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Desert_Brat
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Lovecraft: The Nameless City (short)

"The Nameless City" first appeared in the amateur publication The Wolverine in 1921. It was rejected a number of times by professional publishers before it finally appeared in Fanciful Tales in the fall of 1936.

 

The story is not particularly horrific in itself. Instead of horrifying the reader, the story is more like a man who is relating a dream. Many critics say that what has kept it from being overtly horrifying is Lovecraft's overuse of adjectives.

 

This story is often thought of as the first of the Cthulhu Mythos writings. It is also the first mention of the mad Arab poet Abduhl Alhazred, who is often referred to in other Mythos stories but he is not yet given as the author of Necronomicon.

 

The city is unimaginably ancient, it existed as a thriving coastal town before even humanity itself. Slowly the waters receded and the desert began to overtake the community and drive its inhabitants underground.

 

It is interesting how Lovecraft often mixes fact and fiction, particularly in locations. In "Nameless City," it is said to be older than Chaldea, a real Mesopotamian city, and Sarnath, Mnar, and Ib, which are fictional places that later appeared in his story "The Doom that Came to Sarnath."

 

The descriptions of the city's inhabitants, architecture and mural paintings are well written and easily pictured in one's own mind. The murals give evidence of the creatures' hatred for manlike forms.

 

The Arabs have legends about the city, which give warning that no man should lay eyes on it. It was this city that Alhazred dreamed of the night before he wrote his song: "That is not dead which can eternal lie, and with strange aeons even death may die."

A lifelong reader, now may my life be long enough to catch up on my reading!
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carusmm
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Re: Lovecraft: The Nameless City (short)


Desert_Brat wrote:

"The Nameless City" first appeared in the amateur publication The Wolverine in 1921. It was rejected a number of times by professional publishers before it finally appeared in Fanciful Tales in the fall of 1936.

 

The story is not particularly horrific in itself. Instead of horrifying the reader, the story is more like a man who is relating a dream. Many critics say that what has kept it from being overtly horrifying is Lovecraft's overuse of adjectives.

 

This story is often thought of as the first of the Cthulhu Mythos writings. It is also the first mention of the mad Arab poet Abduhl Alhazred, who is often referred to in other Mythos stories but he is not yet given as the author of Necronomicon.

 

The city is unimaginably ancient, it existed as a thriving coastal town before even humanity itself. Slowly the waters receded and the desert began to overtake the community and drive its inhabitants underground.

 

It is interesting how Lovecraft often mixes fact and fiction, particularly in locations. In "Nameless City," it is said to be older than Chaldea, a real Mesopotamian city, and Sarnath, Mnar, and Ib, which are fictional places that later appeared in his story "The Doom that Came to Sarnath."

 

The descriptions of the city's inhabitants, architecture and mural paintings are well written and easily pictured in one's own mind. The murals give evidence of the creatures' hatred for manlike forms.

 

The Arabs have legends about the city, which give warning that no man should lay eyes on it. It was this city that Alhazred dreamed of the night before he wrote his song: "That is not dead which can eternal lie, and with strange aeons even death may die."


An excellent review.  I will keep an eye out for The Nameless City.

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dalnewt
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Re: Lovecraft: The Nameless City (short)

[ Edited ]

The compilation of Lovecraft stories I purchased doesn't have this story, but I'm interested because this story does seem to be the start of Lovecraft's Cthulhu Mythos. If I have time I'll find this story somewhere else. Here's the Wikipedia link to this story: The Nameless City

 

P.S. Thanks to dulcinea and her Wikisource link to The Outsider, I found a link to the text of the Nameless City at wikisource. I've printed it out and will probably read it tomorrow. Here's the link: The Nameless City.

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carusmm
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Re: Lovecraft: The Nameless City (short)

[ Edited ]

Why doesn't Lovecraft just call the darkies monkeys and be done with it?  Because he was much too polite for that, much too civil.

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dalnewt
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Re: Lovecraft: The Nameless City (short)

The pervasive sense of a nameless power is palpable within this story. Time and again the narrator is frozen into immobility and/or terrorized. Further, the intermingling of real and imaginary references lends a certainty to the setting that is hard to attain.

 

I enjoyed this story although the nature of the creatures who built the city became obvious at about the mid-point and the ending was predictable. I read some reviews of tale criticizing the use of overblown/flowery prose as well as the failure to create any credible origin for the reptilian race. The initial critic might well have been S. T. Joshi, who wrote a biography of H. P. Lovecraft entitled "I Am Providence."  In that biography Mr. Joshi wrote the following about The Nameless City:

"The absurdities and implausibilities in this tale, along with its wildly overheated prose, give it a very low place in the Lovecraft canon.  Where, for example, did the creatures who built the nameless city come from?  There are no indications that they came from another planet; but if they are simply early denizens of the earth, how did they come to possess their physical shape?  Their curiously composite nature seems to rule out any evolutionary pattern known to earth's creatures.  How do they continue to exist in the depths of the earth?  The narrator must also be very foolish not to realize at once that the entities were the ones who built the city.  Lovecraft does not seem to have thought out the details of this story at all carefully." 

 

But, I strongly disagree with this lack of origin criticism. Instead, I agree with the sentiments of W. H. Pugmire, Esq. at A View from Sesqua Valley: H. P. Lovecraft's "The Nameless City"  who states,"Had Lovecraft explained any of these things, he would have ruptured the mystique of the spectral race and robbed the story of much of its atmosphere.

 

Note, I came across another review of the story at  Midnite Media: The Nameless City by H. P.  Lovecraft. In that blog the author essentially indicates that the tale is a somewhat flawed re-hash of Dagon as follows:

 

There's absolutely nothing wrong with the concept of a man out of his element, investigating a missing culture of hybrid creatures. In fact, it's a hell of a story. It was a hell of a story the first time he wrote it, too, in a piece called "Dagon" only a few short years prior.


But while "Dagon" was a tightly written tale that left you wanting more, "The Nameless City" exists on the opposite side of the spectrum: it's a slightly bloated, over-written rehash with a fondness for adjectives unusual for Lovecraft. Up until now on this chronological journey of the man's work, every story (even the ones I haven't been so fond of) seemed effortless. But here, for the first time, it seems almost as if he's trying too hard.


Some sources claim that this is the first story that can be considered a part of the Cthulu Mythos, but I'm not quite convinced of that. As outlined above, this is a rewrite of "Dagon", and the character of Dagon would later appear within the Mythos, so if either of these tales deserve that title, it seems to me that it should be the earlier one. Granted, mention is made here of Alhazred the Mad Arab, who would eventually be revealed as the author of the Necronomicon (an important book in the Mythos), but other earlier tales had introduced reocurring characters as well. It seems to me that Lovecraft had been slowly building his shared universe since day one, when "The Alchemist" first saw print.

Regardless of the above, I liked this story. I loved the whole archeological approach and the gradual but inexorable way the mystery was uncovered. And, I was chilled by the pervasive sense of malignant power that continually immobilized the narrator.

 

IMO, the text at the beginning of the tale is particularly effective in luring the reader into the world of the narrator:

I was traveling in a parched and terrible valley under the moon, and afar I saw it protruding uncannily above the sands as parts of a corpse may protrude from an ill-made grave. Fear spoke from the age-worn stones of this hoary survivor of the deluge, this great-grandfather of the eldest pyramid; and a viewless aura repelled me and bade me retreat from antique and sinister secrets that no man should see, and no man else had dared to see. 

_ _ _ _ 

 

I should have known that the Arabs had good reason for shunning the nameless city, the city told of in strange tales but seen by no living man, yet I defied them and went into the untrodden waste with my camel. I alone have seen it, and that is why no other face bears such hideous lines of fear as mine; why no other man shivers so horribly when the night wind rattles the windows. When I came upon it in the ghastly stillness of unending sleep it looked at me, chilly from the rays of a cold moon amidst the desert's heat. And as I returned its look I forgot my triumph at finding it, and stopped still with my camel to wait for the dawn.

 

For hours I waited, till the east grew grey and the stars faded, and the grey turned to roseate light edged with gold. I heard a moaning and saw a storm of sand stirring among the antique stones though the sky was clear and the vast reaches of desert still. Then suddenly above the desert's far rim came the blazing edge of the sun, seen through the tiny sandstorm which was passing away, and in my fevered state I fancied that from some remote depth there came a crash of musical metal to hail the fiery disc as Memnon hails it from the banks of the Nile. My ears rang and my imagination seethed as I led my camel slowly across the sand to that unvocal place; that place which I alone of living men had seen.

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carusmm
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Re: Lovecraft: The Nameless City (short)

To Lovecraft, the city was a nameless horror.

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carusmm
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Re: Lovecraft: The Nameless City (short)

"The one test of the really weird is simply this - whether or not there be excited in the reader a profound sense of dread, and of contact with unknown spheres and powers; a subtle attitude of awed listening, as if for the beating of black wings or the scratching of outside shapes and entities on the known universe's utmost rim."  H. P. Lovecraft

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dalnewt
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Re: Lovecraft: The Nameless City (short)

There's an interesting explanation of the literary and accepted psychologic difference between horror and terror at Horror and terror. Basically terror is defined as a dread or fearfulness experienced (or instilled in the reader) before the subject of the horror and/or horrifying experience occurs. In contrast, horror is the revulsion felt when or after the frightening event occurs.

 

In this story there a curious distance when the narrator describes his experiences while excavating and exploring. Although the story is written in the first person, immediacy is generally lacking. It's as if the narrator reflects upon each event as it happens to him rather than just relating his experiences as they occur. That quality results in the tale falling in the horror as opposed to the terror category. 

 

As compared with say Poe's the Pit and the Pendulum, (where the narrative is immediate and primarily confined to the senses), this story is more concerned with the narrator's reactions to everything and his growing realization about the nature of the primordial lizard creatures who built the city. 

 

A blog review at The Nameless City notes that Lin Carter (June 9, 1930 – February 7, 1988) (an editor, critic and American author of science fiction and fantasy) criticized "The Nameless City" as "a trivial exercise in Poe-esque gothica." He further said that it is "overwritten [and] over-dramatic". "[T]he mood of mounting horror is applied in a very artificial manner," Carter wrote, "Rather than creating in the reader a mood of terror, Lovecraft describes a mood of terror: the emotion is applied in the adjectives." He does, however, allow that the tale has some "evocative power." (Emphasis added).

 

That blog review goes on to say that, "Lovecraft himself was powerfully moved by an emotion of awe and fascination when contemplating the mysterious ruins of unthinkable antiquity. This emotion he manages to convey in a sort of dreamlike manner, despite his coldly clinical use of adjectives."

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Desert_Brat
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Re: Lovecraft: The Nameless City (short)

Yes, I read that piece on terror/horror and thought it to be a perfect explanation.

 

In the story, there didn't seem to be so much immediate terror. Rather there were bits and pieces of aprehension that were quickly overcome.

 

There also seemed to be only a couple of real horrific parts. Those being when the narrator first discovers the glass-front caskets of the reptile creatures and they are dressed in the finery of priests and leaders; and the second in the description of part of the mural paintings where the creatures are tearing a manlike form to pieces.

A lifelong reader, now may my life be long enough to catch up on my reading!