Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Robert M. Price

Chris! Every blog article you write cites Sunand Tryambak Joshi. Isn't there another voice of Lovecraft scholarship?


Robert M. Price is a distinctive voice that offers a deep passion for all things Lovecraft. A powerful theologian, he also cherishes HPL's writing. His lecture [*, pp.31-41] “Lovecraft's Mythology of the Old Ones” is singular in its advocacy of religion in Lovecraft's writing.

Arguing a middle ground between Derleth's Cthulhu Catholicism and the full atheistic nihilism of Joshi, et. al., Price brings a measured sense of Lovecraft's artistic nuances.

He paraphrases Lovecraft's sly remark, “to write effective weird fiction one must bring to bear all the cunning of a hoaxer.” As I argue, Lovecraft's stories are philosophical treatises. Price refers to this as, “pessimistic philosophical statement”. In any event, Lovecraft shattered the Classical Western myths and replaced them with a blend of creatures derived from nihilism, elitism, and cosmicism.

The fun part of Price's lecture is his theologian's ability to elucidate a scheme of the Mythos pantheon in six tiers. In reverse order, he exposits that the fuzziest and most irrational portion of the mythology is that most familiar. The dreaded Necronomicon is tortuously reported on by those who least understand it, the ceremonies handed down but only half understood are observed by bookish men and anthropologists of little understanding.

These all point to a fifth level. These are the cultists and seekers such as the Esoteric Order of Dagon. Even the mad Arab penned down arcane gibbering with little understanding.

The higher level, a fourth plateau, are the pre-human races that strode the primordial earth to seek what we can only glimmer. These are the Deep Ones, the Outer ones, the crinoids – all seeking and leaving behind vast knowledge our apish ancestors copied but were clueless.

These of the fourth level really were clueless, too, they only had millennia to make more sense of chaos. The third level beings are well known: Cthulhu, Tsathoggua, Dagon, Yog-Sotthoth.

These divine monsters were themselves seekers and servants of those gods in the higher realm.
The bridge between the monsters and the great – and perhaps unknowable – cosmogonic essences was embodied by Nyarlathotep. Appearing in many guises, fleet as Hermes, but as incarnate as the Logos, s/he/it intermediated and revealed the glory of the highest realm.
This high realm of the nameless mist, cloud-entities, Shub-Nigguruth, Nug, Yeb, and Azathoth were a bizarre assortment of beings at which can only be whispered or hinted.

Price warns us not to be too harsh on Derleth for he got a lot of Lovecraft's inner thoughts correct. He also warns us not to out-Lovecraft the master. Perhaps these nameless mists were also seekers of something else, worshippers of higher gods or dark energy, just as ignorant of reality as men, but Lovecraft did not reveal this.

And, Dr. Price tells us one more thing in his lecture as a stern warning. The mythos is to add color and terror, and should not be the end all and be all of our Lovecraftian stories. To make the monsters the protagonists is to cheapen the thrill and demystify the weirdness of the tale.
Like shadows, things that creep in the night are best left dim. Light purges shadow, and there is no chill in the warmth of day.

* Dr, Price's lecture is found in, The Lectures of August 17-19, 1990 of the Lovecraft Centennial, Books at Brown, 1991-1992, Volumes 38, 39, The Friends of the Library of Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island.

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