- “Unnamable, The“
- Short story (2,970 words); written September 1923. First published in WT (July 1925); first collected in BWS;corrected text in DIn an old burying ground in Arkham, the first-person narrator, “Carter,” and his friend Joel Manton discuss Carter’s horror tales. Manton enunciates his objections to the weird—as contrary to probability, as not based on “realism,” and as extravagant and unrelated to life. In particular, he scoffs at the idea of something being termed “unnamable”; but later that evening the two men encounter just such an entity in the burying ground.Although Carter’s first name is never mentioned, one assumes that he is Randolph Carter of “The Statement of Randolph Carter” (1919). But because of the uncertainty of his identity, “The Unnamable” has frequently not been considered part of the sequence of stories involving Carter. Only the most glancing reference to the incident related in this story appears in “The Silver Key” (1926): “Then he went back to Arkham,…and had experiences in the dark, amidst the hoary willows, and tottering gambrel roofs, which made him seal forever certain pages in the diary of a wild-minded ancestor.”In part, the tale is a satire on the stolid bourgeois unresponsiveness to the weird tale. Carter’s observation that “it is the province of the artist…to arouse strong emotion by action, ecstasy, and astonishment” signals HPL’s absorption of the literary theory of Arthur Machen (whom he was first reading at this time), specifically the treatise Hieroglyphics: A Note upon Ecstasy in Literature (1902). The tale might have been directly inspired by the opening of Machen’s episodic novel The Three Impostors(1895), in which two characters debate as to the proper function of literature, one of them (analogous to Manton) remarking that “one has no business to make use of the wonderful, the improbable, the odd coincidence in literature…that it was wrong to do so, because as a matter of fact the wonderful and the improbable don’t happen….” In HPL’s story, the satire becomes more pointed because the character of Manton is clearly based upon HPL’s friend Maurice W.Moe (Manton is “principal of the East High School,” just as Moe was an instructor at the West Division High School in Milwaukee). Carter points out that Manton actually “believ[ed] in the supernatural much more fully than I”—an allusion to Manton’s (and Moe’s) religious beliefs.The story also explores the sense of the lurking horror of New England history and topography. It is set in Arkham, but the actual inspiration for the setting—a “dilapidated seventeenth-century tomb” and, nearby, a “giant willow in the centre of the cemetery, whose trunk has nearly engulfed an ancient, illegible slab”—is the Charter Street Burying Ground in Salem, where just such a treeengulfed slab can be found. Later in the story HPL records various “old-wives’ superstitions,” some of which are taken from Cotton Mather’s Magnalia Christi Americana(1702), of which he owned an ancestral copy.
An H.P.Lovecraft encyclopedia. S.T. Joshi, David E. Schultz.
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