Thursday, August 22, 2013

An Eldritch Education: "Polaris"

Spooky Synopsis: The unnamed narrator of "Polaris" can only sleep on cloudy nights. On evenings when the stars splay out above him, they seem to mock with malevolent intent. Those clear nights bring back memories of ancient Olathoƫ with marbled streets and endless days and a besieging army marching upon it. The narrator could save it -- if only he could get there once again.

Lovecraftian Language: "Into the north window of my chamber glows the Pole Star with uncanny light. All through the long hellish hours of blackness it shines there. And in the autumn of the year, when the winds from the north curse and whine, and the red-leaved trees of the swamp mutter things to one another in the small hours of the morning under the horned waning moon, I sit by the casement and watch that star."

Eerie Evaluation: "What is dream and what is reality?" That's the question posed by "Polaris," a question that turns on a plot twist that's every bit as agonizing as the sudden clamping of thumbscrews. On the story's final page, readers find themselves confronted with an awful conundrum: Either the narrator is inadvertently shirking an all-important duty that could doom a magical world or he has fallen into utter madness in our quotidian existence. Lovecraft leaves readers caught between the two possibilities, as well as speared on the suggestion that (as editor S.J. Joshi notes) it might be "a case of psychic possession by a distant ancestor." I want to love "Polaris" for that audacious ending. But like too many of its author's shorter works, it dallies about for ages with its opening and substitutes florid adjectives for style. Equal measures of admiration and regret end up being all I can manage.

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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