Wednesday, May 4, 2016

The New Arrival: The Cthulhu Mythos

So, I finally broke down and ordered a book that I'd had parked in my amazon queue for three years or more: THE RISE AND FALL OF THE CTHULHU MYTHOS (publ.2008). I've long been fascinated by the phenomenon of the Mythos, finding it far and away the most interesting thing about Lovecraft's work, and was surprised to find Joshi writing about the Mythos, given his previous disparagement thereof.

From what I've read so far the book's main value for me is in Joshi's giving the date when Lovecraft wrote each story described; this is useful in getting a sense of the development of his career, and the point at which specific ideas entered (this latter point being the main reason I'm reading the book). Joshi's judgments of the stories' merit or otherwise are typically idiosyncratic. In essence Joshi divides said stories into "the Lovecraft Mythos", of which he approves, and "the Cthulhu Mythos", which he does not. Given his years of working on Lovecraft, it's disconcerting that at one point he summarizes the plot of THE DREAM-QUEST OF UNKNOWN KADATH, and gets it wrong.*

For the sake of determining whether a story is or is not part of the Mythos, Joshi singles out several iconic features that tend to distinguish Mythos tales, noting that not all need be present in each story: "fictional New England topography" (Arkham, Dunwich, Innsmouth), forbidden tomes (the NECRONOMICON), extraterrestrial god-like entities, cosmicism, and (sometimes) a scholarly narrator (p.16–18). I'd drop 'cosmicism' from the list but otherwise think this is a sensible approach.

For Joshi's critique of said stories, by Lovecraft and others, he lays down several principles by which to judge each individual story (p.12):
"intrinsic literary merit"
"skillful and effective prose style"
"competence in the execution of the plot"
"non-stereotypical characters"
"a . . . distinctive message about human life and the cosmos"

This list is of particular interest because I find Lovecraft's work distinctly lacking in just those features. I enjoy reading Lovecraft's stories the same way I've come to enjoy Godzilla movies, but don't think either transcends the category of pulp fiction. Joshi, however, sees a literariness that doesn't register for me. So reading his book I do get to see HPL's work through his eyes, albeit somewhat skeptically.  We'll see if he wins me over as I continue to make my way through the book.

--John R.
--Little Rock Clinton international airport.

*Joshi writers "Randolph Carter seeks to confront Nyarlathotep and demand the return of the 'sunset city' of his dreams" (p.44).  In fact during his quest to find "the mild gods of earth" Carter takes great pains to avoid the Other Gods in general and Nyarlathotep in particular, correctly guessing that this would spell disaster.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Klingon in the Courts

So, I'm still in Arkansas AND still on deadline, but thought this one was too good to pass up: a pending court case over whether an invented language belongs, legally, to the ones who initially created it or those who have developed and added to it. This is obviously an issue with a lot of relevance to Tolkien and the purist/neo-Sindarin debate.  Here's the link:

And while we're talking Tolkien invented languages, here's a review of SECRET VICE by John Garth from the NEW STATESMAN a week or two ago; thanks to Jessica for the link.

current reading: just finished Tessa Verney Wheeler biography, just started Joshi on the Cthulhu Mythos

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Back in Arkansas

Amount of time it took me after arriving to see the first mockingbird: about three hours.

--John R.

And to see the first cardinals: just under twenty-four hours.

No blue jays as yet, but I have seen a woodpecker. But then what with torrential rain, thunder, and lightning, intermixed with drizzle, conditions were less than perfect.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Barfield's ENGLISH PEOPLE is Published!

So, here's big news: a major work by a major Inkling available at last, over eighty years after the author completed it. I was lucky enough to have a role in preparing the text, creating a computer file out of the old 550 page typescript. Tiffany Martin then took my rough typed text and turned it into a properly edited book. The results is now available online at the Barfield Estate website for anyone who wants to read it.

If you have trouble opening the link, go to the website's main page, look under the header 'Literature', and click on the last entry.

I first read this long unpublished work at the Wade Center back around 1985, so I'm v. excited to finally have it more widely circulated. Many thanks to Mr. Barfield's grandson for letting me work on this project and to Dr. Martin for all her work in seeing it through to the end. I look forward to seeing what impact this long-delayed work's appearance has on Inkling studies.

--John R.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Lovecraft on an Inkling

So, still at work on the Nodens, which I'm glad to say is finally nearing its end, and keep coming across things that while interesting are not relevant to the paper in hand, some of which I'm marking for future reference. One was relevant to a question that had long interested me: whether any of the Inklings were aware of H. P. Lovecraft's work. I suspect so but have never been able to muster any direct evidence. What I did come across, while looking up just when H. P. Lovecraft wrote two specific works,* is the reverse: proof that Lovecraft was aware of the work of one of the Inklings. In  a passage in Joshi's vast dual-volume biography of Lovecraft,**  Joshi quotes Lovecraft's opinion of Charles Williams.  Lovecraft had been sent*** several of Wms' early novels (since this took place in 1934, when only five of Wms' seven novels had been published:  WAR IN HEAVEN, MANY DIMENSIONS, THE PLACE OF THE LION, THE GREATER TRUMPS, and SHADOWS OF EXSTACY; the final two, DESCENT INTO HELL [1937] and ALL HALLOWS EVE [1945], were yet to come, not being published until after Lovecraft's death). Here's what Lovecraft had to say to Derleth about Wms' novels:

Essentially, they are not horror literature at all, 
but philosophical allegory in fictional form. 
Direct reproduction of the texture of life & the
substance of moods is not the author's object. He
is trying to illustrate human nature through symbols
& turns of idea which possess significance for those
taking a traditional or orthodox view of man's 
cosmic bearings. There is no true attempt to express
the indefinable feelings experienced by man in 
confronting the unknown . . . To get a full-sized
kick from this stuff one must take seriously the 
orthodox view of cosmic organisation -- which
is rather impossible today.

(I AM PROVIDENCE,  p. 878)

As Joshi points out, by taking the 'traditional or orthodox view', Lovecraft means being a Christian, "which Lovecraft emphatically was not". Joshi also agrees with Lovecraft's judgment, writing that "Lovecraft's evaluation of these mystical, heavily religious works is very much on target" (ibid)

So there we have it: a passing reference which shows, if nothing else, that the two groups (Lovecraft's Weird Tales circle and the Oxfordian Inklings) were contemporaries, even if their paths almost never crossed.

--John R.

 *THE DREAM-QUEST OF UNKNOWN KADATH and "The Strange High House on the Hill",
my two favorites among his works, and incidently his two most Dunsanian tales.

**at 1149 pages, it's even longer than THE HISTORY OF THE HOBBIT

***by H. C. Koenig, the great champion of the great Wm Hope Hodgson's works.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016


So, thought this was an entertaining piece with a serious point worth sharing. Enjoy!

--John R.
current reading: Lovecraft's best short story + his sonnet cycle.

Obama's Greatest Failure

So, with Jackson it was the Trail of Tears.  With FDR it was the Internment Camps. And with Obama, it's his failure to close Guantanamo Bay.  Here's a thoughtful piece that argues he failed at least in part because he never intended to end detainment without trial, only to achieve a symbolic shutdown of a facility that makes the US look bad. Depressing reading, but food for thought. Here's the link: