Category Archives: Beyond the Wall of Sleep

Lovecraftian Scientists – Astronomers from Beyond the Wall of Sleep

In Lovecraft’s tale “Beyond the Wall of Sleep” the entity that possesses Joe Slate leaves his body and in a semi-corporeal state travels through the cosmos to battle Algol, the Demon-Star.  In an intriguing move that will become a staple of Lovecraft’s fiction, he links an actual scientific discovery to a specific instance in this tale. The entity that leaves Earth to do battle with Algol is documented in a newspaper article Lovecraft read on the discovery of an actual astronomical phenomenon.

ed3632b4692360175d47f642cc33a6c7 Beyond the Wall of Sleep by Virgil Finlay

In 1901 the Scottish clergyman Thomas David Anderson discovered Nova Persei (GK Persei). At the end of “Beyond the Wall of Sleep” Lovecraft quotes an article written by Professor Garrett P. Serviss (more on him later) that documents the appearance of Nova Persei and its discovery by Anderson:

“On February 22, 1901, a marvelous new star was discovered by Doctor Anderson of Edinburgh, not very far from Algol. No star had been visible at that point before. Within twenty-four hours the stranger had become so bright that it outshone Capella. In a week or two it had visibly faded, and in the course of a few months, it was hardly discernible with the naked eye.”

Indeed, Nova Persei was documented to become one of the brightest objects in the night sky in 1901. Today we classify Nova Persei as a classical nova and is popularly called a Firework Nebula. It is about 1,500 light-years away from Earth and is thought to have been a binary system consisting of a compact white dwarf star and a swollen cool giant star in a tight orbit with one another. The buildup of mass transferred to the surface of the white dwarf from the giant star through an accretion disk eventually triggered a thermonuclear outburst, blasting stellar material into space without destroying the white dwarf star. This would explain the increased luminosity back in February of 1901. However, even to this day, smaller outbursts are detected.  Did the luminescent being who possessed Joe Slater become a physical manifestation in our space-time as the cooling giant star or was it the white dwarf? Did it attempt, and ultimate fail, in battling Algol?

gkper_block Remnants of Nova Persei (www.nasa.gov)

In the quotation provided above it states that the “new star” is not very far from Algol, which is 93 light years from Earth (The New Annotated H.P. Lovecraft by Leslie S. Klinger, 2014).  According to Klinger this means that the actual occurrence of the nova would have taken not in 1901 but approximately 93 years earlier – in 1808. However, it has been established that Nova Persei is about 1,500 light years away, which actually means that Anderson’s discovery of the bright nova in 1901 was actually documenting an event that occurred in the year 401.  Still we do not know if the luminescent being that possessed Joe Slate could travel through time as easily as space so its existence was not limited to strictly linear time as it is with us. Or, did the being miscalculate the distance between Algol and where it appeared as Nova Persei, which contributed to its ultimate failure in completing its mission.

As cited by Lovecraft, the article that concludes “Beyond the Wall of Sleep” was written by Professor Garrett P. Serviss. According to S. T. Joshi and David E. Schultz, Lovecraft essentially took that quoted passage directly from Serviss’s book Astronomy with the Naked Eye written in 1908 (An H.P Lovecraft Encyclopedia, published in 2001). Lovecraft was well documented to be a fan of Serviss’s fiction and non-fiction.

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Garrett P. Serviss (1851-1929) was an astronomer, a popularizer of astronomy and an early science fiction writer (Klinger, 2014). Based on what I have read about Serviss, in particular by Lovecraft, he seems to have been a “Carl Sagan” of the early 20th century. That is, he made science, primarily astronomy, readily available and accessible to a general audience, which was hungry for such information at this point in history. Indeed, Serviss had a unique talent in describing and presenting scientific ideas and concepts in a clear and direct manner to a layperson with little to no scientific training. Serviss definitely had a flare in writing about scientific topics in a very literary manner.

Garrett_Putnam_Serviss

from http://www.wickipedia.com

For example, in an article called “October Skies” for the Providence Evening News, 49, No 104, 2 October 1918, Lovecraft wrote that in referring to the absence of other bright stars in the vicinity of Fomalhaut, Serviss described that star as “a distant watch-fire gleaming in the midst of a lonely prairie.” Such passages obviously stirred Lovecraft’s imagination for all things cosmic. In the same article Lovecraft himself briefly described Fomalhaut as a strangely fascinating orb (Collected Essays, Volume 3: Science H.P. Lovecraft by S.T. Joshi, 2005). Even today this statement holds true. Fomalhaut is actually a triple star system and was one of the first stars where an exoplanet was actually visible to the eye in photographic images (Science, November, 2008). However, unlike our solar system, the planet Fomalhaut b is constantly plowing through a series of debris disks that surround this star system.

Fomalhaut_with_Disk_Ring_and_extrasolar_planet_b_www.earthsky.org

Fomalhaut system with the identification of the first exoplanet to be visually confirmed (www.earthsky.org)

To conclude, Lovecraft did enjoy Serviss’s fictional and non-fictional writings. Lovecraft frequently referred to Serviss’s book Astronomy with the Naked Eye in his astronomical articles. Additionally, he stated that Serviss and another astronomer Richard A. Proctor were “…two popular astronomical writers, similar in many ways, have by means of their double gifts of scientific and literary skill accomplished marvels in dissipating superstition and propagating truth…” (Joshi, 2005). Again, to me Serviss sounds like the Carl Sagan of the early 20th century.

fomalhaut-star-system-e1474404627309

Artist’s conception of Fomalhaut b moving through the debris disks of the Fomalhaut star system (www.earthsky.org)

Next time we will discuss a very different type of Lovecraftian scientist – Crawford Tillinghast in the tale “From Beyond.” Thank you – Fred.

 

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Lovecraftian Scientists – Introduction and Beyond the Wall of Sleep

Science is important component of H.P. Lovecraft’s fiction, particularly his later tales. In fact, Lovecraft was one of the pioneers of weird fiction, integrating cutting edge science (at least for the time) into his stories. This is one of the reasons why Fritz Lieber called him the “Literary Copernicus” of horror fiction. He was known to revise / modify stories to account for new scientific information that was made available to the public. Probably his more famous instance of doing this is associated with identifying Yuggoth has being the dwarf-planet Pluto discovered by Clyde Tombaugh in 1930.

andrei-kedrin-clyde-tombaugh-800 Clyde Tombaugh by Andrei Kedrin

For someone who is known for creating mood and atmosphere and generally ignores character development, Lovecraft utilized a variety of tropes in representing scientists in his stories. Thus, for the next set of articles, we will review the variety of scientists that appear in Lovecraft’s stories. The idea for such a review came to me after moderating a panel at the NecronomiCon in August of this year; the panel was called Miskatonic U. and the Mythos and included Sean Branney, Will Murray, Anne Pillsworth, Robert Waugh, Douglas Wynne. I really enjoyed the conversation about Miskatonic University and its staff and thought a more detailed assessment of Lovecraft’s scientist was in order.

Miskatonic logo

For now, this review will focus solely on scientists. Lovecraft character investigators frequently included academics, such as Albert N. Wilmarth who was a professor of literature at Miskatonic University in “The Whisperer in Darkness” or others such as Thornton the psychic investigator in “The Rats in the Walls.” Again, for this review we will focus solely on scientists and medical doctors. Our first review is for “Beyond the Wall of Sleep.”

The protagonist in “Beyond the Wall of Sleep” is some type of medical intern at a state psychopathic institution. The unnamed protagonist is fascinated with dreams and considers are dream life to be just as important as our waking life. He causally refers to Freud’s work in the statement “-Freud to the contrary with his puerile symbolism- “. As noted by Leslie S. Klinger (The New Annotated H.P. Lovecraft, 2014), the statement on Freud did not appear in the first publication of the story; Lovecraft added it later and it was skeptical reference to Freud’s sexual interpretations of dreams.

freudntitled                                                              Dr. Sigmund Freud

In “Beyond the Wall of Sleep” Joe Slater is having strange spells where is acts like an entirely different person and during one of these spells he ends up killing someone. In turn, Joe is caught and taken to the nearest gaol (a place to hold people accused or convicted of a crime; I had to look that one up) where an alienist by the name of Dr. Barnard evaluates his condition. Again, as mentioned by Klinger, an alienist was a doctor who focused on treated mental diseases. Originally alienists were limited to treating those considered mad in asylums, essentially custodians of the insane. However, by 1919 alienists were focusing more on the healing of insanity and mental / nervous diseases (Klinger, 2014), which led to the science of psychology.

BTWOS_www.tobiastrautner.de The finding of Joe Slater after the murder in “Beyond the Wall of Sleep” by Tobias Trautner (www.tobiastrautner.de)

Joe Slater was eventually moved to the institution where the protagonist is an intern. While the protagonist did express concern and empathy for Joe, he also consistently expresses varying degrees of snide classism when describing Joe as slow, dim-witted, a degenerate and white trash (Tour De Lovecraft by Kenneth Hite, 2011). Joe is described as having blue eyes and blonde hair so this is clearly a case of classism and not classism / racism. As Lovecraft frequently does, here he is utilizing the idea what science was to some in the 18th and 19th centuries. That is, scientific research should be done only by those who could afford the time, which included the wealthy, white men of society. To Lovecraft, women, minorities and the poor were not capable of conducting science. However, this idea is clearly due to the fact that women, minorities and the poor were not typically exposed to or trained in the scientific disciplines. It was not a genetic predisposition that limited the masses to understand or utilize science, it was not allowing everyone to receive an education in scientific matters. However, in Lovecraft’s mind, well ingrained in the attitudes and philosophy of western thought in the 18th century, such notions were not even considered. This really comes through in the protagonist’s description of Joe Slater’s limited mental capacity in “Beyond the Wall of Sleep.”

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Toward the end of the story the protagonist uses some type of strange transmitting / receiving device that can transfer brain waves from one individual to another. Again, much of the scientific explanation of the device is largely based on scientific concepts developed or discovered in the 18th of 19th century. At one point the protagonist suggests that “…human thought consists basically of atomic or molecular motion, convertible into ether waves of radiant energy like heat, light and electricity.” The concept of “luminiferous ether” was largely dispelled by 1887 by experiments conducted by Michelson and Morley, which was further confirmed in 1905 by Einstein’s Theory of Special Relativity.

While the protagonist did express empathy for Joe Slater, he still behave in a cruel manner, forcing Joe to participate in an experiment while he is dying. However, the results of this experiment did unnerve the protagonist to the point where his supervisor at the institution, Dr. Fenton, prescribed nerve powder and gave him half a year’s vacation. Thus, the concluding thought on the unnamed protagonist in “Beyond the Wall of Sleep” is that while he expressed sympathy for Joe Slater, he certainly expressed a classist attitude in thinking of Joe as mentally limited white trash. The protagonist did experience what many investigators in Lovecraft’s tale experience; that is, having their view of the universe and reality substantially altered by uncovering some truth. Additionally, this resulted in the protagonist experiencing a near nervous breakdown, which to some degree seems justified since he was essentially using Joe Slater as a laboratory animal for his experiment on brain waves and dreams while he was dying.

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Next time we will discuss the astronomers who were involved in “Beyond the Wall of Sleep.” Thank you – Fred.

Beyond the Wall of Sleep, Part 5 – Traveling through Space

Comic book version of Beyond the Wall of Sleep (mycomicshop.com)

In this last article on H.P. Lovecraft’s “Beyond the Wall of Sleep” the astronomical references in the story are explored.  As S.T. Joshi notes in H.P. Lovecraft: The Thing on the Doorstep and Other Weird Stories (Penguin Classics 2001), HPL came across two articles that stimulated his imagination to write Beyond the Wall of Sleep.  The first was  an article in the New York Tribune, which mentions some inhabitants of the Catskill Mountains and refers to a family named the Slaters or Slahters.  The second is an article written by Garrett Putnam Serviss (1851 – 1929) who wrote articles about astronomy, science in general and early science fiction stories.

Garrett P. Serviss, journalist, astronomer, author of early works of science fiction (from Wikipedia.org)

As Joshi cites (2001) HPL was a fan of Serviss’s work and in his book Astronomy with the Naked Eye (1908) Serviss mentions that Dr. Anderson of Edinburgh found a new star fairly close to Algol (the Daemon-Star) in February 1901.  Within 24-hours this new star became fairly bright but within a week or two it had visibly faded and in  a few months it was hardly visible with the naked eye.  The star was actually a nova and was given the name Nova Persei.  This was actually the second nova discovered by Dr. Anderson, the first one being identified in 1891 and named Nova Aurigae.

The flash and then disappearance of Nova Persei near a star called the Daemon-Star obviously had a significant impact on HPL as he wrote Beyond the Wall of Sleep.  In the story the luminescent entity who talks through Joe Slater mentions that its enemy – the oppressor – is the “blinking” star known on Earth as Algol, the Daemon-Star.  As the entity prepares to leave the dying body of Joe Slater, he tells the intern to watch the sky close to Algol.  Again, Joshi provides some valuable information about Algol.  The reason why it is called the Daemon-Star is that it is actually a double star, or binary, system in the constellation of Perseus.  Thus, as the stars orbit one another, the visible magnitude of the “star” substantially changes.  These large changes in visibility have resulted in naming the star Algol, which is an Arabic phrase meaning “demon” or “mischief-maker.” (Joshi, 2001).  Thus, the luminescent entity was off to do battle with its enemy Algol, the Daemon-Star.


Algol, the brightest “star” in the constellation of Perseus is actually a binary star system (EarthSky.org)

Was it Algol that imprisoned the luminescent entity  within the physical body of Joe Slater for more than four decades?  Was this why the luminescent entity was seeking revenge against Algol?  While we may never know the motive behind the hatred for Algol, HPL documented the outcome of the battle through the article on Dr. Anderson’s discovery of Nova Persei.  That is, the entity must have confronted and battled with Algol only to be defeated.  The luminescent entity flared up, only to be snuffed out of existence by Algol.  Thus, the nova appeared, shined brightly but was gone in a matter of weeks; this must represent the entity’s defeat, for the binary star Algol still shines in the heavens.

To conclude this discussion, I want to briefly mention some of the locations the  luminescent entity cites where it could meet the intern sometime in the future.  One is the “shining mists of Orion’s Sword.”  This is a reference to the Orion Nebula, which looks like fuzzy spot or area in Orion’s Sword (the constellation).  The pink glowing color is actually hydrogen gas (asterisk.apod.com).

The Orion Nebula or, as described by HPL, the shining mists of Orion’s Sword (asterisk.apod.com).

Other times or places where they may meet include “a bleak plateau in prehistoric Asia.”  Is this possibly the first reference to Leng by HPL?  Others include unremembered dreams (is this a reference to the Dreamlands?) or in the far distance future when the solar system will be swept away.  This would be approximately 5 billion years in the future when the Sun will cool and expand.

Appearnetly the luminescent entity can easily travel through time as well as space, since before it left to do battle with Algol, it said that next year it may be dwelling in ancient Egypt or in the Tsan Chan empire 3,000 years in the future.  The entity and the intern apparently “drifted to the worlds that reel about the red Arcturus, and dwelt in the bodies of the insect-philosophers that crawl proudly over the fourth moon of Jupiter.”  As we discussed in a previous article on the moons of Jupiter, this was more than likely in reference to the moon Callisto.

insectphil_4moonofJup

An insect-philosopher from the fourth moon of Jupiter (from the talented artist Michael Bukowski; yog-blogsoth.blogspot.com)

To conclude, in spite of all of its powers and near-omnipidence, the luminescent entity could not defeat its sworn enemy, the binary star system of Algol.  Next time we will talk about HPL’s materialism philosophy and how it influenced his attitudes toward science and the latest scientific discoveries of the day.  Later we will delve into more of his stories, interpreting them within a scientific context, including “The Music of Erich Zann,” “The Dunwich Horror,” and “The Case of Charles Dexter Ward.”  Thank you – Fred

Beyond the Wall of Sleep, Part 4 – The Cosmic Radio

William Sanderson portraying Joe Slaader in the 2006 film Beyond the Wall of Sleep

In HPL’s story “Beyond the Wall of Sleep” an intern at a New England mental institution discovers that an alien entity inhabits Joe Slater’s mind.  His discovery was made through the use of a “cosmic radio,” a machine the intern constructed in his college days.  The actual description of the device is somewhat ambiguous, being a “…suitable apparatus, and I had in my college days prepared a set of transmitting and receiving instruments somewhat similar to the cumbrous devices employed in wireless telegraphy at the crude, pre-radio period.”

The intern’s theory behind the device is that human thought consists of atomic or molecular motion (energy) that can be converted into ether waves or radiant energy like heat, light and electricity.  So what does this mean?  Essentially, it is converting one form of energy into another.  A great analogy to this is where radio emissions generated from the planets and their moons / rings are collected and then translated into sound waves by our space probes (Voyager I and II and Cassini).  In this case natural radio waves generated in the vacuum of space are converted into a format that it then perceived through one of the five human senses; in this case sound.  The results are astonishing.  If you are interested in these sounds, then please either check out the NASA website below or type “sounds of the planets” into YouTube.

http://www.nasa.gov/vision/universe/features/halloween_sounds.html

A shot of Saturn from the Cassini space probe, showing the rings, some of its moons as well as Venus, Earth and our moon (nasa.gov).  All of these celestial bodies emit radio waves that can then be converted into sound waves.  Is this what the intern’s cosmic radio did in Beyond the Walls of Sleep?

The intern had a hypothesis in college that human thought consists of atomic or molecular motion that is similar to other forms of energy (that is, the potential energy associated with molecular vibrations can be released and converted into kinetic energy).  While he was unsuccessful in using the device on humans (at least in his college days), the device did appear to work on Joe Slater.  However, Joe’s body was inhabited by the “luminous entity” who actually spoke to the intern through the device.  Thus, maybe the intern’s device was too crude to work on human thoughts or maybe human thoughts are not easily translated into sound waves.  In contrast. since the luminous entity gives off light, maybe it also naturally emits other forms of radiation, some of which can be converted into radio waves.

Based on the evidence at hand, the cosmic radio can not be used to convert pure human thought into a form of energy that can be processed and presented into a format that is perceivable through one of the five human senses.  However, an entity that generates radiation may be able to be perceived through the cosmic radio not visually but through an auditory measure.  With the entity occupying Joe Slater for his whole life, it would make sense that its thought waves could easily be converted into English.  It was simply blind luck that the intern with his “useless” cosmic radio happened to meet Joe Slater and his luminescent co-inhabitant.

However, it does beg the question, did HPL predict the ability of the space probes of the late 20th and early 21st century to collect radio emissions and convert them into sound waves?  The next article will be the final on “Beyond the Wall of Sleep” and will cover the astronomy behind the story.  Thank you – Fred.

Artist’s rendition of the Cassini spacecraft approaching Saturn (from cloudfront.net)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Beyond the Wall of Sleep, Part 3 – The Co-Habitation of Joe Slater

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

 

Beyond the Wall of Sleep, Part 2 – Schizophrenia or Contact with Extraterrestial Entities?

A portrait of Joe Slater (btwos.visual-test.fr).

Joe Slater was locked up in a state psychopathic institution in the winter of 1900.  After experiencing some auditory and visual hallucinations Joe ended up killing another man, which resulted in alienists evaluating his sanity.  It was his strange ravings and continued hallucinations that resulted in him being committed to the institution.  It is very interesting how Joe’s auditory and visual hallucinations, as documented by HPL in “Beyond the Wall of Sleep,” are very similar to the symptoms of schizophrenia.

While the occurrence of schizophrenia has been documented as far back as 2,000 B.C., it was not formally recognized as a specific mental disease until 1887 by Dr. Emile Kraepelin.  Kraepelin was a German psychiatrist whose theories actually reviled Freud’s in the early part of the 20th century.  However, the word schizophrenia was coined by Eugen Bleuler in 1911, which was used to describe the separation or division of mental functions among personality, thinking, memory and perceptions of reality.  Thus, while the mental disease of schizophrenia was recognized in HPL’s time, very little was known about its formal diagnosis and treatment.  However, with that being said, it is interesting how Joe Slater does appear to be experiencing the symptoms of schizophrenia.

Emil Kraepelin (from Wikipedia.org)

In Beyond the Wall of Sleep, Joe Slater experienced a number of hallucinations or conditions (depending on your point of view).  A sample of some statements or experiences of Joe’s are provided below:

“a big, big cabin with brightness in the roof and walls and floor and the loud queer music far away.”

Joe was screaming his desire and need to find and kill a certain “thing that shines and shakes and laughs.”

“jump high in the air and burn his way through anything that stopped him.”

“green edifices of light, oceans of space, strange music and shadowy mountains and valleys.”

“some mysterious blazing entity that shook and laughed and mocked him.  This vast, vague personality seemed to have done him a terrible wrong, and to kill it in a triumphant revenge was his paramount desire.”

Finally, Joe had the feeling of “soar[ing] through abysses of emptiness, burning every obstacle that stood in his way.”

Joe Slater experiencing some of his hallucinations in the backwoods of New England

While we will come back to this entity that did Joe a “terrible wrong” in an upcoming article, these comments made by Joe are very indicative of symptoms of schizophrenia.  For example, Joe heard “loud queer music ” or “strange music” as well as heard the entity laughing at him.  Hallucinations involving sound, particularly voices is one of the most common symptoms of schizophrenia.  The strange visions described above may also be indicative of schizophrenia.

In addition, Joe  exhibits strong paranoid delusions, which are also symptoms of schizophrenia.  Such delusions are frequently associated with the belief that others mean to do the person suffering from schizophrenia  harm in some manner.  Based on Joe’s testimony to the alienists, some unknown entity did Joe some type of great harm; so great is this harm that Joe admits he wants to kill this entity that laughs and mocks him.

While not a lot is known about the detailed biochemical, genetic and other mechanisms that can trigger schizophrenia, more is certainly know now relative to HPL’s time.  With that said, based on the data collected by the alienists in Beyond the Walls of Sleep, Joe Slater does exhibit signs of schizophrenia.  However, is this the only explanation to Joe’s behavior?  Is it indeed possible that Joe’s mind was in contact with an entity from beyond Earth or even beyond our dimensions?  Maybe it wasn’t the entity itself producing schizophrenia in Joe.  Is it possible that Joe’s mind could not handle the extraterrestrial communication through his mind and the symptoms of schizophrenia manifested as a means of Joe trying to cope with these circumstances?  Next time we will review the information and evidence that indeed Joe was the recipient of mental communications from beyond Earth.  Thank you – Fred

Illustration of Joe Slater – An Unfit Vessel? (stoicdecay.blogspot.com)

Beyond the Wall of Sleep, Part 1 – Lovecraft’s view of Freud

Sigmund Freud, father of modern psychiatry and psycho-analysis (from http://www.wikipedia.com)

Sigmund Freud is to psychiatry, what Newton is to physics or what Darwin is to biology. Freud was a doctor of medicine and is considered the founding father of psychoanalysis and modern psychiatry. He was born in 1856 and died in 1939 so his life overlapped quite a bit with HPL (1890 – 1937). Unlike Newton and Darwin who both died before HPL was born, but similar to Einstein, HPL was more critical of Freud’s ideas. However, like many new and emerging scientific ideas of his time, HPL does appear to keep a somewhat open mind in the consideration of some of these ideas. It is interesting that HPL appeared to be more critical of living scientists in his time and their newly developed hypotheses and theories (i.e. Freud and Einstein) than scientists who were dead. More than likely this was the “scientist” in HPL, keeping an open, yet objectively critical, mind when presented with new ideas. Obviously the hypotheses of Freud and Einstein did not have a large amount of empirical data to support them and it was not until these hypotheses could be tested that HPL (as well as the scientific communities in general) could begin to find some validity associated with them.

What is interesting is that HPL cites Freud’s work in some of his early fiction but not in his later work. For example, Freud is mentioned in both “Beyond the Walls of Sleep” and in “From Beyond” but not in his later work. However, Freud’s ideas are briefly mentioned in some of his revision work such as “The Electric Executioner” (co-written with Adolphe de Castro) and “The Trap” (co-written with Henry S. Whitehead).

Such references of Freud in HPL’s early work and its general absence in his later work make complete sense. Many of his early stories are included in his “Dream Cycle” and dreams were an important component of Freud’s psychoanalysis. Later stories focus and emphasize humanity’s insignificance in the Universe and Cosmos at large. Thus, if the entire species of Homo sapiens is insignificant, how significant can the mental health of an individual human be? Yet, in spite of this, eroding mental health and insanity is an important and sometime inevitable outcome of being exposed to outer cosmic or inter-dimensional beings. However, is the insanity due to the individual being exposed to these “things from outside” or are they society’s response to an individual trying to reveal the truth of reality (lock them up and drug them)? More than likely it’s a combination of both.

Lovecraft’s Dreams and Nightmares (art by Michal Oracz; moraczart.blogspot.com)

The first time HPL mentions Freud in his stories is in fact in “Beyond the Wall of Sleep.” To discuss this reference I think it best to include the first paragraph of that story in its entirety.

“I have often wondered if the majority of mankind ever pause to reflect upon the occasional titanic significance of dreams, and of the obscure world to which they belong. Whilst the greater number of our nocturnal visions are perhaps no more than faint and fantastic reflections of our waking experiences – Freud to the contrary with his puerile symbolism – there are still a certain remainder whose immundane and ethereal character permit of no ordinary interpretation, and whose vaguely exciting and disquieting effect suggests possible minute glimpses into a sphere of mental existence no less important than physical life, yet separated from that life by an all but impassable barrier.”

–        From H.P. Lovecraft’s “Beyond the Wall of Sleep”

In this quote HPL seems very dismissive of Freud and as S.T. Joshi cites in his annotated notes to the story in H.P. Lovecraft: The Thing on the Doorstep and Other Weird Stories (Penguin Classics 2001), HPL added the clause that refers to Freud in a later version of the story. As Joshi also notes HPL’s phase “puerile symbolism” probably refers to Freud’s emphasis on the sexual nature of many of his dream-imagery interpretations, something HPL would find difficult to comprehend (Joshi, 2001).

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However, HPL did not have a one-sided, simplified view of Freud. In I Am Providence: The Life and Times of H.P. Lovecraft (S.T. Joshi, 2013), HPL thought that Freud’s work of psycho-analysis would prove an end to idealistic thought in humanity’s march toward scientific objectivity. In another passage HPL noted that while he feels many of Freud’s ideas were erroneous, he “nevertheless opened up a new path in psychology, devising a system whose doctrines more nearly approximate the real workings of the mind than any heretofore entertained. We may not like to accept Freud, but I fear we shall have to do so” (Joshi, 2013). I think this last sentence says quite a bit about what HPL thought of Freud and the advancements he made in the field of psychology. Next time we will talk about Joe Slater and his journeys beyond the walls of sleep. Thank you – Fred.