Tuesday, April 2, 2013

An Eldritch Education: "He"

Spooky Synopsis: The poet protagonist of "He" has traveled to New York in search of inspiration, hoping that the city will imbue his lines with some of its old charm. But instead of a skyline and streets that hearken back to yesteryear, he finds a metropolis tired out by the weight of its own history. Still, he struggles to complete his compositions, and woolgathering while wandering one day through a succession of courtyards not found on any map, he encounters a dreadfully thin old man dressed in archaic clothing. He accepts the man's offer of a local tour gladly enough, not knowing that it will end in a horrific revelation that transcends the boundaries of time itself.

Lovecraftian Language: "My coming to New York had been a mistake; for whereas I had looked for poignant wonder and inspiration in the teeming labyrinths of ancient streets that twist endlessly from forgotten courts and squares and waterfronts to courts and squares and waterfronts equally forgotten, and in the Cyclopean modern towers and pinnacles that rise blackly Babylonian under waning moons, I had found instead only a sense of horror and oppression which threatened to master, paralyse, and annihilate me."

Eerie Evaluation: To this point, I've encountered few tales in my reading of Lovecraft that would fit into what you'd call the standard horror-story mold. Most of them seem to rely on outlandishly creepy imagery or private fears grown great rather than a spooky setup swelling into a nasty climax. But that's exactly what we get with "He." Yes, it takes a while for proceedings to get going, some dialogue near the end is couched in dialect, and Lovecraft's xenophobia makes a muted appearance or two. However, he paces everything just so, setting expectations clearly enough that the surprising appearance of "a hellish black city of giant stone terraces with impious pyramids flung savagely to the moon" near the end feels anything but out of place. Indeed, the conclusion is one of the best (and most comprehensible to general audience) in his oeuvre so far.

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.

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