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The Mi-Go are greater beings than we, but then again, who ain’t?
January 9, 2013 2:37 PM   Subscribe

Brattleboro Days, Yuggoth Nights: an inter­view with H. P. Love­craft on a single postcard.
posted by brundlefly (20 comments total) 26 users marked this as a favorite

 
Metafilter: a proud Ver­mon­ter acqui­esc­ing to hav­ing his skull sawed open and its insides scooped out in order to fill a can of beans
posted by DaDaDaDave at 2:52 PM on January 9, 2013 [8 favorites]


What a crazy and cool artifact! I have a soft spot for 'The Whisperer in the Darkness' because I lived in Keene, New Hampshire - barely half an hour from Brattleboro - the first time I read it. He mentions the Keene train station en route to Brattleboro, and it was kind of like getting a Lovecraftian shout out from across the years.

Also: I used to work with a Goodenough from that general region! I'd never heard the name before or since, until now.
posted by usonian at 2:57 PM on January 9, 2013


A proud Ver­mon­ter acqui­esc­ing to hav­ing his skull sawed open and its insides scooped out in order to fill a can of beans?

This is one of the best questions I have seen asked. There may be no good answer.
posted by GenjiandProust at 3:13 PM on January 9, 2013


Hunh---HPL comes off as much more laid-back and human that I'd have expected!
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 3:20 PM on January 9, 2013 [2 favorites]


It is the lim­i­ta­tions of our brains — so large-seeming in those cozy alien can­nis­ters, but so minute swim­ming in this vast black uni­verse — that all but require an author to explore the super­nat­ural

Fantastic.
posted by Sparx at 3:36 PM on January 9, 2013


I love Ver­mont as much as you love your home of Prov­i­dence, but were strange and alien beings to mate­ri­al­ize at my door (being stranger than your­self and Mr. Cook any­way) with hints of a secret wis­dom and dis­plays of advanced machin­ery, I would give my all to ingra­ti­ate myself to them. I have no inter­est in the United States of the twen­ti­eth cen­tury — I’d be rightly pleased to never again wait for a street­car in the rain along with the other dour clerks and work­ing­men. But space? For­bid­den plan­ets that under the night sky seem so close that, if I could just find a tree tall enough, I could touch them? Yes, I would go in a moment. I would betray my fel­low man for the opportunity.

"The Whisperer in the Darkness" is--perhaps after "Celephais"--my favorite Lovecraft story, and this is why. This is what the story is really about: there are aliens--real, genuine aliens that you can't begin to comprehend who go around routinely doing things that completely destroy your whole notion of reality--at your door. They promise you things: they say you will live forever. They say you will become like a god. You don't trust them. You don't know if concepts like "trust" can even come into play here. Their psychology is outside your grasp; they appear insane to you, and yet they have demonstrated they're capable of incredible things. They are asking you to go with them. They are asking you to come to their world. You know that, if you go, you cannot return--you forsake the Earth you know, and cast off your own species. You will become alien, like them.

Do you say yes?

After my last reread, I saw the Outer Ones as scientific faeries, lurking in woods waiting around to offer wonders to lost children and spirit them away to Faerieland. I don't think the Outer Ones are malevolent. I think they are, from our perspective, not sane. They want to do exactly what they offer; but what happens to children who go with them to Faerie? No one ever comes back.
posted by byanyothername at 3:59 PM on January 9, 2013 [3 favorites]


It’s canned beans & one loaf of bread, pre-sliced, per week for me.

Aggh, I cringe inwardly every time I am reminded that Lovecraft died, basically, of chronic malnutrition. He's not exaggerating here- he lived on very, very little. HPL is a perfect argument for welfare systems, food stamps, and so on; imagine what he might have done with even another ten years, let alone thirty!
posted by Pope Guilty at 4:06 PM on January 9, 2013 [6 favorites]


So great. Thanks for posting.
posted by Kafkaesque at 5:20 PM on January 9, 2013


HPL comes off as much more laid-back and human that I'd have expected!

And then he undermines that impression by offhandedly referring to "a bes­tial tribe {…} from dark­est Africa". Even by the standards of his era's casual racism, that's a harsh bit of prejudice. HPL may not have had a high regard for humanity on the whole, but he evidently thought some people far worse than others.
posted by Doktor Zed at 5:24 PM on January 9, 2013


True, but Lovecraft's racism is expected. His being "laid-back and human" is not.
posted by brundlefly at 5:34 PM on January 9, 2013


True, but Lovecraft's racism is expected. His being "laid-back and human" is not.
posted by brundlefly at 7:34 PM on January 9 [+] [!]


My admiration of Lovecraft is problematic in this regard, but In just enjoy his prose so much!
posted by Krazor at 5:49 PM on January 9, 2013


Hunh---HPL comes off as much more laid-back and human that I'd have expected!

Yeah, his letters are terrific, he had a gigantic correspondence. He came up with nicknames for his friends (Clark Ashton Smith was KLARKASH-TON, a name that made it into one of his stories connected to an Atlantean priest), and was known to sign letters Granpa Cthulhu! (Is this taken as a sock puppet yet? If not, why on earth?)

Lovecraft's racism is problematic, yes. We know. But on the other hand he married a Jew and had a friend who was gay. If he had ever been in a position of any kind of power, could he have expressed those views in a real and damaging sense upon the world? We don't know; he was pretty much powerless his whole life. We do know however that he came around somewhat towards the end of his life, although I don't have details on hand.
posted by JHarris at 10:04 PM on January 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


I recently watched the Whisperers In The Darkness film. I liked it. So, for me this is a timely post.
Out of timely, even.

I've been hearing a lot for years about how he was a racist alien with a heart of ice. So it was damn nice to see the man behind the monsters.
posted by Mezentian at 4:40 AM on January 10, 2013


Lovecraft's racism is problematic, yes. We know. But on the other hand he married a Jew and had a friend who was gay. If he had ever been in a position of any kind of power, could he have expressed those views in a real and damaging sense upon the world?

Yes, we know he married a Jewish woman, but their marriage lasted only a few years, for any number of reasons, although his continued anti-Semitic remarks couldn't have helped. That's not exactly a high-water mark of tolerance, any more than the excuse "some of my best friends are black". The question of whether personal alienation (along with his decline into penury) affected his reactionary views of the modern world or if his prejudices only alienated him further is a troublesome one for HPL biographers and critics.

The issue for us as readers is how HPL's unpleasant views drive his writing and how they evolved over his career, from "The Horror at Red Hook" to "At the Mountains of Madness". In another MeFi thread, ArtW makes the interesting case that HPL's stories are all about undermining his real-life xenophobic positions. That somewhat charitable reading does underscore how different this situation is compared with his contemporaries, e.g. T. S. Eliot or Ezra Pound, to say nothing of Louis-Ferdinand Céline or Knut Hamsun. His "Yog-Sothery" can't simply be written off as paranoid racist fantasies, nor can it be exonerated with special pleading.

That said, this postcard interview is a perfect example of what a genial correspondent Lovecraft could be, as well as a great find on the web. It neatly presents his character with his charms (and flaws), as well as his intelligent critiques of his work. His remarks about science's superiority to supernaturalism show how much he'd thrown off the early influence of fantasy writers Lord Dunsany and R. W. Chambers. His authorial perspective on his monstrous creations is much more cosmically cosmopolitan than a pulp chiller writer's:
"I sup­pose the Mi-Go are rather like us. As we might pin but­ter­flies to a mount­ing board or attempt com­mu­ni­ca­tion with a bes­tial tribe of {illegible} from dark­est Africa, they seek to learn about us through a vari­ety of means."
On one hand, that's a creative insight on a par with H. G. Wells's about Martians in The War of the Worlds. On the other, was that intentionally redacted by Lovecraft's correspondent, and what was that illegible word that the horrid adjective "bestial" described?
posted by Doktor Zed at 12:12 PM on January 10, 2013 [4 favorites]


So the Outer Ones are unbound-by-spacetime trolls?
posted by ostranenie at 7:53 PM on January 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


Nyarlathotep certainly seems to be in some regards.
posted by Pope Guilty at 8:18 PM on January 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yes, we know he married a Jewish woman, but their marriage lasted only a few years, for any number of reasons

I though it was pretty certain, it was because she wanted to stay in New York and he wanted to return to Providence. He eventually did so, and didn't return. Also, his aunts didn't approve of her. This is stuff I've gathered from reading Joshi and listening to HPPodcraft, and maybe a miscellaneous other source of two. I don't pretend to say it can be backed up with hard sources, but I think there was something there.

His "Yog-Sothery" can't simply be written off as paranoid racist fantasies, nor can it be exonerated with special pleading.

This comes up EVERY TIME there's a Lovecraft thread, usually triumphantly as if someone has found the magic key that lets him discard Lovecraft from his body of things he should consider interesting.

But if you dig deep enough you can find something negative to say about anyone. Lovecraft wasn't a saint, and he had some odious opinions which can't be written off as merely being of his time. But he almost certainly never acted on them, some of his stories undermine them indicating subconscious revolt, and what someone professes and practices are often two different things. There is the racism of a person who's all talk, and there's the racism of someone prepared to act on his statements; they aren't the same. We can't say for sure, but indications seem to be that Lovecraft was of the former type. Neither should be excused; the existence of the first provides cover for the second. But still, we have no reason to believe Lovecraft ever committed a single act of violence in his entire sad life.

And again, I don't have sources with me, but I do believe he was working his way out of it towards the end. I don't think this should be taken as gospel; I mention as a suggestion that someone with better access to sources than I at the moment might want to check on it.
posted by JHarris at 12:59 AM on January 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


So the Outer Ones are unbound-by-spacetime trolls?

A friend and I reread Whisperer together, and I think I used an almost identical phrase when I was explaining my idea of the Outer Ones to her. The wax mask and hands, the black stone (trapezohedron?), the ritual in the woods, the whole correspondence and drama between Akeley and Wilmarth could be part of an elaborate prank. We're never even sure there's an inhuman influence in the story; even assuming the Outer Ones actually exist, they're so unreliable and inconsistent (not to mention self-glorifying) as narrators that we can't really trust anything they say.

I like to see them as quasi-sincere, though. They're really offering what they offer and their interest in humanity is something like "benevolent." They're just so different from us that accepting their gifts may not be pleasant.

They have a pretty strong streak of just messing with people for no reason throughout the story, too, though, so who knows.
posted by byanyothername at 1:58 PM on January 11, 2013


I like to see them as quasi-sincere, though. They're really offering what they offer and their interest in humanity is something like "benevolent."

In the story, Akeley believes the Fungi from Yuggoth are here for less than benevolent reasons: "They come here to get metals from mines that go deep under the hills [...] They could easily conquer the earth, but have not tried so far because they have not needed to. They would rather leave things as they are to save bother." In that respect, they're not as belligerent as Welles's colonizing Martians, but Akeley's fears that the Mi-Go will kidnap him to prevent knowledge of their presence from getting out seem to be well founded by the story's end.

Then again, perhaps Akeley is merely fearful because of his comparatively primitive ignorance of the Outer Ones, as the Mi-Go impersonating him implies (his inspiration, Arthur Good­e­nough, seems much more enthusiastic in this postcard). Or maybe Akeley had become genuinely paranoid from living in the isolated woodland hills of Vermont. Or maybe Wilmarth himself failed his SAN roll, and his whole narrative is suspect. It's never a wise course to start asking who's crazy in an HPL story...
posted by Doktor Zed at 4:45 PM on January 11, 2013


And this turns out to be too good to be true. Author Nick Mamatas explains that "my piece in The Revelator is fiction. The 'from the vaults' feature of the magazine is always a fiction that purports to be a true story or interview connected with the largely imaginary history of The Revelator itself."
posted by Doktor Zed at 5:19 PM on January 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


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