David Stuart Davies looks at one of Dickens' most popular novels ...
13. Pickman’s Model
While Richard Pickman’s photographic model for his disturbing series of genre paintings of 1926-7 may technically be a horrifying, part-canine, subterranean humanoid who ventures forth from deep underground through a well in Pickman’s basement to munch and crunch on human brains, deep down, he’s just misunderstood. He grew up in the subterranean humanoid foster system following a neglectful childhood in a single-subterranean-humanoid-mother household, and no one ever asked for his hand in amity, or in love. No one has ever even asked him his name (FYI, it’s Earl). Though unable to communicate except through barks, grunts, screams, growls, and thirsty slurps of blood, bone marrow and brain matter, he, too, has dreams and aspirations. He has recently taken a bath and undergone potty, behavior and elocution training, as well as receiving a full battery of rabies and infectious disease vaccinations. Following rave reviews for his sittings for Pickman, Earl is currently looking for modelling work in America and abroad. His headshots can be obtained by contacting his agent, Edward Hutchinson, at Mephitic Models Los Angeles. The press has described his showings as “something else,” “unorthodox,” and “surprising.” Look for him in Tom Ford’s Spring 2019 collection and on the runway at Milan Fashion Week.
12. Richard Pickman
A criminally underrated master painter living and working in the Boston area in the early 20th century, Richard Pickman specialized in notoriously lifelike, niche American genre paintings. Very, very niche. Reputed to be of such low birth that his ancestry was borderline underground, he puts his blood, sweat and tears right on the canvas. Well, maybe not his blood, sweat or tears, but someone’s.
11. Lost Cities & Undiscovered Worlds
From the ruined Antarctic mega-metropolis in At the Mountains of Madness, to Cthulhu’s watery tomb in the dead sunken city of R’lyeh, to the unknown and unknowable cosmic spatial oddities seen in “From Beyond,” “The Dreams in the Witch House,” “Beyond the Wall of Sleep,” and many more, Lovecraft had an obsession with lost cities, abandoned ruins, undiscovered country, and heretofore unknown worlds, galaxies, universes, and dimensions. Some are almost human and almost familiar, as from a half-remembered dream, and many others lie far beyond the pitiful limitations of human senses to behold. Fittingly, most of Lovecraft’s lost cities are peopled with creatures and entities as bizarre and uninviting as the landscapes themselves.
Pity the poor souls that dared to call themselves Lovecraft’s travel agents. He must have gone through them like popcorn on movie night…..
“No, Howard, for the last time, I can’t book you passage for any eldritch Cyclopean ruins. I don’t even know what that means. How about Rome? They have lots of ruins. Stamboul too. Or maybe a riverboat up the Mississippi?”
“But I long to see the cosmic twilit abysses of the realm of Yog-Sothoth, and to behold risen R’lyeh, ominously heaved up from the sea bed to herald the coming of dead Cthulhu.”
“Howard, good buddy. That’s gonna be a hard no. But I do have an attractive all-inclusive package for two to Poughkeepsie. They say the beekeeping is excellent this time of year…”
“Then I’d like first class accommodations to a blasphemous dreamscape on Yuggoth or the dread plateau of Leng.”
“No dread plateaus. No blasphemous dreamscapes. No Atlantean hellscapes. No moodscapes either. No scapes at all. We don’t do scapes, Howard. Just vacations. Vacations to real places on planet Earth. A nice little gondola through Venice comes to mind.”
“In that case, if I were to take a bus to Innsmouth, would your travel insurance cover lost luggage in the event that I must flee my hotel room in that decadent city by moonlight while being hunted by a battalion of immortal fish-frog men?”
Innsmouth, Massachussetts has a secret, and it’s a big one. It’s an even bigger secret than your closeted gay uncle’s Cancun tryst with Esteban in 1997. This once-prosperous fishing port has been in a shocking state of decline and decay for nearly 150 years. It was selected in 93 consecutive annual reader polls in Better Homes & Gardens magazine as the worst town in America. It’s as aesthetically attractive as a gas station toilet, and smells even worse. The unusually long-lived population has flatlined at around 400 people since the 1920’s. Guinness World Records has awarded it a prize for being the world’s only inhabited ghost town. For a seaside port, there is surprisingly little sunshine, and the town has a….surprisingly active nightlife.
Might I recommend Poughkeepsie instead?
9. The Necronomicon
An exhaustive catalogue of abominable knowledge of sorcery and necromancy, compiled by the “mad Arab,” Abdul Alhazred, in the 8th c. A.D. The unholy spells contained within its covers essentially allow its reader to do everything evil. The book would not be surpassed as the worst and most BONE-HEADED book ever written until O.J. Simpson’s If I Did It in 2007. Some knowledge is best left unknown.
For Lovecraft’s unfortunate heroes, dreams are seldom, if ever, pleasant, innocuous, or meaningless. The more sensitive or clairvoyant among us are frequently cursed with diabolical night visions of world-ending horrors, abysmal hellscapes, unspeakable cosmic devils, yawning chasms of destruction and genocide, and more personal encounters with more down-to-earth nasties like witches and seas of flesh-ripping rats.
Lovecraft himself, the author of all this unpleasantness, likely had worse dreams than any of his characters. He officially had the worst dreams in the world until David Lynch came on the cultural scene 40 years after Lovecraft’s death. I was alright for a while, I could smile for a while….until I read Lovecraft, and until I saw Eraserhead, Blue Velvet and Mulholland Drive. I’m still crying.
7. Miskatonic University
Miskatonic University is no more than three degrees of separation from nearly every awful person, place or thing in the entire Lovecraft canon. For sensible college hopefuls, Miskatonic is on a short list of schools to avoid at all costs, in questionable company with DeVry University and Heaven’s Gate Medical School. Miskatonic’s library and archives are said to house the largest collection of rare occult manuscripts and objects in the western hemisphere, including a copy of the Necronomicon. Sure would be a shame if it were to burn down….
On a related note, the university is very pleased to announce several key new additions to its faculty and administration. Beginning in the Spring ’19 semester, Dr. Jordan Peterson will be Dean of the Psychology Department, David Horowitz will be the chairman and professor of the newly endowed Humanitarian and Religious Tolerance Department, and Dr. Camille Paglia will be a new professor in the Gender and Feminist Studies Department.
Said by the Necronomicon to be the Ruler of all time and space, Lord of all things, and a mindless, blind idiot god who rules from a black throne at the center of Chaos, Azathoth is pacified like a tiny little baby by the eternal piping of daemoniac flutes, which must surely be even more annoying than regular flutes. It is surely an utterly incompetent, grotesque deity who has no business ruling anything. Azathoth is a true nightmare of a Supreme Deity for all its subjects, like a braindead Yahweh on life support, who rules the universe in name only and simply lets the chips fall where they may. Neither omnipotent, omniscient, nor benevolent, Azathoth more or less wiles away the eons in a space coma, chilling out and dancing idiotically to its precious little flutes.
Azathoth is completely unable to maintain peace and order in the cosmos, and allows its own rules of time and space to be broken all the time by Elder Gods, Outer Gods, Other Gods, Old Ones, and all manner of witches, wizards, sorcerers, vampires, monstrous fungi, and many other intergalactic miscreants. This space tyrant has become famous in recent years for its incessant and unhinged racist Twitter rants, fascist dictatorial tendencies, and a haunting cosmic yellow hairpiece that’s an object of ridicule in literally every known world and universe.
5. The Colour Out of Space
Possibly Lovecraft’s most mysterious, indiscriminately destructive, and dispassionately sadistic entity. The colour out of space, or the “blasphemy from beyond,” arrived west of Arkham, Massachusetts in the form of a strangely colored globule encased in a small meteorite in 1882. In a matter of months, the globule had turned a 5-acre plot of fertile land into a desert ruined by an unknown blight, and degraded and eventually killed the family and all the livestock, trees, and every other living on and around a nearby farm, in ways best left to the imagination. And even though whatever was in that meteorite has been gone for nearly 140 years, the blight still creeps by an inch every year….
4. Cult of Cthulhu
A worldwide, shadowy, murderous cabal of genuine weirdos, wackos, creepos, coocoos, pervos, psychos, and all-around stinkers that has plagued the world’s polite societies for millennia in service of the liberation of the rumored “Old One” known as Cthulhu, a titanic undead beast from the stars who waits in an underwater tomb to be resurrected. These thoroughly unscrupulous, chicanerous, deplorable, mischievous, deceitful, insubordinate, and churlish ruffians, ne’er-do-wells, and diabolists can be found scattered in cult colonies found in the swamps of New Orleans, the mountains of China, the ice sheet of Greenland, the pathless deserts of Arabia, and the sparse cliffsides of Dunedin. With membership consisting almost exclusively of people of color, the cult members routinely engage in kidnappings, voodoo orgies, beating drums by torchlight, dancing in devil-flames, chanting, human sacrifice, ritual communal dreaming, and assassinations of any who dare investigate the cult or its sinister doings. Despite the best efforts of law enforcement agencies around the world, this demon-spawn social club of Scientologists and Jonestown Juggalos has only continued to expand.
3. Joseph Curwen (from “The Case of Charles Dexter Ward”)
Some relatives drink too much at Thanksgiving dinner, or keep giving you the same stupid gifts every Christmas, like a disposable kiwi peeler or a 2-in-1 catheter/crazy looping drinking straw. And some relatives….well, I won’t spoil this one. Let’s just say Curwen was a bad dude. The worst great-great-great grandpa who ever lived, Joseph Curwen was a relentlessly evil, psychopathic a-hole who was literally unbelievably tenacious. I guess my wacky Cousin Raymond who fell for the Nigerian princess scam isn’t really that bad after all, in the grand scheme of things.
2. Kamog, aka Ephraim Waite (from “The Thing on the Doorstep”)
Ephraim Waite apparently took copious notes from Joseph Curwen on how to be the worst family member in history, and somehow topped him. I won’t spoil this one either, except to say that whatever ails Ephraim Waite also ails his daughter Asenath. You might say it runs in the family. And after she marries her husband, she really does become the worst kind of wife. “She” doesn’t just want half…she wants everything.
An immortal Old One and immigrant to Earth from the farthest reaches of the universe, Cthulhu is a titanic dormant green conqueror beast described in ancient esoteric texts and by observers of its stone idols, as well as a sole unfortunate eyewitness, as a “squid dragon” with the head of a cuttlefish, writhing feelers on its mouth, prodigiously clawed hands and legs, scaly wings, a rubbery body, and a bloated anthropoid general outline.
Cthulhu has dwelled for eons, neither quite dead nor alive, but dreaming, along with its unholy worshippers, in its home in the eldritch sunken city of R’lyeh, the “dripping Babylon of elder daemons,” which rises to Earth’s surface only after great earthquakes. R’lyeh, when risen to the ocean surface, is reported to be a Cyclopean ruin of mud, ooze, and massive stone monoliths, towers, and worshipful bas-reliefs.
Cthulhu goes by many names, including the Thing of the Idols, the Titan Thing of the Stars, the Green Sticky Spawn of the Stars, the Thunder Down Under, and the Master of Disaster. Whether it’s male, female, or genderless, it is clearly in need of a long-overdue intergalactic spanking from its mommy or daddy, if indeed it has such things. It has been reported to cause instant madness and even instant death in men upon the simple viewing of its corporeal form.
The only reported physical sighting of Cthulhu occurred in a lonely patch of the South Pacific in 1925, but legends of its appearance in dreams stretches back for centuries. However, its last verified dream sightings were in a series of nocturnal visits to singer/songwriter Roy Orbison in 1963. On these occasions, Orbison said Cthulhu appeared to him as a candy-colored clown they call the Sandman, tiptoeing to his room every night, just to sprinkle stardust and to whisper “Go to sleep, everything is alright.” In dreams, he walked with Roy. In dreams, he talked to Roy. Only in dreams, in terrible dreams.
* Note: This list includes only Lovecraft’s solo writings and does not include his collaborations, ghost-writings, or the broader Cthulhu Mythos of other authors
**Bonus entry: Impure Genes & People of Color
For Lovecraft, minorities were almost as horrifying as the ghastly world-ending pagan god-things from across the cosmos, and white and Western men and women who mixed with them were only 2% less horrid. Lovecraft’s racial opinions cannot be endorsed in the modern day, or be publised without remarking that his stories are rife with what he unfortunately refers to as shifty-eyed, low-down, teeth-gnashing, back-stabbing, swarthy, degenerate, and fantastically ugly negroes, Indians, Orientals, Eskimos, mulattoes, mongrels, half-castes, hybrids and racial undesirables of all sorts, and they’re never up to any good. His lexicon of disparaging words for non-whites is almost as impressively broad as that which he uses for his myriad alien worlds and weird creatures.
In addition to the explicit derogatory descriptions of racially mixed people, Lovecraft frequently employs the recurring theme of the abject horror of hybrid species and the genetic degradation of homo sapiens. The clearest examples are to be found in “The Shadow Over Innsmouth,” “Pickman’s Model,” and “The Lurking Fear.” And don’t even get me started on Lovecraft’s clever names for black cats.