Friday, June 12, 2015

Lovecraft's Dream Quest of Nostalgia and Chastity

Haven't had much internet time lately, so it's time for a bit of catch-up with my attempt to read All The Lovecraft. Spoilers ahoy and all that. 


"These things you saw, Randolph Carter, when your nurse first wheeled you out in the springtime, and they will be the last things you will ever see with eyes of memory and of love."
And that's how "The Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath" ends. All along Carter only had to think on his beloved childhood memories to find the magical part of the dreaming that earth's gods have crashed and taken over for party purposes. It's fairly annoying, but not altogether surprising. Fantastic literature is infested with nostalgic visions of childhood spouted by author avatars who hate the modern world.

For me, the worst offender in this category was Jack Finney, whose Time and Again I threw across the room in frustration, after reading a few chapters of nonsense about how much better life was in the 19th century. I find this sort of worship of previous eras offensive in "realistic" authors such as Jean Shepard, also, but it seems somehow worse in a genre that promises a bit more thinking involved in it's presentation. We're told over and over again that the great solution to modern problems is to regress into childhood and visit the Hundred Acre Wood.

There's a worse, doubled regression to the Dream Quest. We not only have Lovecraft going on about the Salem of his childhood, but the common areas of the dreaming presented to us are given in Orientalist terms. Slant-eyed turbaned traders and dark-skinned slaves ride galleys across the oceans and space itself. The only thing more repugnant than "swarthy" people to Randolph Carter are the rubbery, tickling and sometime vagina dentata sporting monsters.

Which brings me to the core of this juvenile view of fantasy. There's a built-in implication that imagination and play are traits of children and not adults. Which is ridiculous. Mature adults DO play and imagine things, but differently from when they were younger, and usually about sex. Lovecraft, however, never allows himself to write about physical pleasure, but refers to it obliquely in horrific tones, as something done by barbaric or swarthy people.

This isn't something only in his writing. That tradition was already set in Victorian literature in the form of Stoker's Dracula and Machen's The Great God Pan. But it's something that is still stuck inside of genre fiction. What is Twilight's Edward Cullen after all but a modern version of a Lovecraft narrator, horrified at the modern world and avoiding sex? What is Star Wars if not a modern version of the Orientalist dreamland, with slaves and rubbery alien races, and a notable lack of women?

If there's a key to the success of this modern Hollywood style of fantasy storytelling, it's somewhere in the mis-conception that we have to become childlike in order to dream and feel wonder. Lovecraft may be the proto-type of the real American dreamer: someone who doesn't want to deal with the challenges of adult interaction, but only wants to pet dinosaurs in Jurassic Park.

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