Sunday, October 6, 2013

Lovecraft 101 - Herbert West Reanimator (Part 2)

Herbert West - Reanimator Part 2
Continuing where we left off last time, we are looking at the serialized story of Herbert West Reanimator. This is an odd story seen historically as Lovecraft's poorest work, but still has seen a huge amount of cult success, mainly due to the Stuart Gordon film. This time we are looking at the concluding three segments of the story. So far we have seen West and his unnamed assistant try in every way to reanimate the dead back to a calm thinking state. But with each new success, the undead victim has become a more terrible beast.
Lovecraft disliked this work. In his letters he often moaned about how it was far from the true art of writing for oneself. But it is also apparent that with so little success at selling his work and making any sort of living from his writing, Lovecraft also somewhat loved that he was making anything on something he was writing. Perhaps that dichotomy is what leads to an odd mix in his writing and the story not quite being sure if it is a humorous parody or dark gory thriller, as we saw in the end of section three.

In part four, "The Scream of the Dead", a few more years have passed and the narrator is returning home, to find West has created a new serum that when injected at the moment of death preserves the body completely. With the worry of "freshness" dealt with, West feels he can find new success in reanimating the dead to a cognitive state. This story is a bit more of what we would expect from the horror fiction of Lovecraft's day, and nowadays feels a bit like a darker Twilight Zone episode. When West claims to have witnessed a man dying in his own home, it doesn't take much imagination to jump to the "surprise" ending. But this story is still quite good. I would have to say it is much better than some of the other parts.
I like part five, "The Horror from the Shadows" merely because of its period setting. It changes things up for Lovecraft and gives a distinct historical background for a story. Set during World War I, this story has a great pulp magazine feel to it. Our protagonists have joined the war effort ahead of the rest of America, by enlisting with the Canadian military as field medics. Not since the typhus outbreak, have the two been so surrounded by the dead and dying. And on the fields of Flanders, West continues his work. In this tale, Herbert West focuses on his idea that the body is a system of machines, and that with work, one can restart the basic parts of the larger system. Collecting the body parts of war victims, the protagonists work to reanimate pieces of the dead before returning again to the whole. After their commanding officer is killed in a plane crash (his head and body separated in the wreckage), West is able to reanimate the headless body, while the head sits in a vat of the new serum. Just as the head becomes reanimated, the medical tent is shelled by enemy fire. Replacing Lovecraft's love of ending with a bolt of lightning with a devastating mortar shell.
All five previous stories build to part six, "The Tomb-Legions". After each encounter in the previous disjointed tales, West has left a wake of missing undead beings roaming the earth. The haunting shadows of his past follow West where ever he goes and when they return to their home by the cemetery, his past finally catches up with him. All leading up to a frantic and exciting finale I will leave up to you to read. Though some of the stories are rather mediocre, the finale makes up for it all.
If you haven't yet done so, check out the full text here: HPL's Herbert West - Reanimator

Next time: The Horror at Martin's Beach

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