Saturday, June 19, 2010

The Unnamable by H.P. Lovecraft

The Unnamable 
by H.P. Lovecraft

Our narrator here is Carter--possibly Randolph Carter, last seen in "The Statement of Randolph Carter", although that is never implicity stated.  He is an author of Weird Fiction, much like Lovecraft himself.  The tale begins with Carter and his friend Manton sitting in a centuries-old cemetery, discussing the concept of The Unnamable, a formless evil so boundless and incomprehensible to the human mind that it can not be named.

Carter recounts a local legend in which such a force may very well have factored in, and in so doing actually invokes the Unnamable and provokes an attack.

And, really, that's about it.  This story is deceptively simple, almost a generic template for all of Lovecraft's work, and this is exactly what people think of when they hear the name Lovecraft.  It's not a bad story.  It's quite enjoyable, actually, but it's missing a lot of the power and complexities of his best work.

It should be noted that Randolph Carter was a character modeled after the author himself--Lovecraft's own Kilgore Trout--and this Carter, whether Randolph or not, was certainly speaking with Lovecraft's voice.  The first portion of the narration reads like Lovecraft defending his body of work to the critics.  He does it much better than I could ever hope to, so we will close with his own words.

"Especially did he object to my preoccupation with the mystical and the unexplained; for although believing in the supernatural much more fully than I, he would not admit that it is sufficiently commonplace for literary treatment."

"With him all things and feelings had fixed dimensions, properties, causes, and effects; and although he vaguely knew that the mind sometimes holds visions and sensations of far less geometrical, classifiable, and workable nature, he believed himself justified in drawing an arbitrary line and ruling out of court all that cannot be experienced and understood by the average citizen."

"I knew that Joel Manton actually half clung to many old-wives' superstitions which sophisticated people had long outgrown; beliefs in the appearance of dying persons at distant places, and in the impressions left by old faces on the windows through which they had gazed all their lives. To credit these whisperings of rural grandmothers, I now insisted, argued a faith in the existence of spectral substances on the earth apart from and subsequent to their material counterparts. It argued a capability of believing in phenomena beyond all normal notions; for if a dead man can transmit his visible or tangible image half across the world, or down the stretch of the centuries, how can it be absurd to suppose that deserted houses are full of queer sentient things, or that old graveyards teem with the terrible, unbodied intelligence of generations? And since spirit, in order to cause all the manifestations attributed to it, cannot be limited by any of the laws of matter, why is it extravagant to imagine psychically living dead things in shapes - or absences of shapes - which must for human spectators be utterly and appallingly "unnamable"? "Common sense" in reflecting on these subjects, I assured my friend with some warmth, is merely a stupid absence of imagination and mental flexibility."


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