Lovecraftian Themes: Blurring the Line Between Fiction and Reality, A Literary Study

 

The following study explores the way in which the literary theme of blurring the line between fiction and reality (F=R) first saw the dark of night in the genre of modern horror. It explores the roots of the theme in the exchanges between Howard P. Lovecraft, the father of modern supernatural horror, and two of his inner circle of friends Frank Belknap Long and Robert Bloch. Theoretically, there is a discernable history of development that can be viewed from a consideration of specific stories in sequence. This study offers a literary reconstruction of the different stages of these developments based on the exchanges between the aforementioned authors, and it follows the theme into Alan Moore’s recent publications.

The first publication to consWeird_Tales_July_1928ider in this history of development, the seed of F=R, is Long’s short story “The Space Eaters” written in 1927 and published in the July 1928 issue of the pulp magazine Weird Tales.[1] As we shall see, Weird Tales proved to be the hunting ground for the participants in the exchange, and like the primordial soup from which all life on our planet evolved, was the primordial slime from which F=R gestated and began to take its first slithering steps across the fertile pages of the human imagination.

Long (1901-94) first became associated with Lovecraft in 1920 through publication and the world of amateur journalism. Their friendship grew, and in 1922 they first met during Lovecraft’s tFrank Belknap Longrip to New York. They continued to meet frequently during Lovecraft’s residence in Brooklyn between 1924-6. They also maintained correspondence through a prolific number of writings, and after Lovecraft moved to Providence, the Long family apartment became Lovecraft’s residence whenever he visited New York. The years 1927-28 saw a number of publications and professional collaboration between the two authors. Joshi summarizes:

“In 1926 W. Paul Cook published Long’s first book of poetry, A Man from Genoa. In 1927 Long wrote the story, “The Space Eaters,” in which HPL is featured as a character (referred to only as “Howard”; the other major character is named “Frank”). The story contains, as an epigraph, a quotation from the Necronomicon as translated by Dr. John Dee (the epigraph was omitted in the story’s first appearance in WT, July 1928); it constitutes the first “addition” to HPL’s pseudomythology. A year later Long (whose family had moved to 230 West 97th Street) wrote “The Hounds of Tindalos” (WT March 1929), an explicit imitation of HPL and a brief preface to the stillborn edition of HPL’s The Shunned House (1928). HPL, in turn, ghostwrote for Long the preface to Mrs. William B. Symmes’s Old World Footprints (W. Paul Cook/The Recluse Press, 1928), a slim poetry collection by Long’s aunt.”[2]

Again, these years marked significant publications and professional collaboration between these two authors, and this detail finds expression in Long’s story.

In “The Space Eaters,” the two main protagonists (as Joshi points out) are not coincidentally named Frank and Howard. They are obvious literary counterparts of Frank Long and Howard Lovecraft. Long admits as much; “It has always amazed me a little that a few science-fiction and fantasy aficionados have been uncertain as to whether or not Lovecraft was the central character in “The Space Eaters” … Of course he was.”[3] The relationship between Frank and Howard is characterized by a shared love of horror in literature, and their conversations range over such writers as Poe, Machen, Bierce, and Hawthorne. Eventually, they are thrust into a mutual struggle for survival against a malevolent alien invasion. The aliens descend and tunnel their way through the heads of their human victims and presumably eat part of their brains. The most horrific part being that the victim is alive for most of the process experiencing a slow, painful, and agonizing death. Unfortunately, by the end of the story, this same fate befalls poor Howard too.

The significance of this story for the present study is the apparent way real historical details are used as inspiration and content for the story itself. Clearly, Long’s relationship and professional exchanges with Lovecraft around this time influenced aspects of the story, the most significant of which are Frank and Howard’s shared interest in all matters horror and their identical names (Lovecraft had already been drawing inspiration from events and people in his life, i.e. Randolph Carter is loosely based on himself, but Long’s story is the first to introduce what are more like literary doppelgängers than mere loose literary approximations). What Long has done is introduce into his fiction facets of his real relationship with Lovecraft in order to give the story life. The move is from reality to fiction. Call this Stage One in the process. This is the slug from which the F=R theme grows, and, like all of Lovecraft’s deities, cultivation requires worship and sacrifice, and it is no different for the F=R motif.

Before moving on, it is important to note that this story dates back to the roaring twenties, and it considerably antedates the more popular exchange between Lovecraft and Bloch in the late 1930’s. As Long himself muses:

“Lovecraft once gave Robert Bloch permission to destroy him in a story, signing an agreement to that effect, that would probably have stood in a court of law…Much earlier, in “The Space Eaters” I had done that very thing—accomplished HPL’s [Howard Phillips Lovecraft] total disintegration …It amused him vastly and that he had chuckled over it is evident in every line of his most gracious and forgiving reply.”[4]

This point is important, because the story and its place in the history of the F=R motif may easily go unnoticed by popular writers.

By the 1930’s, due to Lovecraft’s extensive interaction with amateur authors through print, he amassed a circle of friends dubbed the Lovecraft circle. In addition to Long, this circle consisted of Robert Bloch, August Derleth, Robert E. Howard, Clark Ashton Smith, and Donald Wandrei. The next step in the history of development of the F=R theme involves a famous sequence of exchanges between Lovecraft and Bloch.

Bloch (1917-94) began to read the pulp magazine Weird Tales as a teenager and Lovecraft quickly became his favorite writer.  He first corresponded with Lovecraft in 1933, picked up Weird_Tales_September_1935on the same game introduced by Long, and published “The Shambler from the Stars” in the September 1935 issue of Weird Tales.[5] In this story, Bloch “features a thinly-disguised Lovecraft as his doomed New England protagonist.

‘Naturally I had written to Mr Lovecraft, asking if I could use him as a character, and incidentally, kill him off.’

Bloch explained in his 1993 autobiography.

“He not only agreed but also sent me an official note of permission signed by a number of his Cthulhu Mythos characters.’”[6]

Apparently, Lovecraft is the first to turn the arrow around and bring his fictional characters into the “real” world, “pretending” as if they were real, in his response to Bloch’s request. The move is from fiction to reality. Call this stage two in the process. This posturing brought to life Lovecraft’s characters in a far more creative way than Shelley brought to Frankenstein’s monster through Dr. Victor Frankenstein. Here, then, for the first time, we have a hint of the blurring of the line between fiction and reality, not in narrative form, but in a private correspondence between friends.

In “The Shambler from the Stars,” both of the main protagonists are unnamed, but the allusions are clear. Lovecraft’s literary counterpart is referred to as “a mystic dreamer in New England” who possesses knowledge both of Latin and rare occult books like the Necronomicon and the dread Book of Eibon. It is well known that Lovecraft’s place of birth is Providence, Rhode Island, one of the six northeastern states comprising New England along with Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Vermont. It is also known that he made interpolations into Bloch’s story. Bloch’s fictional book Mysteries of the Worm is renamed in Latin De Vermis Mysteriis and the following Latin invocation is given:

“Tibi, magnum Innominadum, signa stellarum nigrarum et bufaniformis Sadoquae sigillum…”[7]

It is also known that Lovecraft invented the Necronomicon in his 1924 short story “The Hound.” Thus, Bloch does not explicitly use the name Lovecraft of the character, but the allusions are clear. It is also implied that the main character is none other than a literary counterpart of Bloch himself, since Bloch is the creator of the Mysteries of the Worm, and it is this book in Latin that the main character brings to his friend in Providence. The story also mentions South Dearborn Street, and this street, along with Bloch’s place of birth, is in Chicago, Illinois.

In the story, Lovecraft’s literary counterpart reads the invocation and summons what has star-vampirecome to be known as a “Star Vampire” in the Cthulhu mythos. The creature is an invisible monster with multiple tentacles. It attacks Lovecraft’s counterpart while both he and Bloch’s counterpart are alone in a room together, and it drains his body of its blood leaving a bloodless corpse behind. After the creature leaves, apparently it is only interested in the summoner, Bloch’s counterpart is left in fear. He sets fire to the room and flees, anticipating the monsters return at some future date. Here, as with Long, a member of the Lovecraft circle had introduced a literary counterpart of Lovecraft and killed him off in fiction.

In response to Bloch’s story, Lovecraft wrote his famous “The Haunter of the Dark (Dedicated to Robert Bloch)” in 1935 and published it in the December 1936 issue of Weird Tales.[8] This story is a sequel to Bloch’s “The Shambler iWeird_Tales_December_1936n the Stars” and introduces the main protagonist as Robert Blake, a literary type from Milwaukee with a fascination for the macabre.[9] This is a clear allusion to Bloch, since the names are almost identical and Bloch’s family moved to Milwaukee in 1929 after his father lost his job.

At the beginning of the story, Blake is found dead starring out of a window. With a measure of intended irony by Lovecraft, the story notes that Blake’s “death may have nipped in the bud some stupendous hoax destined to have a literary reflection,” because people suspected Blake of charlatanry relating to “anomalous events at the deserted church of Federal Hill.” These events are the subject of the story, but the reader will notice that these words are the mirror image of the game that Bloch and Lovecraft are playing (also a nod to the game of killing each other off).

Reality                                                 Fiction

Bloch’s life is cause for fiction.       Blake’s death stops fiction

Additionally, it presents a contrast between truth in fiction and fiction within fiction. Lovecraft identifies these opposing sides explicitly in the story. On one side, there are those who will reject the truth of the matter and the explanation of the events offered by witnesses and recorded in Blake’s diary. These are the shrewd analysts who are “not slow in attributing them to some charlatanry, conscious or unconscious, with at least some of which Blake was secretly connected.” On the other side, “there remain several who cling to less rational and common place theories. They are inclined to take Blake’s diary at its face value…” Having presented both sides, Lovecraft challenges the reader with the remark, “Between these two schools of opinion, the reader must judge for himself.”

Reality in Fiction                                    Fiction in Fiction

Blake’s diary is true.                               Blake’s diary is a fiction.

Does this begin to blur the line between reality and fiction? Lovecraft hinted at this game with the following remark, “The papers have given the tangible details from a skeptical angle, leaving for others the drawing of the picture as Robert Blake saw it – or thought he saw it – or pretended to see it.” This is a veiled reference to the game of pretend that Bloch reintroduced. If something like this reconstruction is approximately true, we have yet to find an explicit statement in narrative form that Lovecraft’s fictions are real, even if Lovecraft himself hints at the game of pretending they are.

Returning to the story, having begun with the report of Blake’s death, the narrator then recounts the events recorded in his diary. It reports that he moved to Providence in the winter of 1934-5 and took up lodging off College Street. From his window he is able to see the old Gothic church on Federal Hill, in which no one has stepped foot since 1877, and he becomes fascinated with it. As time passes Blake begins to investigate the old church and journeys through its neighborhood. He is able to make his way into the building through a window and begins searching around. He finds a number of old occult tomes, a strange box with a stone suspended inside, and a human skeleton with an old telegram. As it turns out, he learns that the skeletal remains are of a missing reporter named ‘Edwin M. Lillibridge’ and that a Starry Wisdom cult is involved. The telegram conveys detail that a Prof. Enoch Bowen returned in 1844 from an exhibition in Egypt with a strange archaeological find. It also mentions a Shining Trapezohedron, blood sacrifices, devil-worship (200 people in congregation), and a strange creature called the Haunter of the Dark that is unable to exist in the light. Having made this discovery, Blake’s attention is transfixed to the Trapezohedron and he unwittingly summons the creature by gazing into it. This creature is an avatar of Nyarlathotep (a malevolent cosmic deity/alien), and is some kind of shadowy monstrosity with wings and a three-lobed burning eye. Blake hears the newly awakened creature move in the steeple and flees.

As days pass, there are a number of disturbances that relate sightings of a strange creature in the church by the people in the neighborhood. Apparently, it is confined to the church by the street lamps at night. Eventually, there is a power outage during a lightning and thunderstorm in the city and the Haunter of the Dark comes for Blake in the course of the night. Blake is subsequently found dead peering out of the window, and the coroner rules that the cause of death is electric discharge, i.e. lightning, even though the window has not been broken. Blake’s diary ends with a frantic and uneven set of scribbled sentences, “‘What am I afraid of? Is it not Nyarlathotep …I see  it – coming here – hell-wind – titan blur – black wings – Yog-Sothoth save me – the three-lobed burning eye…’” Lovecraft’s story also mentions the detail that Doctor Dexter, someone who believed in Blake’s claims, found the Shining Trapezohedron and threw it into the deepest channel of Narragansett Bay after Blake’s death.

Many years after the publication of Lovecraft’s “The Haunter of the Dark,” and many years after the death of Lovecraft in 1937, Bloch published a sequel in the September 1950 issue of Weird Tales entitled “The Shadow from the Steeple.”[10] Bloch continued the theme of blurring the lines between fiction and reality, only this time Fritz Leiber’s literary counterpart is introduced. Up until this point, again, we have yet to see the move first made by Lovecraft, that of pretending that the fictional characters are real, take narrative form. “The Shadow…” is the first story to make this step. Consequently, its place in the history of horror literature is, like Caesar’s wife Calpurnia, irreproachable.

Weird_Tales_September_1950The main protagonist is named Edmund Fiske of Chicago, Illinois, the same birth place as Leiber’s. Fiske’s investigations begin in 1935 with the death of his friend, Robert Blake, knowing only that Blake was a member of the “Lovecraft circle.” This is a circle of friends with similar interests in horror, science fiction and fantasy, who maintain correspondence through writing. He also knows that Lovecraft investigated the death and embedded the details of his findings in his fictional story “The Haunter of the Dark,” published the following year. It turns out that it was Lovecraft himself who encouraged Blake to visit Providence, and he even helped Blake secure living quarters on College Street next to his own home. Bloch, in effect, turns his literary counterpart Blake into a real person who interacted with Lovecraft and not simply Lovecraft’s literary counterpart. At one point, of Blake’s death, he has the protagonist proclaim, “The term, myth, as you know, is merely a polite euphemism. Blake’s death was not a myth, but a hideous reality.”

Fiske relates further that Lovecraft conducted his own investigation into Blake’s death, presumably from 1935-6, discovering much more than he published in his short story. Before Fiske could travel to Providence to investigate himself, Lovecraft dies in 1937. Lovecraft’s death seriously disturbs Fiske, and he spends a whole year in recovery before he is able to come down to Providence and investigate Blake’s death in person in 1938. None of his leads pan out. The church has been raised and the witnesses listed in Lovecraft’s story are of no help. The first witness, Father Merluzzo, died in 1936. Doctor Ambrose Dexter is reported to have taken leave for an indeterminate length of time. Fiske is only able to speak with one material witness mentioned in Lovecraft’s previous story, officer William J. Monahan of central station, but this proves to be of no avail. While Monahan provides no helpful information, he does protest Lovecraft’s wild claims made in his story “The Haunter of the Dark.” Here, Bloch is continuing to blur the line between fiction and reality by narrating a scene where one of Lovecraft’s own fictitious characters denounces the veracity of Lovecraft’s writings. Since his investigations lead nowhere, Fiske ultimately leaves Providence with little to no answers regarding Blake’s death, although he holds out hope for contacting Dexter at some future time.

Fiske recounts what transpires in-between the years 1939 and 1950, the time at which Bloch publishes the story. This is Bloch’s effort to fill in the back story and account for the length of time in-between publications. In 1941, while on a three-day furlough from basic training, Pvt. First Class Fiske passes through Providence on his way to New York and again attempts to contact Dexter but is unable to locate him. From 1942-3, Sgt. Fiske writes Dexter, because he is stationed overseas, but his letters are never answered. In 1945, Fiske reads of Dexter’s Princeton lecture on “Practical Applications in Military Technology” in a journal on Astrophysics. In 1946, Fiske returns to the states, but he does not hear of Dexter again until he reads a listing in 1948 on ‘investigators in the field of nuclear-physics’ in a national weekly news magazine. Lastly, in 1949 he once again hears of Dexter through a news column’s discussion of the work being conducted on the secret H-bomb.

At this point in Fiske’s investigation, he hires private investigator Ogden Purvis of Providence to locate Dexter. In 1950 Purvis, posing as a detective, is able to locate the small boat owner Tom Jones whose boat was chartered by Dexter in 1935 to take them both to the deepest channel of Narragansett Bay. Purvis and Fiske learn that Dexter did indeed throw a strange object overboard. The slow yet progressive confirmation of the miniscule details of Blake’s story suggests to the reader that the events of both “The Haunter of the Dark” and Blake’s diary are true in reality and not merely true in a fictional sense.

In the late spring of 1951, Purvis informs Fiske that Dexter has finally returned to his home on Benefit Street. Purvis repeatedly fails in his attempts to contact Dexter by house call, and Fiske repeatedly fails to contact him by phone and mail. Purvis continues his surveillance of the house, and the only strange observable detail reported about Dexter is that his house runs light and electricity 24 hours a day. Fiske then decides to visit Providence that summer. He instructs Purvis to meet him at the hotel upon his arrival, but Purvis fails to show up. Fiske is impatient, and he decides to visit Dexter alone. Arriving at the house, he is invited in by a small dark-skinned man servant to meet Dexter.

A conversation between Fiske and Dexter begins, and Fiske asks rather direct questions regarding Blake’s death. Dexter grows impatient with the interrogation and tries several times to end their conversation. When the questioning comes to a close, Fiske rises from his seat and turns off a lamplight. Dexter immediately turns the lamp back on, and Fiske becomes suspicious. At this point he begins to spell out his own conclusions. Dexter fears the light because of the Shining Trapezohedron, but the fear is not of the Haunter of the Dark, because too much time has passed and the Haunter would have already come years ago. Rather, the truth is that the Haunter of the Dark has possessed Dexter, and he fears the dark because it will expose his true inhuman form. Citing Lovecraft’s poem “Nyarlathotep” as a veiled prophecy or warning, Fiske identifies Dexter’s apocalyptic aim. In teaching humans how to create nuclear weapons, Dexter is giving them the means to destroy themselves. Lovecraft learned too much in his investigations, so the Haunter/Nyarlathotep’s masters killed him (this hints of a wider pantheon of alien gods). The conversation between Blake and Dexter has grown heated, and Blake pulls out a hand gun preparing to kill Dexter before it is too late. Unfortunately, as Fiske begins to move his finger on the trigger, Dexter turns off the lights and reveals the presence of the Haunter within him. In a split second, Fiske is dead.

Bloch’s story suggests that the content of Lovecraft’s fiction, at least the content relating to the coming of Nyarlathotep, is true in reality. This suggestion ranges over approximately six publications in which Nyarlathotep is featured as a character, “Nyarlathotep,” “The Rats in the Walls,” “The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath,” sonnet twenty one from the poem cycle “Fungi from Yuggoth,” “The Dreams in the Witch-House,” and “The Haunter of the Dark.”[11] As we’ve seen, Bloch suggests this claim at several points throughout the short story. He must have picked up astutely on the aforementioned mirror images implied in Lovecraft’s “The Haunter of the Dark” and interpreted Lovecraft as implying the reality of his truth in fiction.  This step continues the process of bringing fiction into reality. Only this time, there is much more fiction in reality and much more reality in fiction. This is the first narrative form of the F=R theme. Call this Stage Three in the process.

The next publication that widened the scope of the F=R theme even further is Bloch’s Strange Eons 1979famous novel Strange Eons published in 1979.[12] While “The Shadow from the Steeple” restricted the F=R theme to Lovecraft’s aforementioned works relating to Nyarlathotep and hints of a wider mythos, Strange Eons breaks through this restriction so that it explicitly ranges over Lovecraft’s other writings too. In addition to the Nyarlathotep material, these include but are not limited to “Pickman’s Model,” “The Lurking Fear,” “Facts Concerning the Late Arthur Jermyn and His Family,” “The Dunwich Horror,” “The Shadow over Innsmouth,” “The Statement of Randolph Carter,” “The Whisperer in Darkness,” “The Call of Cthulhu,” “The Strange High House in the Mist,” “The Shunned House,” “Cool Air,” “He,” “The Festival,” “The Terrible Old Man,” “At the Mountains of Madness,” “The Shadow Out of Time,” “The Colour Out of Space,” “Dagon,” “The Temple,” and “The Thing on the Doorstep.”

The book is divided into three parts, and the three main characters are Albert and Kay Keith and Mark Dixon. As the story opens, Albert is shopping in a rare antique store and is mysteriously drawn to a portrait depicting a strange creature (the creature on the cover of the novel). He purchases the portrait, and later he and his friend Simon Waverly have a conversation about its origins. Simon notices the similarity between the portrait and the artistic depiction of ghouls in Lovecraft’s story “Pickman’s Model.” Further inspection reveals the artist’s signature … R. Upton, the same name as the main character in Lovecraft’s story. Albert and Simon exchange the following words:

Albert: “The work was an artist’s homage, a sincere tribute. The painting was inspired by Lovecraft’s story.”

Simon: “Suppose it was the other way around…Suppose Lovecraft’s story was inspired by the painting?”

With these lines, Bloch introduces the main theme of the story, the theme of F=R: “Suppose he wasn’t just writing fiction…Suppose he was trying to warn us.”

The discovery that Lovecraft may have been trying to warn the rest of humanity in his stories marks the beginning of Albert’s investigations into the bewildering and esoteric world of the Cthulhu mythos. Along the way, Bloch is sure to include a number of Lovecraftian pastiches with reference to their literary parallels in Lovecraft. For example, Albert and Simon return to the antique store only to find that the store owner, Felipe Santiago, has had his face gnawed off. Later, Simon recalls an event in Lovecraft’s “The Lurking Fear” where a reporter, Arthur Munroe, peering through a window during a storm, has his face chewed and gouged off by a beasty. A little while later, having tracked down the warehouse from which Felipe originally purchased the portrait through a book dealer named Beckman, Waverly planned a trip to try and find other clues. Albert has a nightmare of Lovecraft’s Great Old Ones during the night while Waverly is away, and in the course of his nightmare he picks up the phone and dials Beckman’s number. Someone picks up and Albert asks whether he’s addressing Beckman. He awakens from his nightmare to find that he has in fact dialed Beckman’s number and hears a respondent utter, “You fool—Beckman is dead!” A bit later, he discovers the literary parallel between this event and the last line of Lovecraft’s “The Statement of Randolph Carter:” “You fool. Warren is dead.” Ultimately, Albert’s investigations lead him to accept that a worldwide cult is “preserving the secret of ancient monster-gods,” but his investigations are cut short by a mortal confrontation with Cthulhu and its followers.

The second part of the book picks up with Kay. Having been recently separated from Albert, the authorities locate her and inform her of her husband’s death. The story of his death, that he got drunk and fell overboard a ship in the middle of the South Pacific, is a cover up perpetrated by the Cthulhu cultists. In no time at all, she begins her own investigations into the Cthulhu mythos and discovers the same kinds of parallels that Albert had discovered. Unwittingly, she begins to aid the United States government in their attempt to thwart Cthulhu and its cult from bringing about the end of civilization. By the end of this section, the United States have launched a submarine equipped with Nuclear weaponry on a suicide kill mission against Cthulhu, and Kay is kidnapped and thrown into a volcano on Easter Island and into the tentacles of Cthulhu. Throughout this section, Bloch continues to present pastiche after pastiche, and he routinely explains the parallel for the reader.

The third part of the book picks up with Mark Dixon. Mark is the offspring of Kay and Cthulhu. The reader learns that the nuclear attack on Cthulhu succeeded and killed everyone on Easter Island except Kay and Nyarlathotep’s avatar the Black Man. The Black Man is able to escape with Kay before the nuclear strike. Kay dies in childbirth, and the Black Man arranges for Mark’s care seeing Mark grow into adulthood. Tragically, worldwide earthquakes then level civilization. The water levels rise and most of the earth’s land vanishes. In the end, Mark is left alone with the Black Man who divulges the truth about Mark’s parentage. The Black Man brings forth the Shining Trapezohedron, and its occult properties trigger Mark’s transformation. The genetic offspring of Cthulhu, he turns into a shambling mountain, ruler of the earth, priest of Azathoth, Cthulhu redivivus.

With the publication of Strange Eons, Bloch payed homage to his old mentor and brought to a close the most significant chapter in the history of F=R’s development. That history of development is traceable in the following stages:

Stage One: Long introduced literary counterparts of himself and Lovecraft in the story “The Space Eaters.”

Bloch picked up on Long’s idea and asked Lovecraft for permission to kill him off in print in a personal letter.

Stage Two: Lovecraft granted Bloch’s request, and pretended his fictitious characters were real having signed their names in a return letter to Bloch.

Bloch introduced literary counterparts of himself and Lovecraft in the story “The Shambler from the Stars.”

Lovecraft introduced a literary counterpart of Bloch in the story “The Haunter of the Dark.”

Stage Three:   Bloch developed Lovecraft’s idea further and gave narrative form to the theme that Lovecraft’s fictional creations were real in “The Shadow from the Steeple” and “Strange Eons.”

Having recounted the different stages of development of the F=R theme, it seems only prudent to mention a couple of writers who have picked up the proverbial torch and published writings in which the F=R theme finds further expression.

madnessposter            Perhaps on the heels of Bloch’s infamous Strange Eons, Michael De Luca wrote a screen play in the 1980’s that John Carpenter directed and released in 1995 as In The Mouth of Madness, a clear allusion to Lovecraft’s “At the Mountains of Madness.” The plot of the movie features the theme of F=R, only in this case the theme is not developed in response to the question addressed in Strange Eons, “What if Lovecraft’s fictions were telling the truth?” Rather, perhaps with progressive thought, it is developed in response to the more general question, “What if someone could make their fictions reality or create reality through their fiction?” This question comes across as a natural progression given the last stage of development.

The main protagonist of In The Mouth of Madness is named John Trent, a fraud insurance investigator. The story is about his investigation into the disappearance of a famous horror writer named Sutter Cane (play on Stephen King). Cane’s novels have a strange effect on people, driving them mad and making them sick, and Cane’s newest novel is the third in a trilogy that is preparing the world for something to come. Cane has been contacted by the Old Ones and given power to make his fictions real in an effort to create a bridge that will allow the Old Ones to return. By the end of the story, Trent confronts Cane and brings the script of the final book to the world issuing in the apocalypse.

More recently, writer Alan Moore has picked up the theme of F=R in his three part horror comic story arc The Courtyard, Neonomicon, and Providence. Originally, The Courtyard was a stand-alone. Moore claims to have had at least glancing interest in Lovecraft since he was 11 or 12 years old.[13]

The Courtyard           The Courtyard is a two issue mini-series comic book adaptation of an earlier work of prose fiction bearing the same title that was also written by Moore published in the anthology The Starry Wisdom: A Tribute to H.P. Lovecraft by Creation Books in 1995. The comic book adaptation was published by Avatar Press in 2003. The storyline does not include the F=R thesis proper, but the other storylines work both the thesis of F=R and the content of The Courtyard into the more developed storyline. Its inclusion in any discussion of the history of the F=R thesis is, therefore, necessary.

The main protagonist is Aldo Sax, an FBI agent whose investigations into a string of grisly murders lead him to Club Zothique (named after Clark Ashton Smith’s famed Zothique stories) in Red Hook, Brooklyn. While undercover he encounters Johnny Carcosa (an avatar of Nyarlathotep). In an attempt to gain information about the murders, Sax tries to purchase the drugs Aklo off of Carcosa. Unfortunately for Sax, Aklo is not a drug but a language delivered by Carcosa that heightens human awareness of the Cthulhu mythos, both its effects and influence in the universe. Exposure to the language, and thus vistas of Cthulhu mythos deities, drives Sax insane, and he returns to his apartment and murders an innocent victim.

The sequel Neonomicon is a four issue comic book mini-series published by Avatar Press in 2010. Moore says that he needed to pay a tax bill and so wrote the story, but he still made it the best possible story he could. This is the first of Moore’s comic book storylines to introduce the F=R theme, but it connects the content of The Courtyard with itself and the content of the forthcoming storyline.

neonomiconIt picks up with the investigation of its two main protagonists, FBI agents Warren Lamper and Merril Brears, and their visit to the institution where Sax is incarcerated. These agents are part of an investigation into a copycat killer, a copycat of the killer Sax was after, and so naturally they visit Sax in an attempt to draw a lead. The discussion with sax leads nowhere, because he only speak in Aklo and no one can understand him, so they return to their superior in time to participate in a raid on Club Zothique in an attempt to apprehend Carcosa. In the course of the raid, Carcosa escapes and the Feds bring the club singer Randolph Carter into custody for attacking agent Brears while Carcosa made his escape. At this point, Moore lets on to the use of the F=R theme with the hint, “Gordon, there’s something weird about this. It’s … see, it’s almost like some big literary in-joke,” giving an obvious nod to Lovecraft’s “The Statement of Randolph Carter” and the following literary game of pretending Lovecraft’s fictions are true, F=R. The Feds wind up tracking Carcosa back down to his apartment where he escapes through a mural on the wall. Agent Brears insightfully points out that “every element in this case is connected to the writings of H.P. Lovecraft.”

Following a lead they discovered after rummaging through Carcosa’s apartment, Lamper and Brears travel to a sex shop in Salem, Massachusetts where they infiltrate the Esoteric Order of Dagon undercover of a married couple with similar allegiances. The cultists engage in sexual activity at a secret underground pool with The Deep Ones (fishlike bipedal beings) of Lovecraft’s “The Shadow Over Innsmouth.” They discover that Brears and Lamper are really undercover FBI agents, and Lamper is killed. There is a double pastiche to Bloch and Lovecraft here, because Moore uses one of the same aforementioned Lovecraftian pastiche’s that Bloch used in Strange Eons quoting the final line of “The Statement of Randolph Carter.” Inquiring after agent Lamper, Brears asks “Warren? Warren are you okay?” The cultist who shot and killed Lamper responds, “You fool. Warren is dead.” Moore is acknowledging the connection with Lovecraft through Bloch and the theme of F=R.

Brears is raped by the cultists and eventually impregnated by a Deep One. After tasting her urine and discovering that she has been impregnated, the creature helps Brears escape via an underground tunnel leading to the ocean. Brears reconnects with the FBI, and they raid the sex shop entering into a firefight with the cultists. They work their way to the underground pool, kill the deep one, and uncover Lamper’s corpse. In just a few months, Brears visits sax again, only this time she is able to communicate with him. In the course of their conversation, she explains that Lovecraft’s writings are not merely veiled reports of things in the past but refer “to events in our future.” Accepting that fact that her unborn child is Cthulhu, a fact she’s exceedingly comfortable with, she ends the conversation with the remark, “The strange aeons start from between my thighs. And for everything else, for all this other bullshit…it’s the end…” Moore ends this mini-series with yet another double pastiche to Bloch and Lovecraft. Bloch’s Strange Eons and Moore’s Neonomicon both involve the same climactic plot element that one of its main protagonists is impregnated with Cthulhu, and both stories recast Lovecraft’s “The Call of Cthulhu” as prophecies of the future.

Moore’s storyline continues in the twelve issue prequel entitled Providence that began publication in 2015 by Avatar Press. This newest installment by Moore of the famed F=R theme takes us back to the 1920’s, the roaring twenties once again, but does more than revisit the original idea that Lovecraft’s writings included elements of historical truth. Moore says that he has wanted to do something fresh with Lovecraft for around four years now, focusing more on the life and times of Lovecraft. The state of contemporary Lovecraftian fiction is invoked as the medium of criticism; fiction as criticism. Thus, Providence covers new ground in popular Lovecraft criticism, paying closer attention to controversial issues like racism and sexism both in the era in general and in Lovecraft’s life in particular, and presents the newest literary form of criticism.[14] Apart from these noteworthy developments, however, the subject of focus remains the way in which Moore uses the F=R theme.[15]

Providence01_regular           The main protagonist of the story is a young gay Jewish man named Robert Black, an obvious literary counterpart to Robert Bloch based in part on Lovecraft’s Robert Blake. Black is a journalist for the New York Herald, and he is sent to West 14th Street to interview a Dr. Alvarez for a story on the book Sous le Monde (French for ‘under the world,’ Moore’s literary counterpart to Chambers’ The King in Yellow), because it allegedly drove some people insane when it was first published. Dr. Alvarez and his address are a pastiche of Dr. Muñoz and his address at West 14th street from Lovecraft’s “Cool Air” (1928). In Lovecraft’s story, Dr. Muñoz has been dead for 18 years but has been forestalling final death and decomposition through methods of refrigeration. This implies for the reader, then, that Dr. Alvarez is similarly using means to forestall his final death too. Eventually, Black feels compelled to leave his job, pursue research regarding American folk lore and legends, and publish his own book in order to establish his own literary renown. Thus begins Black’s long series of investigations into the Cthulhu mythos and the modus operandi of criticism for the prequel.

Moore’s new storyline includes a number of pastiches, and this study only covers a taste from the first issue. The story is currently in publication, however, so readers will have to wait and follow along to see how things turn out for Robert Black. What is important to note for this study is that Moore continues to use the F=R theme and he continues to pastiche writers like Chambers, Lovecraft, and Bloch, as a way of celebrating their work.

This study has explored the way in which the theme of blurring the lines between fiction and reality (F=R) developed in the short stories of Long, Lovecraft, and Bloch. It has traced the different theoretical stages of development through the short story, the private letter, and the novel, and it has traced its appropriation to the big screen by De Luca and Carpenter, and by Moore the newest bearer of the torch, into its newest medium…the comic book. Further studies will continue to shed new light on the development of the F=R theme, and the conclusions drawn herein are tentative, but something like the hypothetical reconstruction offered here looks about as accurate a picture that can be painted as any. Until next time, to literary critics everywhere…cheers, and to Lovecraft acolytes abroad …

‘Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn.’

Notes

[1] Frank Belknap Long “The Space Eaters” Weird Tales Vol. 12 No. 1 (July, 1928).

[2] S.T. Joshi and David E. Schultz An H.P. Lovecraft Encyclopedia (Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 2001), p. 151.

[3] Frank Belknap Long The Early Long: Seventeen Classic Stories of Science Fiction, Horror, and the Supernatural (Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1975), p. 21.

[4] Long ibid., p. 21.

[5] Robert Bloch “The Shambler from the Stars” Weird Tales Vol. 26 No. 3 (September, 1935).

[6] Stephen Jones quoting Bloch “Afterword: A Gentleman of Providence” Necronomicon: The Best Weird Tales of H.P. Lovecraft Commemorative Edition (London: Gollancz, 2008), p. 849.

[7] Robert M. Price “About De Vermis Mysteriis” Mysteries of the Worm (Chaosium Publications, 2009), pp. viii-ix.

[8] Howard P. Lovecraft “The Haunter of the Dark” Weird Tales Vol. 28 No. 5 (December, 1936).

[9] Lovecraft even uses Bloch’s real address at the time at 620 E. Knapp St. Milwaukee, Wisconsin for Blake’s address.

[10] Robert Bloch “The Shadow from the Steeple” Weird Tales Vol. 42 No. 6 (September, 1950).

[11] Nyarlathotep is also mentioned in some of Lovecraft’s other stories even though it is not featured as a character, i.e. “The Whisperer in Darkness,” “The Shadow Out of Time.”

[12] Robert Bloch Strange Eons (Los Angeles, California: Pinnacle Books, 1979). Excerpts of this book appeared in Whispers magazine September/October 1978.

[13] In an interview with Hannah Means-Shannon for Bleeding Cool in 2015 available online at http://www.bleedingcool.com/2015/03/05/alan-moore-heralds-providence-time-go-reappraisal-lovecraft/.

[14] Moore’s Interview with Means-Shannon, Ibid.

[15] The question of the effectiveness and the way in which Moore’s new storyline conducts this new criticism deserves its own treatment, but it is well beyond the scope of the present study.

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