I have been reading and re-reading HPL for more than thirty years now, and it becomes more and more apparent that his “cosmic horror” production, for our “modern” sensibilities (shaped by Stephen King’s “fast-food” style) is cumbersome, convoluted, as fast paced as when we are running in a nightmare (quite “telefonata”, we would say in Italian): twists in the plot are suggested scores of pages earlier.. (this applies less to his production in Dunsanian fantasy).
This is to say that through all this time, the aforesaid characteristics notwithstanding, I have been more and more deeply mesmerized by his lucid delirium, by the obsessive power of his visions (I should really get to read his collected letters, too).
So these short notes of mine must be seen as a sign of affection. From the sublime to the ridicule there is but one step, someone said; and I must say that thrice in this novella does HPL tread that step.
Masses of shoggoth cells becoming biological organs “through hypnosis”? giant, so far unknown pterodactyls hoisting the great building stones on the mountaintops (did men use eagles and condors to build Machu Picchu? Weren’t pterodactyls not even able to rise into flight, just to fall and glide?)? A race, half-fungoid and half-crustacean (how do these halves match?), which is probably at the origin of the legends about the horrible Mi-Go, or abominable Snowman (which half in particular??).
And let us not inquire in too much detail about the enormous exploration the main characters carry out in a few hours.
These are but tiny specks on the face of a far-reaching vision, immense in geographic landscapes, and connecting all the strains of HPL’s myths in a geological timeline. And what concepts! Mankind being just one of the random by-products of the Elder Ones manipulating living matter (here one reason of HPL’s bizarre charm is made clear: he was a materialist and atheist, though he was a conservative, reactionary man, bordering with racism.. an unusual combination!).
And at the same time, it is maybe the only occurrence in his tales where men sympathize with alien creatures: another race, but, like mankind, victims of Cthulhu’s spawn; so the visit to the Dead city swings betwitxt (as he would say) horror for the slayers of the fellow explorers, and admiration, nearly elation, for the Elder Ones’ architectonic and artistic feats; eventually not even the discovery of the missing companion’s dissected body rekindles any hatred, so enthralled are they in the multi-million-year-long epic history of the Elder Ones.. After all, did they behave any differently from men on an exploration party? They awoke after 40 million years to find themselves in a different world, ready to be dissected! The admiration for the Elders grows until it peaks in the cry: “They were men!” (in that they fought the shapeless, brute shoggoths).
And so, Lovecraft shows humanism.