Bundled in layers of fiction, cozy Cthulhu waits dreaming

Somewhere at the top, there’s Lovecraft. He writes a story—a number he titles “The Call of Cthulhu”—and he sends it out into the world. There’s an author—Lovecraft—there’s a text—“The Call”—and there might even be a reader. If—you at home—if you’re the reader, you can be sure enough of those last two items. You’re probably willing to place a bet on the first. But that’s it. That’s all you know, and that’s all you’re supposed to know. With the first page—with the first breaks of fiction—it’s wise to stop placing bets.

That’s because Lovecraft begins by lying to you. And, yes, that’s what fiction writers do, but Lovecraft takes a different tact. Lovecraft doesn’t narrate his own work—and, yes, this is still standard practice, but this is where Lovecraft begins to deviate. Narration duties fall to one Francis Wayland Thurston—“the Late Francis Wayland Thurston”—who doesn’t tell a story so much as he compiles a series of facts into an argumentive essay (arguing only, in the end, that he “know[s] too much” and that, for it, he can’t “think [his] life will be long”).

And “The Call” isn’t just narrated by Thurston; it’s penned by Thurston. “The Call,” it turns out, isn’t fiction at all. “The Call” is a document with attested providence—albeit attested only if you really, really trust that parenthetical above the epigraph. In a way, the very existence of the document—in our hands, in our world—denies its fiction. “Found among the papers of the late” author, this text is the real deal. The situation’s simple. Thurston simply didn’t “survive this manuscript,” and his executors simply failed to “put caution before audacity and see that it meets no other eye.” Lovecraft didn’t write it—no one knows how his name got to the top there. Rather, Thurston wrote it, and everything mentioned in the text is genuine, so long as you really, really trust this Thurston fellow.

Here, Lovecraft sets about to something strange. Instead of giving us the true account of an eyewitness to some terror—and he might have; it happens all the time in epistolary novels and fictional travelogues—Lovecraft gives us a series of newspaper clippings and journal excerpts, framed and paraphrased—though sometimes wholly reproduced—by Thurston, our faithful narrator. Lovecraft gives us Thurston, who gives us Professor Angell—“his passing at the age of ninety-two may be recalled by many”—who gives us Inspector Legrasse, “prompted by purely professional considerations,” who gives us a man captured in a Louisiana bayou, “immensely aged”—like cheese—who gives us the gospel according to undead men in China.

This does not inspire confidence.

Lovecraft sets Thurston up to fail. The reader doesn’t believe Lovecraft’s fiction, not because it’s fiction, but because, at this point, it’s being relayed fifth or sixth hand. At this point, it’s easy to deny, though for all the wrong reasons. Then—and this is the clever bit—when Lovecraft corroborates everything at the second hand level, the reader is suddenly impressed. He scratches his head—maybe there’s something to this Cthulhu business—and the reader forgets the fiction, lost beneath so much of it.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Bundled in layers of fiction, cozy Cthulhu waits dreaming

  1. I agree that it’s easy to get lost with all of these point of views interweaved within one another, told by a character that’s almost completely unrelated to the stories. It reminded me a bit of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, where it’s told by this really boring outside character that’s really focused on the facts, but that novella at least gave us the satisfaction of reading Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde’s confession and getting that exciting glimpse inside an actually interesting character. Here, the climax is this sort of corroboration that you mention, but it still feels like it’s mostly left to the reader to finish piecing together this story– but this reader was left very uninspired to do so.

  2. I, too, am intrigued by the layers upon layers of narration and the way in which this narrative technique both credits and discredits the veracity of the piece. To complicate the matter further, I’d like to point to a paradox or contradiction within the piece’s final paragraph. The narrator remarks, “Who knows the end?” as if in a challenge to the reader. Here, I agree with “Confusionissects” latter comments. It’s almost as if this is an invocation or a provocation to continue pursuing the truth. On the other hand, the narrator says a few sentences later, “I must not and cannot think!” Alas, the narrator does not have the courage to heed his own words. The contradiction in the motivation and impulse of the primary narrator mirrors the complexity and confusion of receiving information from such a wide variety of sources–from Legrasse, from our narrator and from “undead men in China.”

    Furthermore, it’s interesting to re-read “Cthulhu” with reference to Appendix A of “Frankenstein,” in which Mary Shelley’s writer father remarks, “Our vanity prompts us to suppose that we have reached the goal of human capacity. But there is little plausibility in so arrogant an assumption.”

    William Godwin echoes the narrator’s vexed relation to knowledge–the desire to attain it, met by the fear of the ability, or the inability, to do so.

  3. mercerism says:

    Hume would ask us: which is more miraculous, that what Chinese monks told Castro told Legrasse told Angell told Thurston told you is wrong, or Cthulhu?

  4. kristy0715 says:

    I found the way that Lovecraft portrayed the story to be very interesting as it allowed the audience to question the authenticity of the story. Depicted in a historical manner with newspaper clippings, seemingly genuine names of learned scholars, and extremely detailed descriptions, the story really makes you question the genre. I wonder why Lovecraft wrote the “The Call of Cthulu” in this manner- perhaps as a way to scare the readers and make them believe the power of fiction? What is the difference between something fiction with many supporting facts and a true nonfiction without any backed evidence? The questions I also after reading this short story was: Does Lovecraft create this realistic story for the purpose of entertainment or to allow the readers to question the impossible in existence?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s