Saturday, February 10, 2007

Lovecraft as Scientist-Adventurer

As a boy, Lovecraft fell under the Edwardian spell of science as not only utopia but as pure adventure. He first had a crush on chemistry including nearly burning his finger off with phosphorus. His wealthy grandfather spared no expense, and one suspects the lovely three Phillips sisters attracted the junior professors almost as much as Whipple's grant monies.

He adored the Arctic and Antarctic explorers and followed their every move. He had tutors and listened to the adults speak of far flung adventures by the elite of Brown University at soirees.

Then, he embraced his true love - astronomy. Much to professor Appleton (the renowned chemistry professor) he migrated to Upton, who saw something special in young Howard. He gave the youth a key to the observatory, and the run of it. They graduate students must have been apoplectic as the child prodigy rattled off the stars and peered at the planets and galaxies.

He met Percival Lowell. While Howard's memory of the occassion might have been fuzzy, there is no doubt his mind was in the stars, but feet planted firmly in science.

Each of Lovecraft's fictional stories involves a studied man as observer - as horrors happen to another that is less prepared. In The Statement of Randolph Carter, Samuel Loveman is killed (later to be resurrected through some translation - but that is an essay for another day). In The Colour Out of Space the rustic hicks vaporize into horrific aether, while the scientists live to tell the tale another day. Even At Mountains of Madness, Lovecraft resuscitates his scientist-adveturers to see what Poe left behind with Arthur Gordon Pym.

When Chrispy was a little boy, he went to the Louisville Science Museum - a dirty, dusty relic that had fallen on hard times. It was old then - in the 1960's. But what I remember was all the adventurers (like the newspaperman Henry Watterson or the Speeds of Louisville) who brought back stuffed polar bears and Egyptian mummies, and so many other wonders. Rich men did this all through the late 19th and early 20th century, and endowed enormous sums to perpetuate the wonder of scientific discovery.

As you read the fiction of Lovecraft, read it through the wonder-eyes of a little Providence boy named Howard. The black shadows are there, but the light of erudition and science dispel the horrors and show the eldritch mysteries beyond.

No comments:


Blog Archive


Google Analytics