Tuesday, December 17, 2013

An Eldritch Education: "Through the Gates of the Silver Key"

Spooky Synopsis: Randolph Carter is presumed dead -- long dead. Years have passed since his mysterious disappearance in 1928, and despite the best efforts of his friends in the esoteric disciplines, distant relatives have emerged to claim his estate. They will hear nothing of mystical explanations stating Carter still lives and breathes. But before the documents are signed, one scholar demands that his claims be heard. Swami Chandraputra believes he can provide evidence that Carter traveled not only back in time, but also across the stars to world where he dwelt for an age as an alien creature.

Lovecraftian Language: "In a vast room hung with strangely figured arras and carpeted with Bokhara rugs of impressive age and workmanship four men were siting around a document-strown table. From the far corners, where odd tripods of wrought-iron were now and then replenished by an incredibly aged negro in sombre livery, came the hypnotic fumes of olibanum; while in a deep niche on one side there ticked a curious coffin-shaped clock whose dial bore baffling hieroglyphs and whose four hands did not move in consonance with any time system known on this planet. It was a singular and disturbing room, but well fitted to the business now at hand. For here, in the New Orleans home of this continent's greatest mystic, mathematician, and orientalist, there was being settled at last the estate of a scarcely less great mystic, scholar, author, and dreamer who had vanished from the face of the earth four years before."

Eerie Evaluation: Lovecraft allegedly disliked "Through the Gates of the Silver Key," which began as an attempt by colleague E. Hoffmann Price to force him to pen a sequel to "The Silver Key." Price had hoped that Lovecraft would collaborate with him on the short, but being rebuffed, he finished (and published) it himself. That seemed to have had the desired effect: Lovecraft extensively revised the piece into its current state. However, he professed dissatisfaction with the end result, thinking the genre elements cheapened his philosophical musings. That's a shame, really, because "Through the Gates of the Silver Key" proves the most enjoyable of any of the Carter stories. The middle section drags, what with its insistence on detailing the minute aspects of metaphysical geometry. The rest of it, though, seeks inspiration from superior tales in Lovecraft's canon, such as "Beyond the Wall of Sleep" and "The Thing on the Doorstep." Much of the signature adjectival excess gets reigned in, too, and while the ending doesn't exactly surprise, it sure is satisfying.

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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