Camp and Creepiness

I like H.P. Lovecraft, as you may guess from the picture at the top of the page. I’m fascinated by how he possesses the ability to scare, mixed with this incredible silliness that inspires people to make stuffed Cthulhu dolls and giggle at the idea of souls getting swallowed. Witness this excerpt from his story “The Outsider,” which my husband and I have decided is impossible to read straight:

Fancying now that I had attained the very pinnacle of the castle, I commenced to rush up the few steps beyond the door; but the sudden veiling of the moon by a cloud caused me to stumble, and I felt my way more slowly in the dark. It was still very dark when I reached the grating–which I tried carefully and found unlocked, but which I did not open for fear of falling from the amazing height to which I had climbed. Then the moon came out.

Most demoniacal of all shocks is that of the abysmally unexpected and grotesquely unbelievable. Nothing I had before undergone could compare in terror with what I now saw; with the bizarre marvels that sight implied. The sight itself was as simple as it was stupefying, for it was merely this: instead of a dizzying prospect of treetops seen from a lofty eminence, there stretched around me on the level through the grating nothing less than the solid ground, decked and diversified by marble slabs and columns, and overshadowed by an ancient stone church, whose ruined spire gleamed spectrally in the moonlight.

Once he starts hitting “abysmal”, “grotesque”, “bizarre”, and “stupefying”, things just get a little silly, and the story feels campy. On the other hand, I’m interested in how Lovecraft pauses here to try to lay out the character’s state of mind. This is an important moment in the story, since a key part of the horror involves reversals of the character’s expectations. So, the character believes he has climbed a long time, but is actually on the ground. Lovecraft lingers over this, making sure that the reader understands the implications of the surprise. There’s a lot that’s good about this. But his barrage of adjectives also make the moment comedic.

The link between horror and comedy has often been observed. Here’s a spot I can point to as a clear example.


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