In the pervious article we discussed the possibility that Joe Slater had schizophrenia, which would explain his violent mood swings and hallucinations. However, in HPL’s “Beyond the Wall of Sleep,” the intern at the unnamed New England institute discovers that Joe is actually “possessed” by another entity. Thus, it is possible that the symptoms of schizophrenia have manifested in Joe as a result of his mind trying to copy with his body housing two consciousnesses? Is it possible that all or most people suffering from schizophrenia are trying to cope with a similar situation? Are Joe’s auditory and visual hallucinations actually the thoughts or experiences of the entity nested and dwelling within his body? And what of this parasitic entity? What is it and where does it come from?
Relative to the actual entity within Joe, HPL gives very little information. A similar story by another author could have easily shifted into pure supernatural, where Joe is being possessed by a demon and an exorcism is required. Such ideas were not of interest to HPL and his philosophy of materialism. However, Beyond the Wall of Sleep is one of HPL’s earliest literary expressions of cosmic horror, something he will master later in life. In addition, as S.T. Joshi has cited Beyond the Wall of Sleep is one of HPL’s first “quasi-science-fiction” tales, a term Joshi uses since “science-fiction” itself would not be properly defined until a little later in the 20th century (I Am Providence: The Life and Times of H.P. Lovecraft by S.T. Joshi; 2013).
Again, little is known about this entity but the fact that its consciousness has been trapped in Joe Slater’s mind his whole life indicates it must have been with Joe either before or immediately after his birth. HPL discussed similar mind transfers in “The Shadow Out of Time” and there situations were discussed where the mind of a member of the Great Race would switch with the mind of the species they are studying. Without the strange crystalline machines that aid in transferring the minds through space-time, a member of the Great Race could be marooned in a species, in a particular time and place. So, is the entity in Joe Slater a member of the Great Race?
The Great Race (from the Lovecraft Tarot by David Wynn and D.L. Hutchinson, Illustrator)
I think this is very unlikely for fourth reasons. First, the Grate Race typically switch minds with an individual; they do not cohabitate the same body. Second, while I suppose a member of the Great Race could enter the mind of a new born child I think this extremely unlikely since the members of the Great Race back on ancient Earth would then have to deal with a large Cone-Shaped Being with an infant’s mind! Third, I can’t imagine a member of the Great Race actually communicating with the intern. The Great Race made every effort to avoid being exposed to other species. Fourth, the behavior of the entity did not have the scientific perspective of the Great Race. To be blunt, the entity was kind of a jerk and was obsessed with getting revenge on Algol, the daemon-star. More on that in a future article. Thus, based on the evidence we have it is highly unlikely that the entity is a member of the Great Race. However, the entity may have used similar technology or principles that the Great Race uses but for some reason ended up stuck in Joe Slater.
The entity itself does not have a distinct corporal form and is described as a luminous thing. In addition, the enemy that the entity is so obsessed with appears to a member of the same luminescent non-corporeal species. The strange, luminescent appearance of the entity apparently gives it the ability to fly through space and “burn” (pass through?) matter.
An illustration for “Beyond the Wall of Sleep” from Weird Tales, Volume 31, March 1938 – the luminescent non-corporeal entities.
When the intern makes “cosmic radio” contact with the entity, he becomes a , luminescent non-corporeal thing as well. He calls the entity his “brother of light” and after a period of time traveling through space and exchanging thoughts the intern ends up back in his human shell. At that point Joe Slater is dead, which frees the alien entity. However, before the entity leaves for the cosmos he mentions that Joe’s body “could not undergo the needed adjustments between ethereal life and planet life.” The entity also tells the intern that he is his brother of light and that floating with him in the efflulgent valleys, they are now fellow wanderers in space and time. This obviously is HPL’s blatant “classism” coming into play.
According to HPL, while a rural resident of upstate New York would not be able to mentally cope with the cosmic sights and sounds the entity provided, an educated, upper class, city-dweller such as the intern surely can. I feel that the idea of one’s status in society dictating how one would mentally process the mental invasion of an alien entity is simply incorrect as a functioning mechanism. While some minor genetic differences between Joe and the intern may account for this difference, such a mechanism is based on biology and not social status (evolution through natural selection vs. social Darwinism).
More importantly, the intern had a brief encounter with the luminescent entity, while Joe has had to deal with it occupying his brain his whole life, providing sights and sounds he could not comprehend; sights and sounds that no one else was exposed to in Joe’s life. The intern was looking for answers while Joe had no choice in the matter. Thus, isn’t it possible that Joe was not equipped to deal with the ethereal life as a result of an entire lifetime of mental erosion from sharing his mind with the entity? Who knows how the intern would begin to react to entity if it constantly occupied his mind?
Next time we will talk about the technology the intern invented and used to communicate with the entity from beyond the wall of sleep. Thank you – Fred.
Beyond the Wall of Sleep by Soldeus Trenton Shuck