Wednesday, June 12, 2013

An Eldritch Education: "The White Ship"

Spooky Synopsis: Third generation North Point lighthouse keeper Basil Elton loved the sea in all its mystery, loved how it brought boats from every corner of the world and how his ancestors would whisper to him of its ancient mysteries. Basil has experienced some of those himself, because in the past the ocean would speak with him in numinous whispers. Then one night it sent the White Ship gliding in to him from the south, and Basil decided to board it, a decision that would send him on a globe-spanning adventure to mysterious lands -- and eventually cover the sea in silence.

Lovecraftian Language: "But more wonderful than the lore of old men and the lore of books is the secret lore of ocean. Blue, green, grey, white, or black; smooth, ruffled, or mountainous; that ocean is not silent. All my days have I watched it and listened to it, and I know it well. At first it told to me only the plain little tales of calm beaches and near ports, but with the years it grew more friendly and spoke of other things; of things more strange and more distant in space and in time. Sometimes at twilight the grey vapours of the horizon have parted to grant me glimpses of the ways beyond; and sometimes at night the deep waters of the sea have grown clear and phosphorescent, to grant me glimpses of the ways beneath."

Eerie Evaluation: "The White Ship" is a bit of a head scratcher. It's not a bad story at all. Basil sails to various mythological destinations of Lovecraft's own invention, espying lands that promise pleasure but ultimately offer only pain. (For instance, Thalarion, the City of a Thousand Wonders, is home to "all those mysteries that man has striven in vain to fathom," and those who seek to inhabit it discover that therein "walk only daemons and mad things that are no longer men.") Eventually, Basil finds a good and pleasant land, yet ultimately forsakes it for the promise of an undiscovered paradise that reputedly lies to the west. This leads to doom, naturally enough, and a clear moral about the great gain found in contentment. That's all well and good, I suppose, but "The White Ship" simply doesn't read like Lovecraft. Sure, it contains a few creepy nautical moments, but the ocean becomes a thing full of beauty rather than of squamous horror. Editor S.T. Joshi calls the tale a pastiche of Lord Dunsany, and despite having seen a similar tone at least once thus far in Lovecraft's oeuvre (I'm thinking about "CelephaŃ—s"), "The White Ship" hardly seems like it should've flowed from his pen.

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

 photo 3_shoggoths_zpseeb56f72.png

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

No comments: