Thursday, February 7, 2013

An Eldrich Education: "Nyarlathotep"

Spooky Synopsis: "Who is Nyarlathotep?" That was the question on everyone's lips he appeared in Egypt, this man before whom the peasants kneeled, who claimed to have risen up from a 2700-year sleep and who commanded the power of electricity. He arrived when the seasons seemed sundered from their usual patterns, autumn burning too hot and the nations brooding under unnamed apprehensions. No one asks that now, though. Everyone knows that Nyarlathotep served as harbinger of beings beyond the stars who blindly rule a universe that has long since slipped into decay. Or at least you should know it, for it is the universe that you inhabit ...

Lovecraftian Language: "I believe we felt something coming down from the greenish moon, for when we began to depend on its light we drifting into curious involuntary formations and seemed to know our destinations though we dared not think of them. Once we looked at the pavement and found the blocks loose and displaced by grass, with scare a line of rusted metal to shew where the tramways had run. And again we saw a tram-car, lone, windowless, dilapidated, and almost on its side. When we gazed around the horizon, we could not find the third tower by the river, and noticed that the silhouette of the second tower was ragged near the top."

Eerie Evaluation: Holy (or perhaps unholy) freaking wow. Given Lovecraft's track record so far, I didn't expect much from a three-page piece. His prose had seemed too loose and undisciplined to me to pack much punch into the space. "Nyarlathotep" is an exception. It chills to the bone, and not in a scary-thing-jumps-out-and-says-boo way. It's a lyrical myth more than anything else, transmitting Lovecraft's nihilism through affecting images that function according to their own internal logic. When the "fearsome" heat of autumn surrenders to "trackless, inexplicable snows ... swept asunder in one direction only," you know that something bad is afoot. Lovecraft infuses such settings with apocalyptic dread, civilization unspooling around the hapless narrator as he finds himself "whirled blindly past ghastly midnights of rotting creation, corpses of dead worlds with sores that were cities, charnel winds that brush the pallid stars and make them flicker low." Logical? Not exactly. But it makes gooseflesh crawl along one's neck.

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


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

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