Saturday, December 24, 2005

One Way HPL Created Stories

I suspect that HPL had so little paper, he had to edit his stories in his head, and used his correspondents letters, too. He writes of his mundane circumstances in his pedantic, scientific way. He makes lists, takes inventory, always on the lookout for Georgian architecture or dark forbodings. He might be in the midst of reciting a list of some such and then - boom - he kicks into Lovecraft mode and spins a horrific passage. Very neat.

Darkness and "down deep under there" are constant companions. Later, I will blog some notes that a former correspondent and I worked on together. We took some of HPL's stories and counted his word uses and how consistently "she/her" was absent and how frequently "dark/black, under/below/beneath" semiotics were present.

But today, here is an extract of a letter to Aunt Lillian from November 6, 1924.

"..looking north ... the ancient churchyard with crumbling brownstone slabs (instead of slate in N.E.) dating back to the sixteen-hundreds, long before the present edifice was built. Here sleep the fathers - their stones of varying workmanship, their names variously spelt {sic}. Crane, Craine, Hetfield, Hatfield, ... & so on. In the rear are willow trees & grassy banks & impressive tombs. ... He goes on inventorying the scenery, and thinking, always thinking ... And what a river! Down to its sloping banks of grass & moss stretch the yards of the most ancient houses, gay with tangles of old-fashioned gardens, & grim with the great snakelike willows that bend out from the shore & lean far over the tranquil stream. Sime or Dore would revel in the sight - as did I in my humbler & unproductive fashion. ... colonial gables brood on every corner ... one now returns down the hill ... past the antediluvian chimneys by the river ... past many archaic rooftree ... past the old bridge ... at the foot of the street ... stands the ancient Hatfield house (1667) peaked & gabled ... a terrible old house - a hellish place where night-black deeds must have been done ... with blackish unpainted surface ... suffocatingly empowered in a tagle of ivy so dense that one cannot but imagine it accursed and corpse fed. .. its image ...causing me to write a new horror story with its scene in Providence & with ... the Babbitt house as its basis. "The Shunned House" ... I finished it last Sunday night."

It's fascinating to see the several repeated images of snakes, corpses, darkness, weirdness - and always old. Where Thoreau would have seen a wonderful quiet scene on a long woodsy walk, or a jazz-ager might have seen a blight and relic to be torn down to make a U.S. highway for his sports car, HPL saw a weird tale.

I think it is that mix of scientific and analytic - even impassionate - itemizing and looking through the world through rose-colored (blood colored?) glasses is interesting. Then he applies polysyllabic vocabulary and odd speliings, and voila! An HPL story emerges.

H. P. Lovecraft: Letters From New York, S.T. Joshi, p.81,82, [op.cit. below]

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