Towards the end of his life Lovecraft had a minor crisis of confidence in his own writing. Such minor crisis are not particularly unusual among writers, it probably was not the first time in his career, it was probably the last only because of his premature death, but we know this because of a letter he wrote to a friend in October of 1933, in which he wrote the following:
I am at a sort of standstill in writing—disgusted at much of my older work, and uncertain as to avenues of improvement. In recent weeks I have done a tremendous amount of experimenting with different styles and perspectives, but have destroyed most of the results
One of these experiments, an incomplete fragment, is ‘the Book’. Presumably spared the fireplace because old tentacle hugger saw something in it, though where he intended to take the story is something we will never know. Aspects of the last few paragraphs of this fragment have echo’s in ‘The Shadow out of Time’, which Lovecraft went on to write shortly after this fragment was penned, though the concepts involve are very different, the results experienced by the narrator bare some similarity, so its certainly possible this was a failed branch of that same narrative tree.
I’ve said before, with those other posthumously published fragments that publishing ghouls sought out after his death, that we will never know what they may have finally become. As with ‘The Evil Clergyman‘, ‘The Book’ is clearly unfinished, and later drafts might have changed a lot of the narrative and style. This is more clearly written as something to be published, even if it is incomplete. It reads more polished than ‘the Evil Clergyman’ does, because of that however it also lacks something. There is nothing particularly new in this story, if Lovecraft’s was experimenting with styles, he was not going far off the beaten track with this one.
Like the previous fragments, Azathoth, The Descendant and others I always feel like this is delving into the writers scrap draw. All writers have them, a folder full of half written, half conceived ideas. My own is mostly in the form of notebooks, or in a folder on my cloud drive called, oddly enough, ‘Scrap’. Is there any value in that folder, we sure, to me. Its a collection of half conceived ideas, and occasionally they draw me back to them. What there isn’t however is any stories. Nothing is complete, its just idea’s half formed, so beyond myself they are of little or no value to anyone and that is exactly what ‘the book’ and all those other fragments are.
Unlike ‘The Evil Clergyman’, incomplete though that is, it is at least an actual story, with a beginning, middle and end. This fragment on the other hand is merely a beginning, there is a certain intrigue about it, a wistful hunger to know more even, but that’s about it, and its instantly forgotten after you have read the thousand or so words that comprise the fragment.
Man, who seems unsure about who and what he is, starts to tell you about a book he found in a dark forbidding bookshop. Reading the book he took what it told him and made an arcane circle of some kind and…..
And that’s more or less all there is. Its something or the completest to read perhaps, but frankly worthless as an exercise, it isn’t a story… So like those other fragments the publishing ghouls sought out after Lovecraft’s death it worth no more than a solitary tentacle. Though to be honest that is a stretch. It adds nothing to Lovecraft’s literary legacy, the mythos or the greater wealth of human understanding. Its nothing but an example of publishers been willing to cash in on the vague post-humous fame of a deceased writer to put out any old rubbish in order to sell magazines. Which is just a little bit sad as it dilutes the quality of Lovecraft’s fiction as a whole that way.