“The Sliver Key” is one of H.P. Lovecraft’s more personal tales. In it Lovecraft shares his longing and nostalgia for the past; mostly for his own past but also for the past of a by gone day. For this article we will not conduct a psychological interpretation of “The Silver Key” relative to the events in his life, specifically his return to Providence from New York City. If you are interested in such discussions I strongly recommend S.T. Joshi’s I Am Providence: The Life and Times of H.P. Lovecraft (2013) and Kenneth Hite’s Tour de Lovecraft: The Tales (2011). Additionally, I would also strongly recommend the Chris Lackey and Chad Fifer’s H.P. Lovecraft Literary Podcast (www.hppodcraft.com) episode on the “The Silver Key” where Kenneth Hite was a guest discussing this tale. However, here we are focusing on the science of time travel in “The Silver Key.”
In the tale Randolph Carter lost the “key of the gate of dreams” and could no longer enter the Dreamlands, which we have hypothesized is an alternative or parallel Universe with its own set of natural laws. In The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath it is mentioned that only three humans ever crossed and re-crossed the black impious gulfs to other dreamlands (a reference to other Universes?) and two of three came back insane. Weary of the world Carter withdraws into his own world surrounding himself with relics of his youth. One evening, in a dream, his grandfather reminds him of the silver key that has been handed down by his ancestors from generation to generation. Before he awakes, Carter’s grandfather tells him where to find the key, which was in a carved oak box. Carter finds the key in his attic, indeed in a strangely Gothic carved box. Somehow this was supposed to be a key to the lost gate of dreams.
With this key in his possession Carter’s dreams increase in vividness, possibly getting glimpses of Dreamlands. He then knows he needs to return to the place of his youth, haunted Arkham. As he passes over the Miskatonic River and approaches the woods of his youth, he pulls his car to the side and with the key in his coat pocket gets out and starts to walk. As he is walking in the woods and enters a clearing he sees “across leagues of twilight meadow and spied the old Congregational steeple on Central Hill in Kingsport.” However, this perplexed him since he knew the old white church was torn down years ago to make room for the Congregational Hospital. While he does not fully realize it at the time, Carter’s consciousness was transported into his younger self at this moment. The exact mechanism causing this travel into the past is not known as this time. However, it appears that Carter had to both possess the key and be at this specific location in the Arkham woods, the same location he frequented when he was 10 years old.
The Miskatonic River (www.evil.wikia.com)
As described in previous articles, Lovecraft avoids some time travel paradoxes by having the consciousness and not the physical body traveling into the past. At this point in time young Carter seems to be confused; however, the next day he takes the silver key back to the wooded hills and into a “strange cave in the forest slope, the dreaded, “snake-den” which country folk shunned…” In the farthermost corner, deep in the cave, Carter approaches a granite wall and pulls the silver key out of his pocket. After that event young Carter seemed different; Carter seems to have the ability to predict events of the future. He would talk about new inventions and events, which would subsequently come true. He even knew about situations that occurred during the Great War. And then one day, Carter just disappeared. His car was found along the side of the road half way up Elm Mountain. The silver key was gone but the strange wooden box was found in the car.
Initially, this may appear to be a paradoxically “time loop” where the individual is doomed to repeat the same actions over and over; traveling to the past, re-living a portion of his life only to reach that point in time when he travels back to the past and the cycle repeats. However, “The Sliver Key” provides evidence for the quantum view of time – that is, the “river” model and not the “arrow in the air” model of time, where being part of Space-Time, the multiverse is composed of many Universes as well as many “Times.”
Randolph Carter (www.vsbattles.wikia.com)
The disenchanted Carter at the beginning of “The Silver Key” is very different than the one who can predict future events. Thus, each of these “Carters” may represent a different Time-Line Universe. One may indeed may be stuck in a time loop, reverting back into the 10-year-old once he acquires the silver key as an adult. Although the young Carter who possesses the silver key has a slightly different time-line, his “fate” appears to be the same – disappearing in the Arkham woods. However, I hypothesize that the first Carter loops back to give his younger self the silver key to alter his own timeline so that he can eventually go back to the Dreamlands. Thus, I further hypothesize that the second Carter does not loop back in time but instead goes back to the Dreamlands (support for this hypothesis will be provided in future discussions of “Through the Gates of the Silver Key”). Additionally, this strange convoluted means by getting to the Dreamlands may have been necessary to avoid going insane once re-crossing from our Universe to the Dreamlands, as referenced in the beginning of The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath.
The Silver Key (www.redhorsewebdesgin.com)
Did one time-line Carter sacrifice another to be stuck in a time-loop so another could re-enter the Dreamlands? Or did both consciousnesses re-merge back into one “self” once Carter re-entered the Dreamlands? We will probably never know. However, it does appear that the “key” to Carter re-entering the Dreamlands, after the events of The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath, is the ancestral silver key. Again, we will continue these investigations when we analyze the tale of “Through the Gates of the Silver Key” written by H.P. Lovecraft and E. Hoffmann Price.
For the rest of October, we will be reviewing the Bloch – Lovecraft “Haunter Trilogy” of tales starting with Robert Bloch’s “The Shambler from the Stars.” Thank you – Fred.