Last night, I watched an adaptation of Lovecraft’s “Dreams in the Witch House” on the Masters of Horror series (season 1, episode 2) on Netflix . Afterwards, being late and time for bed, instead of finding the story on Project Gutenberg or some other cost-free source so that I could read it firsthand, I read a summary of the story on Wikipedia to see if the adaptation was at least reasonably accurate. It seemed to be, even though the story was set in the modern day and the ending varied significantly from the original. But, in accordance with today’s tastes, it was rather bloody and cruel in ways I am sure Lovecraft never intended (I say this after having read a considerable amount of his most famous works).
The most interesting aspect of the story to me was not the story itself, but speculating on how Lovecraft came up with the story’s concept.
I understand from the Wikipedia article that Lovecraft had recently attended a lecture and read up somewhat on non-Euclidean space. Apparently, he was intrigued with the idea of existence on different planes. Somehow he came up with the idea that the different planes of existence might intersect and beings would be able to move from one plane to the next. This is the concept that the protagonist of the story, Walter Gilman (a graduate student in Physics) is studying when he moves into the Witch house, which was a boarding house in the fictional town of Arkham, Massachusetts, but three hundred years ago was the residence of a witch. Gilman, as I interpret the TV story, notices that the corner formed by the intersection of two walls and the ceiling in his room coincides with the intersection of three dimensions. It is this intersection that the witch who previously resided in the house and her familiar (a really nasty creature combining a rat with the face of a man) uses to re-enter the house in the modern day and create havoc for Gilman and the other residents. I won’t give away the ending, but it is a good story and probably one of the more reasonably accurate adaptations of a Lovecraft story that you are likely to find.
What I found most interesting was speculating if how Lovecraft came up with the story was to be looking at the intersection of three walls in his house and wonder if different planes of existence could intersect like that and, if they could, could creatures use the intersection to move from one plane to the other? I am always fascinated by how writers come up with ideas for their works. Did you ever wonder what spurred Richard Matheson to write I am Legend or Stephen King to write Carrie?
I know that some authors of Horror (such as Algernon Blackwood, Lord Dunsany, and Arthur Machen) were intrigued by the idea of a plane of existence beyond what we take for reality, that what we perceive as reality may actually just mask the true reality. Apparently, Lovecraft was thus intrigued as well and used his ideas of a possible alternative reality as the foundation for what others would later term “the Cthulhu Mythos”.
After having contemplated this since last night, I have been asking myself, what did these intelligent men see in their interpretations of the everyday world that would lead them to believe in the possible existence of an alternative reality? Based upon my experience with humanity, I have come to realize that some people have some downright bizarre concepts of the world around them, but how did these concepts originate? What causes their perceptions to be so radically different from mine? Is it a matter of genetics that causes their synapses to be linked together differently? Do they have slightly different body chemistries influencing their thoughts? Is it that they simply encountered different views of the world as they grew up? Is there a reality that they can perceive but I cannot–in the same way as I can see the workings of God in everything about me, but others do not and thus call themselves atheists and agnostics?
What are your thoughts?