Simon Says: "Cthulhu fhtagn"
November 14, 2013 12:38 AM   Subscribe

 
Come for the interesting article, stay for Lovecraft's ghostly portrait haunting the sidebar as you scroll down the page.
posted by JHarris at 12:53 AM on November 14, 2013 [3 favorites]


It was as if Luke Skywalker was real, or the flying skateboards from Back To The Future were real.

If only. If only...
posted by Ghidorah at 1:01 AM on November 14, 2013


Lovecraft's ghostly portrait haunting the sidebar as you scroll down the page.

I thought that came standard with all browsers?
posted by 23 at 1:02 AM on November 14, 2013 [6 favorites]


Most of the time gimmicky graphics and tricks* bug me, but those slidey things really added to the page. Well played, web developer!

* Like, say, taking JavaScript seriously.
posted by Celsius1414 at 1:08 AM on November 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


The portrayal of Providence is a little weird. While the Biltmore is about shabby, calling it a "dump" shows a lack of familiarity with dumps. Also:

From the Biltmore, it's a pleasant 40-minute walk to the home that Lovecraft shared with his mother on Angell Street.

It is a pleasant walk if you don't mind the four blocks of fairly steep hill. And taking 40 minutes suggests extremely slow walking or unaccountable meandering. But I quibble.
posted by GenjiandProust at 1:49 AM on November 14, 2013 [3 favorites]


A supposed insider view here that's both touching and adamant that Lavenda is Simon, because pretty much anybody who's researched this stuff believes this is the case. Maybe Slater helped. One of the things that gets glossed over with the OTO and the occult community generally is its role as a place for non-heteronormative sexuality. (This may be one of the major reasons Crowley created the OTO, actually--its rites are full of coded queerness.)

People like to dump on the "Simonomicon" but it's probably more entertaining and accessible than a lot of other occult literature. Crowley is a pain to read, obscurantist and frequently limited by the time in which he lived, and the Western Ceremonial tradition can be divided into historical texts (which are fun to skim but disorganized and generally wacky by our standards) and Victorian and later syntheses produced by modern occultists, which usually just aren't that well written and have not come to terms with how much of the modern stuff is tweaked Freemasonry. Despite the claims of spooky uniqueness, the Simonomicon hits the basics of what occultists do (besides argue and have bad breakups with each other) and just replaces the more common symbols with pseudo-Sumerian and squiggly lines.
posted by mobunited at 2:02 AM on November 14, 2013 [17 favorites]


Six comments, one of them is from someone familiar enough with the streets of Providence that he knows about how long it'd take to walk from the Blitmore to Lovecraft's childhood home, and another knowledgeable about occult literature and the Simon Necronomicon.

This is shaping up to be a good thread.
posted by JHarris at 2:12 AM on November 14, 2013 [3 favorites]


I actually think the Biltmore is really charming! It's definitely nowhere near a dump. I always stay there when I stay in Providence. The room I always end up in always has this creepy picture of a shadowy figure standing under a stone archway far in the distance, though. I keep waiting for it to be closer each time, but so far, so good.
posted by Elementary Penguin at 3:07 AM on November 14, 2013 [5 favorites]


Yeah, I think the Biltmore is nice, too -- that's where my high school had their proms (but I like it anyway).

It is a pleasant walk if you don't mind the four blocks of fairly steep hill. And taking 40 minutes suggests extremely slow walking or unaccountable meandering. But I quibble.

It's also forty minutes if you're, say, my husband or anyone else not actually from Providence. Whenever we visit my parents I get a lot of lectures about the benefits of "street signs", whatever those are. Ah, Rhode Island: If you don't know how to get where you're going on your own, you probably don't deserve to be there.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 4:03 AM on November 14, 2013 [3 favorites]


Also, using Tyson as a source on Lovecraft is, well, hunting for a particular tone. Tyson writes for Llewellyn, an occult publisher on the rather far end of the "credulous spectrum." He makes some pretty standard errors about Lovecraft -- the man was not a recluse -- and his claim that Lovecraft got occult knowledge in his dreams was unconvincing when the vastly more interesting Kenneth Grant tried the same line four decades ago.

The article does have a sentence I don't take (much) exception to:

As far as the Simon Necronomicon is concerned, you'd be hard pressed to prove that it's actually an ancient magical text.
posted by GenjiandProust at 4:11 AM on November 14, 2013 [8 favorites]


It's also forty minutes if you're, say, my husband or anyone else not actually from Providence. Whenever we visit my parents I get a lot of lectures about the benefits of "street signs", whatever those are.

I'm just saying that if that street (it might have been an alley) Google Maps wanted me to go down had been marked, maybe I wouldn't have gone to Cranston on our wedding day, while trying to get from the East Side to Downtown.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 4:15 AM on November 14, 2013 [4 favorites]


OK, I will admit Providence's streets are... well... confusing, with a lot of short dead end streets, counterintuitive one-ways, and something of an aura of madness about them, this particular trip is take one street east from the hotel to the top of the hill, go two blocks north and turn east, continue to your destination. It's pretty hard to get lost, especially on foot, even for a tourist. Driving between the two would be substantially harder because of the one-ways and the bridge.
posted by GenjiandProust at 4:27 AM on November 14, 2013


I would be astonished to learn that Peter Levenda wasn't Simon.
posted by Sticherbeast at 4:41 AM on November 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


For those interested in the various versions of The Necronomicon, Dan Harm's lecture at Treadwell's bookstore (from the great Yog-Sothoth.com) is well worth a listen.
posted by GenjiandProust at 4:41 AM on November 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


Come for the interesting article, stay for Lovecraft's ghostly portrait haunting the sidebar as you scroll down the page.

Staring as he thrusted.
posted by Pope Guilty at 5:05 AM on November 14, 2013


I'm just saying that if that street (it might have been an alley) Google Maps wanted me to go down had been marked,

The streets are all marked with easily recognizable landmarks, they were all just torn down decades ago. Sadly google maps doesn't use the standardized rhode island unit of distance which is "how close it is to where the old narraganset brewery used to be"
posted by Perfectibilist at 5:21 AM on November 14, 2013 [6 favorites]


taking 40 minutes suggests extremely slow walking or unaccountable meandering.

Maybe someone gave him directions that included "turn right at the dunkin donuts" which sent him off on cyclocpean spirals across the city that would make euclid shudder. (Alternately he asked a RISD/Brown undergrad for directions along the way)
posted by Perfectibilist at 5:25 AM on November 14, 2013 [3 favorites]


Maybe someone gave him directions that included "turn right at the dunkin donuts"

Shockingly, there are no Dunkin' Donuts on the route!

Perhaps he asked for directions... in the Dutch language!

Ahem. Sorry.

I am not really sorry; that's a Lovecraft joke that will never grow old.
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:31 AM on November 14, 2013 [6 favorites]


Perhaps Providence's streets are simply unnameable.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 5:41 AM on November 14, 2013 [10 favorites]


Hey, in Providence, Friendship really is a one-way street!
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:43 AM on November 14, 2013 [4 favorites]


The directions to where I used to work included "abandon hope and turn on to power!"
posted by Perfectibilist at 5:44 AM on November 14, 2013 [3 favorites]


A gay ghost... a lesser man could make a 'putting the willies up' joke at this point, a good job I'm above all that.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 5:45 AM on November 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


"This book has been a classic among freaks, geeks, and Dungeon Masters for decades.
I remember playing Warhammer (fantasy) when it first came out and our DM was always waving that thing around.

Perhaps Providence's streets are simply unnameable.

Oh, so getting lost in Providence is what that song is all about.
posted by octobersurprise at 6:47 AM on November 14, 2013 [3 favorites]


Oh, so getting lost in Providence is what that song is all about.

You've just reminded me of my favorite ever fake letter to the editor from an ancient issue of the National Lampoon:
Dear Sirs:

Where the fuck are we now?

Sincerely,
U2
Where the streets have no name
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 7:36 AM on November 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


> The streets are all marked with easily recognizable landmarks, they were all just torn down decades ago. Sadly google maps doesn't use the standardized rhode island unit of distance which is "how close it is to where the old narraganset brewery used to be"

That's Level 2 New England navigation. You've still got Level 3 to achieve.

> Ah, Rhode Island: If you don't know how to get where you're going on your own, you probably don't deserve to be there.

That, more-or-less, was said to me explicitly when I tried to bicycle around Roxbury. "If you don't know where you're going, then what are you doing here?"
posted by benito.strauss at 7:53 AM on November 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


There's a basic template that's considered "Lovecraftian," although it was never actually used by Lovecraft — rather, it was popularized by later writers of the Lovecraftian tradition. In these stories, which are often supposed to be diary entries or essays, the main character discloses the fact that he's learned a secret, or uncovered some particularly powerful form of magic. Although there are plenty of indications that things are getting out of hand, the writer continues to experiment, until he realizes that he has unleashed a monster — which, at that point, kills him. End of story.

Never actually used? Really? This pretty much exactly describes 'The Haunter of the Dark', and to a slightly less diary-based degree things like 'The Rats in the Walls', etc.
posted by FatherDagon at 9:47 AM on November 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


Also, using Tyson as a source on Lovecraft is, well, hunting for a particular tone.
That's exactly what I thought. All the stuff regarding Tyson and Grant's (deliberate-ish) misreadings of Lovecraft, shoehorning him into a framework he was sort of opposed to, while reducing Joshi to a cameo?

Hm. I mean, I understand the allure of the whole "Lovecraft as secret occultist" thing--it was a wonderful little rabbit hole to explore as a teenager--but I ultimately found it less interesting than Lovecraft's actual stories. Is there any other author with such a huge pop cultural impact and image which has nothing at all to do with anything he actually wrote? Except for the rubbishy racist bits, everyone has those memorized.

/weirdgrump
posted by byanyothername at 10:02 AM on November 14, 2013 [3 favorites]


[Reading] "As it turns out, it isn't haunted at all --" [Ghostly drawing pops up out of nowhere] "WAAAAAAH!!!!"
posted by Mooseli at 10:26 AM on November 14, 2013


Never actually used? Really?

Also the ghost-written "The Diary of Alonzo Typer," which ends with the lines:

SPOILER ALERT (if the story can be spoiled)










[Writing here grows indistinct]
Too late—cannot help self—black paws materialise—am dragged away toward the cellar. . . .


Which is possibly the most ridiculous use of the device, ever.

END SPOILER

Even the end of "Dagon" has a bit of this, although it's unclear who the Narrator is speaking to or how.
posted by GenjiandProust at 10:55 AM on November 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


I've always found the "still scribbling despite being consumed by toxic incomprehensibility" aspect of the device to be charming, though. Stalwart scholars, those weird fiction protagonists!

"The Shadow Over Innsmouth" has my favorite use of that, actually, in the way

(spoilers spoilers spoilers)










the narrator does a tone 180 (somehow evoking a darker, sadder tone in the casual asides about cousins in asylums and uncles who commuted suicide--because of ignorance and mistreatment) and embraces the strangeness event horizon he's fallen into as beautiful and transcendent. D'awww. It was all a bad dream on the way to grandma's house!
posted by byanyothername at 11:09 AM on November 14, 2013 [3 favorites]


It was all a bad dream on the way to grandma's house!

O'er Devil's Reef and down through the depths,
to Y'ha-nthlei we go!
posted by Pope Guilty at 1:50 PM on November 14, 2013 [5 favorites]


Whenever we visit my parents I get a lot of lectures about the benefits of "street signs", whatever those are.

If it weren't for street signs, my job delivering pizzas would be impossible. Hearing about the non-Euclidian horror of Providence's streets makes me glad I'm not delivering there. If that was Lovecraft's childhood experience with streets, it sheds new light on the narrator's inability to find the scene of the horror (in Paris) later in "The Music of Erich Zann." I suspect that lots of older cities have particularly squamous street grids.

Perhaps he asked for directions... in the Dutch language!

Hee hee. You see? Was I right about this thread or what.

Hey, in Providence, Friendship really is a one-way street!

NO MATTER HOW MUCH YOU TEMPT ME NYARLATHOTEP, I WILL NOT MAKE A PONY REFERENCE.

Instead, here's a young Wilbur Whateley's drawing of Dad (judging from the story, he's probably about six days old).
posted by JHarris at 2:26 PM on November 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


If yer hahve to arsk what street you're ahn, yer don't belahng heah.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 4:05 PM on November 14, 2013


Hey, in Providence, Friendship really is a one-way street!

A brief comic on the subject.

I always found the streets on College Hill pretty well signed, though there was a distinct lack of stop signs around Perkins that seemed almost an effort to increase its isolation.
posted by 23 at 5:59 PM on November 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


a young Wilbur Whateley's drawing of Dad
THESE ARE SO FREAKING ADORABLE

I think my favorites are this one and this one. Just, awww! And the Marshes out for a lovely stroll. I love the re-imagining of Lovecraft's world as one that is as safe and kind as we understand now, just...new, and yet older than we expect. I've always wondered how pitiable the Whateley twins are intended to be. They have probably the most monstrous aims of anyone/thing in Lovecraft's oeuvre, but their solitude and strangeness is palpably sad to me, Wilbur's end pitiful and lonely, the other one crying out for their father. There's definite room here for a Wicked-type re-POVing.

Which I call dibs on right now.
posted by byanyothername at 9:18 PM on November 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


I hadn't seen those other ones, but yes, they're really nice. And I think Lovecraft did have a bit of a sense of the tragedy of the Whateleys. I mean Wilbur did want to "clean off" the Earth, but he had a particularly ignominious end, as the noble guard dog saves the world. And beneath the trenchcoat Whateley is surprisingly fragile, not tougher than an ordinary human, but actually weaker. And then there's poor dying Lavinia, who doesn't get to escape from the demonic whippoorwills like Wizard Whateley does.

Maybe this is just me wanting to think better of the man, but I can't help but look at The Dunwich Horror and The Shadow Over Innsmouth as Lovecraft kind of looking at his own racism as how it would look were he not one of the favored race, but as one of the unfavored ones. Wilbur Whateley wants to help the Old Ones to clean off the earth; of course, we, and he, are the ones who would be cleaned off. And as noticed above, the protagonist of Shadow doesn't think the fate waiting for him is so bad once he's crossed over -- and then he makes Yha-nthlei sound like a wonderland to us. And what does "racism" even mean when you think humanity as a whole is insignificant?

These things are why I don't think it's possible to characterize HPL as just another stupid racist, no matter what he says in his letters. (But then of course there's the case of what might be his worst story, The Horror At Red Hook, just wallows in that crap. I'm not saying this view is without issues.)
posted by JHarris at 9:58 PM on November 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


There's definite room here for a Wicked-type re-POVing.

Yeah, talk about your ill-treated children -- created for someone else's plan, and there is a bit of diary where Wilbur muses on what will become of him when the big event occurs -- he knows his human part will be cleared away, but he's not sure what that will leave. I have vague memories of reading a story like this, but I don't remember any titles to even go looking.

Maybe this is just me wanting to think better of the man, but I can't help but look at The Dunwich Horror and The Shadow Over Innsmouth as Lovecraft kind of looking at his own racism as how it would look were he not one of the favored race, but as one of the unfavored ones.

I don't know. It's really easy to look for ways to mitigate Lovecraft's racism, and I think that's a dangerous road to go down (I sat uncomfortably through a panel at the recent Necronomicon where a bunch of old white guys (and one woman) tried really hard to sweep it all under the carpert. I was deeply disappointed). Rather, I think Lovecraft's racism (and class snobbery) makes his stories more complex. So, at the end of "The Shadow over Innsmouth," are we meant to read Robert Olmstead's decision as embracing his true heritage or as the ultimate horror of being dragged down by the miscegenation in his past? Is Dyer's sympathy for the Elder Things at the end of "At the Mountains of Madness" sympathy for sentient beings in any guise or pity for a noble race brought low by decadence and their inability to keep their brutish servants in line? Even the ending of "The Dunwich Horror," which I read as undercutting the heroics in a very Modernist way could just be read as a nasty dig at the ignorant rubes.

I find one set of these readings to be more attractive, but the other readings add an extra layer of complexity to the stories, which is something worth considering. I'd like to believe that Lovecraft became more progressive as his life went on, but I sometimes think that his longing for a more equal society had more to do with a desire for a society that would let him live as a genteel aristocrat, as he always deserved rather than actual notions of justice....
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:31 AM on November 15, 2013 [2 favorites]


Weren't the shoggoths supposed to be surprisingly intelligent for being ambulatory goo?
posted by Pope Guilty at 5:42 AM on November 15, 2013


Someone should do an ap which basically texts at the punch of a key 'I know too much... Cthulhu ftaghn...! The many eyed one! The Gate And The Key.... it's outside... it's coming in....!' for those sort of eventuallties when you've just not got time to type before an extra-dimensional horror eats your soul.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 6:16 AM on November 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


When the TV serial Dark Shadows adapted elements of The Dunwich Horror and other Lovecraft stories for its "Leviathan" storyline, they were faced with a similar problem. The actor playing the "human" incarnation of the beast in the attic had become popular, and the producers liked the romance between him and the girl who was supposed to have been sacrificed to the beast.

So, they found a way to destroy just the beast incarnation; brief, happy marriage for the human and the girl, and when he eventually died a totally redeemed character they brought the actor back in a new role (as they were wont to do with performers they liked).
posted by The Underpants Monster at 6:27 AM on November 15, 2013


I don't know. It's really easy to look for ways to mitigate Lovecraft's racism, and I think that's a dangerous road to go down (I sat uncomfortably through a panel at the recent Necronomicon where a bunch of old white guys (and one woman) tried really hard to sweep it all under the carpert. I was deeply disappointed).

The fact that it's not only easy to look for them, but easy to find them, is suggestive. It's not that dangerous, we're not going to forget the The Horror At Red Hook*. But, also, most reports I've heard had him working out of his racism later in life, and people are allowed to discard bad notions. Plus, 1930s.

I can't speak for those others people you mention, but all I'm suggesting is remembering him, not as a cardboard cutout with the word RACIST on it, but as a human being. You shouldn't unequivocally demonize him or lionize him. Or, anyone.

So, at the end of "The Shadow over Innsmouth," are we meant to read Robert Olmstead's decision as embracing his true heritage or as the ultimate horror of being dragged down by the miscegenation in his past?

Arguments can be made for both sides. The complexity itself shows he was conflicted about it.

(* Yes, he is complex, so I'm going to remind you that his cat was named N***** Man, and that name actually got to be used in the story The Rats In The Walls, which is usually edited out in anthology printings. As a side note, I offer the following. The Call of Cthulhu campaign Spawn Of Azathoth has a section that takes place in Providence, Rhode Island, and so there's a neat little self-referential bit [page 31 of original printing] where players can call upon Lovecraft's home and talk with his aunts. [There are no leads in the game that go here, it's only if players are playing a bit OOC themselves.] Lovecraft is out, in New York by that time living with his then-wife Sonia Greene, but his cat is in. The adventure makes it a point to note that the name of this cat is Bubastis.)
posted by JHarris at 3:23 PM on November 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


byanyothername: "I've always found the "still scribbling despite being consumed by toxic incomprehensibility" aspect of the device to be charming, though. Stalwart scholars, those weird fiction protagonists!"

"He who is valorous and pure of heart may find the Holy Grail in the aaaaarrrrrrggghhh..."

posted by Chrysostom at 2:44 PM on November 20, 2013 [2 favorites]


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