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Author Topic: Episode 38 - The Horror at Red Hook  (Read 11550 times)
Crocodilian
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« Reply #15 on: June 19, 2010, 03:49:33 PM »

Racist language presents problems for modern critics. Readers often feel that they have to disparage the story, when unacceptable things have been said, and one sees a lot of that in the discussion of this story.

The thing about Lovecraft is that he was a neurasthenic racist, probably a closeted homosexual, and there's a mass of stuff he hates about himself stuffed in his closet.  What's great about the "Horror at Red Hook" is that in this story he tells us just what freaked him out in New York, and it has less to do with New York than it does with his own tortured soul.

I'd argue that Lovecraft is _never_ writing about the human experience of any other human being. He doesn't seem to actually "know" anyone, that is to say, to feel the feelings of another person with enough sensitivity that he can relate them convincingly.  Compare him with, say, Dickens, Steven King,  John O'Hara, all of whom spent a great deal of time and energy listening to other humans and understanding them. King can write in a child's voice because he's spent time around kids, listened to them, and has a model of how they think.  Lovecraft doesn't even really understand how he himself thinks, but in "Red Hook", he turns over a lot of cards that we can read,even if he didn't understand them. It may not be a great story, but as "psycho-autobiography" its terrific.

Notice the "lettered recluse of an ancient Dutch family", Robert Suydam (homophonic with "Sodom")  . . . not dissimilar from the "lettered recluse" of another ancient New England family.

Another thing that makes "Red Hook" interesting is that its got sex. Its got a guy, a freakish guy, marrying a girl, and then on their marriage bed, something that "could not have come from her husband’s or any other human hand" strangles her. Paging Dr. Freud, Dr Freud to the emergency room . . . 

He's also got middle Easterners . . . not the comfortably abstract Arabian nights characters like "Abdul al-Hazred" . . . but real live people. One wonders if he substituted "Kurds" for another middle eastern people, more common in Brooklyn, so as not to offend. Seems to me that Lovecraft's real "monsters" were women, Jews, Negroes, sex, temptation . . . real world hatreds transformed into something fantastic (the critic who's pounded on this most clearly is if memory serves China Mieville).

One other comment, there's a physical detail here which shows up in other Lovecraft stories: the hidden canal. This notion of something flowing "beneath" shows up in many of his stories. I take it as another metaphor for his own straight-jacketed self. He's bound himself away against his impulses, but something dark, evil, and liquid is moving below the ancient city, undermining foundations.

Poor guy.
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« Reply #16 on: June 19, 2010, 05:04:45 PM »

I'm not sure if I buy into the "closeted" thing, just based on how bizarre Howie was.  Tragically, his ex-wife and his homosexual friend both burned all their letters from him , thus denying us any insight into this side of his life.  But what I get the impression is of a guy who may have been positively Asexual.  Not out of repulsion, but out of lack of interest.   Too "head in the clouds" too into his own dreaming to really take notice of a lot of the world around him.

Then again, he also doesn't seem to be a guy into drugs, either.  No record of that handy, though.

As for the Kurds, Chaldeans & Yemedis, he oft references arabic cultures, stemming possibly from his early fascination with the stories of the Arabian Nights.  Coupled with his own antiquarian hobbies, and the notion that most of history seems to come from that corner of the world, it's easily understood. 

I think one thing that isn't addressed so much in discussion of HPL, but just as, if not morso, (and perhaps, influencing) important than his racism is a more clear-cut classism.  He apparently didn't have a problem ghost writing for immigrant Harry Houdini - but on the other hand, that was a famous immigrant.  HPL's own fallen family left him with a deep rooted desire to fit in with the upper crust, the swells and highbrow artists.  The reality of his poverty was one he escaped from through his works, wanderings and stargazing.
« Last Edit: June 19, 2010, 07:45:34 PM by bar1scorpio » Logged

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« Reply #17 on: June 19, 2010, 11:41:55 PM »

I'm not sure if I buy into the "closeted" thing, just based on how bizarre Howie was.  Tragically, his ex-wife and his homosexual friend both burned all their letters from him , thus denying us any insight into this side of his life.  But what I get the impression is of a guy who may have been positively Asexual.  Not out of repulsion, but out of lack of interest.   Too "head in the clouds" too into his own dreaming to really take notice of a lot of the world around him.

Um. . . his ex-wife and homosexual friend burned his letters after his death?   Bit curious, no?

I can't claim to know anything factual about his sexuality, but you can read his writing and conclude that there's a fairly consistent horror at the idea of physical/sexual contact. His women barely exist as characters . . . ask yourself this question: does any procreation occur in any Lovecraft story which is not in some way unwholesome and degenerate? Can't claim a lack of interest in the carnal . . . his stories are filled with carnal impulses, restrained because of their awfulness, sometimes for "aeons"-- but there's no denying that they're there.


I think one thing that isn't addressed so much in discussion of HPL, but just as, if not morso, (and perhaps, influencing) important than his racism is a more clear-cut classism.  He apparently didn't have a problem ghost writing for immigrant Harry Houdini - but on the other hand, that was a famous immigrant.  HPL's own fallen family left him with a deep rooted desire to fit in with the upper crust, the swells and highbrow artists.  The reality of his poverty was one he escaped from through his works, wanderings and stargazing.

This is a very good point, and relevant to Red Hook. Lovecraft's people are "the old inhabitants" who once were proud and powerful, but have fallen on hard times. Throughout his stories, you'll find characters like this, particularly old New Englanders -- or in New York, old Dutch families. Whatever the specifics of their situation may be, they've always fallen on hard times. Ask this question: is there ever a Lovecraft character who achieves wealth by happy and honest industry? Getting rich is a sign of some grievous compromise, almost always-- and Suydam in Red Hook is a great example of that.

You are quite right that his animus is more class, than it is race. He's not particular about just which swarthy people trouble him-- they all do, more for the vitality that he feels he's lost than anything much they've done. You can see him vibrating a kind of effete counterpoint to Emma Lazarus ("give us your poor, your tired, your huddled masses") -- HPL sees the "huddled masses", yes, but not in a cheerful way.

Its for just the reasons you cite that I think Red Hook is a much more important story than its credited-- its a fairly graphic depiction of how the real world stirred HPL's fantasies. The funny thing about him is that he actually was an urban guy. While Clark Ashton Smith was also poor, he lived amid the natural magnificence  of California (which he loved), and Lord Dunsany lived in bucolic wealth in Ireland. By contrast to his fellow fantasists,  HPL was riding the subway, struggling in a cosmopolitan city,  getting robbed by vagrants, watching cops on the beat . . . its part of what makes his work significant that he's connected to modernity, even if he professes not to like it one bit.

« Last Edit: June 20, 2010, 03:35:29 AM by Crocodilian » Logged
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« Reply #18 on: September 12, 2010, 12:35:08 AM »

The Onion has done a few Lovecraftian pieces, and in a way, this is one of them.   Wink
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« Reply #19 on: September 29, 2010, 09:07:30 AM »


As for the Kurds, Chaldeans & Yemedis, he oft references arabic cultures, stemming possibly from his early fascination with the stories of the Arabian Nights.  Coupled with his own antiquarian hobbies, and the notion that most of history seems to come from that corner of the world, it's easily understood. 



Not to pick nits, but Chaldeans are Babylonians, Kurds are Kurds and Yezidis are Kurds and Azerbaijanis. None are Arabs. It might be significant that he named "Levantines" in the story. The Levant is Syria, Lebanon and Israel.

Kurds speak an Indo-European language, somewhat close to Iranian/Farsi. The Yezidis have been called Devil worshippers for a long time, but they seem to have an old religion that gave some sort of stimulus to Zoroastrianism way back when. Their angels or powers are undifferentiated, they are good and evil at the same time. The Peacock Angel is probably still the best book about them, you can find it for free on the internet at sacred-texts.com or archive.org. If you look through some of the old Weird Tales you'll find the Yezidis referenced under the name of their angel Malik Taos (spelled in different ways by different people, Malik, Malech, Tao, Tau, Taus). Anton LaVey used their name in various books he wrote when he was founding the Church of Satan in San Francisco in the late 1960s.


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« Reply #20 on: September 30, 2010, 01:37:38 AM »

Point taken.  Well, Middle Eastern covers more ground, via geography as opposed to culture.
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« Reply #21 on: September 30, 2010, 11:49:29 AM »

LaVey kept an autographed copy of one of Clark Ashton-Smith's books in a special little treasure chest of his. Klarkash was a big correspondent with HPL, of course. LaVey also had some "Lovecraftian" ai ftahgn type language manufactured and placed in a spell in his book Satanic Rituals. Seabury Quinn, HPL and LaVey all latched on to the Yezidi thing. Interesting, anyway.
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« Reply #22 on: November 15, 2010, 02:24:04 PM »

I know I'm chiming in a bit late on this topic thread, but I wanted to comment on something said in the actual podcast that both Chris and Chad were a bit confused as to just what happened with Suydam and why he was dead but running to get away from Lilith in the climax of the story. As I thought about that, I came up with a scenario that I think might just fit:

Imagine that Suydam was taken in by these despicable Middle-Easterners while he was attempting to become part of the cult. They see him as a possible patsy for future use, so they allow him to become a part of their cult, but only to a certain extent. He gains both his youth and handsome appearance back from a life spent in self-indulgence, and he begins to feel that he is "in the know" and above the mundane people that he knows. His sense of security grows, while all the time the cultists are planning to use the ignorant man in one of their rituals. Finally, on his wedding night, Suydam is literally snatched from his marriage bed by these cultists so that he can be unwillingly wed to Lilith in some dark ceremony. During the ceremony, the fragment of his consciousness still clinging to his physical body panics and succeeds in thwarting the ceremony.

Now I don't claim to know tons about the occult, but I do seem to remember hearing that ceremonies like weddings and funerals and the like are very "powerful", and maybe this is what Lilith needed for her purposes: a bridegroom who was already a cult member, but who had not consummated his marriage.

This is, of course, all speculation, but I think it holds together fairly well, and explains why Suydam's "corpse" appears to be so terrified when it is used in the final ritual.
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« Reply #23 on: February 24, 2011, 10:40:05 PM »

China Mieville, my favorite modern author, weighs in on The Horror at Red Hook.
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« Reply #24 on: July 13, 2015, 02:59:20 PM »

For all my reservations about "The Horror at Red Hook," there's one bit that gets me every time: "...nothing can ever efface the memory of those nighted crypts, those titan arcades, and those half-formed shapes of hell that strode gigantically in silence holding half-eaten things whose still surviving portions screamed for mercy or laughed with madness" (bolded for emphasis).

...GAH.
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