“…fantastic references to some plan for the extirpation of the entire human race and all animal and vegetable life from the earth by some terrible elder race of beings from another dimension. He would shout that the world was in danger, since the Elder Things wished to strip it and drag it away from the solar system and cosmos of matter into some other plane or phase of entity from which it had once fallen…”
- The Dunwich Horror, H.P. Lovecraft
Providence has been for me quite the roller-coaster of emotions. Full of highs and lows, twists and turns. Not only the content of the work but the pace of my life and the world’s political climate running parallel to this. With the palpable anxiety, upheaval and rather down mood of current affairs in my last write up one might be forgiven for thinking that this is a mood that will continue into this particular write up as well. Fortunately, in own my own strange little way, I found the events of the series’ eleventh issue to be quite uplifting. So uplifting in fact that I delayed this write up and threw myself into deep immersion into other forms of Yog Sothothery. I told myself it would all help add to the flavour of this piece. Only you dear reader can be the judge of that.
Initially I restarted, and sadly all too quickly, finished reading Bobby Derie’s Sex and the Cthulhu Mythos. Through this I found the perfect jumping on point for reading Ramsey Campbell’s works in the Lovecraftian oeuvre. A delightful detour which even now I continue to enjoy. How does this all relate to Providence? In particular The Unnameable? The issue I am meant to be discussing with you? Firstly this issue deals with the end and the consequences of the story of Robert Black. The various ways in which this now ties up with that of Lovecraft, whose vast and expansive legacy I constantly find myself somewhat absorbed in. Secondly and through my immersion in this legacy I discovered another way in which Black and Lovecraft’s lives intertwine.
One of the many features and a fundamental plot piece of the series, and this particular issue, has been Black’s Commonplace Book. Matthew Kirshenblatt has, among the considerable influx of his recent contributions to Sequart, an article on this aspect of Providence. A piece which I wholeheartedly recommend reading. Every issue of Providence, save this and presumably the next, has featured excerpts from the Commonplace Book at the rear. Noting the consistent appearance of this artifact you think I would have googled something a lot sooner. However it was only in Ramsey Campbell’s introduction to Cold Print, when he talks of his own forays into Yog Sothothery and mentioning Lovecraft’s own Commonplace Book, that something clicked and I looked further.
Lovecraft’s Commonplace Book is, and in a way this should be no surprise, very much like Black’s. Except of course that Black is a sort of vague, oblivious and non-committal type of person and Lovecraft was an erudite and meticulous machine. Their respective journals bearing their owner’s mark in ways that exemplify this. Note, I do not want to cheapen or appear to look down on Black’s book or sneer at Moore by proxy. By the issue’s close it’s importance has been acknowledged unequivocally. However Lovecraft, you see listed 221 excerpts, impressions or ideas for stories. Some, it could be speculated he used. Others perhaps not. As a reader and as a writer this particular artifact’s existence is fascinating. As a writer the fascination is much the same as Campbell’s and the persons involved here. The challenge of taking Lovecraft’s prompts and writing within a pre-existing style or framework. In readership the captivation is two fold. An insight into the mind and creative process of Lovecraft as a writer, but also the effect it has on our reading of Providence. Within that narrative, could Black’s lending of his Commonplace Book inspired Lovecraft’s subsequent bequeathing of his own?
This sense of inheritance is something one could argue is intrinsic to the Lovecraftian. Both within its various narratives and the lives of those who dabble in curating or creating these narratives. As noted a significant portion of this issue in particular is charged with detailing the course of Lovecraft’s legacy. We see this legacy, now spurred on by Black’s coinciding, shape the Mythos as it stands today. We also see, sometimes again, the key moments that shape Moore’s unique take on the Mythos. Until finally we arrive at a point wherein Providence changes from a prequel to a sequel. All of this is framed by Black’s now inevitable suicide. Both of which create a sense of things coming full circle towards a rather hopeless end. Something Moore further signifies by having this narrative broken up by Burrows’ very realistically drawn panels showing Black’s choice of record turning as he brings his life to an end.
A deeply resonate quality of Providence and other examples of powerful Yog Sothothery are their ability to tap into a sort of Ur-Mythos. This series of write ups was born out of a piece I wrote about Grant Morrison’s Nameless and it’s quality of alluding to the Lovecraftian but without using any established Mythos elements outright. So in a way not only did Lovecraft tap into an Ur-Mythos he is well on his way to becoming an Ur-Mythos. Looking back to Moore as well we see Black’s journey in Providence has some similarities to the journey Moore took the titular character on during the American Gothic arc of his Swamp Thing tenure.
However to return to the tale and the iconography in hand, something as trivial as a bridge in fact holds great weight when we look beyond the ordinary. Bridges serve as liminal thresholds in many forms of magic and Norse mythology for example. Bridges appear several times in Providence and so often in Lovecraft’s work one might take them for granted. The bridge outside of Ulthar in the Dreamlands, however is one that does stand out. Indeed Campbell himself going off a prompt in Lovecraft’s Commonplace Book uses a bridge as a boundary between worlds in his own The Horror From The Bridge.
Looking back over the instances of a bridge’s appearance in Providence we notice they do indeed serve as thresholds. Johnathan/Lilly and eventually Black cross one before ending their lives. In the second issue Black crosses one before meeting Tom Malone and beginning his journey proper. In the third one is crossed by Black before he meets the Boggs. Thereafter quite possibly the same bridge is crossed again by Black and Boggs as the latter shows the former around his town and home. Indeed an actual physical bridge is crossed at some point at least once in every issue. Usually either before or after some act of physical or psychical transgression.
The problem or rather the beauty of any good piece of Yog Sothothery is that it can lead the reader to, and thus inform and be informed by, a wide variety of associated media and fields of study. If anything this is what we see in this particular issue of Providence as we see the subsequent unfurling of Lovecraft’s, and by virtue of his influence, Black’s legacy. The real intermingles with Moore’s hyper-real. The fate of Lovecraft’s colleagues and correspondents alongside that of some of Moore’s analogous characters. Cthulhu plushies alongside serial murder. As I am no doubt sure I have mentioned in prior posts it is a testament to Moore that these fictions, born themselves of fiction but now serving as the inspiration for those fictions, seem anything other than fictional.
So there we have it. Moore has given us a more than generous explanation of how Lovecraft came to write the stories he did. Despite it’s efficacious quality it is still an explanation grounded very much in fiction. Our narrative now tying in explicitly with those of The Courtyard and Neonomicon. Of course Moore has given us his own version of the much favored theory that Lovecraft was somehow, willingly or unwittingly, influenced by very real occult forces. John. L Steadman’s H.P. Lovecraft & The Black Magickal Tradition proposes that, despite the massive influence he had on the occult scene, Lovecraft had only a basic, passing knowledge of the occult. Ultimately Moore has not challenged this. Rather he has made Lovecraft the product of those forces, forces which now seem on the verge of engulfing reality as we know it…