Cool Air: The Complete Lovecraftian #46

Some hold the belief that this macabre little tale is the best of Lovecraft’s New York stories… They are of course, in my opinion, wrong, which is probably not all that surprising to anyone who has read many of these blogs. If there is one thing I have learned in my time on this little project, it is that I almost always disagree with the commonly held opinions of both Lovecraft aficionados and his critics… For that matter, I often seem to disagree with the old tentacle hugger’s own opinion of his various tales.  ‘Cool Air’ holds that wonderful middle ground of being reasonably good, alright, not half bad, and whatever other slightly damning faint praise you might happen to throw at it. It’s not the mildly loathsome ‘He, that most critics seem to like, but it’s not the wonderful ‘Horror at Red Hook that everyone but me seems to despise.

When it comes to the ‘New York Tales‘ I am very much at odds with everyone. So exactly how much my opinion is worth you will have to decide for yourself. But if you want a nasty little macabre story that a little bit too predictable and while perfectly well written doesn’t really get under your skin some much as vaguely waft over it. Then ‘Cool Air‘ is just what you’re looking for. Other than that its a bit, mehFor But let me discuss the plot for a moment…

cool air 1

And there you have the plot, more or less… Thanks to Issue #62 of Warren Publishing’s ‘Eerie’  this comic-book adaptation of the tale that was created by Berni Wrightson. Which is one of a great many adaptations of ‘Cool Air’ Several short films, at least one (arguably two) full-length movies, radio plays, several comic book versions, a prog rock song by Glass Hammer, and it even managed to make the pages of Batman, in ‘The  Doom That Came to Gotham’, with staple Bat-villain Mr Freeze more or less being portrayed as Dr Muñoz the gentleman wearing the shades in the panel above. So what does that tell you, apart from the tale is far more popular than my ‘Meh’ would suggest, and that my opinion is not shared by everyone…

cool air 2

Back to discussing the plot, which has a degree of predictability about it. The narrator never offers us his name and is in New York doing in his words ‘some dreary and unprofitable magazine work’, he isn’t overly enamoured of the city and it’s populous, and ends up living in a boarding house that, again in his words, ‘disgusted much less than the others he had sampled‘. Which, given Lovecraft’s oft-mentioned distaste for the big city life of New York, suggests old tentacle hugger did not look far for inspiration regarding his narrator. Nothing awfully new about that, he may as well have called the narrator Randolph Carter and had done with it…

Considering this Not-Randolph ends up meeting his upstairs neighbour because of a strange chemical leak that starts dripping into his room, you have to wonder just how bad the other boarding houses were. Certainly once noxious chemicals start dripping through the ceiling it’s probably a good idea to look elsewhere. Yet even the landlady is strangely accepting of the upstairs tenant and his strange industrial cooling equipment, and through her the Not-Randolph meets Dr Munoz, a Spaniard who Not-Randolph describes as ‘short but exquisitely proportioned, with a high-bred face of masterful though not arrogant expression’ bearing ‘a short iron-grey full beard, full, dark eyes, and an aquiline nose‘ as well as having a ‘striking intelligence, superior blood and breeding.’ and lets stop there for a moment…

Not for the first time, or I suspect the last, I found myself wondering when I read this particular section of this tale about a subtext which has occurred to me before. This Not-Randolph, like all the other Not-Randolph narrators, and indeed the ones he actually names (so often called Randolph…) seem to have a few traits in common. for example, they all seem drawn to older more experienced men, so many of them happen to be the Not-Randolph’s uncles. These older experienced men from the Not-Randolph’s are drawn often because the can initiate them into dark often forbidden rites and mysteries… It is a theme that is almost a cliche in Lovecraft’s tales. Lovecraft, who’s writing is famously misogynistic, also suffered through a short ill-fated marriage, and had a long close friendship with a younger man called Robert Barlow in the later years of his life, among other close relationships with other young men at other points in his life. I’m not saying Lovecraft was Gay… But there is a whole lot of repressed sexuality that could be read into his stories.. and if he wasn’t gay then he almost certainly lent a little in that direction…

Old tentacle hugger has a bad reputation, quite rightly, for his right-wing views, xenophobia, racism and misogyny. I have made no bones about my own distaste for the influence those views have on his writing. However, if he was indeed repressing aspects of his sexuality it would, if not excuse, certainly explain some of those darker trait’s. He would not be the first, and I suspect not the last, to use deflection as a form of repression in this way. When you hate something about yourself or society has impressed upon you that you should, projecting that hate elsewhere is a common human trait. Perhaps in these more enlightened times when we look back on themes in his writing with distaste, we should also try to look back on it with a little understanding as well, not that it forgives the more abhorrent influences on Lovecraft’s fiction, or his political belief’s. But it is still worth remembering 1920/30’s America was a far more closeted time.

But back to ‘Cool Air’ and the lastest of the Not-Randolph’s old wise uncles who were able to initiate the Randolph into strange rites and mysteries. In this case, the strange rites involve industral coolants, bags of ice, bathtubs and strange hints and dark whisperings of prolonging life despite the lack of a few vital functions. Which drives us to an ending which is somewhat predictable, after all the plot is all about what will happen when the ice melts, and Munoz’s efforts to preserve himself finally fail. Something which is rather too obvious from the first and the friendship that develops between the two men is somewhat stilted, one-sided and not remarkably unlike the relationships the Not-Randolph’s always seems to have with their various ‘uncles’ in so many of Lovecraft’s tales. The junior partner fetches, carries and generally ends up doing everything the elder tells them to do, in an effort to please their ‘uncle’ and perhaps in doing so learn more about the great mysteries that they wish to partake of and observe…

So again, I’m not saying there is a sub-text here… but… sub-text…

Perhaps this is why this falls a little too flat for me. It’s too much of a muchness with so many others, or perhaps because it just drew all those sub-textual lines which highlighted just how much this follows one of Lovecraft’s more well-trodden paths. But it lacks anything particularly new or different about it, it also seemed oddly passionless in places, despite the sub-text, it’s all a bit of a cold fish, which has a certain irony about it… Anyway, it gets a mere three frosty tentacles from me, not because its bad but just because its well, in this case, I find the sub-text is more interesting than the text itself…

3out 6

Next up… The big Kahuna himself, old tentacle face lets out his call…

cthulhu_and_the_ninth_wave_by_fantasio-d9nw88r

Further Lovecraftian witterings as ever can be found here

This entry was posted in amreading, book reviews, cthulhu, horror, Lovecraft, mythos, Nyarlathotep, opinion, reads, retro book reviews, sci-fi, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Cool Air: The Complete Lovecraftian #46

  1. Pingback: The Call Of Cthulhu: TCL #47 Part 1 The Horror in Clay… | The Passing Place

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