“Through the Gates of the Silver Key“


“Through the Gates of the Silver Key“
   Novelette (14,550 words); written in collaboration with E.Hoffmann Price, October 1932–April 1933. First published in WT(July 1934); first collected in O;corrected text in MM
   Several individuals gather in New Orleans—Etienne Laurent de Marigny, Ward Phillips, the lawyer Ernest B.Aspinwall, and a strange individual named the Swami Chandraputra—to discuss the disposition of the estate of Randolph Carter. The Swami opposes any action, because he maintains that Carter is still alive. He proceeds to tell a fabulous story of what happened to Carter after his return to boyhood (as noted in “The Silver Key”).
   Carter passed through a succession of “Gates” into some realm “outside time and the dimensions we know,” led by a “Guide,” ’Umr at-Tawil, the Prolonged of Life. This guide eventually led Carter to the thrones of the Ancient Ones, from whom he learned that there are “archetypes” for every entity in the universe and that each person’s entire ancestry is nothing more than a facet of the single archetype; Carter learned that he himself is a facet of the “SUPREME ARCHETYPE.” Then, somehow, Carter found himself in the body of a fantastically alien being, Zkauba the Wizard, on the planet Yaddith. He managed to return to earth but must go about in concealment because of his alien form. When the hard-nosed lawyer Aspinwall scoffs at the Swami’s story, a final revelation is made: the Swami is Randolph Carter, still in the monstrous shape of Zkauba. Aspinwall, having removed Carter’s mask, dies immediately of apoplexy. Carter then disappears through a large clock in the room. The story is based on a draft, entitled “The Lord of Illusion,” written by Price. Price had become so enamored of “The Silver Key” that, during HPL’s visit with him in New Orleans in June 1932, he “suggested a sequel to account for Randolph Carter’s doings after his disappearance” (Price, “The Man Who Was Lovecraft,” in Cats,p. 281). Sending “The Lord of Illusion” to HPL in late August, he expressed hope that HPL might revise it and allow it to be published as an acknowledged collaboration.
   “The Lord of Illusion” (first printed in CryptNo. 10 [1982]: 46–56) tells the story of how Randolph Carter, after finding the silver key, enters a strange cavern in the hills behind his family home in Massachusetts and encounters a strange man who announces himself as “’Umr at-Tawil, your guide,” who leads Carter to some other-dimensional realm where he meets the Ancient Ones. These entities explain the nature of the universe to Carter: just as a circle is produced from the intersection of a cone with a plane, so our three-dimensional world is produced from the intersection of a plane with a figure of a higher dimension; analogously, time is an illusion, being merely the result of this sort of “cutting” of infinity. It transpires that all Carters who have ever lived are part of a single archetype, so that if Carter could manipulate his “section-plane” (the plane that determines his situation in time), he could be any Carter he wished to be, from antiquity to the distant future. In a purported surprise ending, Carter reveals himself as an old man among a group of individuals who had assembled to divide up Carter’s estate.
   HPL, upon reading the draft, stated that extensive changes would need to be made in the story to bring it in line with the original tale. In the letter in which he evaluates Price’s work, he specifies several faults that must be rectified: (1) the style must be made more similar to that of “The Silver Key” (Price’s version, devoid of his usual action and swordplay, is generally flat, stilted, and pompous); (2) various points of the plot must be reconciled with that of “The Silver Key”; (3) the transition from the mundane world to the hyperspace realm must be vastly subtilized; and (4) the atmosphere of lecture-room didacticism in the Ancient Ones’ discussions with Carter must be eliminated.
   Price has remarked that “I estimated that [HPL] had left unchanged fewer than fifty of my original words” (“The Man Who Was Lovecraft,” p. 282), a comment that has led many to believe that the finished version of “Through the Gates of the Silver Key” is radically different from Price’s original; but, as we have seen, HPL adhered to the basic framework of Price’s tale as best he could. The quotations from the Necronomiconare largely Price’s, although somewhat amended by HPL. Price submitted the story to WTon June 19, 1933, both praising the story and minimizing his own role in it. Wright’s response was not unexpected: “I have carefully read THROUGH THE GATES OF THE SILVER KEY and am almost overwhelmed by the colossal scope of the story. It is cyclopean in its daring and titanic in its execution…. But I am afraid to offer it to our readers. Many there would be…who would go into raptures of esthetic delight while reading the story; just as certainly there would be a great many—probably a clear majority—of our readers who would be unable to wade through it. These would find the descriptions and discussions of polydimensional space poison to their enjoyment of the tale…. I assure you that never have I turned down a story with more regret than in this case” (Farnsworth Wright to HPL, August 17, 1933; ms., JHL). But by mid-November 1933 Wright was asking to see the story again, and he accepted it a week later. It in fact elicited a hostile response from the young Henry Kuttner, published in the letter column of WT(September 1934).
   See Norm Gayford, “Randolph Carter: An Anti-Hero’s Quest,” LS No. 16 (Spring 1988): 3–11; No. 17 (Fall 1988): 5–13.

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