Just wanted to repost this since I posted it a couple days ago at the end of the first thread for "The Mound," and because I'm egotistical like that
My reaction to "The Mound" follows basically what Chris and Chad said in the podcast - it pulls you in with some frightening, incomprehensible, and original suggestions only to veer off into an overlong and boring recitation of facts. That said, there are still quite a few things I liked about it outside of the first chapter.
For instance (brace yourselves, this is a long one):Many, however, chose to die after a while; since despite the cleverest efforts to invent new pleasures, the ordeal of consciousness became too dull for sensitive souls—especially those in whom time and satiation had blinded the primal instincts and emotions of self-preservatio
This is a great expression of Lovecraft's atheism. It's something any skeptic has to confront when thinking about immortality and the afterlife. No matter what kind of pleasures or experiences are open to you, they'll inevitably lose their appeal. The loss of those "primal instincts and emotions" which result from our mortality and in many ways define us might be an unwelcome change - in becoming immortal we would likely lose important parts of our identity, only to be trapped with this new identity for eternity. And being confined to your own consciousness - your own psychological continuity throughout life (and afterlife) - would eventually be so maddening that death would be a welcome alternative.
Another thing that's cool about "The Mound" is the connections to other stories. Maybe I misread it, but it seemed to imply that the four-legged reptilian inhabitants of Yoth were the same creatures whose ghosts appeared in "The Nameless City." The inhabitants of K'n-yan once lived on the surface before going underground. It's not a stretch to believe the reptilian creatures in Yoth once lived above ground at Irem, as "The Nameless City" suggested. And their ghostly images that come out at night mirror what happens with the people of K'n-yan at the end of "The Mound." Maybe the Yothians knew how to "dematerialize" also, and that's why their ghostly images are still visible in the ruins at Irem.
I also found it interesting how Cthulhu (or Tulu) was revered as a "spirit of universal harmony" by the inhabitants of K'n-yan. With their superhuman abilities (immortality, telepathy, teleportation, etc.) it's interesting how they (or their ancestors) view Cthulhu in such stark contrast to your average impotent and insignificant human. I hate moral relativism but found that interesting nonetheless.
Another passage:Rationalism degenerated more and more into fanatical and orgiastic superstition, centring in a lavish adoration of the magnetic Tulu-metal, and tolerance steadily dissolved into a series of frenzied hatreds, especially toward the outer world of which the scholars were learning so much from him.
This might be more evidence of Lovecraft's xenophobia/racism waning a bit. The disparaging talk of "frenzied hatreds" replacing a former tolerance of the outside world could reflect Lovecraft's own re-evaluation of his views on race, ethnicity, or class. Here's a quote from Lovecraft about how writing letters broadened his worldview, although I don't know when it was written or if it syncs up with this period of his career.
"I found myself opened up to dozens of points of view which would otherwise never have occurred to me. My understanding and sympathies were enlarged, and many of my social, political, and economic views were modified as a consequence of increased knowledge."
While reading "The Mound" I also wondered if his talk about the society's decadence as a result of machinery (which was then reflected in their "geometrical" art) was a bit of Lovecraft's art snobbery against Futurism (not
And, lastly, I really liked how, after having read Zamacona's account, the narrator does everything in his power to rationalize or debunk what he's learned despite the strange occurrences he's personally witnessed. It illustrates how well Lovecraft understood human nature in this regard (while he might miss the mark elsewhere, with fainting spells and feelings of wonder at being encased in hellish black mire). He understood that, when faced with some trauma or understanding that goes against everything we think we know about the world, our minds will fight to reassure themselves. I loved that about the last chapter.
Overall, "The Mound" let me down like "At the Mountains of Madness" let me down. There are excellent, creepy, and vague suggestions set up early on which are undermined by a tonal shift the stories can't quite recover from (less so in the case of "Mountains"). The stories move from vague horror to explicit and long-winded anthropological and historical accounts, which place them firmly in the realm of science fiction rather than the brilliant marriage of the two genres we get in "The Colour Out of Space." I don't blame Lovecraft for trying it out; most of his stories up to now use vagueness to the point of being comical in some cases, so teasing out these detailed accounts of an alien race's social, political, agricultural, and artistic history is a change of pace. It's just a shame that he felt the need to be so detailed about it, since it deflates all the tension which the early parts of these stories painstakingly build up.