During the interval
that Tillinghast was long silent
I fancied myself
in some vast incredible temple of long-dead gods;
some vague edifice of innumerable black stone columns
reaching up from a floor of damp slabs
to a cloudy height
beyond the range of my vision.
We have met the Tillinghast's before and have blogged on them. As a reminder, the family name is associated with the Rhode Island Vampire legend.
The first phrase which I've broken into two prose-poem lines, is clearly tacked onto a very different thought that follows. The next six prose-poem lines tell a story, whereby the protagonist warps into another dimension or time.
Before we pursue this a little further, I must add that I have rarely met a Lovecraft story that didn't have the word “black” in it. HPL obsessed over it. The significance, I believe, goes back to Grandma Rhoby's death and funeral – but that is for another day.
Now, after the previous sentence of aether mists and shadows, we have a stark reality indeed. The protagonist's psyche flits through to an ancient, long dead, temple – no doubt never made by man.
Despite using “vague”and “cloudy” the vision that Lovecraft “fancied” is bone chilling. It hearkens back to The Outsider(1921) “Nothing I had before undergone could compare in terror with what I now saw; with the bizarre marvels that sight implied. The sight itself was as simple as it was stupefying, for it was merely this ...there stretched around me ... nothing less than the solid ground, decked and diversified by marble slabs and columns, and overshadowed by an ancient stone church, whose ruined spire gleamed spectrally in the moonlight.”
Then, Lovecraft has a sly allusion to his chosen story title, “...beyond the range of my vision,” which brings us back to the peripheral horror of which HPL was so fond.
I have always wondered at Ambrose Bierce's influence on Lovecraft. In this case, a pericope of Bierce's is hauntingly familiar. In Birece's Vision's of the Night
"The dream whose skeleton I shall now present occurred in my early youth. I could not have been more than sixteen. ... I was alone on a boundless level ... no habitations of men, no streams or hills. The earth seemed to be covered with a short, coarse vegetation that was black and stubbly, as if the plain had been swept by fire. ... My course lay toward the west, where low along the horizon burned a crimson light beneath long strips of cloud, giving that effect of measureless distance that I have since learned to look for in Dore's pictures, where every touch of his hand has laid a portent and a curse. As I moved I saw outlined against this uncanny background a silhouette of battlements and towers which, expanding with every mile of my journey, grew at last to an unthinkable height and breadth, till the building subtended a wide angle of vision, yet seemed no nearer than before. Heartless and hopeless I struggled on over the blasted and forbidding plain, and still the mighty structure grew until I could no longer compass it with a look, and its towers shut out the stars directly overhead; then I passed in at an open portal, between columns of cyclopean masonry whose single stones were larger than my father's house. ... Within all was vacancy; everything was coated with the dust of desertion. A dim light--the lawless light of dreams, sufficient unto itself--enabled me to pass from corridor to corridor, and from room to room, every door yielding to my hand. In the rooms it was a long walk from wall to wall; of no corridor did I ever reach an end. My footfalls gave out that strange, hollow sound that is never heard but in abandoned dwellings and tenanted tombs. For hours I wandered in the awful solitude, conscious of a seeking purpose, yet knowing not what I sought. At last, in what I conceived to be an extreme angle of the building, I entered a room of the ordinary dimensions, having a single window. Through this I saw the same crimson light still lying along the horizon in the measureless reaches of the west, like a visible doom, and knew it for the lingering fire of eternity. Looking upon the red menace of its sullen and sinister glare, there came to me the dreadful truth which years later as an extravagant fancy I endeavored to express in verse:
"Man is long ages dead in every zone,
The angels all are gone to graves unknown;
The devils, too, are cold enough at last,
And God lies dead before the great white throne!"
I believe that this short story of Bierce's bridges the gap between the "King in Yellow" Chambers' Mythos and the Lovecraftian Cthulhu Mythos.
updated Excerpt 1 - I updated the excerpt from Zij to reflect ongoing rewrites.
1 week ago