Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Lovecraft 101 - The Unnamable

The Unnamable

As mentioned in the last story, Weird Tales had some hard times. In fact, it has always been difficult for weird fiction to find its place in the larger literary spectrum. In the mid 1920s, Lovecraft had begun reading the works of Arthur Machen. Machen often discussed the place of weird fiction or supernatural storytelling in the scheme of literature. Often derided as a lower form of writing, or being so beyond realism as to have no literal value, weird fiction had its critics at the time. I think this has a lot to do with the writing of the story we are about to look at.

At the beginning of the tale, The Unnamable, the characters are discussing the value of the weird in fiction. In fact, one character adamantly believes that it operates in the stark contrast to realism. Something cannot be unnamed or unknowable. That is of course until the characters come across such a thing.
The story is told from the perspective of a man named Carter. Now we do not know for sure if this is our old pal Randolph Carter, or merely someone else. Those that argue that this is our usual hero, Randolph, have a reference in the upcoming The Silver Key to use as evidence that seems to refer to the events of this story. However, in The Unnamable, this Carter seems to reject all ideas of the supernatural, a far cry from the protagonist we are used to, who is steeped in the bizarre and otherworldly. This Carter, along with his disagreeable friend Manton, are exploring an old cemetery in Arkham (the fictional town's first mention), when they have this literary discussion. But of course, HPL is actually talking about his own works, and the Carter character is clearly a representation of Lovecraft himself, defending the way in which he writes. Lovecraft is both defending his choices to seriously pursue the writing of weird fiction (a much derided genre) and poking fun at the genre itself. He even points out the criticisms of his own work, such as his stylistic choice to end with an italicized revelation, or having his characters often miss out on the action by merely collapsing with fear.
The conversation between the two characters then shifts to the creatures of the supernatural. While Manton, the more superstitious of the two, admits that such beings could be possible, they are not unknowable. So, Carter proceeds to describe an unholy beast that had once possessed a dark house. A house they just so happen to be sitting next to as the story is described. Though still not believing, Manton is obviously a bit shaken by the story.
The real shock comes when an unearthly sound announces the emerging of a creature so strange and unbelievable that it can hardly be described. It is the unnamable thing, the proof in point of Carter's argument. The tale ends in the manner that Manton complains is the problem with Carter's stories, with both characters collapsing in fear and awakening miles away.
The Unnamable was made into a film in 1988 which more or less follows much of the original story. It is not a spectacular movie, but for most Lovecraft films that is a rarity. The creature is a bit more of a weird hairy demon FX make-up than some undescribable formless being, but it does entertain as a simple killer monster flick. It was successful enough to warrant a sequel in 1993 that attempted to connect the story with elements of The Statement of Randolph Carter.
Perhaps it was all done in self-parody, or perhaps it was Lovecraft showing his sincere efforts to develop an artform that was a bit under-appreciated.  Decide for yourself by checking out the full text here: HPL's The Unnamable
Next time: The Festival

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