Jorge Oscar Rossi’s “Archetypal Horror: H.P. Lovecraft and Carl Gustav Jung”

Cthulhu

I ran across an interesting article today at http://www.quintadimension.com/article66.html, entitled “Archetypal Horror:  H.P. Lovecraft and Carl Gustav Jung”.  It was written by Jorge Oscar Rossi, an Argentinian writer of science fiction (and fantastic literature in general), and published on December, 8, 2000.  Please note that the article and his autobiography are in Spanish.

I am no master of Spanish, having had only two years in college and some practical, albeit frequent, experience in Texas and Mexico over the last twenty years.   However, Señor Rossi’s article is well-written and relatively easy reading, so that I feel I caught the gist of it, if not all the nuances.

His main point (and anyone with a better knowledge of Spanish than I, including Señor Rossi, may correct me if I am wrong) is that Lovecraft’s ancient gods of the Cthulhu mythos represent archetypal forms of horror in the Jungian sense of “archetype”.

If you have a basic comprehension of Spanish, the article is quite intriguing and worth taking a shot at reading.

If nothing esle, the article will help you view the poster above from another perspective: what is the meaning of the poster if the creature above symbolizes archetypal fears shared by everyone?

Thoughts?  Comments?

Thoughts on Speculative Fiction

Lovecraft in the Agony of ContemplationIllustration by MirrorCradle
Lovecraft in the Agony of Contemplation
Illustration by MirrorCradle

As I was driving about town today, I started reflecting on the difference between mainstream, so-to-speak literary fiction and speculative fiction (usually defined as consisting of the science-fiction, fantasy, and horror genres).  I recall reading somewhere, years ago, in the submissions guidelines for a mainstream fiction magazine, that mainstream fiction consisted of whatever did not fit into a genre.  Then, I considered that accurate and reasonable;  now I consider it somewhat snobbish.  In fact, the more I think about it, the more short-sighted and narrow-minded that statement becomes.

Speculative fiction, including the horror genre, deals with fantastic, often surreal, situations.  Mainstream fiction, if you go by the definition above, deals with anything not fantastic, not surreal, i.e. the real, events that could happen in the real world.  It would seem to me that the truly gifted writer would be the one with the greater imagination, the one who can conjure entire civilizations and fantastic creatures out of his mind alone.  My favorite authors for many years have been, and continue to be, Hemingway and Fitzgerald, based on their styles and how their stories can touch me.  However, if had to state who had the greatest imagination out of the history of writers, Tolkien would be at the top, simply because he was able to create an entire world out of his imagination (granted most of the ideas were based in Nordic mythology) and make it and his characters believeable.  Lovecraft and his Cthulhu mythos would be a close second.

Reading the guidelines of horror publications, I find that many of them do not want werewolf/vampire/zombie (w/v/z)stories.  They want something different, original.   That is a difficult challenge.   I could dream up w/v/z stories all day long, but creating something out of thin air, like Stephen King or Clive Barker does,  and to do it consistenly, is truly admirable. I have written one or two stories along the w/v/z line, but now I am taking up the challenge of writing something truly imaginative.    I have no good ideas just yet, but I am examining how horror authors of the past came up with ideas and what were their inspirations.

So now here is a question of the night:  if you are trying to write material outside the w/v/z tradition, how are you coming up with ideas?  Have you put any new slant on horror?  Do your inspirations come from dreams or from looking at real-world object and then allowing yourself to explore the possibities if something about that scene was just a little bit different?

Thoughts?  Comments?

 

 

Is “The Epic of Gilgamesh” the first work of horror?

GilgameshPhoto by Samantha from Indonesia, Sydney Uni., 2006
Gilgamesh
Photo by Samantha from Indonesia, Sydney Uni., 2006

I have been wondering about what the first work of horror actually is.  The standard answer I find on the Internet is, of course, that the first horror novel is The Castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole in 1764, but that doesn’t satisfy me.  I have read a lot of Greek mythology since my early teens and I know they are filled with the kinds of horror that would make Clive Barker shudder and they were written probably 2,000 years before Walpole.    Then I recalled The Epic of Gilgamesh. 

The Epic of Gilgamesh is perhaps the oldest written story in any language.  It is a long poem, probably written about the 18th century B.C.    I read The Epic of Gilgamesh a few years ago, and although not lengthy, it is difficult to summarize.  In essence, it is the story of a Mesopotamian king named Gilgamesh who builds many wonders but is cruel to his people.  To teach him a lesson, the gods create a wild man named Enkidu in the wilderness who later becomes a close friend of Gilgamesh and with whom Gilgamesh goes on many adventures fighting demons and monsters only to lose Enkidu to disease later.   After Enkidu’s demise, Gilgamesh seeks out Utnapishtim (the Mesopotamian version of Noah) to see if he (Gilgamesh) can have eternal life, but the answer is no.  Gilgamesh returns to his kingdom a wiser man.   Here is a link to a more detailed summary at Spark Notes.   There are several translations in hard copy, but if you are curious about the original form, here is one that can be found at ancienttexts.org.

The Epic of Gilgamesh could perhaps best be described as a myth expressed as an epic poem with elements of horror.  It was probably written more to express a certain philosophy or to record a myth than to entertain, which is the ultimate goal of horror novels and films.    Nonetheless, it does contain elements of horror, particularly supernatural horror, and in the modern age, if it is read outside of a classroom, I think it will be read mostly for entertainment.   So, while it was not written as a novel, would it be accurate to say that The Epic of Gilgamesh is the first work of horror?    If it is, then aficianados of the horror genre could state with pride that the first written work in any language was a work of horror.

What do you think?

Beyond the Veil of Reality

Face of Horror Houseby Horror House
Face of Horror House
by Horror House

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?

Edward Lucas White

Edward Lucas White 1866-1934
Edward Lucas White
1866-1934

If you have never heard of Edward Lucas White (as I had not until recently), do yourself a favor and look up his short story “Lukundoo” (1925).   This is probably one of the best and most terrifying horror stories I have ever read and it is the story for which White is best known.  Probably his next best known story is “The House of Nightmare” (1906), though it is not nearly as good as ‘Luknudoo” and by today’s standards of horror would be considered more of a quaint tale told by children around a campfire than true horror.  Nonetheless, Lovecraft considered White to be one of the masters of “weird fiction” and mentions him in his treatise “Supernatural Horror in Literature.”

One interesting aspect of White is that he based at least some of his stories on his nightmares, which is not uncommon among horror authors, but after reading “Lukundoo” I had to ask myself, “what was going on in this guy’s psyche?”

Do you base any of your works on dreams or nightmares?   Write in and let us know.

Algernon Blackwood

Blackwood by Ianus

Algernon Blackwood

Illustration by Ianus

Algernon Blackwood (1869-1951) was a prolific writer and is probably one of the forgotten masters of the horror genre.  He was a favorite of H.P. Lovecraft as the three quotes below (from www.hplovecraft.com) illustrate:

“Aside from Poe, I think Algernon Blackwood touches me most closely—& this in spite of the oceans of unrelieved puerility which he so frequently pours forth. I am dogmatic enough to call The Willows the finest weird story I have ever read, & I find in the Incredible Adventures & John Silence material a serious & sympathetic understanding of the human illusion-weaving process which makes Blackwood rate far higher as a creative artist than many another craftsman of mountainously superior word-mastery & general technical ability…” (to Vincent Starrett, 6 December 1927)

“He actually analyses and reproduces faithfully the details of the persistent human illusion of—and out-reaching toward—a misty world of vari-coloured wonders, transcended natural laws, limitless possibilities, delighted discoveries, and ceaseless adventurous expentancy…. Of all Blackwood’s voluminous output, only a golden minimum represents him at his best—but that is such a marvellous best that we can well forgive him all his slush and prattle. It is my firm opinion that his longish short story The Willows is the greatest weird tale ever written. (with Machen’s The White People as a good second.) Little is said—everything is suggested!” (to Fritz Leiber, 9 November 1936)

“It is safe to say that Blackwood is the greatest living weirdist despite unevenness and a poor prose style.” (to Willis Conover, 10 January 1937)

Blackwood pursued a variety of jobs and careers during his lifetime, but based on the current Wikipedia article about him, his two main passions seem to have been writing and mysticism.  According to this article, Blackwood once wrote to Peter Penzoldt:

“My fundamental interest, I suppose, is signs and proofs of other powers that lie hidden in us all; the extension, in other words, of human faculty. So many of my stories, therefore, deal with extension of consciousness; speculative and imaginative treatment of possibilities outside our normal range of consciousness. … Also, all that happens in our universe is natural; under Law; but an extension of our so limited normal consciousness can reveal new, extra-ordinary powers etc., and the word “supernatural” seems the best word for treating these in fiction. I believe it possible for our consciousness to change and grow, and that with this change we may become aware of a new universe. A “change” in consciousness, in its type, I mean, is something more than a mere extension of what we already possess and know.”

His two best known stories are The Willows and The Wendigo.  I have not read The Wendigo yet, but I started The Willows two days ago and am into Chapter II currently.  So far, it is very well written with a beautiful description of a canoe trip down the Danube.  Towards the end of Chapter I, Blackwood begins to slowly bring out some eerie aspects of an island on which the narrator and his Swedish traveling companion have pitched camp for the night.  With the beginning of Chapter II, the supernatural element begins to build ominously in a way that somehow reminds me of Mussorgsky’s symphony “Night on Bald Mountain”.  If you are familiar with Mussorgsky’s opus, you know how I suspect the story will develop.    I look forward to finishing The Willows as soon as possible and beginning The Wendigo shortly thereafter.

Thoughts?  Comments?

“Dream Warrior” to be Published

My short story “Dream Warrior” is currently slated to be published by the online magazine Sorcerous Signals  in their February, 2013 issue as well as their February, 2013 issue of Mystic Signals (a print edition combining Sorcerous Signals and The Lorelei Signal).

For my friends and relatives not familiar with the publishing industry:  please be advised that the story is only scheduled to be published in February and that I do not have an exact date yet.   The last edition was published on November 12, therefore it will probably be published about mid-February.  In my experience, stories appear on schedule about 90% of the time.   Occasionally, something happens and the story has to be delayed, but (again, in my experience) the story always appears.

I would like to thank the editor of Sorcerous Signals, Carol Hightshoe, for accepting my work.  I overlooked her letter of acceptance in my e-mail in October and was not aware of “Dream Warrior’s” acceptance until she diligently and professionally followed up and inquired about the story some time later.

The story is about a teenage boy in Corpus Christi, TX, who seeks revenge on the hoodlums responsible for the rape and death of his girlfriend.   After his first attempt fails and they threaten his life, he runs to Mexico to live with his great-grandfather, who teaches him the ways of the ancient Aztec sorcerers so that he can have his revenge.

I got the idea for the story while researching south Texas history for another (as yet unfinished) story and came across a website on Aztec sorcery.  Its author, whose name unfortunately escapes me at the moment, graciously responded to my inquiries and provided me with a wealth of fascinating information.  If I can find his name and website in my e-mails, I will publish them later.

I hope everyone enjoys “Dream Warrior”.    Please help me thank Carol and her staff by visiting the site often and encouraging everyone you know to do the same.   Check your local media outlets for Mystic Signals.

ETA Hoffmann

477px-ETA_Hoffmann_3

Unless you are a literature/horror aficinado, you may never have heard of  Ernst Theodor Amadeus Hoffmann, a German writer from the late 18th century.  He predated Poe by almost half a century and in his time was probably as well known then as Stephen King and Clive Barker are today.   His stories were considered terrifying in his time.   Several of his stories were the basis for the well-known opera by Jacques Offenbach “Tales of Hoffmann”.  If you have never heard the music from this, it would be worthwhile to listen for it or to buy a CD of it.  It is very impressive.  As with the photo of Stoker, I obtained this image from Wikimedia Commons, where it is listed as being in the public domain.

The Unrecognized Masters of Horror

If they tried really hard, the majority of the public could perhaps name only four writers of horror:  Stephen King, H.P.Lovecraft, Edgar Allan Poe, and Clive Barker.   Fans of the horror genre could doubtlessly name many more with the number of the authors they could name reflecting the intensity of their interest.  For example, a person who can name fifteen authors of horror most likely has a more intense interest in the genre than someone who can name only five.

I would say that it is a safe bet that one or more of these authors are the topics in least 75% of all the conversations about horror literature going on at any one moment.  While we amateurs can  improve our skills from studying these four, I think we have a lot to learn from studying authors other than these four.

I recently read a compilation of stories that Lovecraft cites in his work “Supernatural Horror in Literature”.  Of course, only Poe appears among his cited predecessors.   Most of his influences are writers probably most of the modern public has never heard of (Lord Dunsany, Edward Lucas White, Arthur Machen, etc.) though they were as well known in their time as Dean Koontz and Peter Straub are today.

My question to you is:  who are the unrecognized masters of horror that the modern public should know but in all likelihood do not?  Whose name does not usually make it into any top ten list of masters of horror but should?