Providence #4 arrives this Wednesday from Avatar Press, and after the rather spine-tinglingly strange atmosphere of Issue #3, where Robert Black makes the first stop on his New England journey out of New York, the anticipation for more outbreaks of the weird is high. And this issue will certainly build on what has been a carefully constructed launch to what promises to be massive revelations in this story set in the short years before Lovecraft’s creative heyday as a writer but incorporating the worlds of his many stories into one. Written by Alan Moore, and painstakingly illustrated by Jacen Burrows, Issue #4 takes us further in search of a mysterious book Robert Black has been tracking down, and off the beaten track as well.
We’ve been holding in store another discussion with Alan Moore about working on the series Providence, while earlier interviews can be found here, and here, and also in Bleeding Cool Magazine #16. In this chat, however, Moore spends some time on the subject of Lovecraft’s impact on culture, and the slippage that has come to exist between Lovecraftian fiction and occult magic. He gives his opinion on that borderland and also talks about Lovecraft’s own world view and how he could possibly have reconciled his rationalism and his own fictional creations.
HMS: Can you tell us about some of the choices that you’ve made in Providence? You mentioned previously focusing on some lesser known aspects of different stories. And that’s actually where you’re finding the room and the right zones to stitch the stories together into one narrative, isn’t it?
Alan Moore: Yes. Amongst the many, many books on Lovecraft that I’ve been reading, from the biographical ones, the critical ones, I came across somewhere the writings of psychologist, and then scholar, Dirk W. Mosig. He put forward the idea that all of Lovecraft’s stories were actually intended as chapters in some kind of “hyper-novel”. Now, I don’t think that’s true for a moment, but it’s an interesting idea.
HMS: Wow. It certainly is.
AM: But it doesn’t need to be true in order to explore that idea. One of the things that is perhaps problematic about Lovecraft stories, is that I don’t think anyone can agree about how the stories are supposed to connect up. It’s obvious from shared references between stories, that they kind of do relate to each other in some way, or at least most of them. But attempts to actually formalize that have been perhaps less than successful. One of the things that I decided quite early on is that there is no “Cthulhu Mythos”. Lovecraft never used that phrase. He seemed to be resistant to August Derleth’s attempts to propose some kind of mythology of Hastur. He seemed uncomfortable with that. Generally, he referred to his gods as “Yog Sothothery” or “Cthulhuism” in almost a self-deprecatory way. As if he’s saying, “This is a bit of fun. I thought that if other writers referred to them as well, it would give the readers a kind of frisson, a mistaken sense that there was some body of real occult lore that we were all drawing upon”. It was interesting background for his and other writers’ stories. So, “Cthulhu Mythos” doesn’t really work.
Lovecraft did speak of an “Arkham Cycle”, but nobody really knows what that was, either. However, that does seem to be something that he was at least considering. So, by taking Mosig’s idea that somehow these were all chapters of some huge hyper-novel—and like I said, I don’t believe that’s true, but it’s an interesting concept—I asked myself, “If that was true, how would it all link up?” Then, I started a process, tracing back to Lovecraft’s Necronomicon, to some of the early New England wizards in Lovecraft’s fiction who must have known each other. Who were living in such a relatively small area at more or less exactly the same time, so that I thought it would do no violence to Lovecraft’s work if you said, “Yes, these three people, they knew each other”.
This was the beginning of my formalization of Lovecraft’s stories and my connecting up of the various dots in them. This is not meant to be definitive, since I think a definitive approach to Lovecraft would diminish the work. I think there is no right way of doing Lovecraft and that’s what makes it so interesting. I think that there’s a variety of ways of interpreting these stories. And I think that it should be left like that.
But, that said, I think that we’ve done a pretty good job of connecting all these things up into a coherent picture that I don’t think is at odds with anything that Lovecraft conceived. Whereas some people have said that the later development of August Derleth’s Cthulhu mythos into something with Elementals may be at odds with it. That’s something I don’t think Lovecraft had any interest in, and it is a thing that perhaps has more conventional parallels with good and evil, which, again was something that Lovecraft was keen to distance himself from.
He never said that his entities were evil. He said that ideas like good and evil must be left at the door when you’re dealing with an indifferent cosmos. His entities simply, if they even notice us, do not care. They would seem inimical from a human perspective, but it would be absurd to say that they were evil. So I think that we have connected up Lovecraft and we have also connected it up to the America of the time to make a credible picture. And also, to a certain extent, that plays into Lovecraft’s own life, of course.
Here we are in 2015, and they are just about to celebrate the 125th Birthday of H.P. Lovecraft. His books are considered to be up there with Nathaniel Hawthorne, with Edgar Allan Poe, with all of the masters of the American literary canon. More than that, his unspeakable monsters are now plush toys!
HMS: I almost mentioned that earlier!
AM: Upstairs, I have a pair of Cthulhu bedroom slippers.
AM: Yes. I think Leah and John got them for me a few years ago. I’ve got several Cthulhu-oid t-shirts including a Cthulhu and Hobbes one and all sorts of variations. Lovecraft now permeates our entire culture.
HMS: He does.
AM: Now, that is a bit unlikely. And also the way in which that has happened. I own at least 4 or 5 books called The Necronomicon. One of which is the so-called, “Simonomicon”, the one which professes to be the “real” book, but is actually a rather nasty occult hoax originally perpetrated under the devices of The Magical Child Bookshop in New York. This “fake” Necronomicon has nevertheless turned up in a series of very real murders.
AM: The American Satanist murders. And yes, this Necronomicon turned up and people said things like they were killing their girlfriends as a sacrifice to the Great Old Ones and the like. There’s something about the nature of Lovecraft material, that it insidiously bleeds into reality. To some extent that was intentional. Lovecraft, like Poe, performed a great number of literary hoaxes. Some of Poe’s stories started out as hoaxes. He was claiming they were absolutely true. Lovecraft always admired that. He always said that the perfect horror story or weird story should be constructed as if you were constructing a hoax that you wanted everyone to believe in.
So this reality-blurring agenda has always been in play since Poe. It precedes Lovecraft. I know of various occultists, or at least I’ve heard of them, who have insisted upon saying, “Oh, yes, you can actually contact Lovecraft’s deities. You can work real magic using Lovecraft’s entities”, which I actually think is kind of stupid. It’s certainly not important magic. It’s perhaps just a way of extending fantasy fandom, and a way of pretending to interact with the characters from your favorite fiction. It’s kind of harmless as a form of “astral cosplay”…
AM:…or something like that. It’s kind of harmless. Because Lovecraft didn’t believe in magic.
AM: He was a rationalist! And an atheist. And then they say, as some occultists do, “Oh, yes, but Lovecraft didn’t realize. What he thought were just fantasy stories, was actually a way of channeling the truth”. I think that is actually bullshit. I think that is to diminish the genuine magic of Lovecraft, which is his extraordinary writing. That is all the magic Lovecraft needs, and that is all the magic that he generated. To try and hijack the name of a man who, as I say, was a devout rationalist and atheist to try to support one’s occult theories is, I think, a betrayal upon a couple of levels. I certainly wouldn’t have anything to do with that kind of thinking.
The magic that appears in Providence is that which appeared in Lovecraft’s stories. There were some very dodgy occult incantations mentioned in, I think, “Horror at Red Hook”, cribbed from Encyclopedia Britannica without really understanding them, and it showed. And, of course, there are references to Cabbalists in a few Lovecraft stories. This is not a book about magic. This is a book about Lovecraft. Without going too far into it, I’ve made sure that those references in Providence are credible and realistic.
But magic is perceived in Providence, as Lovecraft perceived it, as a kind of misunderstood science, rather than as anything supernatural.
HMS: Exactly, yes.
AM: That seems to work fine. It still gets across the same unearthly effects, but isn’t backed up by the explanation, “Oh, it was magic”, which used in that way is much less interesting than what Lovecraft was doing. Which is to say, much like Arthur C. Clark said, “No, it isn’t magic, but it’s something that is so far beyond us that that is probably the only way that we could conceive of it”. And that’s the kind of tack we’ve taken in Providence.
Providence #4 arrives in shops this Wednesday, September 2nd, and issue #5 will arrive on October 28th, and is currently listed in Previews World with item code: AUG151130