A while back I discussed just what it was that defines the sense of the Lovecraftian. At that time I spoke of Alan Moore’s The Courtyard and Neonomicon and their contrast to the perhaps less obviously Lovecraftian Nameless. I spoke of Moore’s works and their nihilistic perversion and body horror in a positive sense but I feel I may have given the impression that this was all these works had. Being a reader who can appreciate both Moore and Morrison, and with the recent release of the first issue of Moore’s Providence, I would like, if I may, to take a closer look at these particular examples of Moore’s journey into the Cthulhu Mythos. Where Morrison alludes to the Mythos, Moore executes with an almost textbook precision. Though I have dedicated some significant shelf space and much of my reading and viewing time to all things Lovecraftian, this being for the purposes of entertainment, magic and writing. I imagine Moore significantly outweighs me in his resources, consumption, scope and execution.
However what Moore produces are not simple, derivative by the numbers Lovecraftian tales. Here is a writer with the precise insight and acumen to truly grasp the essence of the Lovecraftian and outright revel in it. The fun of Lovecraft in all our relations with him, be they the written, the read, the heard, the seen, the felt, even the magical. That payoff is in that momentary suspension of disbelief. What if all this is real? With it can come horror, heightened awareness, joy, curiosity. A multitude of feelings or a strange brew of seemingly contrary reactions. Alan Moore knows all this and turns it up to eleven. By his own admission he even goes where the prudish Providence gentleman dared only euphemise. This testing of boundaries is therefore why Alan Moore’s forays into the Mythos are such treasures.
Based on the narrative of the first issue alone Providence, being set many years prior to the Courtyard and Neonomicon appears, at this early stage seemingly unconnected to its’ predecessors. Or does it? The most obvious connection is the general ambience and setting of these tales. A sort of hyperreal marriage of our world and the Lovecraftian. In the prior tales we had urban squalor, rock concerts, drug use and swingers parties alongside both the Mythos’ transcendental aspects and it’s all too fleshy elements. Providence however is set during Lovecraft’s life, 1919 to be exact. Lovecraft at this point though he had been writing for many years had very little actually published. What he had written were two tales that would go on to shape, if not become cornerstones of, the Cthulhu Mythos. These were Dagon and Beyond The Walls of Sleep. Dagon can be considered a proto Call of Cthulhu and Beyond The Wall of Sleep‘s themes of dreamers travelling to other worlds, reincarnation or haunted flesh and technology that manipulates inner vision can be found in such tales as From Beyond, The Case of Charles Dexter Ward and Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath. I digress and could digress even further so I’ll return back to Providence.
Setting his purportedly Lovecraftian tale that posits Lovecraft’s writing as accurate portrayals of reality at a time when Lovecraft is barely known, let alone published, might seem a bit silly. However we forget that the Mythos itself borrows from and in some cases integrates works that Lovecraft and others like him read. So it is that Moore has utilised Robert W. Chambers’ The King in Yellow to create the same hyperreal blurring between the Mythos and the mundane. Indeed Providence’s milieu echoes that found within the Repairer of Reputations with its spectre of war and death gardens.
The use of a death garden in Providence is where we may found our other link to Moore’s prior stories. On first reading we might be forgiven for thinking two suicides occurred. That of Jonathan Russell and of, our protagonist’s lover Lilly. However this is Alan Moore so some kind of twist or revelation is surely on the cards? Of course there is. Lily and Jonathan are one and the same. Rereading the issue we see how and where Moore has hinted at Robert Black’s suppressed identity and other character’s awareness thereof. How does this link with The Courtyard and Neonomicon though? Well we’ve met another Jonathan before haven’t we? Someone who is also associated with Chamber’s work, hedonism, decadent aesthetics and delights? Note also upon their first meeting that Black points out how young Lilly looks when considering her life events. Also Sax and Joey Face discuss the contradiction between Johnny Carcosa’s appearance and age in The Courtyard.
The most obvious link of course is Jacen Burrows. His artwork giving vision and flesh to the world Moore creates. I spoke before of how the power of Lovecraftian works often lies in the alluded, the unexplained and the unseen. Surely then comics are the least suited medium for an exploration? Perhaps not. What little description and imagery found in the original prose texts allows the imagination to fill the gaps. Lovecraftian art is then the sharing of imagination, an unspoken discussion of how such amorphous nameless horror can be visualized. Jacen Burrows balances the mundane and the maddening. There is detail to his work but not in a confusing or distracting sense. His use of a character’s expression conveys feeling and emotion often negating the need for speech. Indeed in Providence the world is portrayed with as much elegance as was found squalor in the prior two tales. I’m particularly fond of the times when examples from the extensive Mythos menagerie appear, and we can only hope for more of this as Providence progresses either in text or as supplementary artwork.
Ultimately what appeals to me most is that in Moore’s world, though starkly transgressive and sometimes morally horrific, the existence of the Old Ones and their ilk is still at this stage somewhat ambiguous affair. True Merrill experience repeated sexual assault at the hands of a Deep One, however this was after her captors forced her into their first coupling and her initial assault was at the hands of these captors as they summoned the Orgone energy that would attract the creature. Indeed in a way he was as much a plaything to them as Merrill was and after liberating her appears to take avenge both her and him. Add to this the fact that Johnny seems to disavow the sinister swingers and you have the implication that a unity of outlook and purpose does not seem to be a trait among the Old Ones, or, their servants at least.
Distinction does not necessarily equate to denigration. So when I say that, particularly in the latest issue of Nameless, Morrison seems to be implying that any intrusion from those outside these spheres results in abomination and annihilation, this does not mean that either story or writer is superior to the other. Moore and Morrison, each writer and their work is as much a part of the creative legacy of Howard Phillips Lovecraft as say Robert E. Howard or Ramsey Campbell.