“That the prince of the powers of darkness, passing by the flower and pomp of the earth, should lay preposterous siege to the weak fantasy of indigent eld — Nor, when the wicked are expressly symbolized by a goat, was it to be wondered at so much, that he should come sometimes in that body, and assert his metaphor.”
- Charles Lamb, Witches and Other Night Fears
I love The Dunwich Horror. Love. Love. Love. The Dunwich Horror. For me, just as is the case with Call of Cthulhu, it is where Lovecraft absolutely nails it. You have it all from phantasmagoria to the mundanely perverse, with everything that inhabits those yawning gulfs in between. Indeed there is a wonderfully humorous moment in Black’s journal entries from this issue where he contemplates writing what is essentially The Dunwich Horror. He quite characteristically gives up, his creative urge as fickle as his heart it would seem.
As I write this, Summer seems a lifetime away. We are entering the thrilling sharpness of Autumn, with her sister Winter soon to follow just the other side of Halloween. Now is the time for armchairs or bedside lamps and any number of Lovecraftian stories. From the man himself, through all his many descendants, to such present works as Alan Moore and Jacen Burrows’ Providence. To call it the Cthulhu Mythos is actually something of a misnomer. Lovecraft referred to it as Yog-Sothothery. If you are enchanted by the forbidden, don’t mind risking your sanity and grasp the kind of metaphysics Lovecraft was playing with you understand why Yog Sothoth is a big deal in the pantheon, and how much there is to literally dig into in The Dunwich Horror. Inter-dimensional gateways, invisible agencies, lost rites, forbidden books, ancient lore and unfulfilled prophecy. Itself inspired by Arthur Machen’s Great God Pan, The Dunwich Horror, one could argue, is Lovecraft’s somewhat perverse take on the Immaculate Conception.
We spoke before of miscegenation the fear of which taken to its extreme can only result in inbreeding. Of course this being Lovecraft there is only an intimation of incest in The Dunwich Horror. Most explicitly right at the end so that it is either anchored in one’s recollection or simply forgotten. When this fact is remembered a few passages from the beginning of the story take on a whole new level of meaning. I say intimation because comparatively, as one would expect from Moore and Burrows there is in White Apes an absolute explication of incest. This draws us away from any metaphysical daydreams and back to earth quite sharply. The simple stark horror of this transgressive act.
When Moore portrays an analogue of something Lovecraftian it, quite obviously, is informed by it’s originator. Moore’s real craft lies in the way in which his analogues feed back into the original material. As readers we begin to re-examine not only the texts but our interpretations. Perhaps for example we begin to think of the role of the feminine in not only Lovecraft’s work but also Moore and Burrows’. Women are ultimately conspicuous by their absence in Lovecraftian tales. These are predominantly male spheres we walk in. Women generally taking on secondary roles in a world of scholarly men and wizards. In Providence thus far Moore and Burrows have mimicked this with secretaries and housekeepers. This may itself be an act of blasphemy, but if we take a basic Christ analogy and apply it to The Dunwich Horror, and also to White Apes to some degree, we have Lavinia/Leticia as our Blessed Virgin Mary. Indeed when we first see Leticia there is a Catholic style portrait of a mother and her twin offspring hanging on the wall. As the story progresses she is then positioned so as to be framed within that portrait further suggesting this analogy.
Incest was of course the privilege of royalty and even Lovecraft’s pantheon indulged in this to some degree. Yog-Sothoth breeding with what appears to be his cousin Shub Niggurath. Does this make Lavinia/Leticia a vehicle for the Black Goat of the Woods? Is she to be revered much in the same way agent Brears was by Johnny Carcosa? But even such veneration places them in a role where they are all instruments of presumably masculine forces both mundane and metaphysical. Shub Niggurath, commonly interpreted as the Great Mother of the Mythos is alluded to as being male as much as it is female. The (Sacred) Feminine is stripped of her own agency on so many levels. If that wasn’t tragic enough in this specific example Lavinia/Leticia goes on to be the subject of vampirism and probable matricide at the hands of her offspring.
As previously stated the parentage of Wilbur/Willard and his twin is much debated both in the text and out of it, with little to no definite conclusions. Or is that really the case? In a way reading White Apes allows us to see that we may not have been able to see in The Dunwich Horror. Thus allowing a maturation of reading. That being said even the explicitness of White Apes serves only to further the confusion. Yes we have the confirmed physical presence of the old wizard but we also have phenomena that match a manifestation of Yog Sothoth. The qabalistic spheres above the Wheatley’s rite and the thing brought down in Manchester farmland and whisked off to Rhode Island, which in itself suggests Lovecraft’s The Colour Out Of Space.
Indeed, right until the last page of panelling, which feeds back into the first, it feels like we are meant to believe that there is no supernatural aspect. That all the affectations of horror are not the product of extra dimensional essence but of an all too close to home abuse and inbreeding. Black goes on to believe this in his journal entries. Again reading these entries we are reminded of his naivete and also his solipsism as he procrastinates with the hotel receptionist. Playing with ideas for his great American novel but never really getting anywhere. For Moore and Burrows’ protagonists thus far their ignorance deliberate or otherwise of the horror around them has resulted in some kind of psychically or physically traumatic initiation into the world of greater Mythos. Or should that be Yog Sothothery?
There is so much going on around Black and he just drifts along unaware. For us at least this issue serves to flesh out further the shadowy group that is the Stellar Sapiente. Giving us insight into their structure, activities and motivations. As Providence progresses their portrayal has become even more mysterious as much as it is explored, with them now seeming possibly antagonistic. With the next issue seeing Black visit this universe’s equivalent of Miskatonic University, and considering the way in which Lovecraft and Moore and Burrow’s prior work in the milieu are both paced, one wonders if we aren’t due some major exposition? Some kind of reality warping event that proves to have a lasting effect on our seemingly unattached protagonist?