Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Lovecraftian Visions of Life and Death

The power of the Cthulhu Mythos, written by H.P. Lovecraft with contributions from dozens of other authors, was supported by three over-arching concepts:  the existence of Elder Gods, cruel, unjust, and more powerful than the newer Christian deity; fictional grimoires like De Vermis Mysteriis and the Necronomicon; and helpless Cassandras, prey to visions of impending doom and prophecies of the approach of nightmares, which all around them ignore.

Revival is hardly the first book by Stephen King to reference the Lovecraftian grimoires. Salem's Lot also used De Vermis Mysteriis as a plot device. But Revival is the first King novel I've read that qualifies as an entry to the Mythos, because it includes all three of the Mythos requirements.

The novel begins with a literal fore-shadowing. The two main characters who will interact throughout the next half-century of the story, Methodist minister Charles Jacobs and Jamie Morton, meet when Jacobs' shadow falls across the young boy. King continues to telegraph action and future interaction as Jamie's life unfolds within that shadow. Even when we sense (or are told, straight-out) that terrible things are in store for the minister, Jamie and his family, and the world, we keep reading. Because Cassandra should not be believed, even when we sense she is telling a true future.

Jamie's visionsCassandra's visionsare joined by the visions of others who have come under Jacobs' shadow. The revival desired by this self-defrocked minister is obvious and understandable, given the tragedy in his life, but honi soit qui mal y pense. Even as fore-shadowings continue to pile up, amplifying into giant red warning signs, Jacobs ignores them because he wants so badly to believe that a happy ending is possible.

Jamie Morton seems to serve primarily as foil to Jacobs' arc toward destruction, and observer of all the lives caught up in Jacobs' quest to recreate the happiness he has lost. He is Cassandra, yes, but also Theseus following the clue into the labyrinth where the monster waits.

The revival Jacobs desires is doomed by the existence of Elder Gods and by his rejection of his former beliefs. He now believes only that the power to revive he has acquired comes from his research into secret sciences (informed by his reading of a newly-discovered copy of De Vermis Mysteriis)—but it actually comes from those Elder Gods. (This is also a common device in stories from the Cthulhu Mythos: the damned science and its student who enables the Elder Gods' return through his quest to learn that which Man Was Not Meant to Know!)

As Lovecraft warned us so long ago, there exists an evil from beyond the stars, and it "... is not dead which can eternal lie, and with strange aeons even death may die...".  You'll finish this novel, and tell yourself firmly: It's only fiction! It's only fiction. 

It is, and it belongs firmly on the shelf next to Lovecraft, Bloch, Long, Smith and Derleth.