Below are annotations for “Recognition” from Alan Moore’s Yuggoth Cultures and Other Growths #2 (12 pages, October 2003)
Writer: Alan Moore (AM), adapted by Antony Johnston (AJ), Artist: Jacen Burrows (JB) with tones by Greg Waller (GW), Based on works of H.P. Lovecraft (HPL)
>Go to Moore Lovecraft annotations index
Note: some of this stuff is obvious, but you never know who’s reading this and what their exposure is. If there’s stuff we missed or got wrong, let us know in comments.
General: “Recognition,” like “Zaman’s Hill” and “The Courtyard,” began as a project by Moore to develop an episodic novel called Yuggoth Cultures based on Lovecraft’s sonnet-cycle Fungi from Yuggoth. Unfortunately, most of the episodes were lost in a taxi cab in London, as revealed in an interview (“The Story Behind the Stories,” by William Christensen, Yuggoth Cultures #3). From that interview:
So, Recognition. This was again one of the original Fungi from Yuggoth titles, but it seems to have a kind of resonance with what I was talking about in that piece, this recognition of what the Lovecraftian Outer Gods perhaps really were… What Lovecraft’s father really was… These were just notions, and they seemed to connect up into a satisfying little piece under that title.
Moore’s story “Recognition” was first published in 1995 in Dust: A Creation Books Reader. The 2003 comics adaptation includes nearly all of Moore’s original text (and no new non-Moore text), though a couple aspects are shown instead of told.
In layout and formatting, “Recognition” is a 13-page comic. Far from H. P. Lovecraft’s sonnet, the tale takes as a basis the stories and facts surrounding H. P. Lovecraft’s father, Winfield Scott Lovecraft, a commercial traveler who suffered from syphilis, speculated to have been contracted from a prostitute. Moore and Burrow’s source for the story isn’t divulged, but given the date is probably either from a biography of Lovecraft (probably de Camp’s H. P. Lovecraft A Biography) or else Kenneth W. Faig Jr.’s “The Parents of Howard Phillips Lovecraft” in An Epicure in the Terrible. Faig reports:
According to the anecdote, Winfield had to be placed under constraint while on a business trip to Chicago and returned to Providence. De Camp relates: “Alone in his hotel room, he suddenly began crying out that the chambermaid had insulted him and that his wife was being assaulted on the floor above.” (48)
Stylistically, Moore’s prose-poem may also draw some inspiration from Grant Morrison’s “Lovecraft in Heaven” from The Starry Wisdom: A Tribute to H. P. Lovecraft.
- The scene is a hotel room, a woman’s suitcase strewn across the floor – easy to tell because of the hairbrush and perfume spray bottle.
- “Sulphur-bitten lungs” recalls the Biblical “fire and brimstone” representing God’s wrath (“brimstone” being archaic for sulfur or sulphur), and is shorthand for things associated with hell.
- While no date is given, if this is based on Winfield Lovecraft’s hallucination it would be set in 1893; Page 13 is set “35 years later” in 1933, it would imply this story actually takes place in 1898…probably a small error on Moore’s part, as 1898 is the year in which Winfield Scott Lovecraft died, not the year he had the hallucinations and was committed.
- The three people in the room appear to be the manager, the chambermaid (from Winfield Scott Lovecraft’s hallucination), and the bell-boy. Both the men are in a state of undress (with the bellboy playing at his open fly), while the chambermaid appears to be holding an earhorn. The question for the reader is whether they are witnesses, voyeurs, or complicit in the action – on Page 7, we learn they are taking turns. There is a record of another hallucination by Winfield Scott Lovecraft that says “says three men—one a negro—in the room above trying to do violence to his wife” in Lovecraft Studies #24, but had Moore or Burrows been aware of this they would have made at least one of the three people in the room black, so it’s probably just a coincidence.
- The manager’s “sallow” complexion, combined with the bottle of liquor in his hand, suggest an alcoholic suffering from jaundice.
- Two are described as foreign – the maid as Cuban, the manager as “vaguely foreign-looking” with “an Easter Island face,” referring to the impassive Moai statues – possibly to highlight Lovecraft’s nativist prejudices against immigrants.
- The original Moore text story states “he [the bell-boy] sips hesitantly from a pale blue cocktail cigarette that’s balanced in the other hand.” Johnston and Burrow have chosen to show this instead of telling it.
- A blonde woman lies on the bed, stockings torn, something crammed into her mouth, hands above her head, being raped by a rather traditional-looking devil in the form of a horned satyr. It should be noted that H. P. Lovecraft’s mother was a brunette in real life.
- “Arsenic-whitened thighs” refers to arsenic having been a traditional cosmetic since at least Roman times. Some anecdotes suggest that Sarah Susan Phillips Lovecraft (Howard Phillips Lovecraft’s mother) used arsenic-based cosmetics for her complexion, but there is no evidence of this.
- The woman is revealed to be bound, reinforcing the idea that she is probably a victim, not a willing participant.
- “Balled up into a fist of silk, her underwear […] one suspender […]” – The underwear in question could not be the modern brassiere (not patented or mass produced in the United States until 1914), and so was probably some sort of garter arrangement, possibly with silk bloomers.
- While published in black-and-white, the use of jewels for descriptive colors implies the almost psychedelic lighting of the scene, reminiscent of films like Suspiria.
- “Frilled crustacean shaft” is possibly a reference to H. P. Lovecraft’s detestation of seafood.
- The character is identified as “Winfield Lovecraft”; his appearance is based on a surviving photo:
- “Susan” refers to Winfield Lovecraft’s wise, Sarah Susan Philips Lovecraft – often called “Susie.”
- Here, again, Susan Phillips Lovecraft is depicted as a blonde, and reference to her use of arsenic cosmetics is made. The hairbrush is the same from Page 1.
- It is generally accepted that Susan Lovecraft was recalcitrant with regards to sex or physical contact. In her memoir The Private Life of H. P. Lovecraft, H. P. Lovecraft’s former wife refers to Susan Lovecraft as “a touch-me-not” who withheld physical affection for the young HPL.
- Winfield Scott Lovecraft’s adventures with prostitutes depicted here recall a later essay by R. Alain Everts, based on an interview with HPL’s ex-wife, “Howard Phillips Lovecraft and Sex, or The Sex Life of A Gentleman.” Where Everts writes:
No doubt some sexual admonitions arose also, for the entire family, according to what Sonia recalls Annie Gamwell telling her, knew of Winfield Lovecraft’s paresis, and the adventures with prostitutes and women on his lengthy travels that gave him his affliction.
- Judge was a weekly satirical magazine that ran from 1881 to 1947.
- “Spirochetal” refers to spirochaetes, the form of bacteria which cause syphilis; the implication is that the infection has reached Winfield Lovecraft’s nervous system (neurosyphilis), resulting in hallucinations and, eventually, paresis – which is what WSL died from. Here, the hallucinations appear to be coincidental with a breakthrough of consciousness, as shamans or occultists might seek through drugs or ecstatic states.
- Moore’s use of words like “Typhous” and “sarcomatous” are probably allusions to Lovecraft’s fondness of eldritch adjectives.
- “Glossolalia” is speaking in tongues. Moore has used the word to refer to HP Lovecraft’s invented language, called Aklo in Moore and Burrows’ Lovecraft stories.
- The close-up to the sores on Winfield Scott Lovecraft’s face are another reference to his advanced syphilis.
- “Their little girl” refers to how Susan Phillips had wanted a girl, and as a child when H. P. Lovecraft went unbreeched (i.e. wearing dresses, as was the custom for young children) and with long golden locks of hair, used to announce “I’m a little girl!” for the adults’ amusement.
- “Old Man Whipple” is Whipple Van Buren Phillips, H. P. Lovecraft’s grandfather, suffered headaches and died, probably of a stroke, in 1904.
- The shapes or constellations Winfield Scott Lovecraft sees in the skies include Cthulhu, Derleth’s pentagram-esque version of the Elder Sign, what is probably meant to be a Fungi from Yuggoth, a burning ball probably intended to be Cthugha (from the Mythos fiction of August Derleth), and what appears to be the elephant head of Chaugnar Faugn (from the Mythos fiction of Frank Belknap Long).
- “New syllables; a dreadful tertiary language that his son will one day echo in the loathsome coinages he picks to name his pantheon, his only children” is a reference to Lovecraft’s invention of an alien pseudo-language, and parallel to Moore’s development of Aklo in The Courtyard. H. P. Lovecraft did indeed never have any biological children, though his literary children have survived him.
- “Yog-Sothoth” is a character from Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos, described in “The Dunwich Horror” as:
Yog-Sothoth knows the gate. Yog-Sothoth is the gate. Yog-Sothoth is the key and guardian of the gate. Past, present, future, all are one in Yog-Sothoth.
- “Lovecraft, in a letter to his friend James Morton, claims light-heartedly to be descended from the elder deities.” – The letter is dated 27 April 1933, and is published in The Selected Letters of H. P. Lovecraft IV, and more recently in Letters to James F. Morton. It includes a jocular family tree:
- In the background, you can see a representation of the photo (above) showing the Lovecraft family above.
- “The Lurker at the Threshold” is another name for Yog-Sothoth; it became the name for a posthumous novel written by August Derleth based on two of Lovecraft’s fragments.
- In “The Dunwich Horror,” Wilbur Whateley’s brother screamed the name of his father (Yog-Sothoth) from the name of Sentinel Hill, in a pastiche of Christ calling out to his father on the cross at Golgotha. During the final years of his life, H. P. Lovecraft lived at College Hill in Providence, RI. Autobiographical elements and parallels between Lovecraft and the Whateleys have been read by several critics, including Donald Burleson and Carl Sargent.
- In the final panel, H. P. Lovecraft sees the reflection of his father Winfield Scott Lovecraft.
- The final lines are the last couplet of Lovecraft’s Fungi from Yuggoth sonnet “Recognition.”