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.
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 —
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. . . .
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 also publish both winners on this website, as well as all “honorable mention” entries (with links to the authors’ websites).
Send all entries to firstname.lastname@example.org , with “Famous Last Words contest” in the subject of the email. Contest ends on the 30th.