Yes, I’m pretty deep into the shooter genre mode right now, having just passed 75,000 words on the first draft of Lex Talionis, but I’m going to digress for a little, to explore a thought I had while sitting in the “Death Is The Least Of Your Worries: Writing Lovecraftian Fiction” panel at LTUE.
The panelists agreed (and so would I) that the nature of Lovecraft’s horror lay in the confrontation of unfathomable powers which barely noticed human beings. You might get squished along the way, but it was hit or miss as to whether the monster actually noticed you in the process. A vital part of the Cthulhu Mythos is mankind’s insignificance, and helplessness, in the face of the chaotic forces that rule the cosmos. You can try to fight Cthulhu, but it won’t end well for you.
Granted, this is not entirely a hard and fast rule even within the (admittedly broad) confines of the Mythos itself. Brian Lumley’s Titus Crow bests a few eldritch abominations, and no less towering a figure than Conan the Cimmerian (Howard was a regular correspondent with Lovecraft) banished a few to whatever weird dimension they’d come from with a powerful stroke of axe or sword.
But the basic tenet of Lovecraftian horror is summed up in the opening quote from The Call of Cthulhu: “The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. We live on a placid island of ignorance amid black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far.” As the title of the aforementioned panel said, knowing is worse than death, because the risk in investigating these horrors is pulling back the veil of horror and chaos that makes the universe tick, and going mad from the sheer act of understanding. The game Bloodborne (which I have not played, not having a PS4, but I have watched a few videos about it), gets into this with the “Insight” mechanic, where the more Insight you gain, the more horror you see, and the greater risk your character runs of going bonkers.
Now what this got me thinking about was, since the Jed Horn series has been compared to Lovecraft in style, that as much as I have used vaguely Lovecraftian language and tone in places, there is a distinct difference between the demons of the Abyss in the Jed Horn stories and the detached, indifferent monstrosities of Lovecraft’s Mythos.
Cthulhu and the other Great Old Ones (and Elder Things and all the various fishy and tentacled beasties of Lovecraft’s universe) are horrifying in their sheer magnitude and indifference. They might eat you, they might squish you, but they really don’t give a crap about you. You’re an ant, an insect, utterly unnoticed unless you get in their way, and maybe not even then. Critics and commentators have gushed about how Lovecraft’s horror is different precisely because it makes mankind insignificant.
But now imagine a creature as old as time itself. Unbound by flesh, it is a creature of pure intellect, knowing and understanding things by its very nature that humans will ask and wonder about until the heat death of the universe. This is something as vast and as powerful and incomprehensible as Cthulhu or Azathoth or any of the rest.
But whereas to Cthulhu or Yog-Sothoth, you are an insect barely worthy of notice and not terribly interesting, this thing knows who you are. It knows your name, and it knows your weaknesses, and it hates you with an undying hate as personal and as ferocious as the hate it holds for everything. No human being can even fathom the depth of this thing’s hate, because no human being can actually fathom this creature at all.
And while a Great Old One might squish you in passing, or eat you, this thing wants worse than that. It doesn’t want to just kill you, or even drive you mad. It wants to damn you, to drag you into eternal torment, outside of time itself. And to do that, it wants to make you give yourself to it. It wants to corrupt you, and it wants you to die while still corrupted. It doesn’t even want you to consider the possibility that you could find another way.
The risk to a Lovecraftian protagonist in investigating a Mythos creature is that understanding will break his brain. The risk to someone in Jed Horn’s world investigating the demonic too closely is that he’ll get befuddled by the lies and corrupted, by a liar far, far more intelligent than he.
Lest I seem to be propping my own work up above Lovecraft’s, I’ll simply point out that Lovecraft is a household name, while I’m a small-time indie author. The man is justifiably known as a grandmaster, and I greatly enjoy his work.
But just as Lovecraft wrote stories about what frightened him (the unknown, inbred mountain people, and anyone who wasn’t a WASP), so I’ve always preferred my monsters to be dangerous and intelligent. It makes them that much more formidable and that much scarier.
What about you, dear reader? Let me know what you think.