Posts Tagged ‘horror’
My love for the horrible has drawn me into some relatively ridiculous and odd situations, not least of which being the yellow acrylic nails I’m sporting at the moment. When the ambiguous “-ible” ending is swapped for “‘-or,” though, it leads to a fascination with the grisly and the anxiety-provoking. I developed an unspoken, hitherto unprecedented type of friendship with a kid in middle school over our mutual love for Stephen King novels; I’ve seen all the Amityville movies on the SciFi channel; I read ghost stories day in and day out. One of the things that I’ve realized is maybe most interesting to me about horror writing is that it not only serves to creep out the reader, but also to give him, if he’s astute, a sense of what’s actually eating the author – what keeps the author up at night, letting his mind range from the horror of the vast and unknowable to the minutiae of his room: a ticking clock, a creaking floorboard, a movement in the curtains, a doorknob’s barely perceptible turn to the left.
This morning on the way to work, I was reading Borges’s Book of Imaginary Beings on the train and stumbled across his entry on the Kraken. It includes this excerpt from Tennyson’s Juvenalia, which were written by poet as an adolescent and never published:
Below the thunders of the upper deep;
Far, far beneath in the abysmal sea,
His ancient, dreamless, uninvaded sleep
The Kraken sleepeth: faintest sunlights flee
About his shadowy sides: above him swell
Huge sponges of millennial growth and height;
And far away into the sickly light,
From many a wondrous grot and secret cell
Unnumber’d and enormous polypi
Winnow with giant arms the slumbering green.
Where he hath lain for ages and will lie
Battening upon huge seaworms in his sleep,
Until the latter fire shall heat the deep;
Then once by man and angels to be seen,
In roaring he shall rise and on the surface die.
Now if you’re a fan of horror, this poem points to one thing and one thing only: CTHULHU. A year ago D. and I got into reading the much-lauded king of 20th century horror writing, H.P. Lovecraft, of whose work there are numerous compilations (not to mention almost unlimited fan fiction). The Call of Cthulhu is one of Lovecraft’s best-known works. It’s not the longest, nor in my opinion the most frightening, by a long shot – but it gets to the heart of, and puts a face (if you can call its “pulpy, tentacled head” – one of H.P.’s favorite images – a face) to Lovecraft’s deep hatred of the unknown, the unthinkably large, the ancient, and especially, those Ones who inhabit dark expanses beyond our understanding, i.e., the sea and the reaches of space. If you have read much Lovecraft you know that a great deal of his approach to illustrating the terrible is not to illustrate it much at all; to allow doubt to fester in fertile opacity. His description of Cthulhu’s body (the above-described head surmounting “a grotesque and scaly body with rudimentary wings”) isn’t the most bone-chilling of images, but from how frequently Lovecraft assigns these characteristics to his monsters – the tentacled head in particular – we can tell that at least he’s seriously bothered by them as the physical identity of a creature he associates with the deepest, most unnerving kind of challenge to the bounds of human time, logic, and developed space. For me, it’s these realms that Lovecraft has the most success in describing, and which have left the largest impression on me as suggestions that the most basic laws governing the systems of our planet and galaxy are rooted in a logic that is so far from human as to be obscene, and so obscene as to be sinister in intent. The alien landscapes and their inhabitants, which provide the hair-raising substance of stories like Dagon and The Whisperer in Darkness are perhaps Lovecraft’s most successful feat (what is eerier than the line “And it has come to pass that the Lord of the Woods, being…seven and nine, down the onyx steps…tributes to Him in the Gulf, Azathoth, He of Whom Thou has taught us marvels…on the wings of night out beyond space, out beyond th…to That whereof Yuggoth is the youngest child, rolling alone in black aether at the rim….”?)
Sometimes it’s easy when reading Lovecraft – and especially when reading a Lovecraft compilation, which puts all of his paranoia in one place and invites a few rolled eyes at the man’s burning need to convey how terrible bumps in the night were for him, with what seems at times no sense of obligation to illuminate much for the readers at all – to develop a kind of irritation at his pretty unclear terror about things that we just aren’t generally spooked by. Things like the planet Pluto, pink gelatin, translucent orbs, and air conditioning. But his overall focus, like that of most writers, is on the relationship of the large to the small, the yawning to the minute, the imperceptible to the mindblowing. The shock of something brushing you in the night or of a wasteland so vast its limits are unseeable; the terrible similarity between a nagging fear and the presence of a black hole. One of Lovecraft’s greatest fears it seems, and the thing that lies at the center of much great horror, is the tiny signifier that reveals something inconceivably huge.
In another of Tennyson’s Juvenalia, he writes of the house, and the body, as empty, soulless shell:
The Deserted House
Life and Thought have gone away
Side by side,
Leaving door and windows wide:
Careless tenants they!
All within is dark as night:
In the windows is no light:
And no murmur at the door,
So frequent on its hinge before.
Close the door, the shutters close,
Or thro’ the windows we shall see
The nakedness and vacancy
Of the dark deserted house.
Come away: no more of mirth
Is here or merry-making sound.
The house was builded of the earth,
And shall fall again to ground.
Come away: for Life and Thought
Here no longer dwell;
But in a city glorious –
A great and distant city – have bought
A mansion incorruptible.
Would they could have stayed with us.
These two poems in Tennyson’s Juvenalia terrify perhaps primarily because they’re such massively frightening, and frighteningly effective, works about something both huge and ancient (a monster and death), written by a human adolescent. And what is more unnerving than a written work that betrays a vast, inexplicable darkness within its writer?
_____________________________________________________________ I have seen the dark universe yawning Where the black planets roll without aim, Where they roll in their horror unheeded, Without knowledge or lustre or name.