Can You Fight the Mythos? Part III

Once again, I take a look at Lovecraft tales, and whether or not, in the text itself, mortals have a chance or not in face of otherworldly terrors. How are your chances? Better than you might think!

This time I’m looking at tales from The Best of HP Lovecraft: Bloodcurdling Tales of Horror and the Macabre.

The Rats in the Walls
Short Spoilery Synopsis: A man renovates an old house, and there’s old temples under the site, and spectral rats that only he and the cats can hear. The rats drive him murderously crazy. Also, the main character’s cat is named after a racial slur.
Textual Effectiveness of Weaponry: Mousetraps are set, and sprung, but to no effect.
Can You Fight the Rats in the Walls: No. You can burn down the house to prevent people from living there, but the influence of the rats themselves seems impossible to physically combat.

The Picture in the House:
Short Spoilery Synopsis: A traveller seeks refuge from a storm in a house, and finds a book with disturbing pictures of cannibalism. Surprise! The resident is a cannibal.
Textual Effectiveness of Weaponry: None is used, although at the end, a lightning bolt strikes the house, and apparently destroys it.
Can You Fight the Guy With the Picture in the House: Yes. It’s just a crazy guy, there’s nothing in the text to suggest that he’s anything else.

Pickman’s Model:
Short Spoilery Synopsis: Pickman, (the anti-Lovecraft; Lovecraft generally leaves the horror to the reader’s imagination, going to extremes of non-description; Pickman paints the impossible with such specific detail and precision that they leave nothing to the imagination, and are thus terrible to behold) paints ghouls. He’s got one locked in his basement.
Textual Effectiveness of Weaponry: When one of his ghouls gets too rowdy, he shoots it.
Can You Fight Pickman’s Model: Yes. Pickman used a revolver.

in the Vault:
Short Spoilery Synopsis: An undertaker gets locked in the vault, and stacks coffins to get out, and is the victim of revenge from beyond the grave.
Textual Effectiveness of Weaponry: None. Birch doesn’t fight back.
Can You Fight what’s In the Vault: Inconclusive- there’s not enough evidence to know if its a ghoul (like Pickman’s Model) or an incorporeal spirit, simply the result of a particularly wronged, and particularly vindictive corpse.

The Silver Key:
Short Spoilery Synopsis: Randolf Carter regrets his ability to have vast dreams, and searches for the ability to do so again. He unknowingly transports himself backward in time, becoming his younger self.
This story is interesting, because it can be interpreted as one of two ways: an eternal cycle of loss, or as a sublime victory by Carter over time, space, and dreams. The ending suggests Carter has gained some influence over the dreamlands.
There’s not anything to fight in this story, giving this story a rating of Irrelevant, but this is a possible instance of human transcendence in the Mythos.

The Music of Erich Zahn:
Short Spoilery Synopsis: Erich Zahn lives in a pocket dimensional neighborhood of complete darkness, and plays otherworldly music.
Can You Fight the Music of Erich Zahn: Irrelevant; there’s no Threat in the context of the story, except the strange space itself, which does not appear to create peril (or if it does, can be fended off by music).

The Call of Cthulhu
See my more in depth post on this tale.

The Dunwhich Horror
Short Spoilery Synopsis: When Wilbur Whately, a precocious fast growing child is born, so is his brother, a constantly growing mass of flesh. (Their father is possibly Yog-Sothoth). After Wilbur’s death, big brother goes on a giant monster rampage throughout Dunwhich.
Textual Effectiveness of Weaponry: Wilbur is mortally wounded by guarddogs when trying to break into the Arkham University; his flesh is mostly otherworldly, only slightly human. The brother is assumed to be much tougher; three academians use a ritual to summon a lightning bolt to destroy the beast.
Can You Fight the Dunwhich Horror? Yes. You might need specialized tools, but in this tale, humanity wins the day. It might even be possible with physical weaponry to find a weakness in the half-god’s human aspect that can be exploited.

The Whisperer in Darkness:
Short Spoilery Synopsis: Mi-Go, travelers from Pluto are taking over in rural Vermont, and only a crazy recluse and his pen pal can stop them. And then the pen pal falls for the most transparent trap ever, snaps out of it, and makes his escape before they steal his brain.
Textual Effectiveness of Weaponry: Henry Akeley keeps a vast stable of watch dogs, which the Mi-Go evidently fear. The story itself starts with reports of strange corpses, which suggests that the Mi-Go are vulnerable to death.
Can You fight the Mi-Go?: Yes. They are presented as having a vast technological and numerical advantage, but on Earth at least, they exist as physical beings, which are threatened by dog maulings. In event of Mi-Go invasion, load up on dogs and dig in for prolonged guerrilla warfare.

The Colour Out of Space:
Short Spoilery Synopsis: A meteorrite lands on the Gardner place, and poisons the water and the land, spreading a strange color, and leeching the life out of the plants and the Gardner family.
Textual Effectiveness of Weaponry: The narrator kills one of the corrupted Gardners, but no physical action seems possible against the color or the meteorite
Can You Fight the Colour Out of Space: No, and the meteorite fragment dissolves over time- there’s not even the option to destroy that. Perhaps quick retrieval and quarantine of such a fragment would be able to contain the corruption, but once its active, there’s little recourse except to abandon the land. The story also features an ambiguous threat of a city aquifer spreading into the corrupted territory.

The Haunter of the Dark:
Short Spoilery Synopsis: Robert Blake finds a ruined church and explores it, possibly letting loose and calling attention to an ancient evil that is held at bay by light. During an electrical outage, it escapes and kills him.
Textual Effectiveness of Weaponry: The beast flees from light when it is shined into cracks in the church, and it is suggested that light might be able to harm it.
Can You fight the Haunter of the Dark: Inconclusive, but leaning Yes. One might be able to go all Alan Wake on its ass.

The Thing on the Doorstop:
Short Spoilery Synopsis: This may be Lovecraft’s most sexist tale, stating at women’s brains are physically less capable then men’s brains. Or that might just be the mad sorcerer talking, who stole his daughter’s body to gain immortality, and now continues to body hop.
Textual Effectiveness of Weaponry: The host’s body can be killed, but if the corpse is not destroyed, it can still switch bodies, leaving the other host possessing a rotting corpse.
Can You fight the Thing on the Doorstep: (Technically the thing on the doorstep is the rotting corpse of the woman’s form, inhabited by the narrator’s friend) Yes. The host is human; all you need is a handy candlestick or gun, and the ability to burn the body.

The Dreams in the Witch-House
Short Spoilery Synopsis: A mathematician is on the cusp of puzzling out the secrets of space and time, and attracts a witch and her ratlike familiar, who have been kidnapping and killing children for centuries.
Textual Effectiveness of Weaponry: When the mathematician is spirited away by the witch, he steals her ritual knife and stabs her with it. The familiar survives to kill him, but then disappears.
Can You fight the Witch in the Witch House: Yes.

The Shadow Out of Time:
Short Spoilery Synopsis: A man has several years of his life taken from him, when time traveling aliens swtich bodies with him to study humanity. Later he goes and finds ruins of their city, where he discovers it was real all along.
Textual Effectiveness of Weaponry: None is used. There’s not any physical conflict in the story.
Can You fight the Shadow out of Time: Irrelevant. The Great Race seem to be long lived but mortal, although there is a greater threat they seem to fear. The horror of the tale is that all his dreams are true, which seems pretty weaksauce, since as the reader, we should really be assuming that all along.

This round of stories featured a number of stark victories and ineffible foes; lots of Yes and No answers, fewer Inconclusive ones, and a number of simply weird tales without any real conflict or threat. The tally so far, including all stories:

Yes: 13
Inconclusive, Leaning Yes: 5
Inconclusive: 3
Inconclusive, Leaning No: 5
No: 6
Irrelevant: 6

If it bleeds (or dissolves, or melts), you can kill it.

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5 thoughts on “Can You Fight the Mythos? Part III

  1. oberonthefool says:

    Good series. Randolph Carter really gets around the mythosverse, traveling between dreams, planets, timelines, dimensions… evidence suggests he may be the unwitting avatar of a god of some sort.

    I’m not at all certain that Lovecraft, like many pulp authors, ever intended his works to be codified and nailed down to the nth degree. I think he didn’t explain and didn’t describe, and didn’t necessarily even keep track between tales of what everything “meant” or how it all tied together- I think a lot of that was done by his fans and contemporaries.

    That said, I know a lot less about Lovecraftiana than most people who know a lot about it (including you), so maybe I am talking out of my ass.

    Which would be pretty creepy.

    Incidentally the narrator shrieking “IT WAS FROM LIFE!” at the end of Pickman’s Model has always been one of my favorites- simultaneously silly and terrifying.

  2. oberonthefool says:

    Of course the only really important question is, how much San have you lose over the course of this series of posts?

  3. Willow says:

    I think the SAN rules are a little silly- they’re great in theory, but odd in practice, and in the stories themselves, I occasionally have trouble taking it seriously how little it takes to drive the protagonists mad.

    I’m deliberately not touching on Sanity in any of these posts, but I might do a longer post on my thoughts on the matter.

  4. oberonthefool says:

    I wonder if the accepted mores of the day contributed to the ease with which people lost their shit? I mean, not that long ago you could get thrown in an asylum for being socially awkward. “Madness” in Lovecraft’s time might have just meant “he mutters to himself a lot and looks sickly” or whatever.

  5. oberonthefool says:

    Likewise, I wonder if people weren’t somewhat less resilient because society was so tightly wound that it took less to drive someone over the edge? Have you read Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper”? The narrator is literally driven mad by YELLOW WALLPAPER.*

    *(yes there was a lot else going on in that story, but seriously, WALLPAPER)

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