The Unnameable: The Complete Lovecraft #39

What is it about Randolph Carter and sitting around in graveyards, it never turns out well for him, you would think he would learn… At least this time he is in the pastoral surroundings of New England rather than the middle of a swamp… We last came across Carter, one of the old tentacle huggers favourite and oft a tad ‘autobiographical’ characters in The Statement Of Randolph Carter of which I gave a somewhat damning summing up.

…simple and straightforward, without any real depth to it. A run of the mill tale that never quite steps out beyond itself…

The same could be said, sadly, of ‘The Unnamable‘. Indeed it is even more run of the mill as unlike ‘Statement’ it was not even breaking new ground at the time it was written. ‘The Unnameable’ is, you see, at its heart is no more than a fairly straightforward ghost story. It treads an oft-tread path that was no more original a hundred years ago than it is today, but let’s not damn it for that. There are no new stories after all, as the argument goes, there are only seven basic plots, and so a tale is all in the telling… And it is in the telling that this tale gets interesting…

TheUnnamableSceneInProvidenceIssue8565

As you might glean from the above panel, (borrowed from Alan Moores Providance#8), there is a certain measure of self-awareness in Lovecraft’s telling. There is a meta quality to this tale, the character of Carter is both narrator and Lovecraft himself, and in the earliest parts of the story, he talks about his own writings and the criticisms that were undoubtedly thrown at him by some of his peers. Or as Carter puts it in the tale…

…my constant talk about “unnamable” and “unmentionable” things was a very puerile device, quite in keeping with my lowly standing as an author. I was too fond of ending my stories with sights or sounds which paralysed my heroes’ faculties and left them without courage, words, or associations to tell what they had experienced…

The whole story is a thumb in the eye to his critics in fact, with Carter’s friend Joel Manton playing the role of ‘devil’s advocate’ and foil to Carter spouting Lovecraft’s own opinions on his style.

(A character based on Lovecraft’s real-life friendship and correspondence with the wonderfully improbably named Maurice W. Moe, who I really hope was referred to as MoMo by everyone because that’s how the universe should work…)

MoMo… Sorry, Manton argues that nothing is unnamable because everything can be experienced through our senses, so ultimately everything can be perceived and therefore named. While Lovecraft… Sorry, Carter argues the opposite and refences the ‘haunted’ house of local legend that surrounds the providence graveyard. Noting the stories of strange events and strange apparitions that abound in the New England town, and experiences he himself has had. Though Carter dismisses his ability to win over Manton with his arguments, very dismissively as it happens with the glorious words…

…the futility of imaginative and metaphysical arguments against the complacency of an orthodox sun-dweller…

Anne Rice, eat your heart out.

All this is, of course, the set up for what becomes a somewhat predictable ending and a slightly predictable tale. The discussion between the two principal characters about the relative nature of perception, the supernatural and the mundane is easily the most interest aspect of the tale. Though in fairness the broader story is well written, even if the ending is telegraphed from the start. This is after all both a ghost story and Carter… sorry, Lovecraft, justifying his own style, and his most well known trope. Why would you expect the unnamable to be anything less than that when this whole tale is based on a discussion of his own style with his religiously orthodox friend MoMo. If you can not finally win out an argument in real life, why not have your alter ego at least win the argument in your fiction. Even if it is a win by default…

In the end what is most interesting about the unnamable is the conversation between the protagonists in the graveyard, all that comes after is, well,  just a bit too mundane. So the story only gets three slimy tentacles, just one more than the first Randolph Carter tale. But it is worth a read, all the same, there is something very interesting about Lovecraft’s retrospective on his own work, but perhaps that the writer in me, or something about it that’s just a little… unnamable…

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As an aside…

There is a movie called the Unnamable loosely based on this story, and a sequel to it called unanmeable2: the statement fo Randolph Carter which is almost certainly not based on the story of the same name… It stars no one you have ever heard of and doesn’t get the highest of ratings on IMDB, so its fairly consistent with most Lovecraft inspired movies in that regard …

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I’ve never seen it, so can’t really comment, but it is a 1980’s horror and the plot keywords that IMDB throws out first are breasts, blood splatter, violence and gore. So your average mid-budget 80’s horror then… As I quite like pokey mid-budget 80’s horror I may try and dig it out at some point. How bad could it be…

Actually mid-budget 80’s splatter horror… it’s probably unnameable…

(yer okay, I told the same bad joke twice, what do you want from me?)

Further Lovecraftian witterings 

 

 

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