“I will tell the audient void. . . . I do not recall distinctly when it began, but it was months ago. The general tension was horrible. To a season of political and social upheaval was added a strange and brooding apprehension of hideous physical danger; a danger widespread and all-embracing, such a danger as may be imagined only in the most terrible phantasms of the night.”
- Nyarlathothep, H.P. Lovecraft
In a sense Providence’s tenth issue is about celebration. This being thematically shown in its depictions of ritual, closure and offering or thanks. Further to this the narrative content is in itself also a cause for celebration. One reason being the sense of schadenfreude when Black finally realises just what he has gotten himself into. I understand this may paint me as cruel in some eyes, but Moore also counterpoints this with moments where we also empathise with our perplexed protagonist. When we rejoin him, Black is, at the very least, intellectually besotted with Lovecraft, with whom he appears to be spending much of the winter months. When Lovecraft professes his strong homophobia and antisemitism, I couldn’t help but feel for Black who must have received this bigotry as a double whammy of rejection. Burrows talent for expression is once again exemplary in his portrayal of this exchange.
The sense of overwhelming panic Black experiences towards the issue’s close is also something I cannot help having great sympathy for. Through the closing conversation between Lovecraft and Black, and Black’s desperate letter to Malone, Moore and Burrows cleverly evoke a sense of genuine palpable anxiety. A sensation I often feel. One could argue it is crafted so perfectly that the reader almost has a panic attack themselves. One might forget one is reading a work of fiction as one’s self unites with Black’s in a sense of helpless dread. This of course isn’t the first time we may have experienced such dread. Events in the series’ second, fifth and sixth issues are definite parallels and are just as evocative.
In magic panic or great fear is a route to gnosis or magical consciousness. So in a way it seems quite logical that, much in the same way it had done so in these prior instances, this state of mind is accompanied by Black making contact with some otherworldly agency. Finally aware and fully overwhelmed Black, frozen cannot flee from this intrusion as he has done before. He is quite literally swallowed up. Much like Brears own encounter with Johnny Carcosa in Neonomicon this is depicted as a moment of thanks and celebration. In this instance however Johnny is given to prostrating before Black as much as he was given to revering Brears.
This in itself is a defining quality and therefore an appealing aspect of Moore’s take on the Mythos. As and when humanity makes contact with such eldritch beings in Lovecraft’s original work they are rarely so communicative let alone so accommodating. When such instances do occur they are often a form of obscuration or misdirection. The true aim of which is soon revealed. Randolph Carter’s encounter with Nyarlathothep towards the end of Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath, or Wilmarth’s conversation with the supposed Akeley in The Whisperer In Darkness, being examples that immediately spring to mind. In Providence and indeed Neonomicon‘s case we have instances of exposure. Both physically and in terms of plot. If there is any hesitancy or hostility over these proceedings then it is purely on Black’s part.
Another sense of celebration is found in this issue when we finally realise the fate of Black’s commonplace book. His various encounters, meditations and musings thereupon are to provide Lovecraft with the inspiration for his near entire body of work. True this accentuates the sense of unoriginality or plagiarism often leveled at Lovecraft, but this is purely within the frame of Alan Moore’s hyperreal take on Yog Sothothery. Indeed, by doing so he cements the idea of Lovecraft translating very real events and also validates the prophecy of the Messenger and the Redeemer, with Black’s journal being quite literally the message. By clothing these events in fiction Lovecraft will actually guarantee them a greater power and endurance than if they were taken as fact. What is interesting to note is that the reader, or at least the reader familiar with Lovecraft, shares the exultation of the shadowy otherworldly beings and their agents more than we sympathize with our perpetually tortured protagonist.
Speaking of Black, recently I had been reading fellow Sequart contributor Greg Carpenter’s book The British Invasion. Within the pages of this wholly entertaining and worthwhile read it is revealed that Neonomicon was originally only written to pay off a tax bill. At first I was saddened that a work I enjoyed and admired could perhaps be seen as a throwaway piece. To be fair however Neonomicon is a pretty sick little book. At a glance it appears to be some simple narrative dressing and amusing conceits to frame some pretty repugnant sexual violence (comparisons with The Killing Joke are made at the reader’s discretion and/or indulgence). Providence however seems to be Moore’s attempt to really contribute something to the Mythos. In a way Moore’s role as a writer mirrors the journey of Black. Black leaves a place wherein he writes merely to pay the bills and embarks on a journey that will hopefully result in a masterpiece.
Finally we have another blink and you miss it reveal or piece of subtext. Previously I had written about the potential for Moore to redefine the role of the feminine within the Mythos. With the (re)appearance of Johnny Carcosa’s mother in recent issues and her central role to some kind of rite in this issue, the suggestion is that she holds a very high office in some form of the Stella Sapiente. If not the highest. Indeed while it’s slightly more patriarchal branches of both low and high standing seem only to bring forth conduits or vessels, she has borne a god.
Beyond the legacy of the writing of Lovecraft, and it’s adherents, nothing much is seen in the Courtyard and Neonomicon of the results of the more patriarchal branches’ work. If anything their lofty intellectual pursuits would appear to decay into nothing more than a group of subterranean swingers. Johnny, and his mother for a time, continue to endure having influences of their own. One could argue that Brears’ pregnancy is the result of the more patriarchal branches influence. However this would appear to be more accident rather than design. Furthermore she seems to be striking out alone with Johnny’s blessing. So in a way, pending any further sequels, which with Moore’s imminent retirement seem unlikely, the feminine is triumphant.
Sadly, in our world this does not appear to the case. Providence, and these articles on it were written almost in tandem with the United States Presidential campaign. I’m sure I have alluded to or explicitly mentioned the darkness we potentially faced. I’m certain I quoted Lovecraft discussing the potential of a new dark age. Naively certain that such a thing could not happen. Indeed when I first began drafting this particular article the election itself seemed a long way off. I myself seemed confident that decency and sanity would prevail. That however has not been the case. We are slowly tumbling into a world of tangible darkness, the most unacceptable type of madness. The antisemitism, homophobia and racism we had previously condemned in Lovecraft now seems a perfectly reasonable outlook for a sadly all too significant proportion of the population. One can’t help but wonder how Lovecraft would view the modern socio-political landscape? Would he, being contemporaneous, view it with a certain jaded horror or would his more problematic characteristics feel a certain sense of vindication?
Though it is not entirely clear there is a light through all this mire, and though we feel it we are not alone. However, a great many of us are as shaken and as traumatized as Black himself. Just when we feel we have had our fill of horror a new day brings a new transgression against not ourselves and our loved ones but all other lovers of beauty and of freedom. Black’s realisation, and no doubt eventual demise in the next few issues, now carry less a sense of schadenfreude and more a sense of being an analogy of our own.