I was reading Lovecraft’s “Supernatural Horror in Literature” the other day when I came across this line concerning the nature of the “weird tale”:
“A certain atmosphere of breathless and unexplainable dread of outer, unknown forces must be present; and there must be a hint, expressed with a seriousness and protentiousness becoming its subject, of that most terrible conception of the human brain — a malign and particular suspension or defeat of those fixed laws of Nature which are our only daily safeguard against the assaults of chaos and the daemons of unplumbed space.”
With me, this idea hit home. I have always thought that the more realistic I could make a story, the more frightening it would be for the reader, because it could possibly happen. Lovecraft takes the complete opposite approach. In essence, he says let’s dispense with the chains of our preconceptions of reality then see what could happen. He is right. If anything can happen, the horrors that could happen to humanity are limitless and unimaginable.
Now let’s take this line of thought a step or two further philosophically. Perhaps our concept of reality is really a sort of protective shell, a defense mechanism created by our minds that shields us from being overwhelmed by the thousands of possible ways we could meet our ends. If a person tried to conceive of all the ways he/she might die at any moment, no matter how miniscule the odds, his/her mind might be overwhelmed and paralyzed by fear or destroyed by paranoia and madness. The only way the mind could survive would then be to limit the possibilities to only those with the greatest probability of happening at that moment, in essence, wrapping itself in a protective cocoon of denial.
If there are any philosophy majors out there reading this, please feel free to bring up this idea in class. I would love to hear the arguments for and against this.
Now, let’s go a step even further. If we start to see our perception of reality as only a concept, as only a protective shell in a much greater universe, as only one alternative among thousands or millions of possibilities, then the possibility of creatures like Cthulhu, Shoggoth, Nylarhotep, the “ancient ones”, and all the other monsters contained in Lovecraft’s vivid imagination becomes very real.
Lovecraft’s world of the “ancient ones” is frightening enough when we think it has no chance of happening, but it becomes truly terrifying if we think it has even the slightest chance of actually happening.