Its been a while since I wrote about Lovecraft, my original plan to read and blog every Lovercraft story in a year is somewhat behind schedule as I started it way back in January 2017. But there are still plenty of Lovecraft story’s to cover, and some of the most famous among them. But before we make our way to the mountains of madness, Innsmouth, the witch house and other delights we need to tackle ‘The Whisper In Darkness’.
As an early unexpected spring warm snap creates a flood of meltwater from the Vermont mountains local newspapers report strange things seen floating in bulging rivers, Albert N. Wilmarth, an instructor of literature at Miskatonic University becomes embroiled in a controversy regarding the reality and significance of the sightings. The academic at first sides with the sceptic’s, blaming hysteria fed by old Vermont legends about monsters living in uninhabited hills. But when he receives a letter from the ponderously named Henry Wentworth Akeley who lives in an isolated farmhouse claiming to have proof of the creatures’ existence, Wilmarth sets off to the backwaters of Vermont to investigate.
As set ups go, this is a familiar one, sceptic academic, remote countryside, ponderous names, a truth to be revealed… This is Lovecraft 101 in many ways and draws a lot on the similar set up of The Dunwich Horror, its also longer than Dunwich (which was ponderously long for a short story), indeed its a true novella at 26000 words, which should be no surprise as at the time Lovecraft was writing a lot of his longer fictions. Much like Dunwich however this suffers from Lovecraft’s somewhat laborious style by this point in his writing career. Its a story that ten years before he would have written in full but half its length. It feels slow and is somewhat methodical, but that is trademark Lovecraft horror, a slow relentless build up of incremental plateau’s of tension and looming madness… The trouble is that while this technique works so well in his short fiction struggles to hold the interest of the reader in longer works.
This is actually the reason it has taken me seven months to get back to this project, because every time I have picked up my bumper books of tentacle hugging goodness to read this story I’ve lasted about a third of its length then decided to go read something else. It’s not that I have a problem with Lovecraft’s style as such, I just don’t have a patience for this story. Unlike most of his longer fiction , Mountains of madness, call of Cthulhu etc. the story is not cut down into acts that make it palatable to the reader. All of which is a shame, as there is a lot in this story which is good.
Lovecraft more or less invented yet another scifi/horror trope with the brain a jar which is ultimately revealed. There is also a lot of links to the wider mythos too, as well as Lovecraft’s own brand of fanboyness in this passage.
I found myself faced by names and terms that I had heard elsewhere in the most hideous of connections—Yuggoth, Great Cthulhu, Tsathoggua, Yog-Sothoth, R’lyeh, Nyarlathotep, Azathoth, Hastur, Yian, Leng, the Lake of Hali, Bethmoora, the Yellow Sign, L’mur-Kathulos, Bran, and the Magnum Innominandum…
While you will recognise the mythos refers in that passage, there are also refences to the writings of Lord Dunsany and Robert E Howard in that list. As for Magnum Innominandum its a carefully crafted joke as in Latin it means ‘the great not-to-be-named’, admittedly as jokes go its dry to the point of arid, but its a joke none the less.
The are also some of Lovecraft’s most creative otherworldly horror here with plutonian fungi and strange alien technologies. But its all wrapped up in such a trawl that its hard to enjoy it, which is probably why I didn’t and never have. Even the ending has a predictable reveal that the reader can see coming a mile away, if they manage to read all the way to the end. Which I did, finally, about a month ago, yet it still took me a month to get around to talking about it.
All that said, plenty of people believe this is a good story, not one of his best but far from his worst. In fairness I agree to an extent, but mainly because his worst is bloody terrible as a rule. This isn’t terrible, its just not very interesting despite having all the elements it needs to be a great story. Had it been tightened up and been shorter it could have been so much better, but perhaps that’s just me.
If you want to read the complete works, you need to read this one, if you want to read just the important mythos stories, then you should probably also read this one, but if you want to be entertained, I’d give it a miss. but on the bright side At The Mountains Of Madness is next, as without giving away any spoilers, its easily the best of all Lovecraft’s long fiction… But for this a mere three somewhat begrudging tentacles is all the whisper gets.