So I probably shouldn’t have been surprised that ST Joshi appears as a character in the final issue of Alan Moore’s Providence. And yet, I was. Which just goes to show: never underestimate the ability of the Wizard of Northampton to keep his audience on its toes.
Oh, and yes. Providence ended last week. After a brief delay, issue 12 finally hit the stands, and…
This is most likely going to get a bit SPOILERY, just so you know. So if you’re uninitiated… if you haven’t read it yet… you might want to turn back now. We’ll be heading pretty deep into Lovecraft Country, from which there’s no coming back.
But anyway, yes. The final issue of what may very well be Alan Moore’s final great work in comics. An historic occasion, unless he turns around and surprises us with something else down the line. Which he just might do out of general orneriness. But for now… HISTORIC!
It’s good, too, with that horrifyingly matter-of-fact air the whole series has had about it. There’s nothing in it to match the crescendo of horror it reached in issue six (for which I am, in a way, grateful). It doesn’t even, honestly, conjure up the dread many of the other issues have inspired. But its events unfold at the stately, measured pace to which Providence readers have become accustomed, and with an element of dreamlike wonder that’s as charming as it is appalling. This is especially true when–
Are YOU still here? I told you where we were headed. Don’t you remember? Look. We’re about to turn the corner into Lovecraft Country. If you keep straight here instead, the road might still loop back around to somewhere safe. But if you turn off with us onto this side street…
I can’t be responsible for your safety.
Okay, then. Just initiates, now. Initiates, and the foolhardy. Just take the next left, and…
Welcome to Lovecraft Country! Land of Charming and Appalling Wonder, never moreso than when Merrill Brears finally gives birth to Cthulhu. I’ll get back to that blessed event in a bit; it’s pretty much the whole point, after all. But first… How great is it here, anyway? Weird menace, a general lack of normal human morality, hot and cold running fungus…
Hmm. Actually, that sounds kind of horrible now that I say it out loud. But everything’s so… VIVID here, you know? So real. Realer than real. Or realer than the OLD reality, anyway. I mean, just look at how drab the world was back at the beginning, before Carl Perlman crossed over…
…and compare it to how exciting things look here at the end of it all:
Everything’s so much more lush now. The colors more vivid. The line more expressive, more detailed. I mean, sure, you could attribute that to extra effort from Providence artist Jacen Burrows (who is a better artist now than he was when the series started), and colorist Juan Rodriguez. But, still. This is the WORLD, now, man! It’s just so much… I don’t know… EXTRA. I mean, sure. You could find yourself at any moment trampled by a giant walking cloud with a vaguely offensive name and a thousand vaginas…
…but, honestly. Is life any less dangerous in, say, Baltimore?
Yes, it is.
But does Baltimore have a bunch of super-creepy cats who might at any moment fly to the moon on a whim? Does it have immortal cannibals, or terrible old men who collect souls in tiny glass jars? Has it ever played host to a dude with an anus for a mouth who’s one of the thousand secret faces of God?
Yeah, see? I THOUGHT not!
I was especially happy to see that the Terrible Old Man made it, by the way. He’s always been one of my favorites. And he’s not such a bad sort, as evil old wizards go. I was a bit more surprised to see the cannibal gentleman, but… Well, I suppose both of them have simple goals. They’ve found something they like, and they’re happy with it. You don’t see that kind of contentment among the immortal too often. They get bored, and they start messing about with the nature of reality, and then… Well. Somebody’s always going to be out to hit you with a cleansing bolt of lightning when you get into that game.
Just look at the Stella Sapiente, for instance. The only one of them that survived Lovecraft’s lifetime was that body-swapping werewolf fella. And even he very nearly didn’t make it. Could’ve wound up trapped in a glob of putrefying flesh just as easy. But there he was at the end, reading the scripture at the nativity, and–
Well, now. I suppose that brings us back around to the birth at last, doesn’t it? Quite the collection gathered there. You’ve got your Annunciation Mary, your cuckolded Joseph, your three wise men, a collection of interested dignitaries, the Holy Spirit in a veil… and a storied academic.
That would be ST Joshi, the celebrated Lovecraft scholar who’s probably done more than anyone to legitimize Lovecraft in the eyes of the literary establishment. That legitimization’s important, too. Not as important as the popular interest, of course. But taking Lovecraft fandom from a bunch of fringe occult types and high-falutin’ pulp nerds into the academic mainstream made it okay… respectable, even… to think there was more to old HP than a bunch of rubbery monsters with funny names. And if you’re trying to reshape a world in his image, that’s key.
Of course, Joshi does tend to inject a somewhat pedantic note to the proceedings. He has to worry over the details and expound upon the meanings of things, lending an expository, lit-critty air to what might otherwise be a story in which readers could draw such conclusions themselves. But, hey. It’s the final chapter of the most all-encompassing and audacious Lovecraft pastiche ever written. If you can’t get a bit lit-critty in THAT, I don’t know where you can.
But I’m forgetting the guest of honor here: Li’l Baby Cthulhu himself! We don’t see much of him, of course. He’s got to get busy dreaming all those strange aeons, after all, and that’s the sort of work that requires privacy. Which, now that I think of it that way, turns “The Call of Cthulhu” into a shaggy dog story variation on that old Tex Avery cartoon with the hibernating bear.
So, yeah. We don’t see much of him. It’s just as well, though, since his form is notoriously difficult to wrap your head around. I mean, even Lovecraft mostly describes him by comparing him to things that he’s kind of like, but isn’t. His mom sums up the difficulty of seeing him rather well, I think:
Awww. They’re so cute when they’re little.
But he won’t stay that way, it seems. There’s some business about how Deep One females have the gene for limiting growth, and since his mother is human… Well, I suppose that means Great Cthulhu is, in some ways, the Deep One version of Andre the Giant.
Of course, Cthulhu can eternal lie, so he’s gonna get even bigger. In much the same way, in fact, that Lovecraft himself did, lying dead while his fame grew, his name kept alive, his ideas made popular by the Derleths and Del Reys and Simons. The Lehmans and Lackeys and Gordons. The Chaosiums and Toy Vaults. The Morrisons and the Moores. Them, and so many others, each straining in their own directions, their dissociated efforts drawing us, inexorably, toward the burning light of Lovecraft’s frightful truth. And better this dreaming world of appalling wonder and charming evil. Of blood and color and terrible danger. Better this, than our placid islands of ignorance, the peace and safety of our new dark age.
I TOLD you there was no turning back…