Wednesday, June 5, 2013

An Eldritch Education: "The Tomb"

Spooky Synopsis: Jervas Dudley knows he might be insane. Even as a dreamy youth, he had a perspective on the world that might've called his mental state into doubt. Yet despite his supposed cerebral deficiencies, he's convinced that the authorities of sanitarium where he now resides are wrong when it comes to the tomb. He discovered the crypt as a child, drawn to it like iron to a lodestone by a desperate desire to explore its charnel depths. Yet breach its entrance he did, and the things he discovered within broadened his mind immeasurably -- or perhaps destroyed it.

Lovecraftian Language: "I shall never forget the afternoon when first I stumbled upon the half-hidden house of death. It was in mid-summer, when the alchemy of Nature transmutes the sylvan landscape to one vivid and almost homogenous mass of green; when the senses are well-nigh intoxicated with the surging seas of moist verdure and the subtly indefinable odours of the soil and the vegetation. In such surroundings the mind loses its perspective; time and space become trivial and unreal, and echoes of a forgotten prehistoric past beat insistently upon the enthralled consciousness. All day I had been wandering through the mystic groves of the hollow; thinking thoughts I need not discuss, and conversing with things I need not name."

Eerie Evaluation: See that last sentence above? Perhaps it doesn't strike you as particularly odd, but by the time you reach the end of "The Tomb" -- a scant ten pages long in my edition -- you'll have heard Jervas repeat similar sentiments over and over again. He won't detail this, he needn't explain that, and such demurrals seem less like demonstrations of madness than compositional shortcuts for Lovecraft, who apparently couldn't be bothered to fill in the details. It's irritating, as is the adjective-studded prose and aimless pacing. And the worst part? A far-superior story peeks out near the end, glimmering like a diamond in sawdust. While the blame for Jervas' fascination with the titular tomb falls on his supposedly weak mind, it really owes to a malign presence reaching out from beyond the grave. Unfortunately, Lovecraft kept too many details muddy for the short to really seize the imagination.

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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