EX Oblivione: The complete Lovecraftian #27

“There is nothing better than oblivion, since in oblivion there is no wish unfulfilled.” ~ H.P. Lovecraft ‘In defence of Dacon

As a philosophical statement, let’s be honest here, the above is a bit on the bleak side. Though no one ever accused our man Howard of having a sunny disposition. This particular tip-bit comes from a nonfiction essay he wrote in defence of his fiction in 1921, which by coincidence was also when he wrote EX Oblivione. A certain nihilism was evidently on his mind at the time.


The tale itself is as much a prose poem has a story. It tells of a man that close to the end of his life, who dreams each night that he is walking through a city. There, each night he comes to an imposing wall with a gate within it. He knows somehow that should he pass beyond the gates of he will never return. Beyond that he knows little. The wise dream sage’s that lay within the city offer different accounts of what lies beyond the gates. Some tell of immense wonders while others tell of horror and disappointment. Yet all speak of a drug which will unlock the gates.  And so despite not knowing what lays beyond the gates the man decides he must find out for himself, even with the knowledge to pass through them is to never return.

Some have occasionally equated the tale with Lovecraft’s supposed obsession with suicide. They choose to ignore the hints within the text of that the man sufferers a wasting disease, choosing instead to interpret ‘forever being freed from the pain of the real world‘ as Lovecraft speaking of human existence itself. It’s not an entirely unreasonable idea, it has to be said, Lovecraft’s struggles with depression and the struggles of his family with that old black dog are well documented. To believe he never contemplated suicide is any point in his life would seem naive. However, personally, I choose to believe it is no more than an exploration of what may lay beyond this mortal life. Though it has to be said, the view expressed within the tale has a certain grim absoluteness to it. In so much that it says that nothing lays beyond that final gate but the infinite void that is death. Just oblivion. Just nothingness. An end to everything…

So happy little tale this is not.

Despite this, it has an intrinsic beauty about it, which belies its nihilistic nature. For the narrator of the story that oblivion would be a welcome wonder. A final release from everything and the idea of that nothingness is to him preferable to life. Which is a cheery thought is it not…

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When this story was first published in the United Amateur, it was under the pseudonym Ward Phillips, perhaps because of the nihilistic nature of the piece, and a desire to separated it from his usual fiction. It’s grim from the outset, beginning…

‘When the last day’s were upon me and the ugly trifles of existence began to drive me to madness like small drops of water that torturers let fall ceaselessly upon one spot of the victim’s body. I loved the irradiate refuge of sleep’.

When a man’s life equates to water torture is not difficult to conceive why oblivion would be a welcome release from his torment. Yet, it is perhaps the dark nature of this tale that holds a certain fascination for me. There have been times in my life when I have suffered from depression myself, which I have occasionally written about in other parts of my blog. Because of this, a certain level of contemplation of what lies beyond Lovecraft’s gates has played upon my consciousness. As perhaps they have played upon the consciousness of all of us at one time or another. But then what lays beyond is after all part of the zeitgeist of the human condition.It is a theme that goes far beyond Lovecraft’s writings, whole swathes of philosophy are focused upon it. While Howard Phillips has no greater insight than any of us, there is always a certain grim attraction to its contemplation. Particularly in our darker hours. If this tale does nothing else, it explores that theme with all of Lovecraft’s dark passion for the subject. It draws you into its grasp, till oblivion seems a welcoming end in of itself. Which is a neat trick to pull off when you as a reader are happy as a sand boy at the time…

Due to that certain fascination, I have with what lays at the other side of those gates, if nothing more, it scores four groping tentacles of nihilistic doom. Though I recommend been of a sunny frame of mind before you delve into its grasp. Oblivion may be a compelling idea of what lies ahead of us all, but personally, I would prefer to remain oblivious of what really lays beyond those gates for some time to come…

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Further Lovecraftian witterings 

This entry was posted in depression, Lovecraft, reads, sci-fi and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to EX Oblivione: The complete Lovecraftian #27

  1. Pingback: Speaking the words and the necessary evil | The Passing Place

  2. Pingback: Sweet Ermengarde: The Complete Lovecraftian #28 | The Passing Place

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