Providence thus far appears at the very least to be an exercise in dichotomy. The first issue portraying relatively liberated sexual play alongside tragic repression. The second issue appears to do much the same, only now with moments of subtle tenderness and subterranean terror. There are also times wherein characters share secrets unequivocally and in the next distract from the truth or outright lie to one another. So much duality and duplicity in a cursory glance alone that one wonders what a lengthier study might yield.
And yet what I initially took away from the issue were its’ moments of tenderness, particularly the hands across a table scene. Looking back to the first issue we can see a sort of warmth between Dr. Alvarez and his landlady. Returning however to the issue in hand, in retrospect the pages preceding the hand holding can be read as a flirtation or burgeoning infatuation between Black and Malone. These particularly comprehensive annotations suggest a more intended dalliance based on Moore’s accrued knowledge concerning the history of homosexuality. You see, though not immediately obvious as a theme in the first issue, Providence would appear to be a history of queer culture and its’ intersection with everyday life as much as it is about the gradual encroaching of entities of maddening cosmic horror. The seeds of Providence were sown around twenty years ago when Moore was working on what would become The Mirror of Love. I could reiterate this story but I feel the elder magus does a far better job himself so instead I will point you in the direction of a lecture wherein Alan Moore recites and discusses The Mirror of Love, it’s creation in reaction to Clause 28, it’s content and its legacy in Providence. You really feel the passion that Alan put into this project and I defy anyone to not be moved in the exact same moment Alan is.
As The Mirror of Love has exemplified, when one looks further into the history of sexual identity, or indeed magical and pagan thought, one invariably stumbles upon a time where what we see as the new sexuality was in fact the norm. All our taboos were quite literally sacraments. To avoid persecution from the encroaching movement of rampant monotheism and “civilised” thinking, more liberated lifestyles and their adherents were driven underground and into hiding. They became the occult. Knowingly or unknowingly this is, in a way, what Lovecraft succinctly described in The Dunwich Horror when he wrote:
“The Old Ones were, the Old Ones are, and the Old Ones shall be.
Not in the spaces we know, but between them, they walk serene and primal, undimensioned and to us unseen…
Man rules now where They ruled once; They shall soon rule where man rules now.
After summer is winter, after winter summer. They wait patient and potent, for here shall They reign again.”
Like Ezekiel chastising Babylon and St. John’s abhorrence of pagan Rome, Lovecraft saw an emergent horror in America’s cosmopolitan cities and their ethnic diversity. With modern society potentially staring fascism in the eye this is of course problematic and can create a sense of aversion, particularly when one tries to encourage new readers. Even if one bears in mind that Lovecraft is expressing opinions quite common of the time and that, in time, he eventually rejected such views the Mythos is liable to become an ossified relic. Of course for the Mythos to endure and to maintain its evocative quality it must evolve alongside the milieu and sensibilities of its potential readership. Moore may very well know and play to the conventions of the Lovecraftian but he is also subtly splicing them with something that is simultaneously ancient and yet quite thoroughly modern. One could perceive this as another example of dichotomy at play.
Returning however to the narrative, Black’s astonishment at Malone’s prodigious reading further reinforces his suggested weakness for fellow bibliophiles, as hinted at in his reaction to Lilly’s library in the first issue. Despite the effectiveness of the singular portrayal of shock on Black’s face in the prior issue, Jonathan/Lilly’s death now seems all but forgotten. Any mention of it being relegated to some sepia toned flashback panels on the first page. Furthermore in the diary entries supplied at the rear of the issue, Black writes of Malone with the same degree of intensity as he did when mourning Lily only a few days before. If we hadn’t had our sympathy with Black tested in the first issue we can hardly be blamed for questioning his seemingly fickle nature now can we?
As one would expect in a Lovecraftian work, particularly in the hands of Moore, circumstances portray an all too present blurring between reality and fiction. There’s that dichotomy again. Black and Malone discuss the murder of the Cigar Girl, Mary Rogers which inspired Poe to write The Mystery of Marie Rogêt. Alongside Robert Sudyam, the character Lovecraft created in The Horror at Red Hook, we also have supplementary material detailing various characters analogous to characters that Lovecraft himself created and utilised. Moore’s equivalents to the Necronomicon and Alhazred, the Kitab Al-Hikmah and Khalid ibn Yazid also appear once more further fleshing out this reinvigoration of the Mythos. Events that play out in The Horror At Red Hook are foreshadowed lending some potency to what some consider to be the weakest of Lovecraft’s stories. Indeed some say the weakness of The Horror At Red Hook lies not only in Lovecraft’s expression of the previously mentioned thinly veiled racism and xenophobia, but also in its reliance on preexisting occult works and magical theory rather than the more ethereal and therefore more potent Mythos conventions.
Another theme explored in this issue is one characteristic of works of Lovecraftian study, particularly in the fields of magic and psychology, and that is of the subconscious and to an extent chthonic or primal atavism. Talk of necromancy is interspersed with discussion of the Jungian meaning of caves. This is followed by a literal descent into the earth, wherein Black encounters something utterly ghastly which is subsequently explained away or “buried” as a trivial coincidence. Note also how homosexuality and other suppressed lifestyles are often referred to as being driven underground. The identity of the creature Black encounters is unequivocally Lily. Black himself hints as much although he quickly dismisses this. Readers familiar with Sudyam’s post mortem fate in The Horror At Red Hook will surely agree.
Implicit in the idea of duality, at least in a magical sense, is the next stage. Trinity or the transcendence through the marriage or obliteration of opposites. With that in mind it would not surprise me if in the next issue we begin to see a little more of that menagerie I spoke of or perhaps some quite heady metaphysics or magical theory. In the excerpt from Sudyam’s pamphlet we have an allusion to the prophecy of the unborn one, which we know to be Merrill’s child, and in a way this could point to either exploration. Who knows. All I know is I can’t wait.