Wednesday, April 7, 2010

The Nameless City by H.P. Lovecraft

The Nameless City
by H.P. Lovecraft

In this short story from Lovecraft we have two nameless entities: not only the city of which the title refers, but also the standard Nameless Narrator. This time around, he is an explorer of sorts, poking his nose around where it doesn't belong: namely an odd little ancient city hidden in the relentless sands of the Arabian desert. The buildings are out of proportion with laughably low ceilings, and the walls are adorned with strange hieroglyphs and carvings that depict a race of humanoid lizard-like beings. But if these creatures ever truly existed, surely they went extinct long ago...right?

Don't be so sure, Nameless Narrator. This is, after all, an H.P. Lovecraft story.

Lovecraft fuses elements of actual world history and his own homebrewed mythology to make a believable framework for his tales, and he does it better here than he ever has elsewhere. And although it's something of a rarity in that it takes place in a distant land, rather than the author's own backyard, "The Nameless City" still could have been a solid entry, but it just barely misses the mark for a few reasons.

There's absolutely nothing wrong with the concept of a man out of his element, investigating a missing culture of hybrid creatures. In fact, it's a hell of a story. It was a hell of a story the first time he wrote it, too, in a piece called "Dagon" only a few short years prior.

But while "Dagon" was a tightly written tale that left you wanting more, "The Nameless City" exists on the opposite side of the spectrum: it's a slightly bloated, over-written rehash with a fondness for adjectives unusual for Lovecraft. Up until now on this chronological journey of the man's work, every story (even the ones I haven't been so fond of) seemed effortless. But here, for the first time, it seems almost as if he's trying too hard.

Some sources claim that this is the first story that can be considered a part of the Cthulu Mythos, but I'm not quite convinced of that. As outlined above, this is a rewrite of "Dagon", and the character of Dagon would later appear within the Mythos, so if either of these tales deserve that title, it seems to me that it should be the earlier one. Granted, mention is made here of Alhazred the Mad Arab, who would eventually be revealed as the author of the Necronomicon (an important book in the Mythos), but other earlier tales had introduced reocurring characters as well. It seems to me that Lovecraft had been slowly building his shared universe since day one, when "The Alchemist" first saw print.

Of course, I'm in no position to be arguing the point. Maybe my perception will change as I read further. Stay tuned...


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  1. Just curious, which edition(s) of HPL's fiction are you reading? The best one is the recent Barnes & Noble collection.

  2. Will, actually my editions are all "electronic" versions for my Kindle, via and other sources. Which, I realize, isn't the most authentic way to enjoy these tales, but it is pretty damn easy...and saves a lot of space.


  3. As someone who is probably going to have to look for a new apartment soon because his book-collecting has recently gotten out of control, I hear ya, brother.


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