Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Disturbing a Grave with H.P. Lovecraft

by Pa Rock

I am currently reading two books.  Great Expectations is on the bedside table and serves as my evening read.   I first encountered the wonderful volume by Charles Dickens when I was in high school, where it was required reading.   I'm enjoying reacquainting myself with Pip and his friends from London and the surrounding countryside.  The volume that I have is over five-hundred pages in length, but it is moving along briskly.

My other book stays in the car where I dutifully read from it each morning while waiting to go to work.  That volume, The Complete Fiction of H.P. Lovecraft, is over eleven-hundred pages, and, due in large part to the complexities of Lovecraft's vocabulary and language, moves along at a slower pace.   Lovecraft is delicious, like a fine dessert, and must be consumed slowly and deliberately, with no crumbs left behind.

H.P. Lovecraft never graduated from high school and spent most of his life living modestly and publishing almost everything he wrote in pulp magazines , often in the magazine classic Weird Tales.  His works were commonly serialized across several issues of a magazine, and he was paid by the word - often as little as one cent per word.  (Small wonder he was usually so verbose!)  His readership, those most likely to rely on pulp magazines for their stories, was comprised mainly of the common working people.

That amazes me.  The common man today would be hard pressed to tolerate the rich complexities of Lovecraft's language, much less understand all of what he was saying.  Below is an example of what I am talking about.  It is a paragraph from the story, "The Lurking Fear," in which the central character is is trying to solve a contemporary mystery by digging up the grave of a man who died two centuries earlier.  The paragraph is very representative of the complete body of Lovecraft's work.

"The scene of my excavations would alone have been enough to unnerve any ordinary man.  Baleful primal trees of unholy size, age, and grotesqueness leered above me like the pillars of some hellish Druidic temple;  muffling the thunder, hushing the clawing wind, and admitting but little rain.  Beyond the scarred trunks in the background, illumined by faint flashes of filtered lightening, rose the damp ivied stones of the deserted mansion, while somewhat nearer was the abandoned Dutch garden whose walks and beds were polluted by a white, fungous, foetid, overnourished vegetation that never saw full daylight.  And nearest of all was the graveyard, where deformed trees tossed insane branches as their roots displaced unhallowed slabs and sucked venom from what lay below.  Now and then, beneath the brown pall of leaves that rotted and festered in the antediluvian forest darkness, I could trace the sinister outlines of some of this low mounds which characterised the lightening-pierced region."

Not too shabby for a guy with less than a high school education who was writing for others with limited educational backgrounds.  The times have obviously changed.

(Note:  Microsoft's spellcheck does not like "foetid," "overnourished," and "characterised" - which diminishes it as a writing tool.)

1 comment:

Brenda said...

The reason those words don't show up on spellcheck? Overnourished should, but it is a compound word that is more often hyphenated, and many times those don't. The other two are not spelled that way today, or are British spellings.