Sunday, 4 August 2013

Short Story Sunday, ‘Nyarlathotep’ - H.P. Lovecraft.

So, guess which word I will mostly be copying and pasting over the course of this post...?  I tried to read 'The Call of Cthulhu and other Weird Stories' all in one chunk, when I was doing the other blog, but swiftly got bogged down in a set of stories that all felt the same. A man sees something that destroys his sanity and the story ends with him either about to kill himself or ruminating on matters beyond mortal understanding. I love Lovecraft's fiction but there is only so much of it that I can read in one sitting. A bite sized chunk for a bite sized post though? I can do that and ‘Nyarlathotep’ barely registers as a bite sized chunk in any case, weighing in at a painfully slender three pages.

‘Nyarlathotep’ is an odd one to call, being an introduction to one of Lovecraft’s pantheon as well as being the tale of a man caught in Nyarlathotep’s spell. You look at the length of this tale and wonder if there is enough room for either objective, let alone both, but it soon becomes clear that Lovecraft knows what he is up to.

‘… everyone felt that the world and perhaps the universe had passed from the control of known gods or forces to that of gods or forces which were unknown.
And it was then that Nyarlathotep came out of Egypt.’

Starting things off on such a grim note, and then introducing this entity, really sets the tone of the piece; both in terms of background and an ominous promise of something that we can’t quite place, until it is far too late. Nyarlathotep is a messenger (or a harbinger of something…), arriving at the very point that humanity needs to hear what he has to say. And that’s the thing, mankind (as encapsulated by our narrator, who talks of ‘static electricity’ and ‘imposture’) clearly cannot understand the message and must pay the consequence.

And what a consequence… It is here that the story (for me) dissolves into a mass of apocalyptic imagery that suggested time travel but is also perhaps the narrator having his eyes opened to what lies beyond the narrow frame of human vision. It gets really weird here with the ‘revolting graveyard of the universe’ laid bare for the reader. This is powerful stuff with talk of ‘corpses of dead worlds’ and ‘charnel winds that brush the pallid stars’. If that wasn’t bad enough, this crescendo of imagery builds up to a point where Lovecraft feels that we are finally ready to learn just what Nyarlathotep actually is; a revelation that didn’t surprise me but was none the less powerful for it.

I’ve read several of Lovecraft’s stories but ‘Nyarlathotep’ is the one, for me, that really lets us know what his mythos is all about. Life is ultimately fruitless and governed over by gods that are indifferent to our presence at best, if they even know we are there at all (‘blind, voiceless, mindless gargoyles’). Not a Sunday morning read then if you’ve had a heavy Saturday night but one I would recommend you read if you want a strange slice of weird horror…

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