“This stone, once exposed, exerted upon Blake an almost alarming fascination. He could scarcely tear his eyes from it, and as he looked at its glistening surfaces he almost fancied it was transparent, with half-formed worlds of wonder within. Into his mind floated pictures of alien orbs with great stone towers, and other orbs with titan mountains and no mark of life, and still remoter spaces where only a stirring in vague blacknesses told of the presence of consciousness and will.”
- The Haunter In The Dark, H.P. Lovecraft
Prior to reading this issue my interpretation of The Courtyard, Neonomicon and Providence had always been that the Lovecraft of these works was somehow inspired by ancient, occult influences that persist to this very day. This interpretation in some sense echoes our reality, wherein Lovecraft did indeed look to the burgeoning sciences and ongoing occult revival around him in his attempt to bring something fresh to the genre of horror. Decades of Lovecraft academia detail this.
By now we have no doubt learnt that the world Alan Moore portrays is an accentuated, or hyper real, version of our own. Lovecraft as he appears within this world is no exception. While my prior interpretation is in no way wrong it is just part of something far greater. Though perhaps not apparent on the first reading, upon closer inspection The Outsiders reveals that Lovecraft is in fact the product of an ancient occult influence that persists to this very day. In hindsight this is a revelation that is strongly hinted in various issues leading up to this one.
Alan Moore riffs on ideas posited by a variety of our own occultists as to the true reason behind Lovecraft’s uncanny magical insight and influence. Sweeping up his parents and grandparent into a hyper real narrative that Lovecraft himself may very well have relished. One of the delights of the Lovecraftian is such blurring of the real and the imaginary. Not only would Lovecraft set his tales in a hyper-real version of his own surroundings, Lovecraft would also weave a thread of painstaking detail to anchor them a little more in the world around us. Moore in an almost perversely logical way is taking that to the next step. One cannot doubt Moore’s own extensive research into the details of Lovecraft’s life and the world(s) around him. Burrows continues in this vein by very accurately portraying various objects and locations through his always exceptional art. Art and narrative that is of course bolstered by the respective colours and lettering of Juan Rodriguez and Kurt Hathaway. The specifics of these details can be found over at Facts In the Case of Alan Moore’s Providence.
As discussed in prior articles on this series Moore would appear to be using a hyper-real imagining of the past to hold up a mirror to the present. This of course is something common to a lot of Moore’s work. We live in the far flung future of many a Utopian eye. Yet taking a cursory glance at the present state of the world in the sixteenth year of the second millennium one cannot help but feel that Lovecraft was indeed prophetic when he wrote:
“ … someday the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the deadly light into the peace and safety of a new dark age.”
Having grown up within a sense of pre-millennial hope and having seen that slowly wither, if not die, in the wake of 9/11 one cannot help but feel we are very much in or approaching the safety of a new dark age. The world stage appears like a large scale impersonal re-enactment of the Crusades. While on a national level many countries seem to be going through times similar to the period between the two world wars. That this situation is reflected in Providence is obviously no coincidence given it’s chronology. Black refuses to acknowledge the wider world and by all accounts its inherent horror, much as many of us seem to be blissfully unaware of the injustices of the world around us. Content in our routines of commercialism, commodification and consumption as the gap between rich and poor widens. The Stellar Sapiente are themselves divided between it’s down earth but apparently genetically and intellectually inferior impoverished members and it’s rather more established, well to do and smarter elite. Each side taking extreme efforts and transgressive measures to secure their manifest destiny.
One could argue this division is echoed in the climate of the American presidential election and also the current division in the British Labour Party. One could also argue it is also manifest in other issues across the pond. Issue such as oil spills in the Amazonian rain-forests, the Flint Water Crisis or the spate of increasingly unnecessary police shootings and the protesting thereof.
Despite all this the thing that interested me most about this issue concerns the illicit encounter between Black and Howard Charles. Providence has been all about lending emotional weight and erotic energy to what is superficially a cold and sexless Mythos and this issue is no exception. Black receives a taste of his own medicine when Charles snubs him immediately after their encounter. Note also that Charles voices the same selfish concerns for appearance and reputation that Black has often used. Furthermore for Moore to play out Black’s encounter with the shining trapezohedron in much the same way as Blake’s in The Haunter In The Dark would have been disappointing. This sexual encounter adds a certain frisson to proceedings. Particularly with the manifestation of orgone. Something which will no doubt have some lingering effect or recompense to serve to Black beyond the immediate rejection of his further advances.
Of course the character of Howard Charles is no mere walk on part. Here is Moore’s analogue of Charles Dexter Ward. A character equally as embroiled in and unaware of machinations from beyond the grave and spheres as both Black and Lovecraft. Three individuals oblivious to the notion that their lives are at the whim of agencies out of the depths of time. Additionally, as one learns more about Lovecraft and the Mythos, one realises there is an element of Lovecraft found in nearly all his protagonists. Ward’s story, The Strange Case of Charles Dexter Ward, is one of a promising young scholar led awry. This may have been a way for Lovecraft to process and make peace with his own supposed academic failings as a youth.
Often when modern writers evoke or include an influential icon such as Lovecraft there is some attempt to deconstruct or shatter the illusion of greatness. He is of course not a flawless individual. What is interesting is that even though Moore mires Lovecraft in a world of madness and occult conspiracy he remains a noble if somewhat blissfully unaware and eccentric figure. Whereas Black’s ignorance is painted as a deliberate cowardly avoidance, and Howard Charles’ being born of the eager curiousness that typifies any Lovecraftian protagonist in their initial investigations, Lovecraft’s is a sort of matter of fact fastidiousness.
In fact Lovecraft’s stoicism in the face of his mother’s supposed lunatic ravings further ennobles him. Using the knowledge gained in not only this issue but the series as a whole we realise that hers are not entirely unsubstantiated outpourings. A sort of bracketing takes place when it is revealed at the issue’s end that Lovecraft’s mother apprehends the world much in the same way Annesley does at the issues opening, only without the aid of his ultraviolet glasses. Again this is something perfectly illustrated by Burrows who once more indulges his always intriguing manner of depicting the flora and fauna of the Lovecraftian world.
We are fast entering the final quarter of Providence‘s run. A title that is noteworthy purely on its’ own merit. However with Alan Moore recently announcing his retirement from the comic medium Providence gains the accolade of possibly being his penultimate work. We are very much near the tunnel’s end, but -beyond the spark of friendship between Black and Lovecraft, who himself is a brilliance- there is very little light awaiting us there.
At least from a conventional point of view…