Saturday, May 7, 2011

The Pollution of Deep Time

One of the distinctive characteristics of cosmic horror is its fascination with deep time. The traditional monsters of folklore -- the vampire, the werewolf, the zombie -- all are monsters on a human scale. They are the result of human misdeeds, however terrible, and generally originate in recent history relative to the protagonist of the story. Even Dracula dates back only centuries.

But H. P. Lovecraft and his various colleagues and imitators take a longer view, fitting with the rapidly expanding timescale of human and geological history that was developing in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. From the Biblically-derived date of 4004 BC for the creation of the world, history and pre-history suddenly stretched backward not mere thousands but millions of years -- numbers beyond even a literate and numerate person's capacity to grasp emotionally. Suddenly the entirety of written history and civilization shrank to an insignificant coda to unimaginable dark ages knowable only by such traces as fossils left in ancient stone.

And what is unknown is by its very nature frightening. We're afraid of the dark because it limits our ability to see, and thus know, our surroundings. Thus we imagine various monstrosities and horrors lurking in those shadows, waiting to gobble us up.

How much more frightening those shadows lying across deep time, the thousands and millions of years about which we could know so little. Might they too hold their horrors and monstrosities, not mere bogeymen on human scale, but vast and horrible intellects utterly incommesurate with humanity, even indifferent to our existence, taking no more note of our civilization than we do an anthill built in the way of a road or wall?

Thus it is fitting that the very first story in the new Innsmouth Free Press anthology Historical Lovecraft: Tales of Horror Through Time should deal with the very dawn of human history. In "The God Lurking in Stone" Andrew Dombalagian takes us to Neolithic Mesopotamia, before the first of the Mesopotamian civilization, to tell the story of a boy whose encounter with entities ancient, unknown and terrible may have been the root of the myths about the Sumerian god Marduk.

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