Sunday, September 15, 2013

Lovecraft 101 - Hypnos

This time we have yet another tale of hubris and dream adventures with Hypnos. This story takes its name from the Greek god of sleep, and has many connections to Greek mythology, though not many implicit connections with other Lovecraft stories.
The story reads much like a merging of story elements from other stories. In one of his commonplace books, Lovecraft wrote down the simple idea for the story. That a man didn't want to sleep, would take drugs to stay awake, would then finally fall asleep and "something would happen".
Like The Other Gods, this story is about two individuals who choose to push the limits on knowledge. And as is often the case for Lovecraft's stories, there are dire consequences for those who seek too much knowledge. In this case, they are seeking the knowledge that lies within sleep. The knowledge of dreaming. And similar to Beyond the Wall of Sleep, dreaming allows someone to travel to other realms filled with hidden knowledge. But as the attractive bearded man desires to dive deeper and deeper into the other realm, they discover something far more dangerous. Scared by what they find, they begin to experiment with drugs in all hopes of staving off sleep as much as possible. They seek out exciting parties and youthful company to keep away the sleep and the terror it holds, but eventually it catches up with them.
The way in which Lovecraft describes the immediate relationship between the two characters is odd. As if he is unsure about how to write a quick and reasonable friendship among equals. Most character pairings we have seen so far usually exists between a master and subordinate, or at least one character who is more experienced or older.
Illustration by Jeff Powers © 2013

But the characters being complete equals, or the oddness of their immediate meeting and friendship, may make some sense considering the ending of the tale that brings into question whether the bearded man from the train platform ever existed at all.
Hypnos is certainly not an amazing story. It contains a lot of elements we have seen before (in Lovecraft's work and others) and it certainly doesn't have the punch of other stories. Attempts to rework previous ideas is something Lovecraft would do often. We do have one new element in this story that has not been explored as much in others. Drug use. Lovecraft spent most of his career writing about madness, hallucination and allowing the mind to travel to other realms, but drugs hardly enter into his stories. Writing in the 20s and 30s, there were certainly a plethera of drugs on the market, especially in the larger crime-ridden cities. But usually when drugs are mentioned, we see them as clinical solutions to problems. Here, though opiods and hallucinogens are mentioned, the drugs are used not to induce the dream-adventure, but to stop it from happening. As well, the problems in the story escalate once the drugs are taken and the characters suddenly seem to age much more rapidly.
All of these elements may be subtle responses to Lovecraft's own life and family experiences, as they often feed the core elements of his fiction.

If you want to check out the full text, you can read it here: HPL's Hypnos

Next time: What the Moon Brings and Azathoth

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