Monday, March 1, 2010


H.P. Lovecraft was an American writer of gothic horror fiction. Born in 1890, he wrote extensively between 1917 and 1935. Many articles already exist on his most common themes and the Cthulhu mythos he created - I'm not going to rehash those. I want write about what is certainly my favorite short story penned by any writer - Nyarlathotep, written in 1920.

Nyarlathotep is a character who has "risen up out of the blackness of twenty-seven centuries", and wanders the earth, collecting followers by astonishing them with experiments in strange, other-worldly magic. The followers are led through "hellish moon-glitter of evil snows", and eventually enter a dream-like state in which they glimpse the end of the world.

The story encapsulates nearly everything I find intriguing about H.P. Lovecraft.
  • His prose is poetically polemical, and full of nightmarish visual imagery.
  • The story hints at a much larger mythos than directly addressed.
  • The narrator is an innocent thrust into events he doesn't necessary understand.
The increasingly bizarre events of the story draw the reader down a path of greater confusion, with the story ending in a paragraph rich with apocalyptic imagery.

"Screamingly sentient, dumbly delirious, only the gods that were can tell. A sickened, sensitive shadow writhing in hands that are not hands, and whirled blindly past ghastly midnights of rotting creation, corpses of dead worlds with sores that were cities, charnel winds that brush the pallid stars and make them flicker low. Beyond the worlds vague ghosts of monstrous things; half-seen columns of unsanctifled temples that rest on nameless rocks beneath space and reach up to dizzy vacua above the spheres of light and darkness. And through this revolting graveyard of the universe the muffled, maddening beating of drums, and thin, monotonous whine of blasphemous flutes from inconceivable, unlighted chambers beyond Time; the detestable pounding and piping whereunto dance slowly, awkwardly, and absurdly the gigantic, tenebrous ultimate gods the blind, voiceless, mindless gargoyles whose soul is Nyarlathotep."

This ranks as one of my favorite paragraphs of prose I've read. It's confusing, bizarre, and maddening because it makes little practical sense. But at the same time, it's the closest I've come to a nightmare in words (and has a wonderful rhythm when read aloud)

And that's what I love about H.P. Lovecraft in general. I love being scared and awed - they're base human emotions that everyone should experience - and he's one of the few writers that does it for me.

Think of those night-terrors you had as a child - now read some H.P. Lovecraft and experience that as an adult.

The full story can found elsewhere.

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