SWIM Podcast: Moore on Lovecraft and a Hint About Providence 11

Alan Moore by Daniel P. Carter - via Instagram
Alan Moore by Daniel P. Carter – via Instagram

There is an excellent two-part interview with Alan Moore up at the Someone Who Isn’t Me podcast hosted by Daniel P. Carter. Alan Moore completists will be interested in listening to the entire interview: part 1 and part 2. Moore discusses consciousness, Jerusalem, magic, the Northhampton Arts Lab and much more. It includes quite a bit on H.P. Lovecraft, and even a reveal of some of what is in Providence #11.

In part 1 (minute 34:15) Moore describes the leap from pre-linguistic awareness into modern human consciousness, which he calls “the entire haunted palace” echoing the Edgar Allen Poe story The Haunted Palace which lends its title to Providence #10.

In part 2 (starting at minute 43:35) Moore speaks at length about Lovecraft, and offhandedly reveals something about Providence #11. Below is a partial transcript:

Carter: I’m going through Providence at the moment. It’s made me go back and read Lovecraft again, which I hadn’t done. I got into his work when I was really young – just in really silly ways as well. I’d found out about him through liking Metallica. They have a couple of songs: The Call of Cthulhu and The Thing That Should Not Be. Also through the role-playing game. Then started reading his work. I only read The Courtyard and Neonomicon fairly recently, after getting into Providence. It started making me look into other things like Kenneth Grant saying the idea that there was some kind of link between Lovecraft –

Moore: That Lovecraft is intuiting something –

Yeah. Which is essentially going back to something we said initially about how art is created. Where does art come from? Where does writing come from.

It’s a valid idea, I guess. It’s just that Lovecraft was such a fierce rationalist. Now I know Kenneth Grant gets around that by saying “ah – he didn’t know that he was channeling these things that are real.”

I think it’s more complex than that. The thing is Lovecraft came up with all these things purely out of his own imagination. They had enormous resonance because Lovecraft was almost an unbearably sensitive barometer of, what I suppose you might call American dread.

He was frightened about everything. He was awkward with women. He was frightened of immigrants – or despised them – if there’s any difference; but also, other than these average middle class fears of his time, Lovecraft was reading science magazines, and he understood the revolution that was going on in science: how Einstein had practically undone the whole of humanity’s conception of where it stood in the universe. And had re-written a lot of the basic rules of the universe.

I think Lovecraft was initially horrified by Einstein, but then came to absorb his theories and probably to understand them. It seems that he has understood and he’s taken them on board. So what Lovecraft’s fiction was reflecting was that we existed in a hostile random universe – well, not so much hostile but completely oblivious. A universe so vast that we were reduced to the tiniest, most insignificant speck – in a remote corner of this infinite blackness. 

Lovecraft was looking at that, looking at a world without god. He was a fierce atheist. He was looking at a world that had occurred by random accident. This infinite universe – the feeling that that gave him as a human being – the existential horror, if you like, of that sensation – it was that that he personified in his various cosmic extraterrestrial creatures, his gods. I mean, a lot of them are referred to as “mindless” which is another way of saying yet random, without intention. They’re just there, these random forces.

I think that Lovecraft was trying to chart the horrors of the rational universe.

Actually I think a lot of the theories that I’ve read – some of the occultists that have become interested in Lovecraft seem to be expecting the Great Old Ones or something very much like them to manifest on earth very very shortly. In any material sense, that is not going to happen. I think I can be fairly confident about that.

It also diminishes what Lovecraft himself was doing. I think he’s an incredibly important writer, but it’s nothing to do with him as a conduit for magical forces. I think that the magic of Lovecraft was that he somehow managed to be a willful antiquarian who was also a closeted Modernist. He railed against people like Joyce and Stein and T.S. Eliot. He wrote a brilliant parody of The Waste Land called Waste Paper, which is actually a good poem and quite funny in its kind of parody of what Lovecraft saw as Eliot’s nonsense, but at the same time Lovecraft was himself a modernist, even if he was closeted.

Look at some of his stuff. There’s invented linguistics. There are first person rushes of delirious narrative. He’s using a lot of Modernist tricks. He’s certainly a lot more modern than his idol Poe. There’s a lot of the ideas that are purely Lovecraft’s own, and towards the end of his career, he was coming up with a fusion of horror and science fiction that was utterly unique.

He hated a lot of contemporary horror stories because they didn’t really add up to his idea of a weird story. He thought they were too human, too provincial in their imagining of horrors. He also hated a lot of science fiction stories – with the alien races who spoke English. They were all pretty much the same as humans in their ambitions and what they did and how they acted. He despised that.

By combining science fiction and horror in the way that he did in At the Mountains of Madness or “The Shadow Out of Time” or “The Colour Out of Space,” he was doing something really new that invigorated both genres. That I think is Lovecraft’s importance.

The fact that, even today, I still think that people could do with looking at H.P. Lovecraft because he’s not a dusty old dead author. I think that his material and his processes, his techniques, they are still really valuable, really useful.

I have been reading an awful lot of Lovecraft criticism, [and noticing] these things that Lovecraft does – like his description of Cthulhu. He said while it would be accurate to describe it as some combination of an octopus, a dragon, and a man, it was nevertheless the overall outline that was most disturbing. So he tells you – yeah – it was kind of like a combination of an octopus, a dragon and a man, but it wasn’t really like that. I can’t really tell you what it was like. It was something about the overall outline.

[Moore is describing Lovecraft’s text: “If I say that my somewhat extravagant imagination yielded simultaneous pictures of an octopus, a dragon, and a human caricature, I shall not be unfaithful to the spirit of the thing. A pulpy, tentacled head surmounted a grotesque and scaly body with rudimentary wings; but it was the general outline of the whole which made it most shockingly frightful.”]

Or describing “The Colour Out of Space” in one, I think, brilliant line he said indeed it was only a color by analogy.

[Lovecraft’s text: “The colour, which resembled some of the bands in the meteor’s strange spectrum, was almost impossible to describe; and it was only by analogy that they called it colour at all.”]

What is that? Was it a smell? Was it a texture? The only thing that actually exists that has color by analogy would be a quark. Quarks have color. We term that color. It’s analogous, but, of course, Lovecraft would have known nothing of quarks. He did understand the beginnings of quantum physics imprecisely, but I don’t think he’d have known about quantum particles being said to have color.

Still, a tremendous writer who, despite his obsession with the past, offers us some interesting ways of looking at and dealing with the future.

To work collaboratively as well as he did, with people like Clark Ashton Smith and August Derleth. Obviously they came after him, but they started to use bits of their creations amongst his –

That’s in itself a kind of interesting thing. One of the things that I wrote in my outline, when I was doing Providence and some of the related stuff that is around it, was there is no “Cthulhu Mythos.” That does not exist. Lovecraft never used that term. Originally Derleth, the eager fanboy, suggested that Lovecraft refer to his mythos, which Lovecraft didn’t think of it as a mythos. He suggested it should be called the Mythos of Hastur, and Lovecraft pointed out: well actually Hastur I didn’t really invent Hastur, he comes from Robert Chambers and Ambrose Bierce.

Lovecraft referred to what he did as his Cthulhuism or Yog-Sothothery. He said it’s basically a bit of fun. Also if he could get other writers to mention his gods and creepy books, and vice versa if he could mention theirs, then to readers coming across those stories, it would ad an element of depth to the story because the readers would think: hang on I read about this god in a story by Robert E. Howard. Are both of these writers taking from some mythology that I’ve not heard of? Can this Necronomicon thing really be real?

I’ve got four copies of the Necronomicon. All of them complete fabrications.

The Simon one has sold like 800,000 copies.

It has been continuously in print since it was invented as a kind of nasty joke by the people at the Magickal Childe bookshop in New York, was it?

Allegedly so, yeah.

Well, from what I understand they’d got an occult studies group based around the bookshop. They said this’ll be a really good way of sorting them out, because if they know anything about magic, they’ll realize that you don’t do books of magic without the banishing spells, and, of course, they’ll notice that we’ve based a lot of this upon the obviously fictitious work of H.P. Lovecraft. Then [they] put out this book of actual Babylonian magical spells and chants. That book, irrespective of whether it has any magical power or not, as you will find out I think in Providence 11, it has been at the site of at least two real life satanic murders.

It’s not important what the book is. It’s what people believe it is.

Another Alan Moore portrait by SWIM's Daniel P. Carter - via Instagram
Another Alan Moore portrait by SWIM’s Daniel P. Carter – via Instagram

There’s also talk from people in the magical community. They are very uncomfortable about the book. Apparently some people, in relation to the book have had a sense – more than one person has had a sense of a vision of a wall with something hammering upon it from the other side. Does this mean Cthulhu or something like him is real? No. But we create these things. Where do any of the gods come from originally but from in a human mind? We create these things.

But as Joel Biroco said about the Chaos magicians’ hypothesis that you could worship or conjure up Cthulhu or Yog-Sothoth or Nyarlathotep. Joel Biroco said I suppose you could but why would you? Which is a good point. Why try to summon up something that is perceived in entirely negative terms. Something to which human life is completely beneath regard. That wouldn’t sound like the best idea to me. I’d say if you’re going to summon up something, summon up something that’s friendly and positive and practical and useful.

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8 thoughts on “SWIM Podcast: Moore on Lovecraft and a Hint About Providence 11

  1. Both of those murders took place in the 1990s – the Roderrick Ferrell case in 1996 and the Glen Mason one in 1998, placing the events of Providence #11 and #12 some time after that, probably closer to Neonomicon’s 2006 setting.

    Like

  2. I have been wondering if the last two issues won’t have a kind of “Dance of the Gull Catchers” kind of a vibe where we get a piecemeal historical simultaneous cleaning up of the fictional world (that photograph of the Bureau guys with the Innsmouth citizen in the cage has to get taken at some point), a look at the rest of Lovecraft’s life and the slow growth of his fiction into the kind of sub-CULT-ure that produced the Club Zothique.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It would explain why Robert appears on the portrait cover – by now he’s been absorbed into the Lovecraftian universe and is another incidental character, the same as Robert Suydam or Herbert West; given his time to shine and then forgotten.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. what I can’t understand is how this jibes with what Jacen said about: “No spoilers, but there will be a lot of time spent investigating the early issues again after the later ones are out.”

    wonder what it all means!?

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      • well slightly. I guess Lily wearing the tux. or his spats from #1. I guess he could mean very subtle stuff. but the notion of spending a lot of time investigating leads me to wonder if there isn’t bigger stuff to be found. which butts heads with the notion of a flash-forward final two issues. or maybe it doesn’t! who knows. I don’t think the lily/carcosa connection has been fully developed yet, which along with Jacen’s comment still has me hoping for a period-set final two issues. Obviously from Moore’s comment, we’re going to explore the reach of Lovecraft’s writing in some way shape or form, and that might mean inevitably flashing forward, because Lovecraft doesn’t hit for decades after his death. I’d be very surprised if Moore went so far in wrapping things up that we’d actually see Hoover and all that. But a return to NY, clues from early issues coming to light, these kind of things I could see. I could do without his punny, silly punk scene stuff.

        Liked by 3 people

  4. I think one thing to consider here is what happened in From Hell. That is how I see Providence. In a lot of ways it is a Lovecraftian world crafted by Alan Moore through a similar metaphysical and psychological lens that you would find in From Hell. Look at the fictional Sir William Gull’s conception of time, beliefs and visions — particularly after his last murder.

    That *might* be how the murders around the “Babylonian” Necronomicon could be handled in a narrative sense: with Robert *seeing* the 1990s and America years after his own material existence, or during it in one massively terrifying vision. The only difference is that whereas Gull actively and consciously attempted to create a new reality, Robert was naively involved in the crafting of this one … until it is too late. Also, Moore’s mentioning of the “Babylonian” Necronomicon and the magical community is very reminiscent of the group Brears and the FBI encounter in Neonomicon.

    As always, I am interested in seeing what will happen next … or has happened, or what is happening already.

    Liked by 1 person

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