From Beyond: The Complete Lovecraftian#23

You don’t have to read much of ‘From Beyond’ to know you’re in the middle of Lovecraft country. If ever a passage screamed Lovecraft it is this one from the first page of the story…

What do we know,” he had said, “of the world and the universe about us? Our means of receiving impressions are absurdly few, and our notions of surrounding objects infinitely narrow. We see things only as we are constructed to see them, and can gain no idea of their absolute nature. With five feeble senses, we pretend to comprehend the boundlessly complex cosmos,…

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From Beyond is one of those strange little stories which Lovecraft wrote early in his career, that didn’t get published until he had reached the apex of his fame in the later years when he’d reached an audience beyond the amateur press. While he never quite managed to earn a good living from his stories, he had at least gained a following that was consuming his work. Little wonder then that his back catalogue of dusty manuscripts began to find their way to the printed page. Works passed over when he was a complete unknown, he now had a market for, all be it fourteen years after ‘From Beyond’ was written. It does, however, beg the question… Given it was not good enough to publish in the amateur press in 1920, is it really worth reading now? Every writer, and I speak from experience, has the odd dusty manuscript kicking about that should never see the light of day. With this in mind, my expectations were not high

Thankfully ‘From Beyond‘ is better than my expectations allowed, though not as much as I would have liked. It is also one that perhaps benefits more than other from the passage of time. The frontiers of 21st-century physics add a certain credence to words of the bard of Providence. We’re told now that the universe consists of over 80% dark matter. Of which we know next to nothing, beyond a reasonable bit of formulation that predicts its existence. Which is to say, there is far more stuff out there than we can actually observe…

Which is not to claim that Lovecraft predicted Dark Matter all the way back in 1920 as he tapped away with incessant loathing at his typewriter. (I don’t know why I always think of Lovecraft typing away with incessant loathing, it’s just always the image that comes to mind. That of a self-hating flagellant whom fingers bleed a little with each vowelless name he types with hateful resentment… but moving on.)  In fairness had Lovecraft predicted dark matter it would doubtless have been a far darker matter than the somewhat benign stuff physicist imagine. It is, however, moving beyond our mere human perceptions which this tale goes on to explore. As the narrators ‘friend’ the some what oddly named Crawford Tillinghast explains…

We shall see that at which dogs howl in the dark, and that at which cats prick up their ears after midnight. We shall see these things, and other things which no breathing creature has yet seen. We shall overleap time, space, and dimensions, and without bodily motion peer to the bottom of creation.’

Of course, this is Lovecraft, and once anyone starts talking about ‘seeing these things‘ things predictably go down hill from there. Indeed there is a wonderfully grotesque description of Crawford Tillinghast at the start of the tale, which suggests quite strongly things have been going down hill in the sanity department among other for him for quite a while. Which does make you wonder why the narrator was so keen to follow him up to his attic to see the strange machine that Tillinghast had spent the last few months perfecting… But then what else would the narrator of a Lovecraft story do when faced with a dark staircase, a decaying friend with sanity issues and a strange machine that allows you to see ‘beyond our mortal senses‘. Which is exactly what the machine does, and then some. Strange worlds open up around the narrator, strange world with strange things lurking all around us, just beyond our meagre senses…

Okay, from the off, this is predictable territory for Lovecraft readers. The servants are all dead, a mad scientist, the cosmos unbound by mortal constraints and a narrator who has clearly never read any Lovecraft…

As I said earlier the story was better than my expectations of a forgotten early manuscript but all the same it is not hard to see why the tale took fourteen years to be published. It opens up no fresh ground, instead, it treads a well-worn pathway, one walked better by ‘Beyond the Walls of Sleep’ to think of the most obvious example. Indeed when compared to other Lovecraft tales of a similar nature it has a certain weakness, while they follow a similar path, they have more gravel to them, if you will. In comparison, this tale is just too straight forward, it moves from beginning to end with nothing to make it stand out from its fellows. It isn’t badly written, it just isn’t really anything new, a rehash of better, more mature tales. Which is not to say it does not have merit, just that it lacks something. It just is… yet it could have been so much more. The premise left open so many possibilities then ignored them all and kept down the well-trodden path. If you have never read Lovecraft this is probably a far more interesting tale, but there is the crux when it comes down to it. I have read Lovecraft, and this tale screams Lovecraft, but that’s all it does.

Perhaps this is best described as Lovecraft-lite. As such, I’ll give it 3 out of 6, because it’s not all that bad to be fair to it, it’s just not ‘Beyond the Walls of Sleep‘ or half a dozen other Lovecraft stories that follow this path in oh so much more interesting ways…

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As I often make use of it for this blog series, and as it has this story in full upon it a shout out to the Lovecraft archive, and a link to the story should you wish to read it yourself, which you should, just with reigned in expectations…

http://www.hplovecraft.com/writings/texts/fiction/fb.aspx

and as ever Further Lovecraftian witterings 

 

This entry was posted in Lovecraft, mythos, reads, retro book reviews, rights, sci-fi and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to From Beyond: The Complete Lovecraftian#23

  1. Pingback: The Quest of Iranon: The Complete Lovecraft#25 | The Passing Place

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