(Oh, don’t judge me. You wish you’d thought of it first.)
“Pickman’s Model” is one of my favorite Lovecraft stories. I first read it as a teenager, which is the very best time to read anything scary, in my humble opinion. Even though the first-person narration is what makes this story so immediate, I kept wishing that Lovecraft had written it in third-person instead, just so I could hear the other half of the discussion. More than the other stories we had to read, this one felt like I was listening to just one side of a crazy person’s conversation, and it was a little maddening. But maybe that was his intention…?
Anyway, the narrator knows an artist – Richard Upton Pickman — so talented, but at the same time, so subversive that people who once embraced him are now terrified to be in the same room with him. Except for our storyteller, who is kind of a belligerent jerk.
I loved the setting and the gradual, but not too gradual, build-up of terror in this story. I could actually “see” the cramped, jammed, dirty, ancient streets and alleys and houses Lovecraft describes as the narrator accompanies Pickman to the artist’s other studio – the one where he paints all those awful, awful pictures. Pictures that are so lifelike it’s scary!
The little prologue to this story in my book says that Lovecraft had an actual house in the oldest part of the city— the North End of Boston – in mind when he wrote this story. Meaning that he’d actually been in that old house with the dark basement, and that it had a huge well dug in the floor with a wooden cover over it. *shudder*
The next story, “The Outsider” was written in 1921 (five years before he wrote “Pickman’s Model”), and it kind of shows. The narrator in this one is lost, lonesome and sad. For the first few pages, I wasn’t exactly sure what was going on, and it was a little hard to care about this character because of that. However, Lovecraft’s description of the narrator’s break for freedom was terrific. He climbs above the trees only to end up at ground level, in a cemetery. Oops. The cat’s out of the bag now.
Still, I felt bad for the guy. This afterlife, while lacking all the reported horrors of hell, is also lacking any of the supposed delights of heaven. It’s just a kind of … existence. However, despite that crappy party he crashed, the narrator’s story ends with him actually enjoying his newfound freedom in some faux-literary-Egyptian-name-dropping purgatory. Yes, the ending was a little obvious, but these were different times, so I’m gonna give HPL a pass.
Finally, the great, the immortal “The Call of Cthulhu” – meh.
Although this story is the start of the great, so-called “Cthulhu Mythos” (pause as fan-boys everywhere genuflect at the mention of his name), it should have been so much better. The premise was good – artists everywhere having strange dreams during the same span of time; the equally strange death of the narrator’s relative, who happened to be a professor of ancient languages; a bizarre journal left behind by said relative, full of “disjointed jottings, ramblings and [newspaper] cuttings”, along with a clay bas-relief featuring “a pulpy tentacled head” on a “grotesque and scaly body with rudimentary wings” (357).
Throw me the keys – I’m going to gas up the Mystery Machine now.
Yes, there is so much in this story that should have been great. Instead, Lovecraft goes on and on until only the heartiest of readers are still conscious at the end to appreciate his genius.
Nevertheless, you absolutely MUST read “The Call of Cthulhu” if you want to be a horror writer, or even just a well-read horror fan. Sorry, I don’t make the rules. They just are.
Lovecraft, H. P. The Complete Fiction. Barnes and Noble, 2008. Print.