Thoughts on silly Mythos endings, by Robert M. Price — and a writing contest, with prizes!

On last Saturday’s “Late Night with Lovecraft eZine” video chat, Rick Lai, Blair Leggett, Pete Rawlik, and the rest of us were talking about Robert M. Price‘s Crypt of Cthulhu article on silly Mythos endings.  I’m reprinting it below, with Bob’s permission.

And just for fun, let’s do a “Famous Last Words” contest!  See the end of this post for details.

Robert M. Price

Robert M. Price

Famous Last Words
by Robert M. Price

copyright © 1982 by Robert M. Price, reprinted by permission of Robert M. Price

As fans of horror-fantasy fiction, all of us are called on from time to time to swallow greater or lesser implausibilities. After all, why quibble if Wilmarth can quote verbatim entire letters from memory in “The Whisperer in Darkness”? Even gross physiological impossibilities such as the “change” undergone by the Innsmouth folk from mammals to amphibians can be swept under the rug with only a wink. And the chances of Wilbur Whateley’s ever finding clothes that fit? What the heck! But at some point we really have to draw the line. And what more needful place than at a particular device for ending stories? We refer, of course, to those which break off in mid-scream with the narrator’s grisly doom. There is nothing untoward about such a device per se, but these narrators seem to be as addicted to writing as we are to reading. They perish pen-in-hand, their death-rattle committed to paper.

A few examples will demonstrate how horror shades unwittingly into humor:

  • The end is near. I hear a noise at the door, as of some immense slippery body lumbering against it. It shall not find me. God, that hand! The window! The window! (H. P. Lovecraft, “Dagon”.)
  • Not long to go now; even the stone walls shudder to the monstrous weight pressing upon them — The window! — Merciful God, that FACE! Can anything that lives be so huge — (Lin Carter, “The Dreams in the House of Weir”.)
  • But now — something — Great God! Wings! What beings sit the window! lä! lä! Hastur fhtagn! . . . (August Derleth, “The House on Curwen Street”.)
  • It is as if the walls of the house fell away, as if the street too were gone, and a fog — something in that watery fog, like a giant frog with tentacles — like a — Great God! What horror! lä! lä! Hastur! (August Derleth, “The Watcher from the Sky”.)
  • Black marks two feet wide, but they aren’t justmarks. What they really are is fingerprints! The door is busting o—– (Robert Bloch, “Notebook Found in a Deserted House”.)
  • . . . too late — cannot help self — black paws materialize — am dragged away toward the cellar. . . . (H. P. Lovecraft, “The Diary of Alonzo Typer”.)

Are we supposed to imagine poor Typer writing this onto the floorboards he is being dragged across? No, because according to the story’s “frame”, the narrative is all contained in his diary. And this is the problem with all these story-endings. They are part of written documents. And even if someone were writing when some horror came upon him, he would drop quill or Bic long before these narrators do.

The silliest of the bunch, and therefore the best example, is the ending of Frank Belknap Long’s “The Hounds of Tindalos”:

  • God, they are breaking through! They are breaking through! Smoke is pouring from the corners of the wall. Their tongues — ahhh —

Ahhh indeed.

There is really quite a simple expedient available to any writer who still wishes to use this hackneyed device. So far as we can tell, August Derleth is among the few to use it, in a scene from “The Shuttered Room”: “Oh, that hand! That turr’ble arm! Gawd! That face! . . .” What is the difference? This frightened voice is being heard over the phone. The poor devil is calling for help, but it is too late. Now how much imagination could this have taken? Not much, actually, since Derleth stole the scene wholesale from Lovecraft’s “The Dunwich Horror”: “Those who took down their receivers heard a fright-mad voice shriek out, ‘Help, oh, my Gawd! . . .'” A telephone is not even the only way to present this; there are always tape recorders and dictaphones. It can’t be that difficult to work them into the narrative. From now on, let’s hope that horror-fantasy writers will show a little more . . . but wait! Good God! What’s that coming out of the garbage disposal — eeeeyahh! glub, glub. . . .

“FAMOUS LAST WORDS” CONTEST:

Write a flash fiction Mythos story (no more than 2 paragraphs), and make the ending as silly as possible, bearing in mind the article above.

I’ll give a Lovecraftian book to my two favorite entries: Ancient Exhumations +2 by Stanley C. Sargent, and Uncommon Places: A Collection of Exquisites by W.H. Pugmire.

I’ll also publish both winners on this website, as well as all “honorable mention” entries (with links to the authors’ websites).

Send all entries to lovecraftezine@gmail.com , with “Famous Last Words contest” in the subject of the email.  Contest ends on the 30th.

Sound fun?

11 responses to “Thoughts on silly Mythos endings, by Robert M. Price — and a writing contest, with prizes!

  1. I wouldn’t know if this has been considered, nor do I assume it’s completely true, but I have an idea which may support some aspect of the silly endings.

    Take Lovecraft’s own documenting of his fatal condition (which a nurse, incidentally, threw in the trash). In those documents, Lovecraft recorded as best he could what he hoped would be of use for the living (indeed, for science!). Could it be that, when faced with certain doom, some characters choose this humble alternative to fighting back… or actually do feel it to be a form of resistance? Might they assume that such hideous incarnations have no interest in – or conception of – petty cover-ups?

    Really, it makes some sense that a man like Lovecraft, who lived through his pen and paper, should try describing the act of dying – sometimes still at the cost of his fiction. Moreover, such acceptance of doom approaching – averting the silliness – could easily be conveyed by the passive-aggressive narrators in work like Thomas Ligotti’s. “My Work is Not Yet Done”, for example, almost has a suiting-up for oblivion from the second act onwards.

    As mentioned: I’m not sure if it’s been considered or perhaps even used consciously; but it’s a thought.

    • How is this mocking Lovecraft? It’s strange that everyone else sees it as “having some fun” (as several writers have told me) and you see it as “mocking”. I have a lot of respect for Lovecraft and Lovecraftian fiction, otherwise I would not have created this magazine and this website. But if we take everything so seriously that we can’t even laugh at some of the sillier aspects, then we’re taking things a bit TOO seriously.

      • Lighten up a bit yourself. I do have an issue with that whole Lovecraft humour thing that seems so prevalent in America. Plush Cthulhus all about! All geeky humour! I’ve encountered at least one lady that might have enjoyed the actual literature that just saw a mess of geeky humour and turned away from actually reading the stuff from it. Lovecraft and his fellow classic horror/fantasy authors wrote good literature and that needs to be shared, not mocked, because this is what people see.

  2. Well, then, Janon, maybe I should create a site that shares Lovecraft and Lovecraftian fiction. Oh… wait, I have. You’re obviously not very familiar with this website, or my views on things, if you’re accusing me of pandering to the humorous in Lovecraft.

  3. I think Mr. Davis has done a damn fine job of raising the bar on the Lovecraftian literature front. He does it such that it can be enjoyed for free, and if something he does allows for humor, then good! Even S. T. Joshi laughs (I’ve seen him do it…and he takes himself *very* seriously). Kudos to Mr. Davis and his eZine for keeping Lovecraft alive in a very real way!

  4. Ok sorry I upset you fine gentlemen, though i think it’s more a case of miscommunication. I myself took the flame of classic horror to make an album of Lovecraftian music, it’s freely downloadable at the site that is linked by my handle, and i also run an irc channel on such things on the Undernet.

  5. Let’s not forget the ending of Haunter of the Dark. The narrator provides us with the last diary entries of the unfortunate Robert Blake, who tells us that he can no longer perceive distance (“far is near and near is far”) yet has legible penmanship and describes what is happening to him, despite losing his memories and sense of self. Blake writes in his journal at the end…

    “I am Robert Blake, but I see the tower in the dark. There is a monstrous odour… senses transfigured…boarding at that tower window cracking and giving way…Iä …ngai …ygg …”

    I see it—coming here—hell-wind—titan blur—black wing—Yog Sothoth save me—the three-lobed burning eye…”

  6. Didn’t James and Judy Blish nail this at the end of “Getting Along”?
    I paraphrase: “Oh! Oh! Club of a Thousand Members…”
    🙂

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