The Children of Old Gent
Is it Christmastime as I write, a time for children (and I admit that, at 60 years of age, I still qualify. You know, that Peter Pan thing.). It occurred to me to ponder the children in Lovecraft’s fiction. They don’t exactly jump out at you (as Fenny does in Ghost Story, which daughter Victoria and I watch every Christmas Eve). There aren’t many. Most of them are anonymous sacrificial victims that never appear on stage. We just read that children start disappearing in some locality where a weird sect is active. But there are a couple of notable exceptions, and they seem to be just as illusory as women in HPL’s stories. Now you see them, now you don’t because they are not what they first seem.
You know how Asenath Waite turns out not to be a woman at all, not really, since she is just a vehicle for her father Ephraim Waite, whose transmigrating intelligence is at the wheel. It’s almost the same with Asenath as a girl. Again, she is barely mentioned, just enough to lead up to her permanent supplantation by her old dad (or, ultimately, whoever or whatever, maybe Azathoth, who supplanted him).
Charles Dexter Ward is also supplanted by an elder entity, Joseph Curwen. We do see Charles through most of the story, but by then he’s a man, albeit young. Not really a kid. Ditto for Jervas Dudley in “The Tomb.”
We are practically in the delivery room when Wilbur Whateley is born, and we hear about his home schooling. But this is a cheat, too, because he rushed to adulthood so quickly (since he’s a half-human demigod) that his childhood is pretty much a ruse. This is apparent even in the text of his diary in that it is obviously modeled upon the little girl’s journal in Arthur Machen’s “The White People,” yet it lacks the charming/horrifying perspective of fresh innocence of Machen’s version–as, of course, it’s supposed to. Wilbur is taking for granted things natural to him as an extra-dimensional alien, while Machen’s diarist reflects the innocent vulnerability of one who “receives the kingdom of God like child,” open-eyed because she knows no better.
Children really play no role in Lovecraft’s fiction as far as I recall. I suppose this is because children played no role in his life, even less than romance did. Obviously he had no children. His stories are often autobiographical. Wilbur Whateley and Charles Dexter Ward share important features of HPL’s upbringing and interests, but even here these touches are markers of their precocity, and there I suspect we have our answer: Lovecraft himself had hardly been a child at all. As a boy he was immersed in his grandfather’s library. He was already writing columns and papers on astronomy. It is not so much that Wilbur was like Howard as that Howard was like Wilbur!
I think you and I can identify with this because so many of us got hooked on Lovecraft when we were adolescents. My dear, late friend C.J. Henderson and his daughter Erica (whom I baptized) wrote the hilarious kid’s book Baby’s First Mythos. My good pal Jared Wallace wrote another such parody. These are so funny precisely because the whole idea of associating little children with the dark blasphemies of Cthulhu is so completely absurd. And it is absurd for the same reason it would be if youngsters figured in Lovecraft’s stories: because those tales are all about leaving the Toyland of naïve anthropocentrism for the sobering realization that the universe is a terrifying void.
Robert M. Price
Hierophant of the Horde
December 26, 2014
Robert M. Price is an American theologian and writer. He teaches philosophy and religion at the Johnnie Colemon Theological Seminary, is professor of biblical criticism at the Center for Inquiry Institute, and the author of a number of books on theology and the historicity of Jesus, including Deconstructing Jesus (2000), The Reason Driven Life (2006), Jesus is Dead (2007), Inerrant the Wind: The Evangelical Crisis in Biblical Authority (2009), The Case Against the Case for Christ (2010), and The Amazing Colossal Apostle: The Search for the Historical Paul (2012).
A former Baptist minister, he was the editor of the Journal of Higher Criticism from 1994 until it ceased publication in 2003, and has written extensively about the Cthulhu Mythos, a “shared universe” created by the writer H. P. Lovecraft.
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