Kenneth Hite (princeofcairo) wrote,
Kenneth Hite
princeofcairo

[Tour de Lovecraft] The Nameless City

This is a fairly annoying story, in that it contains far too many good, powerful ideas than should be allowed in a story this badly written. One would like to just ignore it and move on, but one really can't.

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I'll just note, for those joining us late, that the Nameless City is not Irem of the Pillars. The legend of Irem served as Lovecraft's model, but here again we see our city-cycle unfold, this time as a sort of photo-negative. The Nameless City spawns (?) the human imitation city Irem; Irem appears as the Nameless City dries out; the debased remnants of the Nameless City tear "a pioneer of ancient Irem" to pieces; the Nameless City's inhabitants enter the hollow earth. Irem is riding for a fall as Mecca rises; the debased Iremites drive off Hud (the lone "pioneer" from Mecca); Irem sinks into the sands. (More of my priceless wisdom on Irem -- and on Lovecraft -- can be found by the curious in my collection Dubious Shards, he plugged gratuitously.)

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Joshi is correct to notice that Lovecraft does the "history of the aliens by convenient bas-relief" better in At the Mountains of Madness, although even there it's just never very convincing. The psychic visions of Robert Blake in "Haunter" are at least plausible.

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It is interesting to note that this, too, like "Dagon" and "The Temple" and "Festival" and "Celephaïs" and "Dream-Quest" and "Innsmouth", is one of the "Oceanic Underworld/Otherworld" motif stories. The reptiles are aquatic (crocodile-seal blend), the Nameless City was a seaport, the Moore poem quoted (to better effect than Alhazred, in fact) mentions the "Sea of Death," and the narrator fights "swirling currents" and a "torrent." Lovecraft repeatedly plays with words like "abyss" and "gulf," which can apply to caverns and ocean deeps alike. The inner world of the reptiles ("a sea of sunlit mist") even resembles both the "Dreamlands" and Y'ha-Nthlei: "glorious cities and ethereal hills and valleys". Finally, Lovecraft took partial inspiration for this tale from a dream in which the protagonist in a "subterranean chamber -- seeks to force door of bronze -- overwhelmed by influx of waters." Dreamland, Underworld, Ocean, Otherworld.

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But how on earth does someone who can compose the wonderful simile of the ruins "protruding uncannily above the sands as parts of a corpse may protrude from an ill-made grave" manage to let themselves write, not a page later, that the "brooding ruins ... swelled beneath the sand like an ogre under a coverlet". It's like a Randall Garrett Lovecraft parody in its pluperfect wrongness. And it ain't gonna get any better for the next five stories, sadly.

NEXT: "The Moon-Bog"
Tags: tour de lovecraft
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