Friday, August 30, 2013

An Eldritch Education: "The Tree"

Spooky Synopsis: In the midst of its sylvan beauty, Mount Maenalus bears a single odd feature. A monstrous olive tree rises above the ruins of a once-grand villa and a broken-down marble tomb that obviously boasted beautiful sculptures before falling into disrepair. Peasants fear the place, which has the reputation of being the haunt of the god Pan, and they aren't entirely without warrant. Once upon a time, the site saw a competition between the master sculptors Kalos and Musides, a competition for the favor of the Tyrant of Syracuse. Instead of winning honor, though, they reaped only woe.

Lovecraftian Language: "Many years ago, when the hillside villa was new and resplendent, there dwelt within it the two sculptors Kalos and Musides. From Lydia to Neapolis the beauty of their work was praised, and none dared say that the one excelled the other in skill. The Hermes of Kalos stood in a marble shrine in Corinth, and the Pallas of Musides surmounted a pillar in Athens, near the Parthenon. All men paid homage to Kalos and Musides, and marveled that no shadow of artistic jealousy cooled the warmth of their brotherly friendship."

Eerie Evaluation: "The Tree" is something of a departure for Lovecraft, a jaunt into Greek-fable territory rather than spooky horror or Dunsany pastiche. The result is somewhat mixed. On one hand, the short piece shows that Lovecraft did his research, packing it with mythological references aplenty and appropriate nods to ancient history. On the other, the tragic tale has terrible pacing and an overly ambiguous ending. The action muddles along rather than marching, and the conclusion crashes where it ought to crescendo. Think of "The Tree" like a tour through the country with a dull guide. The scenery’s nice as long as you don’t pay too much attention to the commentary.

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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