“And yet, its realism was so hideous that I sometimes find hope impossible. If the thing did happen, then man must be prepared to accept notions of the cosmos, and of his own place in the seething vortex of time, whose merest mention is paralysing. He must, too, be placed on guard against a specific lurking peril which, though it will never engulf the whole race, may impose monstrous and unguessable horrors upon certain venturesome members of it.”
- H.P. Lovecraft, The Shadow Out of Time.
Though I was expecting a horror derived from a trespass of the flesh in Out Of Time, I did not expect what actually happened. As I write this I still find it to be profoundly unsettling. To the point I find myself wanting to skim around the subject and thus do a great injustice to the subject of rape, Alan Moore’s various discussions thereof and of course the victims of this awful, awful crime. That being said this discomfort and subsequent reflection is hardly surprising. Alan Moore is well known for saying artists should not give the audience what they want and that art should make people uncomfortable, that it should shock us into thinking about and hopefully questioning our basic assumptions on any number of topics. Indeed this issue is very much the case of dangling what we think we want before us and then either snatching it away or replacing it with something far more horrific instead.
I was so certain this issue would see Robert become the merciless plaything of Hector North. Instead he becomes the accomplice, victim and perpetrator of something far, far worse. The first few pages even tease us with Hector making unsavoury plans and initiating their fulfilment. Only then to be abruptly scuppered by an intervention which leads Black to his eventual perusing of Hali’s Booke. Moore drops in a little allusion to The Shadow Out Of Time, from which this issue takes its title, as Black makes his way to the library where he will eventually read and take notes upon this dreaded tome. These notes form the prose portion of this issue. Black’s study is portrayed as a calm interlude bracketed between scenes of varying distress and elevation. An oasis of apparent quiet repose and timelessness. A sensation I felt quite recently where I was, albeit briefly, able to peruse editions of Nietzsche and Blavatsky published not long after their respective author’s deaths. The very quintessence of reading, a seemingly transcendent refuge for any and all bibliophiles.
Time then is, at least within the province of Providence very much a mutable substance. Through the text and Jacen Burrows’ art we are shown the benevolent and malevolent qualities of such timelessness. Suspension and repetition. Liberation and suffering. Black’s experience of nested time in the prior issue and his inability to accurately comprehend its passage in this issue all serve to unsettle his nerves and perhaps in some sense our own. Particularly towards the end of the comic portion of this issue which very clever ties back to the prior issue creating that sense of pocketed or nested time.
After his perusal of this forbidden tome Black runs into his apparent erstwhile heroine Elspeth once more, who goes from a figure of rescue to refuge. Elspeth, having already been portrayed as quite forthright and intelligent, attempts to seduce Black. To a reader familiar with Moore and of course his wife Melinda Gebbie’s Lost Girls this initially seems like the actions of any that works’ three protagonists. Specifically, those of a very young but emotionally mature, liberated, self possessed and empowered woman. We almost have that redefinition of female representation in the Mythos. Swiftly however the taboo frisson is replaced with profound shock and horror. Something I had not felt since the murderous orgy and subsequent rape as depicted in Neonomicon. This is amplified further when we realise Elspeth, robbed of so much agency already, barely even existed.
Though not immediately obvious Elspeth is merely the latest host of Etienne Roulet, a founding member of the Stellar Sapiente. As an aside, even though I have just begun to read Bobby Derie’s Sex and the Cthulhu Mythos there seems to be a parallel between Roulet’s and Lovecraft’s view of sex. This being that it is merely a duty of sorts, a function, a means to an end rather than emotional expression or sensory exploration. No doubt the more I read Derie’s work the more it will inform my reading of Providence. Thereafter the subsequent act becomes one between two presumably masculine entities, albeit with one trapped in Elspeth’s body which again adds to the horror. Black becomes both the victim and the perpetrator of this sexual assault. The trauma of rape is unimaginable but the trauma to Black incomprehensibly more so.
Out of Time however is not an entirely unsettling and disquieting affair. I spoke before of how any good piece of Yog Sothothery alludes to or is in some sense a grimoire in itself. This issue more than any other exemplifies that. The commonplace book entries found at the rear contain page after page of Hali’s Booke of the Wisdom of the Stars transcribed by Black as we saw him earlier in the issue. In a way this acts as a sort of salve to the preceding horror. The contrast between the mystical and the mundane perhaps. Far easier to read about the nebulous horror that the return of the Old Ones will bring rather than to actually witness the actions that might very well assure this. True to his naive and almost oblivious character Black feels a sense unease as he reads and writes up these notes but still doesn’t understand why. Myself? I relished every page of these transcriptions. Other magicians have managed to weave entire systems of magic using far less.
The premise of The Courtyard, Neonomicon and now Providence is essentially that Lovecraft was somehow inspired by ancient, occult influences that persist to this very day. This is in a sense true but Lovecraft would pepper his works with reference to real world occult figures and their works purely for literary effect. To blur the line between reality and fiction. He was, by his own admission, no initiate of some secret and ancient order, no matter how many occultists wish to believe so. Moore quite cleverly plays on this, and had it not been for the always thorough annotations found here I never would have noticed this simple but profound trick. Into his fictional world of duplicate analogues of Lovecraft’s characters and events it would seem Moore has inserted Lovecraft’s own father and maternal grandfather as members of the Stella Sapiente. Both these men would have a profound influence on Lovecraft and his works. His grandfather’s encouragement and library shaping his young prodigious mind and his father whose collapse and death might well have imprinted as a morbid obsession with madness and the macabre.
Out of Time, falling around the middle point of Providence’s narrative does indeed represent the transgressive initiation of its protagonist but Moore goes one step further initiating us further into his take on Lovecraftian horror. Black has experienced the supernaturally other and his visit to Moore’s analogue for the ghoul Pickman might well lead to a further initiation into the off kilter world of the Old Ones, into the subterraneanly transgressive world of necrotic cannibalism.