Sunday, August 18, 2013

Lovecraft 101 - The Other Gods

The Other Gods
Our next story, The Other Gods, is a fun yet simple fantasy tale that connects with so many other works in Lovecraft's canon. A classic tale of hubris, this story depicts the journey of a powerful priest and his attempts to commune with the gods. As mankind has sought to understand the natural world around them, the gods have fled from the earth, becoming little more than memory and leaving little sign of their presence on the earth. Barzai, has studied many ancient texts about the gods, including a fictional set of manuscripts called the Pnakotic Manuscripts. If you remember these were first mentioned in Polaris (the manuscripts also appear in F. Paul Wilson's The Keep as well as Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson's TheIlluminatus! Trilogy). These ancient texts have told him to climb a mountain in the neighboring land of Hatheg. Accompanying him on this journey is his apprentice, Atal, who we last saw as the innkeeper's son in The Cats of Ulthar.
This story takes place in the city of Ulthar, either on the ancient Earth, or in the Dreamlands, it is hard to really distinguish which one. We see reference to many previously visited locations, but also mentions of new places that will take on greater significance in later stories and novellas, such as Kadath. Kadath will prove to be a very significant place, as it is mentioned in this story that it is where the earth gods have fled to.
Illustration copyright Jeff Powers © 2013

Barzai, an intelligent scholar has studied every piece of writing and ancient work he can. He has devoured so much knowledge, in his opinion, that his gathered secret knowledge is enough to allow him to challenge the gods. Barzai, instilled with great hubris, thinks of himself as above all other men, who cower in base superstitions. Now all of this may be playing off Lovecraft's thoughts on his own atheism. As atheism grew among the scholars of the day, the idea grew that with greater knowledge of the natural world and its laws, we would chase away the superstitions of old. But here, Lovecraft gives a twist, when a man, filled with this knowledge sets off to chase the gods from their final resting place, and finds something much bigger and more powerful than he could imagine, falling victim to his lofty ideas, while the fearful and somewhat superstitious apprentice manages to survive. Of course, this is a classic story of hubris, like Frankenstein, or Doctor Faustus, where a man having tasted the triumph of some new scientific truth, places himself above others, only to be knocked down by the realization that there are forces far bigger than the new ones he has finally found control of (and this tale resembles a few stories of hubris by Lord Dunsany, like The Revolt of the Home Gods, or The Gods of Pegana). This is really the heart of Lovecraftian fiction. It is this central theme that defines his works of "cosmic horror" which is what we think of when we think of HPL's work. And though in most of these stories they are written with the terms god and mortal men, it does not necessarily have to be a religious theme. As we will later discover in other stories, what are referred to as gods and otherworldly beings, are still creatures of our universe but so far beyond what we have been able to comprehend. It is like trying to completely understand our three-dimensional universe, only to suddenly find there are beings living within eleven dimensions. Or the petty squabbles between the nations and races of men on earth, only to be confronted by beings from beyond the nearest stars with technology that makes our feeble attempts to use our scientific knowledge, look like the tools of cavemen. This is really what Lovecraft is getting at in his works. Whether that be applied to scientific, moral, or religious thought. He is taking his supposed modern world and casting a huge dark shadow over it and telling us, that we are human, and therefore, we will never truly be able to understand it all.
This story can be a bit mediocre at times, and really doesn't do much as a story, but it sets up so much as far as theme, location and even a few characters for quintessential Lovecraft tales later to come. So really, it shouldn't be missed to set us all up for what will come down the road. If you want to check out the story, that might have you dreading the bigger picture, or just wish you were falling into the sky, you can read the full text here: HPL's The Other Gods

You can also check out this cool animation of the story, falsely claiming to be a lost film from Lovecraft's day. But it is a cool little film so check it out as well: The Other Gods Film

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