Tuesday Terror! Polaris by HP Lovecraft

Perchance to dream…

 

the haunter of the darkI’m going to do something quite rare – I’m going to admit that I made a mistake. The first time I read a collection of HP Lovecraft stories I mocked them, using HPL’s own favourite overblown adjectives to describe them as ranging from ‘loathsomely mediocre to hellishly poor’. That was two years ago and, while I still hold firm to the belief that mushrooms are not fundamentally scary and the moon cannot be described as fungoid, yet… those hideous, blasphemous, fish-frog aliens of Innsmouth linger in my mind, and I have often found my thoughts wandering through those ancient ruins that figure in so many of the tales, the remnants of long-forgotten, loathsomely hellish, alien cultures that have ruled the earth before us and may do so again…

So I admit it. I was wrong. HPL deserves his place amongst the greats and I accept that however laughable and, frankly, tedious some of his stories may be on the surface, he has the mysterious power to implant troubling, lingering images in the minds of his readers. So this short story, taken from the book The Haunter of the Dark, is the choice for this week’s…

Tuesday Terror

Polaris by HP Lovecraft

 

HP Lovecraft
HP Lovecraft

Each night, through the window of his chamber, our narrator watches the Pole Star, glowing with its uncanny light, as it…

…leers down from the same place in the black vault, winking hideously like an insane watching eye which strives to convey some strange message, yet recalls nothing save that it once had a message to convey. Sometimes, when it is cloudy, I can sleep.

But with sleep come dreams, and in his dream he sees a strange city under a horned waning moon…

Still and somnolent did it lie, on a strange plateau in a hollow betwixt strange peaks. Of ghastly marble were its walls and its towers, its columns, domes, and pavements. In the marble streets were marble pillars, the upper parts of which were carven into the images of grave bearded men. The air was warm and stirred not. And overhead, scarce ten degrees from the zenith, glowed that watching Pole Star.

polaris

And in the city he can make out people – men who walk abroad, talking wisely in a strange tongue that somehow he understands. On waking, he finds himself altered, with vague recollections of something he cannot define. Thereafter, on each cloudy night when he sleeps, he dreams of the city, until he comes to wish to be part of it, to speak to the men who converse there. And he begins to wonder whether the city is real…

I said to myself, “This is no dream, for by what means can I prove the greater reality of that other life in the house of stone and brick south of the sinister swamp and the cemetery on the low hillock, where the Pole Star peers into my north window each night?”

One night, as he listens to the men conversing in the city, he finds he has taken bodily form. But he is not a stranger to these men – they recognise him as one of them, and he knows their names and the name of the city, Olathoë, in the kingdom of Lomar. But the people are troubled, for that very night…

…had the news come of Daikos’ fall, and of the advance of the Inutos; squat, hellish, yellow fiends who five years ago had appeared out of the unknown west to ravage the confines of our kingdom, and finally to besiege our towns…the squat creatures were mighty in the arts of war, and knew not the scruples of honour which held back our tall, grey-eyed men of Lomar from ruthless conquest.

Polaris565

Our narrator is a feeble man, without a warrior’s strength, but with keen sight, so he is sent to the watch-tower, and is to raise the alarm should he see the Inutos approach.

But as I stood in the tower’s topmost chamber, I beheld the horned waning moon, red and sinister, quivering through the vapours that hovered over the distant valley of Banof. And through an opening in the roof glittered the pale Pole Star, fluttering as if alive, and leering like a fiend and tempter.

And into his mind came a whispered rhyme…

“Slumber, watcher, till the spheres
Six and twenty thousand years
Have revolv’d, and I return
To the spot where now I burn.
Other stars anon shall rise
To the axis of the skies;
Stars that soothe and stars that bless
With a sweet forgetfulness:
Only when my round is o’er
Shall the past disturb thy door.”

And drowsiness overtook him, and he slept…

* * * * *

This is a great little story, and it’s actually enhanced by Lovecraft’s grandiose writing style – somehow it seems to match the setting of the dream city in a land from long ago. What I particularly like about it is that the ending is totally ambiguous, and either interpretation is disturbing. There is a racist element to the story, (as unfortunately there frequently is in Lovecraft’s writing), which is a real pity, since it would have been just as effective without it. But the man believed in the superiority of the Anglo-Saxon race (or perhaps culture), so it permeates his work, and it’s the reader’s choice, as with all these old writers, whether to make concessions to the time of writing – this one was written in 1918. I find with Lovecraft that the stories are so far from reality that the impact of the racism is somewhat lessened, but it can still be pretty off-putting. However, I’m still glad to have read this one, for the imaginative premise, the ambiguity of the ending and the quality of the writing.

If you’d like to know how the story ends (and it’s a very short one), here’s a link…

Fretful Porpentine rating: 😯 😯 😯 😯

Overall story rating:          😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

43 thoughts on “Tuesday Terror! Polaris by HP Lovecraft

    • Long is a word I associate very much with HPL! 😉 But I believe he was quite an anti-social type who mainly communciated via letters, so I can imagine they’d be interesting. I must say I find I enjoy his very short, short stories a good deal more than his long ones though.

      • It’s true that Howard communicated at length via letters and for years with some correspondents who he never even met. He wasn’t so much anti-social, as poor. He visited friends when he could and was quite involved with various friends during the short time he lived in New York City. Many friends also visited him. His letters are full of tales of various trips and visits and of sight-seeing when others visited him. Living in Providence, he was rather isolated from the majority of his friends, but he loved the town.

        • Ah, that’s interesting, and changes my impression of him. I’d got an image of him as a rather sad, lonely man, maybe without too many ‘people skills’ but I’m glad it was just mostly geographical isolation. And of course, we all spend a good amount of time chatting to people we never meet now over the internet, and even making friends that way sometimes, so I suppose that’s just today’s form of letter-writing…

          • I always wonder what Howard would have thought of the Internet. Of course he hated typewriters, so that’s one strike. But to communicate so fast and they sometimes had round robin letters.

            • Sometimes the speed leads to very short messages though. Old-fashioned letter writing was a much more thoughtful process in general, where a lot of people wrote a draft before they wrote the final thing. That’s why I suspect all our messages, including those of ‘proper’ writers, won’t stand the test of time the way the letters of older wirters do. I can’t imagine future generations reading the Collected Tweets of JK Rowling in years to come somehow…

  1. Excellent review, FF! I am a minor Lovecraft fan and I get what you mean about his over-the-top style. For me, it mostly works – after a while it’s something I don’t really notice and the grandness of it almost becomes ‘normal’ (to me, anyway). I think he gets away with it because the stories generally tend to be fairly short. It is often tricky when reading things from a different era not to apply a more modern and enlightened thought process to it – I always find racism (or any kind of prejudice, for that matter) rather galling wherever it appears. It’s something I choose to ignore in circumstances such as this, but it is unpleasant when it crops up.

    • ‘Twas the bloated, fungoid moon that did for me! Well, that, and the hours of wandering around ruins! But I think the selection I read maybe did him an injustice – most of the stories were really long, whereas the couple of much shorter stories I’ve read have been much better and more effective. This one reminded me very much of Edgar Allan Poe’s writing style, in fact.

      Yes, the racism thing is very tricky, and it depends on the writer. I don’t mind it in Henry Rider Haggard at all because he shows a lot of admiration for the Africans, but I find Rudyard Kipling and John Buchan almost unreadable. Lovecraft falls somewhere in the middle for me…

  2. Lovecraft: never read him, no nothing about him….yet i put his short stories on my to read ‘ Classic List’ #BlindDate
    Thanks for this introduction…..about his writing!

    • I hope you enjoy him! I find he’s an acquired taste, and I definitely prefer his shorter short stories to the longer ones – some of which can be very long indeed! His language gets a bit overwhelming when it goes on for too long – for my taste anyway…

  3. Isn’t it interesting, FictionFan, how stories and authors can grow on you like that. I admit I’ve not read Lovecraft in forever and, like you wasn’t impressed at first. Perhaps I ought to give his work another try…

    • Yes, I don’t know if it would have happened with Lovecraft if I hadn’t been doing this horror series, but I’ve seen his influence coming through in so many later writers thaat I’ve been almost forced to re-evaluate my original opinion. But for me his style definitely works best in the very short stories rather than in his hugely long ones.

  4. Goodness! Whatever is he holding in that picture? That’s a way scarier face than SK’s… (I think it’s how he parts his hair.)

    A horned moon is an interest…that puts interesting pictures in my head, you know, you know.

    Seriously, though, someone with the name Lovecraft should not be writing horror.

    • Durn, I used to know whose cat Howard was holding in the photo, but it has slipped my mind. Possibly that of Frank Belknap Long. Looks like kitty doesn’t care to have his photo taken. With those ears and that expression, it could be a model for The Cats of Ulthar.

    • He appears to be strangling a cat! Or perhaps it’s a squirrel that he’s training up to be an Edelman…

      D’you know, I think you might quite like Lovecraft’s stuff… *thinks*

      Perhaps he felt he had to prove he wasn’t romantic…

      • I’m training a squirrel to be an Edelman, too!

        Nah…you’re setting me up, ’cause you want to read the Infinite Sea.

        *shakes head* Some non-warriors have to prove that sort of thing. Feel sorry for him, FEF.

        • *gasps* No!!!! Train it to be your assistant in the worm-hunting instead! If you grow an Edelman, I’ll… I’ll… I’ll grow one too!!!

          *cries quietly* See, this is how you do it! You just keep mentioning the thing and it’s like Chinese water torture. Eventually I just have to read/watch the dadblamed thing to make it stop!! And before you know it there’s girls in the bathtub and horrid little kids singing duets all over the place…

          He’s probably safe, ‘cos he doesn’t look like he’d make the girls laugh…

          • You can’t! *laughs* Even if you wanted to do! I’d offer to lend…but…I imagine growing such a monster will be hard.

            *laughing lots* Wow! You’re really harping on that bathtub part. Do they not have bathtubs in Scotland? I’m trying to think of the movie I want you to see next…

            Just like the professor.

            • *tosses head haughtily* I shall have the hair on my head transplanted to my chin – it will be extremely cool!

              We do! There are two in Stirling! It should be my turn sometime in 2017. *cries a little* Oh, good! I’ll look forward to that…

              *laughs thus proving the Professor wrong*

            • OK – I won’t if you won’t!

              We’re hoping to get showers later this century. *scratches*

              A quote from an Amazon review of Battleship – “Aliens have the technology to reach Earth and isolate all attack using electromagnetic forcefields, but are defeated by a beach bum who reads Homer (not Simpson), a man with no legs, two babes, the cast of cocoon and a WWII battleship.” Sounds great! *sobs*

            • Oh huff-hum!

              *laughing* You’re just messing with me!

              *laughs too much* Well, whoever that was must have hated the movie! The main chap is the same one who played John Carter. And, of course, I’m not being serious about watching it.

  5. Not a writer I’ve read anything of so I am just going on what is here…. it comes across as quite poetic in a way, I’m not entirely convinced I’d enjoy more of him but it was good to have this taster. That said it is interesting that you’ve seen his influence coming through in later writer’s works.

    • Yes, this one sounded a bit like Edgar Allan Poe to me, though I can’t say I usually find that with Lovecraft. He’s definitely an acquired taste, I would say – and the shorter the story, the better! But he does seem to have been hugely influential.

  6. I was lucky, I think, in that I read Lovecraft at a much earlier age than you, and also at a time when much fantasy (and, for all I know, horror) was being written in a “cod” mediaeval, or at least not modern and certainly overblown style. And I very much agree about his influence on later writers – his whole demonology/ancient Gods world has become so much an accepted part of the background of fantasy writing that people incorporate large chunks of it into their writing without feeling the need either to explain or credit it. I was glad to be reminded of this story, which I have not read for a long number of decades, let alone years.

    • Yes, I don’t know why I never stumbled across Lovecraft till so recently, and I suspect the first collection I read may not have been the best in retrospect – it was filled with lots of the really long, rambling stories, whereas I’ve found his shorter stories much more effective. I’ve found myself using the word ‘Lovecraftian’ quite often in my journey through horror/fantasy. But he’s definitely a man who’s not afraid of adjectives, isn’t he?

  7. I’ve read several of Lovecraft’s work. Glad you found one you enjoyed a bit more! For a time, I found myself wondering about those “old gods”, and it really was scary!

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