Thursday, April 5, 2012

Lovecraft 101 - The Doom That Came To Sarnath

Lovecraft 101 - The Doom that Came to Sarnath
Doom is perhaps one of my favorite tales from the Dream cycle, and it is an obvious improvement from the ones we have covered so far. This brings the fantasy-like dream world of Lovecraft into the realms of the horror tales with which we more easily associate him. And in some ways it can connect to the mythos stories if we assume a connection between the inhabitants of Ib and Bokrug with the Old Ones.
Influenced heavily again by the works of Lord Dunsany, that Lovecraft was reading at the time. I can also see a deep connection with the work of Robert E Howard. Howard was a member of the Lovecraft Circle, a literary group not unlike Tolkien and his Inklings. Much of Howard’s sword and sorcery stories take place in a world of ancient civilizations and cultures that would ultimately get destroyed along with Atlantis, long before our own knowledge of history begins. Doom fits somewhat in this type of world, though it is not explicit whether the land of Mnar exists purely in the Dreamlands, or somehow, also in our own reality. (Mnar and Sarnath are mentioned in other stories so it hard to really tell. HPL connected stories loosely with references to one another, and yet they seem to exist out of continuity with one another as well).
Illustration by Jeff Powers © 2012
 In this ancient world ten thousand years ago, and ancient people settles near a quiet still lake. A people set in their ways and skilled at building their temples and carving idols of their deity, a giant lizard. But these people are not human, and when humans do enter their world, mankind sees fit to destroy what is not like them.
Thus begins the history of Sarnath (not to be confused with the real Sarnath in India, which HPL had no knowledge of when he “invented” the named, and lets face it, this is far from an allegory of early Buddhism). Lovecraft describes in great and beautiful detail the immense city, the sheer size of its walls, and the towering heights of its temples. Sarnath obviously mirrors the grandeur of our greatest cities. But HPL makes sure that it mirrors the grandeur of those cities’ depravity as well. Slaves are taken in, great arenas are built for barbaric displays, and the people of Sarnath fall into decadence and descend into destruction.
For when, at the warning of an old priest (a warning unheeded), the creatures of Ib return from their watery graves to take back the lake at the cost of the human’s sanity. What precisely causes the men of Sarnath to go mad is never fully described, whether it be the ghostly return of their foes, the coming of the lizard god Bokrug that they despised so, or just their own folly.
Doom returns Lovecraft to form with a chilling tale of ancient worlds, strange beasts and madness. It is still part of the dream-related work we have seen a lot of so far, but I think it removes the unnecessarily didactic elements of the last few we have had to endure. It takes the strange high-fantasy feel of Polaris, but then shades it with the upcoming ideas of the mythos stories. And while we still haven’t seen a true mythos story, when we get there, you can easily see how all of this was building on itself, as Lovecraft constructed and then perfected his ideas.
The full text can be read here: HPL’s The DoomThat Came to Sarnath

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