Wednesday, October 9, 2013

An Eldritch Education: "Hypnos"

Spooky Synopsis: When the narrator of "Hypnos" found his one and only friend, the man lay unconscious on the platform of a railway station. The two soon grew so close that they seemed to share one heart and mind. Indeed, they both thought that the state of being the unwashed masses called "reality" was nothing more than a veil that the determined could pierce. In their dedication to sweep it aside, they partook of various psychoactive drugs and plunged through indescribable vistas none before had ever encountered. But no amount of determination or concord could prepare them for the horrors drifting through that nameless void.

Lovecraftian Language: "Among the agonies of these after days is that chief of torments -- inarticulateness. What I learned and saw in those hours of impious exploration can never be told -- for want of symbols or suggestions in any language. I say this because from first to last our discoveries partook only of the nature of sensations; sensations correlated with no impression which the nervous system of normal humanity is capable of receiving. They were sensations, yet within them lay unbelievable elements of time and space -- things which at the bottom possess no distinct and definite existence. Human utterance can best convey the general character of our experiences by calling them plungings or soarings; for in every period of revelation some part of our minds broke boldly away from all that is real and present, rushing aƫrially along shocking, unlighted, and fear-haunted abysses, and occasionally tearing through certain well-marked and typical obstacles describable only as viscous, uncouth clouds or vapours."

Eerie Evaluation: If you've ever conserved with individuals who regularly consume proscribed pharmaceuticals, then you'll understand what it's like to read "Hypnos." A lot of drug users believe that such substances will grant them greater insight into the nature of reality, open their minds to higher planes of consciousness. A former roommate of mine insisted that cannabis was the key to better writing and waxed poetic about its benefits. I just needed to, like, try it, you know? But while that might sound profound to the half-baked, it seems like so much disconnected gobbledygook to the sober -- as does much of "Hypnos." To be fair, the story has its high points (no pun intended). It invokes Einstein's theory of relativity and hints at rich themes, such as the peril of an overweening desire for youth, beauty, and personal achievement. The conclusion is also nicely ambiguous. But everything else feels inarticulate, gauzy, disconnected. The mechanism by which the narrator and his friend transcend the fabric of reality feels like a narrative cheat, an attempt to ferry readers to a certain effect without building a proper vessel to carry them. "Of our studies it is impossible to speak, since they held so slight a connexion [sic] with anything of the world as living men conceive it," the narrator explains. Compositionally convenient, isn't it? Yeah, we found our way through the brittle shell that everyone calls existence! How? Oh, we just dropped this mysterious drug and busted through. Sorry, Howard. That may convince chemheads, but I'm not buying it.

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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