Saturday, October 26, 2019

This Story's Going to the Dogs

Got another busy day at work today, so busy that I took a day off from my volunteer coaching gig so I would be well-rested for the vigors of the afternoon and evening. This being Hallowe'en season, I figured I'd post about another creepy story. New York City native Frank Belknap Long was a member of the 'Lovecraft Circle', but unlike many of Lovecraft's friends, Long actually met Lovecraft in 'meatspace', rather than conducting a mere correspondence friendship.

Long's 1929 story, The Hounds of Tindalos, first published in Weird Tales Volume 13, Issue 3, is the first 'Cthulhu Mythos' story written by someone other than Lovecraft. It shares a premise similar to those of most of Lovecraft's stories: a researcher into unknown phenomena encounters incomprehensible entities which view humans as just another link in the food chain... and not an apex predator. The protagonist is a devotee of what Danny Elfman would term 'Weird Science':

"Einstein and John Dee are strange bedfellows," I said as my gaze wandered from his mathematical charts to the sixty or seventy quaint books that comprised his strange little library. Plotinus and Emanuel Moscopulus, St. Thomas Aquinas and Frenicle de Bessy stood elbow to elbow in the somber ebony bookcase, and chairs, table and desk were littered with pamphlets about mediƦval sorcery and witchcraft and black magic, and all of the valiant glamorous things that the modern world has repudiated.

Chalmers smiled engagingly, and passed me a Russian cigarette on a curiously carved tray. "We are just discovering now," he said, "that the old alchemists and sorcerers were two–thirds right, and that your modern biologist and materialist is nine–tenths wrong."

"You have always scoffed at modern science." I said, a little impatiently.

"Only at scientific dogmatism," he replied. "I have always been a rebel, a champion of originality and lost causes; that is why I have chosen to repudiate the conclusions of contemporary biologists."

"And Einstein?" I asked.

"A priest of transcendental mathematics" he murmured reverently. "A profound mystic and explorer of the great suspected."

"Then you do not entirely despise science."

"Of course not." he affirmed. "I merely distrust the scientific positivism of the past fifty years, the positivism of Haeckel and Darwin and of Mr. Bertrand Russell. I believe that biology has failed pitifully to explain the mystery of man's origin and destiny."

"Give them time." I retorted.

Chalmers' eyes glowed. "My friend." he murmured, "your pun is sublime. Give them time. That is precisely what I would do. But your modern biologist scoffs at time. He has the key but he refuses to use it. What do we know of time, really? Einstein believes that it is relative, that it can be interpreted in terms of space, of curved space. But must we stop there? When mathematics fails us can we not advance by—insight?"

"You are treading on dangerous ground," I replied. "That is a pitfall that your true investigator avoids That is why modern science has advanced so slowly. It accepts nothing that it cannot demonstrate. But you—"

"I would take hashish, opium, all manner of drugs I would emulate the sages of the East. And then perhaps I would apprehend—"


"The fourth dimension."

"Theosophical rubbish!"

It incorporates a fair bit of 'orientalism', as this seeker of knowledge employs a drug formulated by ancient Chinese alchemists to send his consciousness back in time (Clark Ashton Smith's story Ubbo-Sathla has an identical theme, with a sorcerous crystal standing in for the drug).

As is typical of a Lovecraftian story, the seeker of knowledge draws the attention of some ultramundane horrors, in this case, ones which are 'lean and athirst'. The ending is appropriately gruesome. It's a fun read for someone looking for a little shuddersome entertainment, which is a pretty good achievement for a story which places a lot of emphasis on geometry.

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