LOVECRAFT STUDIES INSTITUTE
xxx WELLESLEY STREET EAST, # xxx (BUZZ xxx)
TORONTO, ON M4Y 1H5
MINUTES OF NOVEMBER 19, 2010 MEETING
ATTENDANCE: Patrick, Bloch, King, Joshi, Cannon (Members). Five Guests.
6:30 P.M Meeting Convened
6:34 P.M. Approval of Minutes for Meeting of November 6, 2010
6:35 P.M. Chair proposes reading of "Harbingers" manuscript Chapter 4 ("Shots in the Dark"). UNANIMOUS
10:15 P.M. Reading concludes.
10:16 P.M. Chair proposes open discussion. UNANIMOUS
[FULL TRANSCRIPT FROM AUDIO]
PATRICK: Gentlemen, I think I would sum up that chapter in one word: "wow!" Very different than anything I've read in Lovecraft's previous works.
JOSHI: I would like to theorize that in Chapter 4 we see yet more evidence of Lovecraft's intent in Harbingers to play with the tropes of the horror genre. During our discussion of the Prologue, we noted certain elements of heroic pulp fiction. Here, in Chapter 4, we see plot points drawn from the "crime" genre of the 1930s: the presence of (presumably) mob-employed gunmen with the stereotypical pinstripe suits, tommy guns, and fast-talking accents; a showdown between the gunmen and local law enforcement, in which the latter are clearly overmatched; and a vigilante-style attempt at revenge against the gunmen, which ends in a cliffhanger with the protagonist shot and perhaps killed.
KING: For once I agree with you, Joshi. I'm not convinced, however, that the genre-merging worked. Yes, it provided some action in a story that some readers might consider "plodding." But Lovecraft's greatest strength has been his slow, deliberate build of horror as the reader's anxiety mounts and mounts until it's finally relieved at the story's climax. As a master of weird horror, Lovecraft is unparalleled; as a writer of detective stories, well, I'd rather read Dashiel Hammet.
JOSHI: Yes, but --
CANNON: Sorry to interrupt you, Joshi, but you're usually the one who says this anyway. Shouldn't we start at the beginning for posterity's sake?
[unattributed: "hear, hear"]
CANNON: I'll get us going. The chapter starts with the characters right where we left off, with their having discovered the three-pronged sign etched all over Gilchrist House. Before they can react, they hear strange "thumping noises" coming from the front of the house. A quick peek out the window shows a disturbing site: a trio of white-hooded figures is burning a cross and shouting racial epithets against Wanjiku Zeituni, along with cries that "nothing bad happened in Aylesbury until you came around."
BLOCH: They're clearly meant to represent the Ku Klux Klan.
JOSHI: A resurgent group at the time Lovecraft is writing--though I'd have to check whether their activities stretched as far north as the Massachusetts/New Hampshire border.
BLOCH: Or they could be locals simply appropriating the regalia of their more famous Southern neighbours. In any event, given Lovecraft's well-known suspicion of "foreigners", the attempted intimidation of Zeituni occurs at an intriguing time. Soon after the story's main characters discover something that calls into question Zeituni's motives, they're placed in a situation in which they must decide whether to defend him against outside attackers. The characters could, after all, ally themselves with the "Klansmen" to drive Zeituni out of Aylesbury. Instead, the recently-introduced Barnabus Gallowsong character drives them away with verbal promises to call the police, and as they flee he notices they're driving a truck belonging to the Kensington Mill.
KING: I think the "Klan" incident is most likely a red herring to distract the reader from a more important incident: one of the "Klansmen" throws a stone through an upper story window of Gilchrist House. The next morning, Zeituni's butler, Penburton, is found dead--or should I say, murdered.
PATRICK: I don't follow.
KING: Well, the signs etched around Gilchrist House are clearly symbols of protection or banishment or something of the like. When the one etched on the upper window is broken by the rock, something gets in. Remember, the night before, when the characters all slept in Gilchrist House, nothing happened--the first death-free evening since the book began.
PATRICK: I guess you're right--at least that would explain Zeituni's obsession with getting the window replaced the next day. However, he dismissed the symbols as "good luck signs" from his native tribe in Kenya. And when the attack occurred in the jail, the grotesque hound-like humanoid creature was described as appearing from the corner of the room, where the wall meets the ceiling.
JOSHI: Like the "Hounds of Tindalos" Lovecraft writes about elsewhere.
PATRICK: Right. So why would protective symbols be placed on the walls and doors of Gilchrist House if the creatures enter through "angles"?
KING: That may be overthinking it. "Magic" and the supernatural aren't strictly rational. And besides, this is just a draft--Lovecraft might have planned on tinkering with some details. Or the distinction could come into play later.
BLOCH: Before we move on the next day of the story, shouldn't we talk about what happens to two of the main characters? Or should I say, what doesn't happen? The book salesman, Hoyt Symmes, utters only "The Sign!, The Yellow Sign!" when shown the symbol etched in Gilchrist House before fainting dead away. He remains catatonic for the rest of the chapter, though at one point Scarlet Warren discovers him in the library with a torn page from a book in his hand--something to do with Native American legends, if I recall. And as for the priest, Patrick Murphy, he's largely absent from the chapter as well. The others eventually are told that he's been kidnapped at gunpoint right off the street, and later discover him having been rushed to the hospital suffering from some sort of drug-induced fugue. Along with the death of Matheson and the introduction of Gallowsong, Lovecraft is clearly playing with the readers' expectations about which characters will drive the story forward.
CANNON: Well put. The three main characters who are featured in this chapter--Blackstone, Warren, and Gallowsong--have quite the day. Warren shows a previously unhinted at interest in the scientific method as she begins various trial-and-error experiments on one of the grubs taken from the grave of Gabriel Knight. This is in a bid, of course, to cure the infected Jacob Blackstone before he begins displaying signs of the digging compulsion that has already overtaken four others in Aylesbury. Warren thinks she may have hit upon a solution when the grub becomes sluggish and inert after being placed in the icebox. Warren, Blackstone, and Gallowsong collaborate on an audacious plan: submerging Blackstone in a tub of ice cold water with only one arm projecting out of the tub in the hopes that the parasite in Blackstone's skull will migrate to his one warm extremity.
KING: And if I remember correctly, it's when Blackstone and Warren leave Gilchrist House to talk to Dr. Mercer Houghton at Aylsbury Counter Hospital that Warren stumbles over two recently-delivered newspapers on the stoop. Warren sees something on the front page of the Boston Globe and hurriedly tears it off before stuffing it in a pocket. Blackstone witnesses this, but Warren refuses to speak about it. What did she see, and why would she refuse to share it with one of the few people she can presumably trust?
CANNON: Well, we should keep in mind that Warren was originally portrayed as being somewhat smitten with the quite handsome Jacob Blackstone. But after he was infected and shaved his head, he probably looked much like a mental patient of the day.
BLOCH: In any event, Dr. Houghton agrees to the experimental procedure--after all, he's had no other leads and knows that soon a sanitarium will be called in for the others who are infected. The Gallowsong character goes to quite a deal of trouble to catch up to the circus which had visited during Aylesbury Days and pays the "Geek" to try and teach Blackstone how to ignore pain. It doesn't seem to really work, but it was a nice thought.
KING: I loved the depiction of the procedure--quite ghastly! Once Blackstone is immersed in the freezing water with his left arm sticking straight up, a large bulge can be seen moving up his arm, under the skin. Houghton cuts it out, and the tiny grub is revealed to have somehow grown as large as a fist-sized slug! Blackstone goes into convulsions, spraying water and blood everywhere before Houghton manages to get him stabilized. In the end, Blackstone survives the procedure but is left terribly weakened and groggy. Houghton is pleased and promises to try to convince the guardians of the other infected diggers to allow him to conduct the same sort of surgery.
PATRICK: A day passes and we're told that its Thursday, March 26, 1931. The funeral for Abraham Gilmore presumably occurs, but none of the main characters attend. They have a good excuse, however--Blackstone is badly hurt, Symmes is largely catatonic, Murphy has been kidnapped and (I think) interrogated with sodium pentathol, Barnabus Gallowsong has no connection with Gilmore, and Scarlet Warren has come across another classified ad in the Aylesbury Transcript:
Possible Solution Found
Be Discreet NO-459-7250
She calls and the still unidentified man on the other hand tells her he may have found a way to remove the strange brand. He tells her to come to New Orleans immediately, avoiding populated areas, and then to call the number when she arrives.
CANNON: And Scarlet Warren falls for it? It could obviously be a trap by whoever (or whatever ) caused this "Harbinger" phenomenon to begin with.
BLOCH: Maybe--but what other leads does she have to go on? She doesn't want to remain stuck with an encyclopedia salesman her entire life. At least Matheson died, so she doesn't have to worry about convincing him to go with her.
KING: I think that's part of the reason she wants to go to New Orleans, but reading between the lines I think she's fleeing something as well: probably those mysterious gunmen who have arrived in town and are following her around. We know she knows something about it, as she exclaimed "Dexter!" in anger when they almost caught her.
PATRICK: That's getting a little ahead of ourselves. So we've established Warren is desperate to get out of Aylesbury--and she's not falling for Zeituni's attempt to get her to go to Dunwich to find his missing employees. Instead, she drags the catatonic Hoyt Symmes with her to the courthouse (along with Blackstone and Gallowsong), where "Hangin' Judge Mathis" has arrived from riding the circuit. It's a terribly cold, rainy afternoon as they wait in the hallway for their arraignment for the charges of arson and destruction of property out of the events at the Gilmore Farm.
JOSHI: I was confused by Gallowsong accompanying them to the courthouse--wasn't he wanted by the police?
CANNON: I guess he "stuck to the shadows." Nobody seemed to notice him, anyway.
PATRICK: So while they're waiting, Scarlet seems optimistic the charges against her will be dropped. The problem, as she sees it, is she can't get out of Aylesbury without Symmes because the Mark of the Harbingers seems to tie them together in some way. However, Symmes is unresponsive and obviously in no state to appear in court. Gallowsong is sent to fetch Peter Markovitch, the lawyer who coincidentally was responsible for giving Matheson the puzzle box a chapter ago. Markovitch states there's no way Judge Mathis will drop the charges against Symmes until Symmes is able to appear in court and speak for himself. Firing Markovitch minutes after she hired him, Warren then tries to convince the others to help her with a scheme that made me laugh as it seemed something right out of Weekend at Bernie's. Fortunately, lest "Harbingers" become a farce, Jacob Blackstone talks her out of the plan.
JOSHI: You forgot to mention that while Gallowsong was fetching Markovitch, he noticed a figure lurking outside of the courthouse and quickly guessed it was one of the men who had been following them around most of the day. Gallowsong approaches the figure but is told in no uncertain terms (at gunpoint, in fact) that "he better send out the dame."
PATRICK: Well, we'll get to that in a moment. So anyway, Scarlet Warren and Jacob Blackstone appear in front of Judge Mathis and, with the statements of Sheriff Glanby and Wanjiku in support, the charges against them are dropped. Given Mathis' reputation, I think they dodged a bullet.
KING: If only Gallowsong could dodge them as well!
PATRICK: We'll get to that! After leaving the courtroom, the main characters talk about what they should do about the gunsel outside the building. They decide to call Sheriff Glanby. We don't know exactly how the events transpired (I'm guessing Deputy "Bickie" Roberts did something stupid), but in any events the characters hear a spate of gunshots outside. Gallowsong peeks through a window and sees that both Glanby and Roberts have been shot. He runs back to tell the others, and they decide to hide in a janitor's closet as the gunmen enter city hall and start shooting. With the chaos and confusion, Gallowsong, Blackstone, and Symmes avoid notice until the gunmen depart in frustration.
KING: The next scene is the sign of a perverse mind. I loved it! So Gallowsong finds a phone and tries to call an ambulance for the two shot cops, but nobody's willing to come because they're all too scared. He dashes out to the front steps and realizes that only Sheriff Glanby is still alive. He drags Glanby into the back of a nearby car and manages to get it started. So here we have a midget (sorry, "little person") trying to drive a massive old-fashioned car at high speeds in the midst of a terrible rainstorm! Suffice it to say, collisions are the result and Glanby dies before reaching the hospital.
PATRICK: I agree it was funny, but also kind of sad. I liked Glanby.
CANNON: Me too.
KING: Remember, the first rule of good writing: murder your darlings.
PATRICK: Let's wrap this up, shall we? The state police eventually arrive at the courthouse, and after giving statements the main characters disperse. Symmes is taken back to Gilchrist House under the care of Zeituni. Blackstone returns to his hospital bed in a room not far from where Father Murphy is recovering. Given the way Blackstone was hobbling around, I think he's lucky to have survived the courthouse incident. Scarlet Warren decides it's too dangerous to stay at Gilchrist House (because of the "gunsels" or because of Penburton's death?) and holes up in a storage room at the hospital. And Gallowsong--
BLOCH: Gallowsong tries to play the Bronson role in Death Wish.
JOSHI: Gentlemen, you know I detest these references derived from popular culture. Especially when they are anachronistic.
CANNON: You know, when the circus dwarf tracks the gunsels down to an abandoned sugar mill during a rainy thunderstorm, I was thinking to myself the whole time "Dude, don't go in there!" It's like watching a co-ed decide to investigate a strange noise during one of those Friday the 13th movies.
JOSHI: I'll take it from here, lest we never finish. Mr. Barnabus Gallowsong pays the local taxi driver, Joe Bicks, an exorbitant sum to drop him off near the mill with instructions to "go get help" if he doesn't come back. Gallowsong, who has outfitted himself specially for an attack, spots an expensive car partially hidden by brush near the abandoned mill. Creeping closer, he peers through a crack in one of the mill's many doors and sees a flickering trashcan fire inside attended by one of the gunmen (we haven't sufficient evidence to conclude that they are mob-affiliated, though I concede they do "fit the bill"). Sneaking back to the gunmen's car, Gallowsong douses it with kerosene and lights it on fire before proceeding to take up a hiding place nearby. Contrary to expectation, however, the gunmen do not come to investigate the burning car. Instead, they flee out of the back of the mill into the rain-soaked woods. Gallowsong gives chase and throws a blade at one of the fleeing gunmen, but the strike goes awry and the dwarf is lucky to duck below the spray of bullets one of the gunmen fires in retaliation. Undeterred, Gallowsong follows the gunmen into the woods, now armed only with a small hammer. He tries to sneak up on one of them, but steps on a dry twig. The gunman whirls around pointing a revolver in Gallowsong's face and says "Drop it!" Still undeterred, Gallowsong raises the hammer and is shot point blank in the chest and collapses.
KING: Now that's what I call an ending.
PATRICK: But you were just complaining about this entire storyline!
KING: Well, if you're going to do it, have it climax in a taut encounter at an abandoned factory during a thunderstorm. That's all I'm saying.
CANNON: I agree it's well-written, though I'm again unsure of all of the character motivations here. Why does Gallowsong take such increasingly foolish risks? I suppose he could be trying to stick up for his associates in the Gilchrist Trust (though they seem to plan on abandoning him for New Orleans) or he could have a prickly sense of honor that was infringed by having had a gun pointed at him outside the courthouse. But even then, it just doesn't seem to be enough motive for someone to premeditate a solo attack on two gunmen. Especially if all you have is a hammer!
BLOCH: True, but if everyone is perfectly rational there's little drama. If every character in a horror movie was smart enough to lock all the doors and call the police instead of investigating, we'd have some pretty bland horror movies.
PATRICK: I suppose we should leave off here. Thank you all for the discussion of an interesting and surprising chapter--I'm very curious to see what will happen next.
11:30 Motion to Adjourn. UNANIMOUS.