Monday, November 24, 2008

Serendipity and HPL's Beast in the Cave

As I've stated a few times on the blog, I believe that Lovecraft wrote Beast in the Cave as an homage to Alphaeus Spring Packard, Jr. of Brown University (d. 1905), a famous biologist whose life study was centered around his discoveries in Mammoth Cave of Kentucky.

In any event, the story is of a person who gets lost on a cave tour (a near impossibility in 1904, as Mammoth Cave was one of the regions largest tourism site and well staffed with many safeguards).

*** Spoiler Warning***


The lost wanderer discovers a retro-human which played in much of Lovecraft's fiction in the years to come. It also played with Neo-Lamarkian themes, especially Lovecraft's belief in de-evolution (or devolution.) If standards were not maintained and upheld (whatever the definition of those standards) then civilization would fall apart. Thus his paranoia and xenophobia of the infiltration of adverse elements into society, and particularly Providence.

He warily eyed foreign migrations, opposed change, upheld the antiquarian standard of the American and British mid-1700's, and often chimed to the defence of the noble, but felled, South.

In any event, at the writing of this blog entry, I just finished listening to Sunday's Coast to Coast AM that talked about Big-Foot in Kentucky. Philip Spencer is an interesting Kentucky character. He lives in Anderson County, Central Kentucky, a bit between my hometown of Louisville, and Lexington. His haunts are "the Frazier Land" where many paranormal events are said to have taken place. Listening to the descriptions, I'd say they were more Fortean than paranormal.

However, it is cave country and I'm sure Mammoth Cave tendrils snake underground into Anderson County. Spencer claims that the center of many of the strange events occur near Panther Rock (down Harry Wise Road - no I haven't been there.) It's historical and legendary claim to fame was that In 1773, one Elijah Scearce, a hunter and trapper out of Fort Harrod, was saved from death, when the pursuing Indian Chief Arrowhead was killed by a panther (probably a Kentucky Wildcat). Scearce found the dead man, and buried him near a large rock - hence Panther Rock.

I'm sure that whatever research materian Lovecraft used to concocy his story was filled with stuff like this. Panthers (species lynx) were very prevalent in the mid-18th century, but were quickly eradicated. Still, many legends and hair-raising adventures were written and told about these felines.

Lovecraft wrote: I was now convinced that I had by my own cries aroused and attracted some wild beast, perhaps a mountain lion which had accidentally strayed within the cave.

Yet more to the point, during the latter hours of that Coast to Coast AM broadcast the interviewee was another Bigfoot Hunter, David Paulides. As the call-in portion of the show ensued, a caller asked if Bigfoot could be a "feral" tribe of humans. As dogs or cats become feral after several generations, couldn't the same happen to humans?

Paulides debunked that idea.

This, however, is precisely the eclectic Neo-Lamarkian idea of Lovecraft. If a fish, cave cricket, or shrimp could lose pigment, lose it's eyesight, after many generations, couldn't a human being? Adaptive attributes thrust upon an individual tribe would mutate that set of organisms (against the natural selection traits of Darwin).

So, Lovecraft's early ideas are still alive in the public's imagination!

1 comment:

Rafe McGregor said...

That's fascinating, Chris, and...talking of serendipity...your timing is uncanny: I read the story for the first time yesterday. I can't believe he wrote it when he was only fifteen - no wonder he's HPL!

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