Containing hidden keys to locked dimensions
I’ve been aware of this piece of work since I first got into H.P.Lovecraft. But that was back in the mid 1980′s and I was a teenager and not appreciative of the subtle magick woven into these words. Back then I wanted pure narrative flow, the creeping, doom-laden, macabre psychological horror of Lovecraft’s short stories and novellas. And the thrills and chills of playing the classic investigative horror role-playing game: The Call of Cthulhu. And that’s what I got.
Polyphasic Sleep and a New Dawn
Skip to 2007 and I’m working on putting together my own RPG setting – Yellow Dawn: the Age of Hastur - based on the shared universe of my novels (Cthulhu Mythos horror and cyberpunk science-fiction). That was an intense year. My dad had recently died and I was in the middle of a 2 year hiatus from employed work – living on savings to focus on writing – so I was throwing myself body mind and soul into this endeavour, keen to finish before my money ran out.
One of the techniques I use to maximise creative output is polyphasic sleep – or what I call my Da Vinci Method. Every 45 minutes I stop work (alarm goes off), then go lie down with a pillow and blanket near my desk and drift off into a light doze. Another alarm goes off after 15 minutes, making sure I don’t actually fall into a deep sleep. The trick is to fight through any feeling of nausea or disorientation and get up, make a cup of tea or coffee, and get back to it. 45 minutes on. 15 minutes off. You can go for most of the day and night doing that, reducing the need for proper sleep for a few days at a time. Eventually it catches up with you and you crash for a bit, but overall you’re much more productive.
I have a stack of audio recordings of H.P.Lovecraft stories that I often put on to play in the background whilst I doze off. One of these was a fantastic array of broken narrative pieces – over an hour long with eerie and haunting musical sounds punctuating the narrator. And because I was listening to it 15 minutes at a time, rarely in sequence, the whole thing became a dizzying jumble of brilliant morsels of Lovecraftian lore, concepts and raw Mythos atmosphere. It was only when I stopped to check – what am I actually listening to? – that I discovered it was The Fungi from Yuggoth. Written by H.P.Lovecraft in late 1929.
Keys & Windows
Some people call “The Fungi from Yuggoth” a sequence of poems – which is quite right, considering they’re numbered as such. But when you listen to the work (or simply read it), you experience the sleight of hand that Lovecraft employs; leaving you slipping through gaps of narrative blocks, non-linear structures that take you outside of the “Gutenberg Galaxy” – where information can only be processed by following the logical flow – and propelling you instead into the non-Euclidian universe – where shape and matter have no sense – that Lovecraft always did so well to reveal.
So although structured for print, each sonnet is in itself a disparate self-contained gem that when peered into provides overlapping, and at times contradictory glimpses of the universe that Lovecraft is painting.
Yet linked with all the laws of time and space.
A faint, veiled sign of continuities
That outward eyes can never quite descry;
Of locked dimensions harbouring years gone by,
And out of reach except for hidden keys.
Sonnet XXXVI. Continuity – The Fungi from Yuggoth – H.P.Lovecraft
Lovecraft has crystallised the raw essence of his imagination in these sonnets. Plunge through them, losing yourself in their sequence or pick them apart, piece by piece to extract the underlying meanings and references – leading you to discover new gates of discovery.
In the first three sonnets: “The Book“; “Pursuit“; and “The Key” – the chief narrator seems to be a person who acquires a book of infernal lore, almost by chance – or by stealth; a book that enables him to access distant and dramatic realms of cosmic wonder – and later of abject anxiety and monstrous horror. Whether these places and scenes are of “this universe” or are from some parallel dimension beyond time and space is unclear. But the suggestion is that the book unlocks (or unleashes) a stream of visions – or consensual journeys – upon the man who has stolen the book away.
Much in the same way that the Influence of Hastur (referenced in Yellow Dawn RPG; and short stories House of Heavenly Light; Corrupt Moon; Tainted Moor, all three of which are contained within the anthology of short stories Songs of Spheres) is able to warp, twist, mutate and rapidly change the local reality surrounding an individual who has been “infected” by exposure to… it.
The rest of the sonnets swing and carousel between scenes of brooding horror and looming insanity, as if the narrator has been injected at random into the sensorium of a succession of nameless victims of Mythos mayhem.
And like a bad drug that finally loosens its grip on the conscious mind, with the fragmented narcotic trip in the wane, the chief narrator’s sense of reality begins to return, forever changed – and possibly damaged by the nervous experience. The sonnet “Expectancy” and those that follow it serve to document the narrator’s estrangement with what was once familiar reality – and normality.
Many of Lovecraft’s “pillar brand” concepts are given genesis and exploration here. The boldly nightmarish tale of Mi-go infestation and manipulation in “The Whisperer in the Darkness”; the Machiavellian mind-games of the Crawling Chaos – Messenger of the Outer Gods – Nyarlathotep.
The one I’d really love to share – with the wonderful atmospheric musical accompaniment seems really hard to get a hold of. But here’s a reasonably well-narrated version by CulainRuledByVenus.
- Dark Art: Farmer Seth Atwood, from The Well, in Fungi from Yuggoth by HP Lovecraft
- Reasons to like Lovecraft: Mi-go (Fungi from Yuggoth)
The Fungi from Yuggoth – Full Version
I. The Book
The place was dark and dusty and half-lost
In tangles of old alleys near the quays,
Reeking of strange things brought in from the seas,
And with queer curls of fog that west winds tossed.
Small lozenge panes, obscured by smoke and frost,
Just shewed the books, in piles like twisted trees,
Rotting from floor to roof—congeries
Of crumbling elder lore at little cost.
I entered, charmed, and from a cobwebbed heap
Took up the nearest tome and thumbed it through,
Trembling at curious words that seemed to keep
Some secret, monstrous if one only knew.
Then, looking for some seller old in craft,
I could find nothing but a voice that laughed.
I held the book beneath my coat, at pains
To hide the thing from sight in such a place;
Hurrying through the ancient harbor lanes
With often-turning head and nervous pace.
Dull, furtive windows in old tottering brick
Peered at me oddly as I hastened by,
And thinking what they sheltered, I grew sick
For a redeeming glimpse of clean blue sky.
No one had seen me take the thing—but still
A blank laugh echoed in my whirling head,
And I could guess what nighted worlds of ill
Lurked in that volume I had coveted.
The way grew strange—the walls alike and madding—
And far behind me, unseen feet were padding.