“Non-Euclidean calculus and quantum physics are enough to stretch any brain; and when one mixes them with folklore, and tries to trace a strange background of multi-dimensional reality behind the ghoulish hints of the Gothic tales and the wild whispers of the chimney-corner, one can hardly expect to be wholly free from mental tension.”
- H.P. Lovecraft, The Dreams In The Witch House
Were it not grounded in a familiarity with the respective contributions towards Yog Sothothery from Moore and Lovecraft, the accuracy of my guess at this issue of Providence‘s content might well be taken as proof of psychic prowess. Or incredible vanity inflated by mere coincidence. Magic is of course a little bit of all three. Intellect, intuition and an indulgence of confirmation bias. Black does indeed encounter some nightmarish horror, just not quite the full blown shamanistic breakdown I had predicted. Rather instead the whole incident results in a wonderful burst of splendid creativity that is to be found in the handwritten commonplace book entries, as always at the rear of the comic. Sadly Black dismisses nearly all his output, but by now would we really expect him to do much else?
To the well read reader of the Mythos our protagonist encounters quite a lot of horror during the events portrayed in the rest of the issue as well. So much Yog Sothothery intersects with his day one wonders that if Black had the slightest inkling of the world around him would he do anything other than lose his mind utterly. Tips of the hat are given to Herbert West Re-animator, The Thing On The Doorstep, The Colour Out Of Space all within a general ambience dripping with reference to Dreams In The Witch House. Indeed it is quite fitting that upon Black’s visit to this reality’s equivalent of Miskatonic University he wanders into a veritable pick and mix of the queer and unusual. Given that Providence is as much an exploration of the history of Gay culture as it is the milieu in which Lovecraft wrote, one can comfortably, and hopefully inoffensively, use the term queer in both senses of the word. Not only does the occult walk abroad brazenly and openly, there is also a more than subtle hint of flirtation and reciprocation between Black and Doctor North.
So much so that Black seems to hint almost explicitly about his sexuality for the first time. While we may well have had that moment of tenderness between Black and Malone, this itself was the result of a far more subtle or even unspoken exchange. Though we may not guess until the end of the issue, when he explains an interest in taxidermy, Hector North is a clear analogue for Herbert West. Knowing what we know about Dr. Herbert West one wonders if the sanctuary Black finds with Hector North is to turn out to be any kind of respite at all. Black hints as much in his journal entries, but this, as yet, seems to be more about the fractious domestic relations between North and his partner James rather than any impending cosmic horror or fleshy transgression.
After White Apes playful attack upon the plausibility of magic and our entertaining of the unknown it’s refreshing to find that In The Walls is, as I have previously stated, absolutely saturated in it. This is fitting seeing as the issue contains an abundance of phenomena associated with he who knows the gate, is the gate, with all past present and future comprised within him. Indeed it seems strangely eerie that my last article touched upon female representation in the Mythos and in this issue we have Mrs. Macey monologue delving into the fear and fascination inherent to the female form. Again however this may just be nothing more than confirmation bias. Regardless let’s have a quick look at this issues contents through the lens of female representation. On the face of it Mrs. Macey and Elspeth seem like pretty forthright individuals. As do the magically proficient characters they are based upon. These being Keziah Mason and Asenath Waite, found in Dreams In The Witch House and The Thing On The Doorstep respectively. Inspecting them further we come to realise however, much like Laticia/Lavinia in the prior issue of Providence, their aura of power or significance is intrinsically linked to some kind of male agency. Macey, for all her transcendent power is, presumably like Keziah, bound to Nyarlathothep before the throne of Azathoth. Elspeth (is destined to be) possessed by the spirit of her father at the very least. I cannot help but hope that, perhaps not in Providence but in some future publication, Moore goes on to redefine the role of the feminine in the Mythos. Given her own body of artistic work and refreshing views on the commodification of art and of the self, one would hope to find Moore’s wife Melinda Gebbie involved at some level.
A well written Lovecraftian story should act as a pseudo-grimoire in itself. A simple method of doing so may involve directly quoting a pre-existing or imagined book of black magic. A slightly less obvious but altogether far more evocative and therefore magically effective way is to illustrate said magical process in the course of the narrative. In The Walls perfectly illustrates that latter process. Much in the same way The Courtyard emblematic-ally taught us the phrases Wza-Ye’i, Dho-Hna and Yr Nhhngr. This issue of Providence further fleshes out that last concept. Describing and illustrating it as pocketed or nested time. Remember this final concept tipped Aldo Sax over the edge. Black’s encounter, as previously noted results in a bout of artistic inspiration. Of course one could argue Sax’s subsequent work after his experience of Yr Nhhngr as somewhat artistic also, albeit more murderous and bloody. While on the subject of grimoires, though we and Black are yet to see the Kitab we are, again, surrounded by it effects. In particular the four recorded methods of cheating death as detailed within it’s pages alongside a plausible fifth method, the ascension into higher dimensionality, being stumbled upon by Mrs. Macey.
In all the burgeoning sci-fi and heady metaphysics of Lovecraft’s work it is easy to forget that they are still essentially works of horror. The source of this horror is of course death, the transgression of it’s boundaries and the taboos associated with it. Lovecraft’s ghouls for example, heavily influenced by their Arab forebears, perfectly exemplify this. In the tales that are grounded in the here and now of immediate and mundane reality, such as The Statement of Randolph Carter, Pickman’s Model or The Hound, you have the abhorrent transgressive quality of these subterranean corpse devourers. However when you come to the magnum opus of the Dream Cycle, Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath, ghouls have become a still abhorrent but somewhat romanticized race. Inhabiting some nether realm between the mundane and the dreaming and serving as allies and companions to the protagonist Randolph Carter. This gradual embracing of the macabre or the other worldly is, particularly in his later works, somewhat characteristic of Lovecraft and of course something that Moore and Burrows look to continue dishing out in spades. Moore and Burrows however have their own predilection for the taboos and transgressions of the body alongside a focus on the macabre. With that in mind it’s no surprise our protagonist ends up in the hands of the analogue of Lovecraft’s most well known transgressor of death and the body…