Lovecraft’s “The Other Gods,” Part 2: The Role of the Eclipse

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This article concludes the discussion on H.P. Lovecraft’s “The Other Gods” with an assessment of the role of the eclipse in this tale.  While the story is fairly short, an eclipse is mentioned four times in the text. The first time it is mentioned is when villagers tell how Barzai the Wise “…went up a mountain on the night of the strange eclipse.” The fact that the eclipse is mentioned to occur at night indicates that it must be a lunar eclipse and not a solar eclipse. As previously described, a lunar eclipse is where the sun, Earth and moon are aligned with Earth in the middle. During a total lunar eclipse, direct sunlight is completely blocked by the Earth’s shadow so the only light observed is that refracted through Earth’s shadow. Lunar eclipses give the moon a reddish color and so are sometimes called a blood moon.  This is due to the scattering of more blue light and more red light being received by our eyes.

lunar_eclipse_fb A Lunar Eclipse

Later in the tale it is said, “The moon is dark, and the gods dance in the night; there is terror in the sky, for upon the moon hath sunk an eclipse foretold in no books of men or of earth’s gods…” This statement is particularly strange for two reasons. First, it states that the moon was dark. Lunar eclipses can only occur when the moon is full; in contrast, solar eclipses occur only during the day when the moon is new and thus would be dark. We know that the events in “The Other Gods” occurs at night and we know the moon is visible so I hypothesis that the moon was still full and thus visible (if it was not visible why would it be mentioned). However, the term “dark” may refer to the moon not being as bright as it typically is during a full moon.

The second odd point in the statement above was that the eclipse was not predicted or foretold in any books. Once you understand that relationship between the sun, Earth and moon and know that an eclipse can only occur when the sun is close to a node in the moon’s orbit, such events can be predicted. In ancient times on Earth the appearance of an eclipse was an indication of apocalyptic events since they were not understood and could not be predicted (similar to comets; celestial events that appear to be initially chaotic compared to the movement of the sun, moon, stars and planets). Even if the arrangement of the Dreamlands sun, Earth and moon is slightly different in the Dreamlands multiverse compared to ours, the fact that it states that this eclipse was not foretold indicates that this was a unique event and that eclipses are typically predicted by astronomers in the Dreamlands.

2012-02-13-dreammap-color-small A map of the Dreamlands by Jason B. Thompson (www.mockman.com)

Barzai and Atal travel to the peaks of Hatheg-Kla to observe the Earth Gods dance. Barzai must have had some very secretive information to be able to know when to go to Hatheg-Kla to see the Earth Gods since the eclipse was not predicted. Toward the end of the story when Barzai bears witness to the Other Gods this appears to occur during the eclipse. It is during the eclipse that Barzai falls up into the sky, probably being abducted by the Other Gods.

After the Other Gods take Barzai, the moon comes out of the eclipse and Atal is found on the lower snows of the mountain. Clouds are associated with the strange eclipse in this passage so it may have been caused by the cloud ships of the Earth Gods who visit the mountaintop to dance and observe the Other Gods themselves. However, I hypothesize that the eclipse was actually caused by the Other Gods themselves coming into our universe through an inter-dimensional portal. In fact, the strange, dark, unpredicted eclipse may have been how the Other Gods entered the Dreamlands Universe. While the Earth Gods stayed back and secure in their cloud ships, foolish Barzai the “Wise” actually made himself known to the Other Gods and paid the price.

2015-03-18-theothergods The Other Gods by Jason B. Thompson (www.mockman.com)

At the end of the story it is said that “…to this day the people of Ulthar and Nir and Hatheg fear eclipses, and pray by night when pale vapors hide the mountain-top on Hatheg-Kla…”, I think the fear is of unpredictable eclipses, not of all eclipses. Additionally, if an unpredictable eclipse does open a portal from one universe to another, it would be wise for the residents of the Dreamlands to stay away from the peaks of Hatheg-Kla.

TheOtherGods_JbLee The Other Gods by Jb Lee

Next time we will discuss Lovecraft’s understanding and misuse of the theory of evolution in his tale “Facts Concerning the Late Arthur Jermyn and His Family.” Much of this information will be based on a presentation I gave on Lovecraft and evolution at the NecronomiCon in August 2017. Thank you – Fred.

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Lovecraft’s “The Other Gods,” Part 1: Earth Gods and Other Gods

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As previously mentioned data collected during the 29th of May 1919 eclipse was used to empirically confirm Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity and this had a substantial impact on Lovecraft’s view of the Cosmos. In turn, this provided the foundation for the development of his unique view of cosmic horror.  While eclipses are frequently discussed by Lovecraft in his astronomical writings, in fact he wrote an entire article on eclipses for the Asheville [N.C.] Gazette-News, published 2 March 1915 (Joshi, 2004), eclipses are typically not an important component of his fiction. The exception to this was his short story “The Other Gods,” written in 1921 and first published in in The Fantasy Fan in November 1933.

In the tale Barzai the Wise wants to visit one of the tallest earth peaks, Hatheg-Kla, to witness the Earth Gods dance under a clear moon. Barzai was very knowledgeable on the lore of Earth’s Gods and he thought this knowledge would protect him from their wrath if he was in in their presence. Thus, Barzai decided to travel to the top of Hatheg-Kla on the night of a strange eclipse.  Barzai was accompanied by his young disciple and assistance Atal.

capbarzai                                                                    Barzai the wise on his journey to encounter the Earth Gods

It is said the Gods of Earth visit Hatheg-Kla in their ship of clouds. Lovecraft references this a number of times in “The Other Gods.” For example, in one passage Lovecraft states, “Often the gods of earth visit Hatheg-Kla in their ships of clouds, casting pale vapors over the slopes as they dance reminiscently on the summit under a clear moon.” When I was a graduate student doing research on the sub-alpine lakes in northern California, lenticular clouds frequently appeared over Mount Shasta. These lenticular clouds are essentially stationary, lend-shaped clouds that are typically perpendicularly aligned to the direction of the wind. However, many local residents of the local areas thought of these clouds formations as being “cloud ships” of beings from other worlds or dimensions, frequently called Lemurians. Are the Gods of Earth in Lovecraft’s “The Other Gods” actually extra-dimensional beings who visit the “Dreamlands” world? Are Lovecraft’s Gods of the Earth Lemurians?

Mt. Shasta_CrystallineCitiesofLight_AmorahQuanYin                            Mount Shasta, CA with lenticular clouds; could these be the cloud ships described by Lovecraft? Photo titled Crystalline Cites of Light by Amorah Quan Yin

While Barzai climbed to the very top of Hatheg-Kla, Atal stayed just below the summit, refusing to observe and encounter the Gods of Earth. Barzai did see the Earth Gods dance and howl in the moonlight and actually thought the Gods were afraid him and his wisdom. However, “Whilst Barzai was shouting these things Atal felt a spectral change in all the air, as if the laws of earth were bowing to greater laws…”. Such observed conditions may be indicative of an inter-dimensional breach or portal opening. At a minimum, it may be a weakening of the barrier between two universes.

As Michio Kaku has suggested along with others (Kaku, 1994 and Kaku, 2005), the structure of reality may be an incalculable number of ten-dimensional, soap bubble universes. While space-time would exist within each soap bubble, natural laws would cease to exist outside of these bubble universes. In addition, the natural laws of one universe may be slightly or substantially different than the natural laws of another universe. It is hypothesized that for the majority of these universes life (at least life as we know it) could not exist. For example, if gravity is slightly stronger than in our universe, all matter may be coalesced into one, large universal lump. In contrast, if the electromagnetic repulsion is slightly stronger that the strong nuclear force, atoms may never form. However, slight variations in the natural laws (e.g. a “weaker” weak nuclear force) could still produce a universe that could harbor life. Additionally, with slightly different natural laws the manipulation of matter and energy could be very different in one universe relative to another.

sopabubble                                                                                                           Illustration of a connection between two “soap bubble” Universes.

Of course, the large reveal in the tale is that the Earth Gods are not frightened of Barzai but of the Other Gods. In fact, while frightened, the Earth Gods mockingly laugh at Barzai’s encounter with the Other Gods. Atal’s statement “…a spectral change in all the air, as if the laws of earth were bowing to greater laws…”, may be a hint that while the Earth Gods are part of the Dreamlands Universe, the Other Gods are not. The Other Gods can wield matter and energy in a different manner as the dwellers of the Dreamlands. This would also explain how Barzai ends up “falling into the sky.” The Other Gods have the ability to manipulate matter and energy in a very different manner.

untitled                    An encounter with the Other Gods on the peak of Hatheg-Kla

In conclusion, the Other Gods may be beings from outside of the Dreamlands Universe and under a specific set of circumstances can enter the Dreamlands Universe through an inter-dimensional portal that connects it with their Universe. At least one of these connections or bridges between the two universes may be on the peak of Hatheg-Kla. While the Earth Gods may be aliens from another Dreamlands world, the Other Gods are extra-universal beings that are very different from all of the residences of the Dreamland Universe. Do the Earth Gods worship the Other Gods? Almost nothing is known of this relationship.

lenticularclouds_MtShata Another view of Mt. Shasta with lenticular clouds

Next time we will wrap up our analysis of “The Other Gods” with a discussion of the role of eclipses in the tale. Thank you – Fred.

H.P. Lovecraft and the Influence Eclipses Had on Him

solar-eclipse-www.nj.com               The 21st August 2017 solar eclipse (www.nj.com)T

Last month’s total solar eclipse occurred on the 21st of August 2017, one day after H.P. Lovecraft’s birthday.  The last total solar eclipse through the continental United States before this year was 26 February 1979; before that the last total solar eclipse was on 8 June 1918.  Surprisingly I could find no reference to it in Lovecraft’s essays on astronomy. However, by 1918 Lovecraft was shifting the majority of his writing from astronomical observations to fiction. Lovecraft did note partial or total solar eclipses in April 1903, June 1908, June 1909, January 1916 and January 1917. He also noted a solar eclipse that was observed as a partial one in the northeastern part of the United States on 21st August 1914 (Joshi, 2004), 103 years before the one we just observed last month.

The last time Lovecraft reported on upcoming eclipses in his astronomical articles was in the 1 December 1917 edition of the Evening News.  In the article Lovecraft states, “Two eclipses will occur this month, an annular eclipse of the sun and total eclipse of the moon. The solar eclipse, which occurs on the 14th, will be invisible at Providence, but visible in the Antarctic regions and the southern parts of the American and Australian continents. The lunar eclipse falls on the 28th and will be generally visible here, except for the final emergence of the moon from the earth’s penumbra, which will take place after our satellite has set in the morning” (Joshi, 2004).

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Just for clarification, a lunar eclipse is where the sun, Earth and moon are aligned with Earth in the middle. During a total lunar eclipse, direct sunlight is completely blocked by the Earth’s shadow so the only light observed is that refracted through Earth’s shadow. Lunar eclipses give the moon a reddish color, sometimes called a blood moon, due to the scattering of more blue light and more red light being received by our eyes.

Luna-roja A lunar eclipse

In contrast, a solar eclipse such as the one that occurred last month, is when the sun, Earth and moon are aligned with the moon between the sun and the Earth. For a solar eclipse, this conjunction of the three bodies can only occur during a new moon, which is the first phase of the moon where it and the sun have the same elliptical longitude.

Solar_lunar_eclipse_diagram

While Lovecraft did not appear to officially document any more eclipses in astronomical articles after the end of 1917, he did note a time when he traveled to Boston to spend time with W. Paul Cook in late August 1932. They then went to Newburyport to see a total solar eclipse.  Lovecraft noted “The landscape did not change in tone until the solar crescent was rather small, & then a kind of sunset vividness became apparent. When the crescent waned to extreme thinness, the scene grew strange & spectral – an almost deathlike quality inhering in the sickly yellowish light” (Joshi, 2014).

It should be noted a particular solar eclipse did contribute toward a major change in Lovecraft’s view of the Cosmos, specifically in reference to Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity. Isaacs Newton and physicists since him have described gravity as a force – and this concept works well when describing the motions of planets and other “large” bodies. However, Einstein said gravity was the result of a distortion in space-time, created by the presence of mass (Farndon, 2007). Thus, the larger the mass of the object, the greater the distortion.

BLOG_www.solar-eclipse.earth_einstein_1140w483_300dpi-min_1Gravity being the result of distortions in space-time due to mass (www.solar-eclipse.earth) 

When Einstein initially proposed this idea most of the scientific community did not think much of the hypothesis. Like many of Einstein’s ideas, it was very strange and his calculations were difficult to follow. A key point to Einstein’s idea was that everything would be impacted by these distortions, even light. Einstein knew that no one would take his idea seriously if it could not be empirically tested and validated. In the spring of 1919, the astronomer Sir Arthur Eddington took photographs during a solar eclipse – which is the only time that stars can be seen during the day. His results confirmed that the light of a star did indeed shift or “bend” when it passed close to the Sun. This shift was almost exactly as Einstein predicted.

Negative_photo_of_the_1919_solar_eclipse_medium                                                                                          Negative photo of the 1919 solar eclipse, which confirmed Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity

The confirmation of the Theory of General Relativity through the collection of empirical data during a solar eclipse had a profound impact on Lovecraft’s philosophical view of the Cosmos. For example, in a letter to his friend James F. Morton, Lovecraft stated that Einstein’s Theory of Relativity throws our world and perception of reality into chaos, making the cosmos a jest or as he put it: “All the cosmos is a jest, and fit to be treated only as a jest, and one thing is as true as another” (S.T. Joshi’s I Am Providence:  The Life and Times of H.P. Lovecraft from Hippocampus Press, 2013).

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While initially Lovecraft actually appears a little distressed over the confirmation of the Theory of General Relativity, he did eventually come to terms with its concepts as demonstrated in his fiction. While some have been critical of Lovecraft’s use or distorted use of Einstein’s Theories in his fiction, it was still innovative story writing at the time – using cutting edge physics and science in horror fiction. Some of the most interesting “connections” recognized by Lovecraft and incorporated into this cosmic fiction included the importance of non-Euclidean geometry and math in a “curved space-time” Einsteinian universe. Thus, of all of the solar eclipses Lovecraft documented in his life, the one off the west coast of Africa on 29th of May 1919 probably had the largest impact on him as a writer.

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Next time we will discuss the one story of Lovecraft’s where an eclipse was an important component of the tale – The Other Gods. Thank you – Fred.

How the Universe Expanded in H.P. Lovecraft’s Lifetime: Part 3, Beyond the Mountains of Madness

Hubble shears a "woolly" galaxy A previously unidentified “woolly galaxy” found by the Hubble Telescope (www.nasa.gov).

As we previously discussed, H.P. Lovecraft’s “The Whisperer in Darkness” may have been the “keystone” tale in which the Universe expanded from one island galaxy into one including hundreds of millions, if not billions, of galaxies. This expanded view of the Universe largely stems from Edwin Hubble’s confirmation that many observed gaseous nebulae are actually entire galaxies, as well as his discovery that the Universe is expanding at an accelerated rate. While “The Whisperer in Darkness” (written in early 1930) have been the tale where Lovecraft first introduced this expanding view of the Universe, largely through the perspective of the Mi-Go, the idea of multiple galaxies was firmly established by the time he wrote At the Mountains of Madness in early 1931.

As Dyer and Danforth were examining the bas-reliefs of the Elder Things they found a section that represented “…the preterrestrial life of the star-headed beings on other planets, in other galaxies, and in other universes…”. Thus, not only is a universe filled with galaxies but the concept of a multiverse was also identified by Lovecraft. It is interesting to note that At the Mountains of Madness was not the first reference Lovecraft made to more than one universe in his stories. This is not particularly surprising since as we previously stated before Hubble’s discoveries, the Milky Way Galaxy was considered the Universe; thus, one could easily extrapolate and consider the presence of more than only galaxy-universe. However, the concept of the multiverse and how Lovecraft understood it will be discussed in future articles.

lovecraft elder2 Elder Thing by Steve Maschuck

In “The Dreams in the Witch-House” Walter Gilman talks about how with the use of higher mathematics one can travel through Space-Time by finding a passage out of our 3-dimensional space-sphere and then re-entering at another point within our space-sphere. While the travel itself would not kill the traveler, one would have to make sure that the point of re-entry is favorable conditions for life (e.g. enough oxygen to breath, minimal amount of radiation, temperature concerns, etc.). Following this Gilman hypothesized that “Denizens of some planets might be able to live on certain others – even planets belonging to other galaxies or to similar dimensional phases of other space-time continua…”. Again, Lovecraft clearly embraces the idea of many galaxies in our universe.

the-dreams-in-the-witch-house-jhc-by-h_-p_-lovecraft-2-2120-p

In “Through the Gates of the Silver Key,” co-written with E. Hoffmann Price, Randolph Carter is attempting to understand how there can be other forms of his “self” – human and non-human, vertebrate and invertebrate, conscious and mindless, animal and vegetable. He goes on to say, “And more, there were “Caters” having nothing in common with earthly life, but moving outrageously amidst backgrounds of other planets, systems and galaxies and cosmic continua.” Later, when Carter’s mind enters a Yaddithian wizard’s body, he has access to light-beam envelope technology that can transport him through space-time to other worlds spread throughout the 28 galaxies accessible to the light-beam. It is not yet understood if this limitation to 28 galaxies is simply a spatial limitation or if the Yaddithian technology to allow the light-beams to be transmitted is only found in these 28 galaxies.

lovecraft___zkauba__yaddithian_ii_by_kingovrats-d9sn1hl                    The Yaddithian wizard Zkauba by KingOvRats (www.deviantart.com)

In The Shadow Out of Time, Nathaniel Wingate Peaslee attempted to understand the information provided to him on how the Earth was once inhibited by entities far more advanced than humans, millions of years ago. Some came from the stars while others evolved on Earth from the eukaryotic cell lines bioengineered by the Elder Things. Some of these life forms existed for thousands of millions of years and had linkages to other galaxies and universes. By the time Lovecraft wrote “Collapsing Cosmos” with R.H. Barlow, there were a reported total of 37 galaxies in our immediate universe.

Finally, in one of Lovecraft’s last tales, “The Haunter of the Dark,” at the end of that tale when Robert Blake is recording his last thoughts will waiting for the Haunter to visit him during the black-out he writes, “Trouble with memory. I see things. I never knew before. Other worlds and other galaxies… Dark… The lightning seems dark and the darkness seems light…”. For Robert Blake, staring into the shining trapezohedron provided a more realistic perspective of the Cosmos.

haunter_RachaelMayo The Haunter by Rachael Mayo

While Edwin Hubble discovered that our universe is not limited to the Milky Way and that other galaxies exist, I believe both he and Lovecraft would be amazed to know that just a few years ago the Hubble Space Telescope estimated that there are nearly 100 billion galaxies in the known Universe. However, just last year Hubble’s Ultra Deep Field survey revealed that volumes of space once thought empty are literally teeming with galaxies. Thus, while the most recent observations estimate that the observable Universe contains approximately 200 billion galaxies, studies from 2016 indicate that this estimate is at least 10 times too low. Thus, even Lovecraft’s 28 to 37 local cluster of galaxies may be an infinitesimally tiny fraction of the true structure of the Universe.

p1639ay-goodss-160930 Areas of space once thought empty have been revealed to be filled with galaxies by the Hubble surveys (www.nasa.gov).

Next time we will discuss eclipses in Lovecraft’s astronomical writings and his stories. Thank you – Fred.

From Providence to the Stars – a few notes on the 2017 NecronomiCon

Just wanted to give everyone a brief summary of the 2017 NecronomiCon from a Lovecraftian Science point of view. Thursday night we witnessed the incredibly “meta” and fantastic play “The Tattered King” translated and directed by Michael Tazzerati and produced by the Historical Society of Carcosa. Immediately after that was the Dark Adventure Radio Theater’s “The Haunter of the Dark” presented by the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society. Finished the evening with the Black Lodge Party at Thee Red Fez.

Thunderstorm lightning with dark cloudy sky

The Armitage Symposium was kicked off Friday morning by Niels Hobbs and Dennis P. Quinn and over lunch we participated in a live show of the H.P. Lovecraft Literary Podcast where Chris Lackey and Chad Fifer reviewed two August Derleth tales. Later, I gave a talk as part of the Armitage Symposium – “The Lovecraftian Solar System: A Tour of Our Cosmic Neighborhood Through the Eyes of H.P. Lovecraft.” After that I was on the panel “The Fairy Folk: Faerie in the Weird Tradition” with Jeff Shanks, Gwendolyn Kiste, Faye Ringel and Paul Di Filippo. Our moderator was Rory Raven and it was a blast! That evening went to another Dark Adventure Radio Theater show presented by the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society. This time it was an original tale – “The Brotherhood of the Beast.”

SolarSystem

Saturday morning was on the panel – “The Edge of Space: Where Sci-Fi and Cosmic Horror Meet.” The Moderator was Vincent O’Neil, who has written a variety of books, including the very entertaining Interlands and Denizens. The other panelists included Nnedi Okorafor, Lois Gresh and Robert Waugh. Great conversation and got to snap a photo with Nnedi, who has written the sci-fi book Binti, which is a great book both my daughter and I have read.  Looking forward to the other two books in this trilogy!

Space The panel for “The Edge of Space: Where Sci-Fi and Cosmic Horror Meet.”

Later I gave a talk as part of the Academic Talks Program, which was coordinated by Mrinalini Nikrad. My Academic My talk was on “H.P. Lovecraft’s Understanding and Misrepresentation of the Theory of Evolution in his Tales” and was followed by the entertaining presentation “Queer Geometry and Higher Dimensions: Mathematics in the Fiction of H.P. Lovecraft” by Daniel Look, Ph.D. I was then the moderator of a panel called “Miskatonic U. and the Mythos.” The panelists included Sean Branney, Will Murray, Anne Pilsworth, Robert Waugh and Douglas Wynne. I was very nervous but we had a great time thinking about what sort of classes the university would include in their curriculum. Later that night had dinner with some of the crew from the Lovecraft eZine and Patreon members.  Some great food, drink and conservation!

Evolution

On Sunday morning, went to the Cthulhu Prayer Breakfast overseen by the great Reverend Cody Goodfellow.  Later, I was the session chair for the Armitage Symposium session “Emanations Abominations: Lovecraft Around the Globe.” The presenters included Lucio Reis Filho, Elena Tchougounova-Paulson and Sean Moreland. After that it was time to head home. Now getting back to working on new articles for the WordPress page, mailing out the last of the Kickstarter books and then making hard copies of the Journal of Lovecraftian Science available for direct purchase. It was great to see everyone at the NecronomiCon this year, a BIG thank you to Niels Hobbs! Already looking forward to 2019! Thank you – Fred.

Cody_Goodfellow                                                       The Reverend Cody Goodfellow

 

How the Universe Expanded in H.P. Lovecraft’s Lifetime: Part 2, The Whisperer in Darkness

o-HUBBLE-UV-1000A view through the Hubble telescope of thousands of galaxies in one small patch of space

As previously discussed, while H.P. Lovecraft was writing his astronomical articles in the early 20th century, primarily between 1906 to 1918 (Collected Essays Volume 3: Science H.P. Lovecraft, edited by S.T. Joshi, 2005), the Galaxy was essentially thought of as our Universe.  However, on 30 December 1924 when Edwin Hubble publicly announced the discovery of other galaxies, the perception of our Universe substantially increased in size.  Searching through Lovecraft’s fiction, his collection of essays associated with Science (Joshi, 2005) and Joshi’s biography on Lovecraft, I Am Providence: The Life and Times of H.P. Lovecraft (Joshi, 2013), I could find no specific reference to Hubble.  However, I have not reviewed all of his letters so Lovecraft may have mentioned Hubble there.  This significant change in our view of the Universe from an Island Galaxy in a starless void to an expanding Universe filled with billions of galaxies, does seem to creep into Lovecraft’s later fiction. Part of this is due to when Hubble made his announcement in late 1924 and part of this due to changes in Lovecraft’s style in writing and his subject matter.

In Lovecraft’s early tales, from 1917 to 1920-21, there is almost no mention of the word galaxy. The exception was a passing reference in “From Beyond,” written in 1920, where once the Tillinghast machine is turned on the protagonist was describing what he observed which included “I seemed for an instant to behold a patch of strange night sky filled with shining revolving spheres, and as it receded I saw that the glowing suns formed a constellation or galaxy of settled shape; this shape being the distorted fact of Crawford Tillinghast.” Even here the word “galaxy” is being used as a descriptive term or metaphysical point of view rather than as a purely scientific term.

It would not be until “The Whisperer in Darkness,” written in 1930, that Lovecraft would use the word galaxy from a scientific perspective. Indeed, this tale may be a pivotal point for Lovecraft in his view of both the Cosmos and cosmic horror and the word “galaxy” may be an indicator of this.

lvcrft_by_terrordelacomarca-d96cprzThe Whisperer in Darkness, artwork by Terrordelacomarca (www.deviantart.com)

The first time the word galaxy is used in “The Whisperer in Darkness” is in a letter Henry Wentworth Akeley writes to Albert N. Wilmarth, professor of literature and folklore at Miskatonic University. In it Akeley is documenting his encounters with the Mi-Go in his remote farmhouse in upstate Vermont. In the letter Akeley states that they Mi-Go may be talking to him, although he also questions whether this is a dream or if he is going mad. At one point Akeley states, “They don’t mean to let me get to California now – they want to take me off alive, or what theoretically and mentally amounts to alive – not only to Yuggoth but beyond that – away outside the galaxy and possibly beyond the last curved rim of space.” This description sounds like the old “one galaxy – one universe” hypothesis proposed by Sir William Herschel and discussed by Lovecraft in some of his astronomical articles (Joshi, 2005).

In sharp contrast to the first time the word galaxy is used, later when “pseudo-Akeley” is speaking with Wilmarth at the farmhouse he states, “There is nothing they [the Mi-Go] can’t do with the mind and body of living organisms. I expect to visit other planets and even other stars and galaxies.” Here Lovecraft is obviously conveying the multiple galaxies in one Universe view, which was firmly established in the scientific community by 1925. So, was this simply a minor grammatical slip up? Or in the tale did the Mi-Go reveal to Akeley and later to Wilmarth, that the Universe was composed of billions of galaxies? Remember according to Akeley the Mi-Go wanted humanity to discover Yuggoth, known to humans as Pluto, on 18th February 1930. Perhaps they were also revealing or at least confirming what Hubble found five years earlier, that the Universe is not simply the Milky Way Galaxy.

the_dreamer_by_brett_neufeld-dbhg32hThe Dreamer by Brett Neufeld

Later, pseudo-Akeley talks about some of the entities in the Mi-Go cylinders, stating that three are human, six are fungoid beings who can’t navigate space corporeally and two are from Neptune. He then states that the rest are “…from the central caverns of an especially interesting dark star beyond the galaxy.” Based on this statement this dark star is out of the Milky Way but not necessarily found in another galaxy.

It is interested that Lovecraft identifies a dark star. Based on Newtonian physics a dark star is a theoretical body of such large mass that any light it emits is trapped by its own gravity resulting in a “dark” star. Eventually, this term dark star was replaced by “black hole” (The Hidden Reality: Parallel Universes and the Deep Laws of the Cosmos by Brain Greene, 2011). However, a dark star is also categorized as a proto-star that may have existed in the early Universe before conventional stars were able to form. This type of dark star would be composed largely of normal matter but would also have a relatively high amount of neutralino dark matter. Such dark stars would be composed of clouds of hydrogen and helium with a diameter substantially larger in size than conventional stars. Such dark stars would have a diameter of 4 to 2,000 astronomical units (AUs). Remember, 1 AU is the distance from the Earth to the Sun. In addition, such dark stars would have a surface temperature low enough that the emitted radiation would be invisible to the naked eye. Would such temperatures be conducive for the development and evolution of life?

MikeDubischwww.themikedubischsketchbook.blogspot.com_lovecraft-cthulhu-hp-lovecraft                                        Old Ones from a Dark Star by Mike Dubisch (www.themikedubischsketchbook.blogspot.com)

Back to “The Whisperer in Darkness” in speaking to Akeley, the human in the Mi-Go cylinder states, “Do you realise what it means when I say I have been on thirty-seven different celestial bodies – planets, dark stars, and less definable objects – including eight outside our galaxy and two outside the curved cosmos of space time?” This statement – outside our galaxy and outside the curved space-time – mirrors Akeley’s earlier statement in his letter to Wilmarth. While it may appear that Lovecraft is flip-flopping in the idea of the Universe being composed on the Milky Way or of billions of galaxies, I hypothesize that this was intentional. When a human speaks about the Universe, whether it is Akeley or the human mind in the cylinder, the older concept of the Milky Way essentially being the Universe is cited. However, when pseudo-Akeley speaks about the Universe, it is clear the Mi-Go know the Universe is substantially larger and filled with billions of galaxies. I think this conveys the fact that the Mi-Go have a better understanding of the cosmos than humans.

whisperer                              The Whisperer in Darkness (Nyarlathotep) – the pseudo-Akeley by Michael Bukowski (www.yog-blogsoth.blogspot.com)

Next time we will continue to discuss how Lovecraft uses the word galaxy in his later tales. Thank you – Fred.

How the Universe Expanded in H.P. Lovecraft’s Lifetime, Part 1

In the year 964, the Persian astronomer al-Sufi (Azophi) described a “little cloud” in the constellation of Andromeda. This is one of the first documented observations in human history of another galaxy (To Explain the World: The Discovery of Modern Science by Steven Weinberg, 2016).  However, it would not be until the early 20th century when this little cloud would be recognized as the Galaxy Andromeda, also known as Messier 31, M31 or NGC 224.

07_Abd_al-Rahman_al-Sufi Abd al Rahman al Sufi, Persian astronomer, illustrated by Felix Leon.

In the early 20th century the Universe was a lot smaller.  In 1915 the Universe was thought to consist of a single and static galaxy – the Milky Way (Einstein’s Cosmos: How Albert Einstein’s Vision Transformed Our Understanding of Space and Time by Michio Kaku, 2004).  However, through Einstein’s Theory of Relativity and the observations of the red shift by Edward Hubble, the Universe was found to be expanding at an accelerated speed. In addition, advances in telescope technology revealed that many of the celestial bodies identified as nebula or clusters, were actually galaxies. It was Hubble’s work in the 1920’s that finally squashed the theory of a one-galaxy universe. Within the span of a one year of Hubble’s research and observations, the Universe went from a single galaxy full of approximately hundred billion stars to billions of galaxies, each containing billions of stars (Kaku, 2004).

This monumental shift and expansion of the Universe – from one galaxy surrounded by nebula and clusters to one containing of billions of galaxies – occurred during Lovecraft’s lifetime and it interesting to note that there are some interesting references to this expansion in his fiction. However, when Lovecraft’s writings were chiefly astronomical in nature, from 1906 to 1918 (Collected Essays Volume 3: Science H.P. Lovecraft, edited by S.T. Joshi, 2005), the Galaxy was essentially thought of as our Universe is a starless, ether-filled void.

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In H.P. Lovecraft’s early astronomical writings he frequently used to word galaxy to describe the Universe. This idea that the Universe was essentially the Milky Way was proposed by Sir William Herschel (1738-1822), composer and astronomer best known for discovering the planet Uranus.

Lovecraft actually discussed Herschel’s observations that led to his Milky Way Universe hypothesis in his article “August Skies” in Providence Evening News, 1917 (Collected Essays Volume 3: Science H.P. Lovecraft, edited by S.T. Joshi, 2005). Based on Herschel’s observations most of the stars were found in a great circle or broad circular, roughly corresponding to the Galactic Plane.  Stars outside of this belt were said to be few and scattered (Joshi, 2005).  This let to Herschel to the hypothesis that “…the visible stellar universe to consist of an immense cluster of stars, the components disposed with moderate uniformity and the whole so shaped that it forms a thin flat disc of incredible magnitude, near whose centre lies our own solar system.” While his description of our home galaxy is fairly accurate, Hershel was incorrect in thinking our solar system in in the center.  In fact, as Carl Sagan has stated we are in the suburbs or countryside of the galaxy.  We are not in any important place in the Milky Way.

universetoday.com.sunmilkyway Our position in the Milky Way Galaxy (www.universetoday.com)

While the general thought in the early 20th century was that the Milky Way was essentially the Universe, Lovecraft did state in the same article cited above, “That most nebulae belong to our universe seems probable, thought it was once believed that they, as well as clusters, are other universe, or external Galaxies, as it were.” This paragraph in the 1917 article concludes with the following:

“Whether or not such things as other universes do exist, is a question of the highest interest, involving conceptions of the most awful grandeur. It is very likely that these colossal universes of suns are widely scattered through boundless space, though separated by such terrifying and abysmal distances that their light, sent on its way at the time of their creation, has not yet reached from one to the other. It were unless here to speak of the ultimate confines of space itself. If the monstrous distances dealt with in the ordinary study of astronomy be stupefying in their immensity, what may be said of infinity itself? The idea of a boundary to all space is even more repellent than the terrible conception of the illimitable.”

Frosty_Drew_Milky_Way_www.charlestowncitizens.org A view of the Milky Way in New England (www.charlestowncitizens.org)

Obviously as the quote above suggests, some of Lovecraft’s concepts on cosmic horror stem from his astronomical observations and investigations. In another article “Clusters and Nebulae” in the Ashville [N.C.] Gazette-New, 1915 (Joshi, 2005), Lovecraft states that about 1,000 nebulae have been recorded and a few are actually visible to the naked eye. One of these nebulae he mentions is Andromeda. Again, at the time Andromeda was identified as a nebula; however, we now know it’s a galaxy composed of approximately 1 trillion stars. Based on the latest observations made with the Hubble telescope there are approximately 100 billion galaxies in the universe, however, this number is more than likely to at least double with improvements in telescope technology.

m31_comolli_2193 The Andromeda Galaxy, also known as M31

In conclusion, when Lovecraft was writing his articles on astronomy, the Milky Way was considered to be an “island universe” surrounded by nebulae and clusters. However, on 30 December 1924 Edwin Hubble publicly announced the discovery of other galaxies, making our universe a much bigger place. This announcement must have had an incredible impact on Lovecraft; however, by the 1920’s he focused his writing on fiction instead of articles on astronomy. Next time we will discuss how Hubble’s radical change of our view of the universe permeated into Lovecraft’s later fiction. Thank you – Fred.

edwin_hubble_large_bbci.co.uk          Edwin Hubble (www.bbci.co.uk)