Hypnos: The Complete Lovecraft #35

“…Young with the youth that is outside time, and with beauteous bearded face, curved, smiling lips, Olympian brow, and dense locks waving and poppy-crowned.”

As gods go in Lovecraft’s fiction, the Greek god of sleep is probably one of the least terrifying. Lovecraft’s elder gods are usually a little more utterly terrifying after all. Tentical faced gigantic winged beasts for whom humanity is just a eat all you can buffet laid out for breakfast once the stars are right. Beings that will send you mad trying to comprehend them fully, tend to inspire a modicum of awe after all… Where as a god of sleep seems just a little mundane in comparison…

But wait a moment, in the original Greek myths Hypnos is the son of the night and darkness, brother to death and resides in Hades. Sleep is ever the little death… Which is why old tentacle face lays in a sleep akin to death beneath the oceans. Where there is sleep, there are dreams… and dreams in Lovecraft have a nasty habit of being more than the nightly meandering of the mind as it tries to bring order to the chaos of the day… So let’s not write of Hypnos just yet, for the night is indeed dark and full of terrors…

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It is fear of sleep that haunts the narrator of this strange little tale. A fear that takes its name from that same Greek god, Hypnophobia. As a man who likes a pleasant doze on the sofa, I find the concept of being afraid to sleep, terrified of sleep to be more exact, a little on the scary side. Even when my random bouts of insomnia are at there worst at least, I am not afraid of sleep, the faces in the dark perhaps… But that’s the fear that at the heart of this tale, and our narrator, like so many Lovecraft narrators, brought it all on himself…

The narrator who is not named just for a change, (one occasionally thinks Lovecraft just didn’t like thinking up names very much with all the nameless creations who tell his stories…), is a sculptor, a bit of a recluse and for most of his life friendless. Until he meets a mysterious man in a railway station. With a logic that escapes me, he realises the stranger will be his friend the moment he opens his:

“immense, sunken, and widely luminous eyes”

Because let’s face it the moment you meet a mysterious stranger in a railway station with huge sunken eyes that glow the first thing that crosses your mind is the word ‘friend’… but hey, artists, their sanity is always fluid even outside of Lovecraft’s fiction…

Regardless, he sees something in this stranger, that something been mysteries he has always sought knowledge of reflected in those strange eyes… and takes him home with him. (see I told you he brought it all on himself.) He then spends his days making sculptures of his friend, or at least busts of his face.  While he spends his nights…

‘exploring worlds beyond human comprehension.’

Indeed they together seek to transcend into the unknown to rule the universe, through the excessive use of drugs…  Artists… What can you say… But eventually, they come to a barrier they can not cross and when they awaken once more the strange friend warns the sculpture that from then on they must avoid sleep at all cost. Which can only be achieved through the use of more drugs… It’s the sixties all over again …

If Lovecraft had lived in the sixties, the sculptor would be a pop culture artist and call himself Andy while hanging around with assorted Beatles… For a teetotaler old tentacle hugger certainly,  he likes his drug fantasies. This is hardly the first time his narrators have been heavy users of powdery substances… With the aid of drugs, the two avoid sleep as much as possible, but when on occasion they succumb, they rapidly age in appearance and are plagued by nightmares which in true Lovecraftian fashion the narrator refuses to explain. Eventually one night, the stranger falls into a deep-breathing sleep and was impossible to arouse. The narrator shrieks, faints and awakes surrounded by the police and his neighbours. Those neighbours claim he never had a friend, yet there in the centre of the room is a statue of the stranger with the weird eyes. Engraved with the Greek word: ΥΠΝΟΣ… (Which in case you can’t guess is Hypnos).

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So there you go, the drug fulled fantasy life of an artists insanity and obsession with strange men that could be greek gods… Or a visitation of a greek god upon a mortal that ends in madness… With a lot of sixties vibes thrown in. The only thing missing is a girl called Lucy hanging about on a cloud wearing nothing but an 18-carat diamond studded tiara and Sargent Pepper playing in the background…

It’s a bit of an odd tale, and I ain’t very fond of it. I am not exactly sure why. The sixties references that are not sixties references perhaps. I don’t think it has aged well, not because of anything internal to the story, but because the world has moved on. The narrator is not some strange junkie living a strange wild life because we have had the sixties, and the seventies, the eighties, the nineties… etc. Junkie artists are hardly an oddity to us, they don’t inspire much when they are just a stereotype that’s so common as to be mainstream… Which is not to say the 1920’s did not have junkie artists of its own, but they were not just a run of the mill stereotype, they had an alluring mystery that they just don’t have to a modern reader. I’m from the ‘Trainspotting’ generation, even the sixties and LCD trip fiction seems a little tame, and I have read Micheal Moorcocks ‘Fireclown’. I am used to Irvin Walsh, dead babies on the ceiling and diving into the worst toilet in Scotland … So in drug-fueled visions, I kind of expect more…

It’s unfair of me I suspect, to expect a teetotaler from prohibition era Providence Rhode-island to match up in drug fantasies to the sixties, let alone the nineties Edingbrough heroine scene with its imagery, and normally I don’t compare the fiction in that way but with Hypnos I struggled not to. So its a mere two slimy tentacles reaching out from the pillbox for this one. That and the god of sleep telling someone not to sleep… just seems a little odd… Still, don’t let me bring a downer on it all… pop one of these and have pleasant dreams instead…

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Further Lovecraftian witterings 

This entry was posted in dreamlands, Lovecraft, mythos, opinion, reads, retro book reviews and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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