Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Carl Vincent: Where has all the mystery gone?

Foreword: I have amazing blogger and friend Carl Vincent over from "Stainless Steel Droppings" to take the spotlight for one day and speak about whatever he pleases. This is the result and I hope that you are as thrilled as I am.

Where has all the mystery gone?

As October approaches here in these United States, my thoughts, and my short story reading habits, turn to H.P. Lovecraft, Edgar Allan Poe, M.R. James and the like. By today’s horror standards the yarns crafted by these gentlemen might seem trite, old-fashioned, even downright quaint. For some these stories do not deliver the terror of more contemporary horror masters like Clive Barker or Stephen King. These stories, because of the time that has passed since they first captured the imagination of readers, have a sense of nostalgia to them that admittedly does not light a fire in some readers.

For others, however, these stories burn—they burn with the flame of something captured then that seems much more elusive today: the undiscovered country. Bear with me here, I do have a point even if it does seem a might blurry at the moment. I first ‘discovered’ H.P. Lovecraft two years ago. For all of my adult life up until then I had been a fan of Poe, but had always thought Lovecraft’s work to be, primarily because of unsettling book cover art, far off the beaten path of what I liked in regards to the horror genre. I had a “thanks, but no thanks” attitude towards the man’s work. As hackneyed as it may sound, it really only took that first story to plant the seeds of devotion. What was it about the stories of H.P. Lovecraft in particular that cut right to the heart of me? Sure, he was a talented and prolific author, but it wasn’t just that. It didn’t take me long to realize what it was: H.P. Lovecraft, and other story tellers around that same time period, wrote with a perspective that simply cannot be easily duplicated today. There was still mystery in the world.

In today’s technologically advanced, “there is an explanation for everything” world, we often look back at the late 1800’s and early 1900’s with a far more romanticized view of the way the world was. Though the world certainly was not that simple, and while there was certainly a great deal of marvelous advancement, there was still so much potential for an H.P. Lovecraft setting. Ancient cursed Egyptian ruins, damned bloodlines, books of forbidden knowledge, old gods kept at bay by the very thinnest of protective veils, tombs and caves which, once entered, insured that the adventurer would never be heard from again. One has to believe at the time these were written that many a person partaking of one of Lovecraft’s tales experienced the very exquisite kind of terror that comes from reading something that one feels just might have a slight possibility of being true. What child, or grown up with a childlike heart, doesn’t secretly wish there were ancient, possibly haunted ruins one might come across while wandering through the woods, or caves leading downward to the lair of some ancient evil, or dark tomes of untold knowledge to be found hidden in some great ancestor’s attic library? It is the ability of the author to write a story that allows me to travel back to that time in my imagination and see the story from the protagonist’s eyes that endears authors like H.P. Lovecraft to me. They speak to that spirit of adventure and the unknown that seems hard to come by in this age of advancement.

Of course my lamentations are a little melodramatic. Certainly there are a great deal of unexplained mysteries out there, places that have yet to be discovered. One can hope anyway. But does it feel the same way it would have felt back in the early 1900’s reading Lovecraft’s work? I’m not sure it does. Please feel free to put this down as the addled thoughts of a man intoxicated on cool autumn breezes. You would not be far off in that assessment. However, I have been fascinated with this line of thinking ever since I first read H.P. Lovecraft and this wonderful opportunity to guest post on Harry’s site seemed to me the ideal place to begin to more fully form this idea. I would like to hear from you. What are your thoughts? Are there contemporary authors who are capturing that same sense of the unexplored? Has the increase in knowledge taken away our ability to be superstitious, to tremble at the unexplained, to believe in ghosts? Will stories like those of Poe and Lovecraft continue to haunt readers over the next 100 years as they have over the past? And does it matter if they do not?

Thank you so much Harry for the opportunity. I appreciate you trusting me with your blog for the day! It is a real honor.


Mark David said...


Very, very, very nice :)

I guess what I can say is it falls down to relativity. The terrible unknowns in the days of Lovecraft have now been replaced by other mysteries, and so the "magic" of those earlier works is no longer as easily felt as before. People fear different things now, so the stories of today have to take other paths that lead to other uncharted regions.

So I very much agree with you Carl. For us to really feel that great wonder in the works of these earlier masters, we really must consider earlier settings and understand what it was exactly to be living at their time. No one who has no knowledge about the war could appreciate completely Hemingway's stories. Jules Vernes' novels must sound ridiculous to someone who only knows about the 20th century. So just as how Google, Wikipedia and space satellites have in a way "destroyed" the magic of those earlier great writers, such technologies of the new world can also be used in the quest to bring back the power that those masterpieces used to hold :)

vvb32 reads said...

yay for carl! i've never read lovecraft and am now intrigued. i'll have to add lovecraft to my r.i.p. challenge. ;-D

Harry Markov: daydream said...

@ MD: It's true that horror has shifted perceptively and the things that managed to haunt our minds tied to the supernatural are long vanished in power. Now the horror comes from what is possible to achieve with our technology, with experiments and bio warfare. The horror comes from the abality to give a horrendous disaster a solid form and rooting in reality.

@ Violet: Hey there and I will be reading Lovecraft too. Very soon.

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