Thursday, October 29, 2015

Lovecraft Inspired by Melville? Maybe.

I haven't read Moby Dick (1851) by Herman Melville since an American Literature class I took at SIU-Carbondale about X-years ago. Many moons later, I set a goal to read every story written by H. P. Lovecraft. I know that Melville walked the edges of atheism, the man v. nature theme, and the definition of good and evil in this example of Romanticism from the American Renaissance. Then decades later Lovecraft (1890-1937) dealt with many of the same themes, focusing on man's relation and place in the vast, cold, uncaring universe through the avenues of horror and science fiction, but I never thought to include them in the same breath.

Until today...

I was sitting in hell the dentist's office reading Chapter 42 "The Whiteness of the Whale" from Moby Dick when the second paragraph so reminded me of Lovecraft that I actually stopped reading for a moment, reminded myself that I was in fact reading a book published nearly 40 years before Lovecraft was born. I reread that paragraph, and then continued to read the rest of the chapter as if I was reading Lovecraft. This gave me an entirely new perspective on the chapter, lending it a depth I had never appreciated before - serving yet as more proof that each of us should reread the classics and other books we love, because each time, we bring more life experience and wisdom to the pages, creating a new experience to cherish.

And while I usually don't like transcribing long passages in this blog, I'll make a exception this time because I think if you've ever read Lovecraft, you'll see what I saw:

"Aside from those more obvious considerations touching Moby Dick, which could not but occasionally awaken in any man's soul some alarm, there was another thought, or rather vague, nameless horror concerning him, which at times by its intensity completely overpowered all the rest; and yet so mystical and well nigh ineffable was it, that I almost despair of putting it in comprehensible form. It was the whiteness of the whale that above all things appalled me. But how can I hope to explain myself here; and yet, in some dim, random way, explain myself I must, else all these chapters might be for naught."

Throw in a few more adverbs, and I bet your average reader couldn't tell who wrote that paragraph. All the elements of Lovecraft are there: the nameless horror, despair at relating those feelings into words, but compelled his experiences to mankind. So while Melville may never have been sited as an influence of Lovecraft, we can probably assume that at some point Lovecraft read Melville along with the other writers of the American Renaissance (including Melville's contemporary and friend Nathaniel Hawthorne), we could possibly argue that in some way, the tone and theme's of Moby Dick subconsciously infused their way into Lovecraft's writing.

I may be totally wrong here, or just a guy who reads too much, but I can now read Melville and Lovecraft in a whole new light, and learn to appreciate their work from a much deeper point of view.

Until Next Time...
Hermanly Yours,
Michael

(While my Lovecraft epitome was a coincidence this year, last year it wasn't. If you want to read more about my Lovecraft habit, you can read last year's blog 'Tis the Season.)  

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