THE DEEP ONES: "Herbert West - Reanimator" by H. P. Lovecraft

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THE DEEP ONES: "Herbert West - Reanimator" by H. P. Lovecraft

apr 30, 2022, 4:52 pm

Redigerat: maj 5, 2022, 1:01 pm

The action and gruesome details remind me of "The Hound", which was written at around the same time. The first chapter might be considered a very fast take on Frankenstein, minus its really heavy philosophy, although "Ptolemaism, Calvinism, anti-Darwinism, anti-Nietzscheism, and every sort of Sabbatarianism and sumptuary legislation" get name-checked a bit later on. Setting the second section during a typhoid outbreak was a great idea. The real-life Typhoid Mary would have been infecting New York right around the same time that West was experimenting. Seems that HPL might also have invented the so-called "fast zombie" in this section, too. Seventeen victims, some partially eaten, all in one night! The ghastly fate of the kindly Dr. Halsey is still pretty shocking. Stuart Gordon stayed pretty faithful for REANIMATOR (1986), down to Halsey's incessant beating of his head against the asylum walls. Now, onward to chapter three...

maj 5, 2022, 12:33 pm

Still need to read the story in my copy of Dagon and Other Macabre Tales, but pausing now to reflect its original inclusion in Home Brew (pictured at top). How common was it to include Weird or horror fiction in this "thirst quencher for lovers of liberty", presumably looking for something "full of moonshine" ?! Perhaps not as uncommon as I'd expect, given Mrs Dooley holding forth on monkey glands. Still, I wonder too if any reader took HPL as the cover's promised "Doctor's Experiences" regarding whether the dead do come to life.

A fascinating melange in that issue.

Redigerat: maj 5, 2022, 1:43 pm

The line, "Italian peasants are exceedingly superstitious, and this woman seemed as much harassed by omens as by facts" comes to me just after I watched Brunello Rondi's excellent film, IL DEMONIO (1963), about a woman in a small southern Italian town who is accused of witchcraft by superstitious villagers that practice a peculiar form of pagan Catholicism. According to commentary on the blu-ray found in the ALL THE HAUNTS BE OURS folk horror box, this was a fairly accurate portrayal of lives micromanaged by omens and superstitions in that locale.

Unfortunately, it's painful to note that while Grandpa introduces a potentially intriguing boxing sequence that beats future Lovecraft Circle member Robert E. Howard to the punch (ouch!) by about 7 or 8 years, he immediately blows it because he can't avoid spewing some racist drivel. Too bad! Otherwise it might have been a nice 1920's-contemporary setup for the utterly gruesome image that closes out Chapter 3.

maj 5, 2022, 12:45 pm

>4 elenchus:

Love that cover! Take that, Prohibition!

maj 6, 2022, 11:46 pm

>5 semdetenebre: Unfortunately
Even without looking for it particularly, the eugenicist and racist thinking very much pervades every chapter of this story. It is too bad, for while that hatemongering could contribute to the horror if written into the character, somehow I read it as HPL's views rather than (merely) the narrator's. That might not be fair to HPL, since I come to the story already with that idea established.

I've never seen Reanimator but had running through my mind a particular sample from Skinny Puppy's "The Choke", which I've long attributed to that film. Some quick online sleuthing suggests it is instead from a Polanski film, The Tenant (which I've also never screened).

0:08 If you cut off my head, where would I stay?
Me in my, me in my head, or me in my body?
2:15 Take out my stomach, my kidneys. Assuming that
were possible. And I say "Me and my intestines."
3:05 Would I have my head call itself?
Roman Polanski, from the movie "The Tennant"

Redigerat: maj 7, 2022, 12:14 am

I'm quite sure I'd never read this story before, and found the combination of pulp horror and musings on life worked together very well. HPL's prose was almost streamlined, he captured the feel of oppression and disturbed psyche efficiently and without having to describe the environment as he often does.

The chapters also were efficient, recapping prior installments and making it easy for a new reader to appreciate the current story, without having read the prior. One re-telling jumped out at me: are we to infer that West actually killed the salesman who visited Bolton, even though the first story described that as coincidental that he'd suffered a heart attack when asking West for directions? I couldn't decide if the later description of West actually killing someone, rather than "sourcing a fresh body", was a separate incident, or if HPL was clarifying that West had lied to the narrator originally.

About those musings on the source of life: I'm still curious about West's conception of biomechanical vital forces. The body must be fresh to avoid any decomposition of brain cells, I can understand, but what is this distinction between natural and artificial life movement? And why would a body losing a limb make a difference? Disease I can understand in principle, but the loss of parts seems not to make sense, especially with his later experiments (seemingly successful) on body parts separate from one another, or the character of the Canadian officer! Perhaps HPL didn't have a consistent idea, but used what worked for each chapter.

Interesting that West is described physically as almost a stereotypical Nazi Aryan, a decade (?) before the Party publicised those alleged ideals.

Redigerat: maj 7, 2022, 10:12 am

>7 elenchus:

I always thought that sample sounded like Peter Lorre until I finally saw THE TENANT. Trying to identify it always used to drive me nuts. One of the many joys of SP back in the day.

A fairly static Chapter 4 details some of the nuts and bolts of West's reanimation experiments. His explanation of convenient heart failure in the man from St. Louis is pure BS, although it seems that he feels guilty enough about it to lie to his friend. Does proto-nazi (good call, elenchus) West have a tiny bit of conscience? Maybe, but he still gets outed when the failed experiment conveniently mentions the hair color of his murderer at chapter's end.

The "one rather shivery thing—it rose of itself and uttered a sound" mentioned in Chapter 3 remains stuck in mind. Somehow that's even more troubling than growls, shrieks, or reanimated "and the murderer is..." moments.

maj 7, 2022, 8:37 pm

>8 elenchus:

And why would a body losing a limb make a difference? - a matter of calibrating the correct dosage, perhaps?

The success of Stuart Gordon's film (do you remember all the publicity about it finally "getting Lovecraft right" and "finally bringing his name before the public"...very odd when you discover e.g. Mario Bava and Jean Cocteau had been reading him decades earlier, his name was all over paperbacks in the '60s and '70s, Night Gallery did straight adaptations in the early '70s, the name "Necronomicon" had gotten into popular culture...) makes it bulk larger in HPL's bibliography than he (reportedly) would have liked. But it has some claims for importance. In his The New Annotated H. P. Lovecraft Leslie S. Klinger claims it as the first great zombie story, as well as "confirm{ing} {Arkham} and its university as the epicenter of the weird".

I've read this story at least twice before, maybe more that that. It felt so familiar that I'm struggling a little for new/fresh impressions. It feels quite "throwaway" to me, certainly in comparison to the major works and even early-ish non-Mythos pieces. I get HPL's simple glee at piling on the gruesomeness (something that comes out in his letters at times).

The debt to Frankenstein in the first chapter is pretty obvious. I was more uncomfortable with the racism of chapter 3 than on previous readings, for various reasons (including being confronted with HPL's unmediated views in some of his correspondence).

There are some images that also occur in other stories and that presumably HPL found scary or at least resonated with him - animated body parts and "chimaera"; a wax or uncanny human mask (on a headless body here, disguising an alien in "The Whisperer in the Dark" - although that might be an actual flayed human face); the story structure of a confession or deposition etc. from an incarcerated man - either condemned or committed. In this case though, with the detail of the unbroken vault wall, is this all a madman's delusion?

maj 8, 2022, 2:45 am

The stereotype of the blond, blue-eyed Aryan was around well before the Nazis embraced it, and HPL might well be invoking it here. A properly stereotypical Aryan, though, should be tall and powerful, not small and slender as West is described.

I’ve only managed to re-read the three first sections - this is another story I don’t believe I’ve re-read since discovering HPL in the ‘00s -, reading time having been scarce lately. It seems that, apart from the general nature of Dr West and his quest my more specific recollections are from the latter parts.

maj 8, 2022, 12:11 pm

>10 housefulofpaper: For me, the ghoulish figures bursting from below the Boston cemetery (maybe -- as you say it could be an hallucination) points the way toward HPL's later "Pickman's Model".

This would also seem to be, with the figure of the Canadian doctor, an early example of HPL's theme of intelligence some how disconnected from the physical brain. You see it in The Case of Charles Dexter Ward, "The Thing on the Doorstep", "The Shadow Out of Time", and "Whisperer in the Darkness".

Even this early, you begin to see Lovecraft's usual method of a startling open statement (here morbidly humorous) from a narrator and then an explanation of it in the story to follow.

I especially liked the ending with all of West's former subjects/victims gathered together somehow (Clapham-Lee was very resourceful) to exact revenge on West.

>9 semdetenebre: The first time I read this year's ago, I missed that West had killed to get a subject, but Klinger's annotation's on Part IV made it clear to me this time.

maj 9, 2022, 12:36 pm

>11 AndreasJ: around well before the Nazis embraced it

I've read that the American eugenics movement had a big influence on Nazi theories, and it occurs to me the Aryan stereotype may well have developed or been popularised there, first. I'm further assuming that HPL was familiar with these ideas, but haven't yet taken the internet-search plunge.

maj 13, 2022, 3:03 am

Finally got around to finish my re-read. As mentioned, I recalled more of the later parts, esp. West's WWI experimentation. I'd forgotten, though, that the undead horde wrecking final vengeance was led by a disciple of sorts of West.

Speaking of recurrent themes, should we in the reptile-flesh see a conceptual forebear of the shoggoths?

Perhaps my favorite bit of the story is the description of the vengeful horde: "Their outlines were human, semi-human, fractionally human, and not human at all".

I think the implication is supposed to be that the undead sealed up the wall again after killing West, but putting it all down as delusion on the narrator's part is certainly possible. Still, the raid on the asylum as reported in the newspaper is presumably not delusion.