Sunday, August 12, 2012

Lovecraft Lines

Like some eldritch tentacle, H.P. Lovecraft's prose could seize sudden hold of the reader and drag him/her straight down into the abyss.  The weird-tale scribe had a knack for crafting sublime first paragraphs (often framed as the journal entry of a traumatized narrator, who furnishes tantalizing bits of exposition hinting at dire misdeeds and cataclysmic events).  Here's a QuickList of six of Lovecraft's best story openings:

Life is a hideous thing, and from the background behind what we know of it peer daemoniacal hints of truth which make it sometimes a thousandfold more hideous.  Science, already oppressive with its shocking revelations, will perhaps be the ultimate exterminator of our human species--if separate species we be--for its reserve of unguessed horrors could never be borne by mortal brains if loosed upon the world.  If we knew what we are, we should do as Sir Arthur Jermyn did, and Arthur Jermyn soaked himself in oil and set fire to his clothing one night.  No one placed the charred fragments in an urn or set a memorial to him who had been; for certain papers and a certain boxed object were found which made men wish to forget.  Some who knew him do not admit that he ever existed.

--"Arthur Jermyn"

The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents.  We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far.  The sciences, each straining in its own direction, have hitherto harmed us little; but some day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the deadly light into the peace and safety of a new dark age.

--"The Call of Cthulhu"

I am writing this under an appreciable mental strain, since by tonight I shall be no more.  Penniless, and at the end of my supply of the drug which alone makes life endurable, I can bear the torture no longer; and shall cast myself from this garret window into the squalid street below.  Do not think from my slavery to morphine that I am a weakling or a degenerate.  When you have read these hastily scrawled pages you may guess, though never fully realise, why it is that I must have forgetfulness or death.


Whether the dreams brought on the fever or the fever brought on the dreams, Walter Gilman did not know.  Behind everything crouched the brooding, festering horror of the ancient town, and of the moldy, unhallowed garret gable where he wrote and studied and wrestled with figures and formulae when he was not tossing on the meager iron bed.  His ears were growing sensitive to a preternatural and intolerable degree, and he had long ago stopped the cheap mantel clock whose ticking had come to seem like a thunder of artillery.  At night the subtle stirring of the black city outside, the sinister scurrying of rats in the wormy partitions, and the creaking of hidden timbers in the centuried house, were enough to give him a sense of strident pandemonium.  The darkness always teemed with unexplained sound--and yet he sometimes shook with fear lest the noises he heard should subside and allow him to hear certain other fainter noises which he suspected were lurking behind them.

--"The Dreams in the Witch-House"

Searchers after horror haunt strange, far places.  For them are the catacombs of Ptolemais, and the carven mausolea of the nightmare countries.  They climb to the moonlit towers of ruined Rhine castles, and falter down black cobwebbed steps beneath the scattered stones of forgotten cities in Asia.  The haunted wood and the desolate mountain are their shrines, and they linger around the sinister monoliths on uninhabited islands.  But the true epicure of the terrible, to whom a new thrill of unutterable ghastliness is the chief end and justification of existence, esteems most of all the ancient, lonely farmhouses of backwoods New England, for there the dark elements of strength, solitude, grotesqueness and ignorance combine to form the perfection of hideousness.

--"The Picture in the House"

It is true that I have sent six bullets through the head of my best friend, and yet I hope to show by this statement that I am not his murderer.  At first I shall be called a madman--madder than the man I shot in his cell at the Arkham Sanitarium.  Later some of my readers will weigh each statement, correlate it with the known facts, and ask themselves how I could have believed otherwise than I did after facing the evidence of that horror--that thing on the doorstep.

--"The Thing on the Doorstep"

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