Wednesday, January 16, 2013

An Eldritch Education: "The Statement of Randolph Carter"

Spooky Synopsis: Image what it would feel like to be suspected of a crime you didn't commit, nay, a crime whose events you can barely remember due to a near-unbearable mental strain. That's the situation in which Randolph Carter finds himself. A witness spied him and Harley Warren walking toward Big Cypress Swamp during the dead of night and reported that both men bore lanterns and shovels. Carter remembers that much and that they were heading to a cemetery. Also, he recalls how Warren's had a weird preoccupation with forbidden knowledge, how he mused over the stranger states of death, how he prised open a grave and descended into its depths, never to return ...

Lovecraftian Language: "The removal of the slab revealed a black aperture, from which rushed an effluence of miasmal gases so nauseous that we started back in horror. After an interval, however, we approached the pit again, and found the exhalations less unbearable. Our lanterns disclosed the top of a flight of stone steps, dripping with some detestable ichor of the inner earth, and bordered by most walls encrusted with nitre."

Eerie Evaluation: "The Statement" wants to be a great horror story, all tense in its buildup and downright nasty in its conclusion. A few things trip it up, though, most notably the awkward framing device (a monologue delivered by Carter to local authorities) that must compose a fifth of the tale's full length. That wouldn't prove so much of a problem in a longer piece, but "The Statement" is a scant six-and-a-half pages in my edition, which only makes it feel padded. What's more, Carter's exposition is maddeningly oblique at points. What prompted Warren's interest in desecrating tombs? A book "written in characters whose like I never saw elsewhere." What was its subject? "Warren would never tell me just what was in that book." What was he hoping to achieve? He wanted to know "why certain corpses never decay, but rest firm and fat in their tombs for a thousand years." You get the idea: Lovecraft placed all his emphasis on creating an atmosphere of mounting dread, not on providing plausible motivations or a believable backstory. All the same, that sense of creeping unease really works even if the setup doesn't.

Number of Sanity-Shredding Shoggoths (out of five):

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To visit the story index for "An Eldritch Education" (my year spent reading H.P. Lovecraft's work), please click here.

2 comments:

Nathaniel Lee said...

Were you aware of the HP Lovecraft Literary Podcast? They went through every single Lovecraft story, including the laughable and/or execrable "collaborations". Entertaining and erudite, if sometimes a titch focused on summarizing the plots for my preference.

Loren Eaton said...

Ooooh. I'm going to have to check that out.