.  With that in mind, I have chosen only track 5 as today’s subject: “The Cove.”

Here are the lyrics in their entirety:

In a grey cove by the sea
Many miles from town
And from you and me
.
People gather
Moss and stone
Blackened driftwood and
Strips of human bone
.
As a foghorn
Splits the night
Voices rise and fall
Full of strange delight
.
I was there one
Autumn eve
From the sounds and sights
There’s been no reprieve
.
I have searched so
Many times
For that secret cove
And for peace of mind
.
But the echoes I still hear
And the strangled cries
Of my deepest fear
.
In a blue room
All alone
I will catalog
Every tortured moan
.
But no words will
Mark the page
Only symbols of
A forgotten age
.

The Lovecraftian themes of discovery and madness are present and accounted for, despite the stripped down lyrical format — and I think this serves as an excellent representation of Lovecraftian translation into a medium other than writing.  The song itself degenerates into a kind of madness at the end, which both shocks the listener and makes for a fitting ending to a brush with the Other.

Your assignment today is to delineate your favorite modern writer, musician, or other artist whose work includes a true sense of the Other.  Your choice doesn’t need to have a direct connection to Lovecraft or his mythos, just a real sense of Otherness in his or her work.  Make your case in 200 words or less.  (There have already been some wonderful suggestions in the comments of previous posts.)

Class dismissed.

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Chaos and Cacophony

In our reading so far we’ve encountered many descriptions of disturbing sounds: “Rats” in walls, the keening of Antarctic wind, the “shrill, ghostly tittering” that the workmen cross themselves against at the end of “The Dreams in the Witch House” — not to mention the sound that deafened Gilman.  Though these elements may not stand out in the text amongst more horrific elements, they always pop out at me as a person who is keenly sensitive to sound.  In fact, my sensitivity to sound is a frequent source of amusement to those around me who don’t even notice the audible irritations that torment me so.  For instance, at this very moment I can hear the hum of the air conditioning unit on the roof and the clinking of the pull chain against the light fixture on the ceiling fan in the next room — not to mention the whir of the computer’s fan and the occasional buzz of its processor, or the quiet rumbles from the videogame my partner is playing.

In short, I am hypersensitive to sound — and I suspect that H. P. Lovecraft may have been as well.

Though today’s reading is concerned mainly with the aftermath of the things Nyarlathotep shows his audience members, I feel Lovecraft’s description of sound at the end of this short prose poem are some of his most evocative.  Your assignment today is to meditate on Lovecraft’s use of intricately detailed descriptions of sound, in 200 words or less.  Is his use of cacophony just another way to fully realize his scenes of horror?  How does his use of sound relate to the chaos of the Other?

Class dismissed.

Note: All writing assignments will be shorter this week to allow time to complete the final project.  There is also only one remaining reading of any significant length, “The Dunwich Horror.”

  • Reading: “Nyarlathotep”
  • Assignment: 200 words or less on Lovecraft’s description of sound; continue work on your final composition
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Eldritch Language

Lovecraft wrote at a time when the pared back language and modernism of Hemingway and other American authors was becoming popular, yet he wrote in murky quasi-Victorian prose and dry technical language.  Still, Lovecraft’s unique use of language — as well as the unpronounceable burblings that comprise what we know of Elder language — is a factor in the lasting appeal of his work.

Today’s story, “The Dreams in the Witch House,” is, in my opinion, very readable while still being a good example of florid language and overly-detailed description.  There is no official writing assignment today, other than work on your final composition (which may or may not include eldritch language of your own), though you may of course post your thoughts on Lovecraft’s use of language in the comments, as always.

Class dismissed.

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Moderation delays.

I will by necessity be away from the computer most of the day today.  I will be able to release comments held in moderation, but will be unable to reply until tomorrow.  Thank you for your patience and your participation!

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John Carpenter – Lovecraftian Filmmaker

Here at Vacation Necronomicon School, we believe in observing a day of rest — or failing that, at least a day of matinee viewing.  Today we will trace the Lovecraftian patterns running throughout John Carpenter’s remarkable body of work.  Antarctic vistas, madness, and horrible knowledge mankind was never meant to possess are all in abundance in his movies.

Your assignment is to view one of the following John Carpenter films:

  1. “The Thing”
  2. “In the Mouth of Madness”
  3. “Masters of Horror: Cigarette Burns”

Using your chosen film as a starting point, discuss Lovecraft’s influence on Carpenter’s
oeuvre in 300 words or less.

Be assured that tomorrow we return to Lovecraft proper.  Class dismissed.

  • Viewing:  “The Thing,” “In the Mouth of Madness,” or “Masters of Horror: Cigarette Burns” (choose one)
  • Assignment: 300 words or less examining Lovecraft’s influence on John Carpenter; continue work on your final composition

Please note that “Masters of Horror: Cigarette Burns” is available to stream on Netflix.

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Touchable Tentacles

The unholy appendage on the needles.

Today we read the most famous of all Lovecraftian tales: “The Call of Cthulhu.”  We debated whether or not Cthulhu should ever be cute yesterday, but today we make one of his unholy appendages real and tactile.  As you manipulate the wool, so maddeningly itchy in the summer heat, meditate on what makes Cthulhu the truly definitive Elder God.  What, exactly, is the appeal?

.

The Embrace of Cthulhu, or the Elder Scarf

Supplies:

  • 1 skein bulky thick and thin yarn
  • Size 10.5 DPNs
  • Size 13 or 15 DPNs, depending on weight of yarn

The thick and thin texture of the yarn is crucial to this project, which is basically a giant, gnarled i-cord.  Also, this is not a very precise pattern, but rather something to be intuited as one works through it, which is and of itself a subversion of knitting as it is generally practiced.  Think non-Euclidian geometry.

The Pattern:

With trepidation and fear, cast on 2 sts with smaller needles.

Work in i-cord for a few inches, then k1, m1, k1.

Work this larger i-cord for several inches, then k1, m1, k2.

Work 4 stitch i-cord until it feels right to increase in size, then switch to larger needles.

After a time, as your madness grows, you will understand that the tentacle taking shape in your lap requires further increase, then k1, m1, k to end.

Work this 5 stitch i-cord for only a few brief inches, for as much as you will never be the same, it will be best to reverse the process soon, so at the appropriate time, chant a quick incantation from that most feared of all books, the Necronomicon, and then k2, k2tog, k1.

It’s true that each stitch brings you closer to unfathomable horror, but you must complete the journey. Work this decreasing i-cord for approximately the same distance as its comparable section at the other end, then switch to smaller needles.

After a time you begin to feel your sanity slipping away, so decrease another stitch as an unholy offering to the unfathomable terror you feel – k1, k2tog, k1.

You have seen what cannot be unseen, so work this unholy i-cord for several more inches, then k2tog, k1.

Wool in the tree.You have come full circle, though you are irretrievably changed; work i-cord until you are sure you can no longer continue, then k2tog, bind off, and weave in all ends.

Your completed tentacle remains a testament to the nameless, gibbering dread you now carry inside. It will also, if applied correctly, warm your neck in the winter.

Ia! Ia! Cthulhu fthagn!

Class dismissed.

  • Reading: “The Call of Cthulhu”
  • Assignment: Knit a tentacle scarf; continue work on your final composition
  • Alternate assignment: Why has Cthulhu remained the most lasting element of Lovecraft’s mythos?  Theorize in 300 words or less.
  • More information: Knit an i-cord (YouTube)
  • Extra Credit: Trailer for “Sharktopus”
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The Cute Cthulhu Debate

Should Cthulhu ever be cute?  Erik Davis (yes, that Erik Davis — author of TechGnosis: Myth, Magic, and Mysticism in the Information Age) has a few words to say on the subject.  (Please be warned: Several graphics are distinctly not-safe-for-work — the essay veers momentarily into a discussion of hentai.)

Today’s assignment is quite simple: Agree or disagree with Erik Davis’s thesis in 300 words or less — should Cthulhu be cute?  What are the underlying sociological implications of the current cute Cthulhu trend?  It may also be wise to use the respite that this brief lesson brings as an opportunity to make headway on your final composition.

Class dismissed.

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Lovecraft, Privilege, Race, and Meaning

It would be difficult to argue that Lovecraft was not irretrievably racist, as there is ample evidence both in his published work and in his voluminous correspondence.  He was also extremely classist — and it could be argued that his writing was sexist as well, as it has almost no discernible female presence of any kind.  As a person living in a modern, integrated world — whose circle of personal acquaintance resembles a slightly less well-dressed classic Benetton ad, and whose life partner is of Asian descent — I sometimes find this aspect of Lovecraft’s work as viscerally disturbing as the Elder Things of his mythos.

In today’s reading, “The Rats in the Walls,” we encounter a man who has no compunction against naming a pet a derogatory racial slur* — a man with a disgraced ancestral line, true, but a man of great wealth and privilege.  (I do mean the word “privilege” in two ways here: both as the term is normally used in cultural or women’s studies, and also as the word was used historically — as a descriptor for someone of monetary fortune.)  This tale begins more like a Victorian ghost story, but ends in typical Lovecraftian fashion — with horrible discoveries, and of course, madness.

Today’s assignment is to meditate on some facet of Lovecraft’s intolerance, using this story as a starting point.  Try to make a connection in 300 words or less between Lovecraft’s sense of “otherness” in other people and the intense Otherness of his unknowable horrors.

Class dismissed.

*I understand from my own relatives that such a shameful name for a pet would have raised nary an eyebrow as late as the early 1960s, at least in rural Missouri where they lived.
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Technical Note

Links to reading assignments have been coming from The Lovecraft Library at Dagon Bytes, which may present difficulty to some readers, as these pages feature white text on a black background.  These pages also wrap text to the full width of your browser, which may be troublesome for those reading on larger monitors.

Please be aware that there is another very complete and more suitably formatted archive online at the H.P. Lovecraft Archive.  Thank you.

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