Thursday, March 11, 2010

Beyond the Wall of Sleep by H.P. Lovecraft

Beyond the Wall of Sleep
by H.P. Lovecraft

This Lovecraft short story, originally published in a 1919 issue of Pine Cones, features another nameless narrator, this time a medical intern at Ye Olde Sanitarium.  He tells us a tale about his experiences with a patient by name of Joe Slater. This patient, a hillbilly of sorts, committed a heinous crime and lost his mind--not necessarily in that order. The words used to describe Slater are anything but kind, and demonstrates that our narrator (if not Mr. Lovecraft himself) is something of an elitist when it comes to social castes.

"Though well above the middle stature, and of somewhat brawny frame, he was given an absurd appearance of harmless stupidity by the pale, sleepy blueness of his small watery eyes, the scantiness of his neglected and never-shaven growth of yellow beard, and the listless drooping of his heavy nether lip. His age was unknown, since among his kind neither family records nor permanent family ties exist; but from the baldness of his head in front, and from the decayed condition of his teeth, the head surgeon wrote him down as a man of about forty."
While Slater sleeps, he suffers from bizarre and vivid dreams, and when he wakes up he is prone to fits of violence and mad ravings. The other medical professionals are perfectly content to write these ravings off as the jaw-boning jabberwocky of a lunatic. But not our noble narrator, who believes that Slater is actually having visions from another world.
"Slater raved for upward of fifteen minutes, babbling in his backwoods dialect of green edifices of light, oceans of space, strange music, and shadowy mountains and valleys. But most of all did he dwell upon some mysterious blazing entity that shook and laughed and mocked at him. This vast, vague personality seemed to have done him a terrible wrong, and to kill it in triumphant revenge was his paramount desire. In order to reach it, he said, he would soar through abysses of emptiness, burning every obstacle that stood in his way."
Using a piece of mad-science gadgetry, our narrator performs something of a mind meld while Slater lies on his deathbed, and is granted a peek behind the veil into a world beyond his own, one beyond time...and all that jazz.

While the concept of this short story is nothing too exceptional by modern standards, it was probably quite a bit more novel back in the day. But, with it being practically impossible to view things from a forced fresh perspective (one untainted by a lifetime of experience and exposure to the genre), this calls to mind back issues of Dr. Strange from Marvel Comics, what with all his Astral Projection and mystery of the mind hoopla.

Unfortunately, having things in common with a comic book character doesn't do anything to make this story more exciting.  No matter how I go about looking at it, this still comes across as a bit dull and lifeless. But maybe that's just me.

Somebody must like it, as it has inspired rock songs, a short film, and even a feature length movie. But I won't be rushing out to purchase any of them any time soon.


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