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Author Topic: The Call of Cthulhu  (Read 4286 times)

Online Saraband

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The Call of Cthulhu
« on: October 20, 2014, 08:54:44 PM »
So, after much delay, I finally started reading my first experience of H. P. Lovecraft, The Call of Cthulhu.

I'm halfway through, and it has mostly been what I was expecting. However, and I may be unfair, there seems to be an underlying xenophobic tone which hasn't aged well.

I know it was written in another time, and I keep that in mind, but the condescending look on other cultures as portrayed in this story is really disturbing. I'm still enjoying it, trying to bear in mind that it would be very anachronistic to transport today's ideals backward in time, but I was wondering if I'm the only one that has felt this way?
"Poor gauzy souls trying to express ourselves in something tangible." - F. S. Fitzgerald

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Offline Yora

Re: The Call of Cthulhu
« Reply #1 on: October 20, 2014, 10:04:19 PM »
Lovecraft was on the extreme end even for his time, and if you take his whole character into consideration his xenophobia seems to be actually a case of mental illness. He did get better later in life when he met his wife, who was much more cosmopolitan, and moved to New York with her.
Lovecraft was born into a rich New England family, but his father had been in a mental institution since he was 3 and died when he was 8, the family lost most of their wealth, and his mother was suffering from mental problems and depressions as well. He always had bad health and was extremely withdrawn, so for pretty much his entire childhood and youth he had the heritage of his family decaying around him and he seemed to have been suffering from some mental conditions that inhibited social interactions as well. Fear of disease, madness, strangers, and sea creatures are the dominant themes in all his works.
While that doesn't negate the blatant racism in his earlier works, it makes it somewhat comprehensible and tolerable. It doesn't seem that it was as much ideological racism, but actually a clinical phobia of strangers. People who talk, look, and act different from what he was used in New England high society often blend together with actual monsters in some of the stories. When you look out for it, there's a visible change in his later stories, where he shows a much more positive outlook towards both non-English people and some nonhuman creatures. I believe there are even letters in which he admits himself that he isn't normal in that regard and has been struggling with his illogical prejudices, which he know were wrong.

Is it racist? Yes. But I don't see it as expressions of hateful ideology, but of a man with a troubled mind who was afraid of everything that was different from what he was familiar with. With that in mind, I think the stories are still readable and can be enjoyed. But it would be wrong to deny that the racism is there or to trivialize it.

That being said, I find it very strange that The Call of Cthulhu is by far the most well known title of his stories. Given his complete work, this story is neither particularly interesting, nor significant for the overall structure of the world he created. It really should be called the Yog-Sothoth Mythos. Even Shub-Niggurath, Nyarlathotep, and Dagon play much bigger roles as Great Old Ones in the other stories. Cthulhu is just a one-hit-wonder. (Though I think he has more appearances in the works of other writers.
My recommendations would be The Dunwhich Horror, The Shadow over Innsmouth, The Color out of Space, The Case of Charles Dexter Ward, and At the Mountains of Madness. Those are were Lovecrafts legacy really comes to show.
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Offline Elfy

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Re: The Call of Cthulhu
« Reply #2 on: October 21, 2014, 12:19:36 AM »
I'd second At the Mountains of Madness. The suspense in that one is incredible.
I will expand your TBR pile.

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Online Saraband

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Re: The Call of Cthulhu
« Reply #3 on: October 21, 2014, 09:41:11 PM »
Thank you for contextualizing the author, @Yora :) I'll have that in mind when reading another of his stories. I wasn't that impressed by The Call of Cthulhu, I must say, but I'll give one of those stories you recommended a go in the future.
"Poor gauzy souls trying to express ourselves in something tangible." - F. S. Fitzgerald

"Wherever I wander, wherever I rove,
The hills of the Highlands for ever I love." - Robert Burns

Offline Richard Bendall

Re: The Call of Cthulhu
« Reply #4 on: October 21, 2014, 11:10:27 PM »
Reading both Cthulu and Mountains this month as part of a book group. Finished Cthulu and nearly done with Mountains now, but in between I've been listening to audio books of his other short stories.

I like his overall style, imagination and vision, but the forced suspense gets irritating after a few stories. There's too many lines or drawn out paragraphs like "and I was horrified by what happened next, but I have to ease my mind by putting pen to paper."

It's also quite hard reading at times as he uses very drawn out language in the narrative and analytical or technically specialist descriptions.

Lovecraft is enjoyable, but he does have his faults. After a few short stories I think I can identify several dozen uncommon words he uses in each one and I'm resisting the urge to make a bingo sheet up ready for the next story!
"That which is imagined can never be lost." - Clive Barker

Offline Yora

Re: The Call of Cthulhu
« Reply #5 on: October 22, 2014, 11:12:18 AM »
Though I think in some way his use of language did help him creating a unique and easily recognizable style. It fits the stories, since almost all of them are narrated by scholars or learned gentlemen, so it's already justified. Also, he, maybe unintentionally, created an iconic vocabulary for his world, with it's cthonian monsters and cyclopean ruins. Some people don't like setting specific slang, but I think it does a great deal to make a world memorable.
Though he does tend to draw things out for a bit too long, often appearing like he thinks his plot much more clever than it is. But to readers 100 years ago, it might actually have been unexpected and puzzling to see all those clue, while to modern readers usually can figure the answer out by themselves just halfway through the story.
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Offline Jmack

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Re: The Call of Cthulhu
« Reply #6 on: December 12, 2014, 10:18:10 PM »
I'll have to try Madness.   ;D

My experience with Call was reading it a teenager who had been on a steady diet of R.E. Howard and E.R. Burroughs.  (Stereotypes and racism were rampant in almost all popular stories, movies, etc. written pre-1960s.  I was aware of them in these books, but knew to take them in context.). So at age 13, I flund Call to be wonderful, scary, fascinating fun.  I think my older brother may have read it aloud.

Which is what led to me trying to read Dunwich aloud to my daughter and wife a year or so ago.  (What should we do tonight?  I know!). They thought it was the dullest, most poorly written thing they'd ever heard.  (My daughter is SFF fan, so she counts.  My wife exits any movie saying: "And the most unrealistic part of that movie was...").  My own view was just mildly better.maybe what's scary at 13 sounds dopey at 50 if read aloud, would be great if read to oneself.
Change, when it comes, will step lightly before it kicks like thunder. (GRMatthews)
You are being naive if you think that any sweet and light theme cannot be strangled and force fed it's own flesh. (Nora)

Offline Yora

Re: The Call of Cthulhu
« Reply #7 on: December 14, 2014, 06:47:41 PM »
Dunwhich is a classic, but it probably isn't a story to capture people who are not already on board for Lovecraft stories. I think most of the stories are so old that any interesting element in them has already been copied hundreds of times and any bit of forshadowing clearly telegraphs what is coming next to modern readers.
Lovecraft is probably best read for the love of the style, not for the narratives.

Mountains of Madness is similar: It's a good story but you will see everything coming from miles away. Same with the Thing on the Doorstep.

When it comes to surprises, I think the Case of Charles Dexter Ward has a few quite neat ones.
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Offline Eclipse

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Re: The Call of Cthulhu
« Reply #8 on: October 02, 2015, 06:09:31 PM »
Stumbled across this thought I post it here just in case anyone's interested

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/23848134-carter-lovecraft?ref=ru_lihp_up_rv_1_mclk-up2615834185

The start of a thrilling supernatural series that brings the H.P. Lovecraft mythos into the twenty-first century, optioned by Warner Bros TV.

Daniel Carter used to be a homicide detective, but his last case-the hunt for a serial killer-went wrong in strange ways and soured the job for him. Now he's a private investigator trying to live a quiet life. Strangeness, however, has not finished with him. First he inherits a bookstore in Providence from someone he's never heard of, along with an indignant bookseller who doesn't want a new boss. She's Emily Lovecraft, the last known descendant of H.P. Lovecraft, the writer from Providence who told tales of the Great Old Ones and the Elder Gods, creatures and entities beyond the understanding of man. Then people start dying in impossible ways, and while Carter doesn't want to be involved, he's beginning to suspect that someone else wants him to be. As he reluctantly investigates, he discovers that Lovecraft's tales were more than just fiction, and he must accept another unexpected, and far more unwanted inheritance.
I'm Saloninus, by the way. And I tell lies, from time to time. Which goes to prove the old rule; never entirely trust a man who talks about himself in the third person.

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Offline ClintACK

Re: The Call of Cthulhu
« Reply #9 on: October 02, 2015, 07:02:18 PM »

Lovecraft is enjoyable, but he does have his faults. After a few short stories I think I can identify several dozen uncommon words he uses in each one and I'm resisting the urge to make a bingo sheet up ready for the next story!

The woman who transferred all of Lovecraft's works to e-book form has already done this for you.

http://arkhamarchivist.com/wordcount-lovecraft-favorite-words/

Discovering this a few months ago delighted me so much that I wrote this:
Spoiler for Hiden:

There is a tentacle, Sir, in your pentacle
and I must really protest.
My loathing is famous – I shun all things squamous
and nothing more deeply detest

than masses of vascular fetid tentacular
hideous gibbering goo.
And ichor that’s chthonic was never my tonic.
You really must see this won’t do.

Your noisome indulgence of eldritch effulgence
transparently fails to reflect
the tenebrous gloom of this Stygian room
and quite spoils the eerie effect.

The sulfur is fragrant, but just a bit flagrant,
your charnel pit rather too dank,
and these bones give a marrow not fit for my Pharaoh,
and so, Sir, I simply will thank…

you for vile incantations and wild ululations,
but Nyar’leth-Hotep is no
antiquarian thrall to a blasphemous call,
so you’re stuck with the devil you know.



Many abject apologies.
especially for the font -- it's better in Apple Chancery

Offline Jmack

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Re: The Call of Cthulhu
« Reply #10 on: October 02, 2015, 08:04:24 PM »
Awesome ^.
Very awesome.  ;D
Change, when it comes, will step lightly before it kicks like thunder. (GRMatthews)
You are being naive if you think that any sweet and light theme cannot be strangled and force fed it's own flesh. (Nora)

Offline CameronJohnston

Re: The Call of Cthulhu
« Reply #11 on: October 05, 2015, 08:37:27 AM »
I first read Lovecraft while sitting in bed, reading by torchlight as the wind howled outside. As I read my way through that first omnibus I started to feel a nebulous dread creeping over me, a wondering of just what exactly might be slumbering in the earth below my feet, or deep in the dark oceans we still know so very little about, and also the feeling of our existence being so infinitesimal on the cosmic scale.

Imagine living in the 1920s/30s - we know so much more about the world now, personally seen on TV and online in HD images.

I think that's the thing, yes his prose is rich and verbose, and his plots by now a little cliched and simple, but it's the mood that's the thing, the way it makes you feel as a reader. For that, he really works for me like none other.
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Offline Yora

Re: The Call of Cthulhu
« Reply #12 on: October 05, 2015, 09:10:38 AM »
If you wanted to do something similar today, it probably would have to take place in space. On unknown planets or perhaps on ships that travel through strange dimensions of hyperspace.
Not quite as immediate, but to many people today Mars is probably more familiar and feels more close than New Guinea or Antarctica a hundred years ago.
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Offline ClintACK

Re: The Call of Cthulhu
« Reply #13 on: October 06, 2015, 05:26:08 AM »
If you wanted to do something similar today, it probably would have to take place in space. On unknown planets or perhaps on ships that travel through strange dimensions of hyperspace.
Not quite as immediate, but to many people today Mars is probably more familiar and feels more close than New Guinea or Antarctica a hundred years ago.

Lots of "interior edges" on the map, still -- scientists at an isolated base in Antarctica, a deepwater oil rig in a hurricane, rain forests and war torn regions, a child's closet in the middle of the night, a skyscraper during a blackout.

But I'm really partial to the creeping horror at the edge of sanity -- our own and that of others.

Offline CameronJohnston

Re: The Call of Cthulhu
« Reply #14 on: October 06, 2015, 08:30:52 AM »
If you wanted to do something similar today, it probably would have to take place in space. On unknown planets or perhaps on ships that travel through strange dimensions of hyperspace.
Not quite as immediate, but to many people today Mars is probably more familiar and feels more close than New Guinea or Antarctica a hundred years ago.

Lots of "interior edges" on the map, still -- scientists at an isolated base in Antarctica, a deepwater oil rig in a hurricane, rain forests and war torn regions, a child's closet in the middle of the night, a skyscraper during a blackout.

But I'm really partial to the creeping horror at the edge of sanity -- our own and that of others.

Absolutely - one of the reasons why the film Descent worked so well for me. Still lots of very large and unmapped cave systems out there.
Welcome, Watchers of illusion, to the castle of confusion.
Spellcasting: W.I.N.E
http://cameronjohnston.blogspot.co.uk/

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