The H.P. Lovecraft Reading Club

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Re: The H.P. Lovecraft Reading Club

Post by static » Mon Oct 08, 2018 7:35 pm

Initial notes/thoughts...
Spoiler
Why did Lovecraft choose reptiles?
Reference to the biblical flood
"here I saw with joy what seemed to promise further traces of the antediluvian people"
"Fear spoke from the age-worn stones of this hoary survivor of the deluge"
antediluvian - of or belonging to the time before the biblical Flood.
water based reptiles would have survived the flood - crocs = dinosaurs
Was the serpent in the tree a visitor to Eden? Did God cast them (A+E) out to the land of the reptiles? Did the reptiles retreat underground in response? - Satan is like the queen of their hive?

" I saw that the city had been mighty indeed, and wondered at the sources of its greatness. "
Egyptians drew animal looking gods standing.
(Humans are buried lying down (usually).) If the 'city' is an old burial ground of some sort of large, upright, intelligent reptilian race, is man to blame for the size of the 'city'?

Why did the narrator seem so sure that the story on the walls was allegorical? Is he close-minded? Is Lovecraft asking us to be more open-minded (think laterally instead of literally) about his story?
"I could not but think that their pictured history was allegorical"
"here represented in allegory by the grotesque reptiles"
"The allegory of the crawling creatures puzzled me "

"This temple, as I had fancied from the outside, was larger than either of those I had visited before; and was presumably **a natural cavern, since it bore winds from some region beyond.**"
If natural, the reptiles could have come out, rather than going in...
Could the hieroglyphs on the walls have a different meaning/story if read in reverse?
I.e. Instead of retreating from a dying world and leaving behind their human form.
"the poor primitive man torn to pieces in the last painting"
Instead, they were released to tear apart the primitive man to achieve their idea of paradise...
"scenes representing the nameless city in its heyday, the vegetation of the valley around it, and the distant lands with which its merchants traded"

Why is there a big brass door? Why is it brass instead of bronze?
"that from some remote depth there came a crash of musical metal to hail the fiery disc "
[The gong traces its roots back to the Bronze Age around 3500 BC.] Wikipedia
[About 1400 B.C. there is discovered the brass,] cembrass.cl
???

What do the spirits do at night when they are unleashed?
They bore no physical damage to the narrator. He lived to tell the tale...
"and that is why no other face bears such hideous lines of fear as mine "

Conclusion...
Spoiler
They are spirits that cause fear among men (at night.)
As long as men fear each other they will hate each other and fight.
The reason for the flood was to rid the world of hatred and teach humans a lesson.
The reason the reptiles retreaded below ground was because of drought. They bear no ill will against mankind, but they want another flood so that their souls can retake their physical form, re-emerge, and retake the earth.

I've never read Lovecraft before. At first, you think the stories are simple, maybe even a bit stupid, but the more you think about them the deeper they become :)

Oh and, Hi!
(I did post on PW occasionally a while ago, but I'm mostly a lurker. Played a few games of ArmA and Test Drive Unlimited with guys here in the past but you won't know/remember me.)

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Re: The H.P. Lovecraft Reading Club

Post by Snowy » Tue Oct 09, 2018 7:12 am

If you played TDU then I might :)
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Re: The H.P. Lovecraft Reading Club

Post by Sly Boots » Tue Oct 09, 2018 9:53 am

Spoiler
A few collected thoughts on the story:

- the narrator gets off quite lightly here compared to many of the others... he neither dies nor goes insane, instead his fate is to shiver a bit whenever it gets a bit windy at night. This is in spite of the fact...

- ... that the narrator also seems incredibly dense. The point at which he is crawling through a tiny tunnel looking at glass-front sarcophagi of what are quite obviously mummified examples of another race, looking at murals depicting that race and having seen for himself buildings not constructed to human proportions... the fact he was then mentally constructing elaborate theories of how humans would have done all this became quite maddening at points :lol:

- the natural disaster that befell this reptilian race is probably not a flood - as they look like a cross between crocodiles and seals it seems likely they were a water-dwelling race - but the encroachment of the desert in which the city is now lost.

- I feel like the 'creatures' the narrator encounters were actually the spirits of this forgotten race. They don't harm him at all (despite as the mural shows they abhor humanity and are pictured tearing one man apart), and all he really feels is the onrushing of air. What I took to be a head priest figure of some kind was depicted casting what I assumed to be a spell or curse of some kind, which has perhaps resulted in their continued existence in spirit form and keeps them coming out at night in a rush of very localised winds/sandstorms.

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Re: The H.P. Lovecraft Reading Club

Post by static » Tue Oct 09, 2018 1:58 pm

Snowy wrote:
Tue Oct 09, 2018 7:12 am
If you played TDU then I might :)
It was actually TDU2. And you might. I recall you taking umbrage to my ride's livery for some reason. O:)

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Re: The H.P. Lovecraft Reading Club

Post by Snowy » Thu Oct 11, 2018 12:13 pm

Haha I don't remember that, although I did enjoy TDU and TDU2 immensely!
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Re: The H.P. Lovecraft Reading Club

Post by Stormbringer » Fri Oct 12, 2018 5:01 pm

I have been typing up my thoughts (on and off) all day regarding The Nameless City, then in one accidental click of a button I closed the tab and lost all my work.

Time to start over. I'll try to post later tonight...
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Re: The H.P. Lovecraft Reading Club

Post by Stormbringer » Sat Oct 13, 2018 1:03 am

RIGHT!

Here we go...

Spoiler
This one is what I believe to be a Gothic piece in the Orientalist tradition, a popular theme among Gothic authors of the 18th and 19th centuries, of which William Beckford's Vathek is probably the most famous example: a favourite novel of Lovecraft's and from whence many of his tales draw varying degrees of inspiration.

You may have noticed by now a running theme in the stories we've read so far of underground tunnels and caves concealing deeply-entrenched horror in various forms. Even The Hound falls into this category if you count St John and the narrator's lair/trophy room. Likewise, careful readers may have noticed a recurring theme of the moon and moonlight (a common Gothic motif) in all the tales so far. The Nameless City is no exception, and indeed this theme of the moon and the dark shadows it casts we will see repeated over and over in the tales to come. Interestingly, this story also contains the sun as atmospheric device; possibly the only Lovecraft tale where the sun is as much an omen of dread as the moon.

Speaking of which, it should be noted that Memnon, a mythological character, is mentioned twice here in association with the sun, specifically in association with a musical note hailing the rising of the sun at dawn. According to the Wikipedia page, a "statue of Memnon made a sound at morning time that meant Memnon was speaking to his mother Dawn as she rises in the east while he dwells in the west, making him the son of dawn (east) and ruler of the west." -- I assume this is what Lovecraft is referring to when he speaks of Memnon hailing the rising sun from the banks of the Nile. Interestingly, in all mythological sources Memnon is depicted as a black African (Ethiopian) man, yet this doesn't appear to offend Lovecraft in this context. I think that's the thing about Orientalism; everything foreign is fine so long as it stays out there as a subject of exotic fantasy and fascination for cultured Westerners, and doesn't manifest as an actual, tangible reality on our own doorstep.

Another interesting thing to note: while The Hound was the first HPL story to mention the dreaded and forbidden occult tome, the Necronomicon, The Nameless City, which was written a year earlier, was the first story to mention its author, the Mad Arab Abdul Alhazred. That makes this tale another "proto-Mythos" tale which can ultimately be tied into the larger Mythos as a whole. The quoted "strange aeons" couplet is probably the most famous line Lovecraft ever penned and will arise again in another story to come.

Although there is a lot of lovely Gothic imagery here, my favourite passage from this story is actually this easily-overlooked bit:
H.P. Lovecraft wrote:I saw that the passage was a long one, so floundered ahead rapidly in a creeping run that would have seemed horrible had any eye watched me in the blackness
That line reminded me strongly of the passage from The Lurking Fear where the narrator says:
H.P. Lovecraft wrote:What language can describe the spectacle of a man lost in infinitely abysmal earth; pawing, twisting, wheezing; scrambling madly through sunken convolutions of immemorial blackness without an idea of time, safety, direction, or definite object? There is something hideous in it, but that is what I did. I did it for so long that life faded to a far memory, and I became one with the moles and grubs of nighted depths.

I absolutely love this concept that true Gothic horror is not merely the monsters that might be lurking down there in the darkness beneath your feet, but what YOU become as you descend downward to find them.

I'm going to address some of the comments already made:

Sly Boots wrote:...the narrator gets off quite lightly here compared to many of the others... he neither dies nor goes insane, instead his fate is to shiver a bit whenever it gets a bit windy at night...

This might seem to be the case based on the narrator's own account, but there is another Lovecraft tale, which we will hopefully cover in the near future, which suggests that the author of this tale doesn't get away so lightly as he originally expresses.

Sly Boots wrote:The point at which he is crawling through a tiny tunnel looking at glass-front sarcophagi of what are quite obviously mummified examples of another race, looking at murals depicting that race and having seen for himself buildings not constructed to human proportions... the fact he was then mentally constructing elaborate theories of how humans would have done all this became quite maddening at points
I agree, mostly. It did indeed become a bit absurd that he came up with such elaborate theories to deny the fact that these reptilian beings were sentient and the original inhabitants of the City. On the other hand, archaeologists have found many mummified reptiles (such as crocodiles) in Egyptian tombs, and would you honestly, if you were exploring a ruined city, assume that something other than humans built it and lived within it? If I saw mummified reptiles, I would assume that humans had mummified them, because I am used to thinking in terms that humans are and have always been the only life-forms on earth who could be capable of such a feat. I think that is the point. AND YET, I think the biggest thing that breaks the believability of his mural theory is that right at the start of the story he says:
H.P. Lovecraft wrote:In and out amongst the shapeless foundations of houses and palaces I wandered, finding never a carving or inscription to tell of those men, if men they were, who built the city and dwelt therein so long ago. The antiquity of the spot was unwholesome, and I longed to encounter some sign or device to prove that the city was indeed fashioned by mankind.
So, already at the outset he's open to the idea that the city might have been built by beings other than men. Yet, when he finds such beings, he immediately sets about denying it. Totally ridiculous!

Another weird element is this quote:
H.P. Lovecraft wrote:To myself I pictured all the splendours of an age so distant that Chaldaea could not recall it, and thought of Sarnath the Doomed, that stood in the land of Mnar when mankind was young, and of Ib, that was carven of grey stone before mankind existed.
Now, I don't want to spoil anything here, as the references to the cities of Sarnath and Ib are from another Lovecraft tale, which we will hopefully cover soon, but let us just say that if the narrator knows about Ib and believes it is a real historical pre-human city (as he seems to infer from the passage), he really should not be surprised at all by what he finds.

I do find it a bit strange just how much information he manages to glean from the murals, for example: how the reptiles lived in the valley for ten million years and had no depicted funeral customs, and thus were immortal unless killed in physical combat. Considering it's incredibly dark and cramped down here, I feel like he's gleaning far more information in a few minutes of creeping along a tunnel than he ought to be able to decipher, and coming to some pretty hasty conclusions!

So, what actually happened to the city and its reptilian population?

I suspect what happened to the reptiles is that, as the geology of the world shifted over the aeons and as what was once a mighty coastal city became a desert, they came to the conclusion (who knows how) that a there existed a paradisaical inner world which they could tunnel down to, to escape the encroaching sands. They eventually do, and find a portal to this alternative dimension. Perhaps they begin gradually transferring their civilisation through this portal, trading between the inner world and the outer world, transporting supplies etc. What they didn't factor into their calculations was that this new dimension weakens their physical bodies over time, gradually transforming them into wraiths, unable to interact with any solid objects and cursed to haunt the ruins of their old city for eternity.

That said, there's still some things I don't understand; the murals show the reptiles tearing a man to pieces AFTER they had already become "ghosts", so why are they unable to hurt our narrator? How can they close and open the brass door? How can they drag him toward the portal, yet not actually hurt him? Why at night, when the moon shines, are they forced to haunt the ruins of the upper city, but must return to the inner world before sunrise?


I am going to stop there, as that is pretty much all I can think of for now. I will close with one final comment, which is to say that this instrumental piece by Nile, Hall of Saurian Entombment, was inspired by this story...

Last edited by Stormbringer on Sat Oct 13, 2018 8:16 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: The H.P. Lovecraft Reading Club

Post by Stormbringer » Sat Oct 13, 2018 7:58 am

Spoiler
Stormbringer wrote:What they didn't factor into their calculations was that this new dimension weakens their physical bodies over time, gradually transforming them into wraiths, unable to interact with any solid objects and cursed to haunt the ruins of their old city for eternity.
Though... this does not explain why there are reptile corpses in the passage. I guess my theory can't be quite right.
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Re: The H.P. Lovecraft Reading Club

Post by Sly Boots » Sat Oct 13, 2018 8:04 am

Spoiler
Thanks Doug.

On the subject of the musical chime that greets both the setting and rising of the sun, my assumption was that it was the brass door clanging open and closed in the tunnels far below.

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Re: The H.P. Lovecraft Reading Club

Post by Stormbringer » Sat Oct 13, 2018 8:18 am

Yes, I think that is the correct interpretation.

I was just trying to work out what HP was referring to when he spoke of Memnon hailing the sun at dawn.
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Re: The H.P. Lovecraft Reading Club

Post by Sly Boots » Sat Oct 13, 2018 8:23 am

Oh, ok.

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Re: The H.P. Lovecraft Reading Club

Post by Stormbringer » Sat Oct 13, 2018 8:43 am

So how did you rate this one in comparison to the others we have covered so far?
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Re: The H.P. Lovecraft Reading Club

Post by Sly Boots » Sat Oct 13, 2018 10:18 am

Yeah, one of the better ones. I found the narrator's obtuseness a bit irritating but overall I enjoyed it. Aside from knowing that the city was built by that non-human race it was one of the few so far where I didn't really know where it was going towards the end.

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Re: The H.P. Lovecraft Reading Club

Post by Stormbringer » Sat Oct 13, 2018 12:44 pm

Spoiler
The first time I read it I remember being a bit disappointed at the end that the narrator never descended into the glowing, misty depths beyond the brass door. But perhaps it's just as well, or he might never have told the tale.

Well well, I hope we hear from Snowy and Gibby (or even that lightweight Mantis ¬_¬), but in the meantime, let's start thinking about our next port of call...

Press 1 to find out more about Abdul Alhazred and the Necronomicon.

Press 2 to find out more about the cities of Sarnath the Doomed, that stood in the land of Mnar when mankind was young, and of Ib, that was carven of grey stone before mankind existed.

Press 3 to find out more about the possible fate of the narrator of The Nameless City...

Press 4 if you think the banks of the Nile sounds like a decent place for a creepy adventure.
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Re: The H.P. Lovecraft Reading Club

Post by Snowy » Sat Oct 13, 2018 3:41 pm

Busy as a busy thing, but not forgotten you all. Post some thoughts tomorrow :)
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