January 11, 2018

The Cry of Cthulhu

Posted in Uncategorized at 6:48 pm by Rev. Thomas Perchlik

I just finished reading Crispin’s Model, by Max Gladstone at Tor.com. The story is a fun variation on H. P. Lovecraft style stories. I read through Lovecraft’s short horror stories when I was in high school and have noted various appearances and influences of his work in other media, especially Mignolia’s “Hellboy” saga. But Lovecraftian themes also appear in humorous occurrences like Hello Cthulhu, or “Cuthulu for President” bumper stickers that proclaim, “No lives matter,” or ask, “Why choose the lesser of evils?”

The basic theology (mythos or meta meaning structure) of Lovecraft’s writing is that in the time before time, there dwelled in this universe old powers. Though they were part of the foundation of the earth and universe, they were banished or put to sleep. They care not at all about us, except that through us they can be called back into this universe to destroy it and remake it into a realm that fits their horrific tastes. To look upon them pushes most people to the brink of madness, or beyond.

The short story, Crispin’s Model, is written like Lovecraft’s stories. It is a first-person narrative about someone drawn inexorably into a near encounter with one of these Old Ones. (Spoiler alert, do not read further if you want the story to surprise you on its own terms.) But wonderfully, the story ends unlike Lovecraft’s works. Instead of our protagonist staving off an inevitable doom, or shadowing all her days with the horrors that lie curled at the root of all things, Crispin’s model overturns the genre and overpowers evil. She uses her will to love and to live to blot out the horrors. She uses conversation and honesty to bring the painter, Mr. Crispin, back from madness.

In this affirmation of human power and compassion as allied with the deeper power of love and justice the story takes a liberal-religious and humanistic turn. Most horror is pretty morose and tilts toward despair. The evil remains at large in the last lines of Gladstone’s story, and lives have been lost. But love and honesty have show their power and shown they are greater than mighty and ancient ills. I don’t know if this implies James Luther Adams’ “cosmic optimism” but it does have some of our spirit.