Monday, October 28, 2013

An Eldritch Education: "The Unnamable"

Spooky Synopsis: Joel Manton is of common New England stock. Stolid, practical, and thoroughly unsurprising, he militates with all his might against any form of eerie supernaturalism -- which frustrates the narrator of "The Unnamable" to no end. The two begin to bicker about the metaphysics of ghosts and ghouls, shades and superstitions, everything unnatural and inexpressible, unaware that the very setting of their argument might soon put eldritch flesh on their airy musings.

Lovecraftian Language: "Whether or not such apparitions had ever gored or smothered people to death, as told in uncorroborated traditions, they had produced a strong and consistent impression; and were yet darkly feared by very aged natives, though largely forgotten by the last two generations -- perhaps dying for lack of being thought about. Moreover, so far as aesthetic theory was involved, if the psychic emanations of human creatures be grotesque distortions, what coherent representation could express or portray so gibbous and infamous a nebulosity as the spectre of a malign, chaotic perversion, itself a morbid blasphemy against Nature? Moulded by the dead brain of a hybrid nightmare, would not such a vaporous terror constitute in all loathsome truth the exquisitely, the shriekingly unnameable?"

Eerie Evaluation: I like to think of myself as a reasonably gracious guy, extending a bit of understanding here, a modicum of mercy there, refraining from dropping the hammer of criticism to early or often. But maybe I'm not, because I'm having a devil of a time finding anything nice to say about "The Unnamable." S.T. Joshi calls it "less a story than a fictionalized treatise on supernatural horror," which is only half right. Don't think you'll get the cogent musings of Poe on creepy composition or even an interesting survey of applicable narratives à la Stephen King's Danse Macabre. The arguments Lovecraft advances fluctuate between muddled and nonsensical before transitioning into a haunted-house tale with all the smoothness of a motorcyclist dismounting on the highway at 70 mph. Even worse, the climax is both abrupt and self-serving. Lovecraft has written plenty of excellent shorts that deal with the nature of fear. Read one of those instead.

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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