When the shoggoths took control



The Prophecy Out of Time

At the Mountains of Madness by H.P. Lovecraft is one of the finest horror stories ever written, and it is as superb as it is because the great man did such a brilliant job of evoking a Gothic, frightening atmosphere in which hope slowly dies and fear takes root in the mind and the heart of the reader. The novel showcases the use of a plot device of civilisational decline to exceptional effect, in which the magnificent and powerful culture of the Old Ones is charted through its rise, its peak of magnificence and strength, and then its slowly accelerating decline into final destruction.

In the final phase of that destruction, the narrator of the story observes that the culture of the Old Ones lost a very great deal of its old vigour and virility, and that as the remaining members of that species continued to retreat into their long twilight struggle against inexorable and terrible forces, they became aware of their predicament and actively took steps to preserve what was left of their former greatness:
Decadent though their style undoubtedly was, these latest carvings had a truly epic quality where they told of the building of the new city in the cavern sea. The Old Ones had gone about it scientifically - quarrying insoluble rocks from the heart of the honeycombed mountains, and employing expert workers from the nearest submarine city to perform the construction according to the best methods. These workers brought with them all that was necessary to establish the new venture - Shoggoth tissue from which to breed stone lifters and subsequent beasts of burden for the cavern city, and other protoplasmic matter to mold into phosphorescent organisms for lighting purposes. 
At last a mighty metropolis rose on the bottom of that Stygian sea, its architecture much like that of the city above, and its workmanship displaying relatively little decadence because of the precise mathematical element inherent in building operations. The newly bred Shoggoths grew to enormous size and singular intelligence, and were represented as taking and executing orders with marvelous quickness. They seemed to converse with the Old Ones by mimicking their voices - a sort of musical piping over a wide range, if poor Lake’s dissection had indicated aright - and to work more from spoken commands than from hypnotic suggestions as in earlier times. They were, however, kept in admirable control. The phosphorescent organisms supplied light With vast effectiveness, and doubtless atoned for the loss of the familiar polar auroras of the outer-world night. 
Art and decoration were pursued, though of course with a certain decadence. The Old Ones seemed to realize this falling off themselves, and in many cases anticipated the policy of Constantine the Great by transplanting especially fine blocks of ancient carving from their land city, just as the emperor, in a similar age of decline, stripped Greece and Asia of their finest art to give his new Byzantine capital greater splendors than its own people could create. That the transfer of sculptured blocks had not been more extensive was doubtless owing to the fact that the land city was not at first wholly abandoned. By the time total abandonment did occur - and it surely must have occurred before the polar Pleistocene was far advanced - the Old Ones had perhaps become satisfied with their decadent art - or had ceased to recognize the superior merit of the older carvings. At any rate, the aeon-silent ruins around us had certainly undergone no wholesale sculptural denudation, though all the best separate statues, like other movables, had been taken away.
But when the final collapse came, it happened because the shoggoths rose up against their former masters- yet, being little but created beings themselves and unable to achieve true sentience, they remained for millennia in a sort of limbo. Bred to build and create, but with nothing and no one to tell them what and how to do so, they fell to degenerate imitations of that which had come before them, crafted by far greater intelligences of vastly superior skill:
The regularity of the passage immediately ahead, as well as the larger proportion of penguin-droppings there, prevented all confusion as to the right course amidst this plethora of equally great cave mouths. Nevertheless we resolved to resume our paper trailblazing if any further complexity should develop; for dust tracks, of course, could no longer be expected. Upon resuming our direct progress we cast a beam of torchlight over the tunnel walls - and stopped short in amazement at the supremely radical change which had come over the carvings in this part of the passage. We realized, of course, the great decadence of the Old Ones’ sculpture at the time of the tunneling, and had indeed noticed the inferior workmanship of the arabesques in the stretches behind us. But now, in this deeper section beyond the cavern, there was a sudden difference wholly transcending explanation - a difference in basic nature as well as in mere quality, and involving so profound and calamitous a degradation of skill that nothing in the hitherto observed rate of decline could have led one to expect it. 
This new and degenerate work was coarse, bold, and wholly lacking in delicacy of detail. It was countersunk with exaggerated depth in bands following the same general line as the sparse cartouches of the earlier sections, but the height of the reliefs did not reach the level of the general surface. Danforth had the idea that it was a second carving - a sort of palimpsest formed after the obliteration of a previous design. In nature it was wholly decorative and conventional, and consisted of crude spirals and angles roughly following the quintile mathematical tradition of the Old Ones, yet seemingly more like a parody than a perpetuation of that tradition. We could not get it out of our minds that some subtly but profoundly alien element had been added to the aesthetic feeling behind the technique - an alien element, Danforth guessed, that was responsible for the laborious substitution. It was like, yet disturbingly unlike, what we had come to recognize as the Old Ones’ art; and I was persistently reminded of such hybrid things as the ungainly Palmyrene sculptures fashioned in the Roman manner. That others had recently noticed this belt of carving was hinted by the presence of a used flashlight battery on the floor in front of one of the most characteristic cartouches.

The Dying of the Light

H. P. Lovecraft wrote that novella as a work of fiction in the very early 1930s. He might as well have termed it a prophecy and substituted the descendants of his generation for the shoggoths of his tale. Eighty-five years later, we are doing our damnedest to live up to the name.

Consider the state of our most widely published and celebrated art. Can you name a single work of fiction published in the last thirty years that will be read by your grandchildren's children, and will be held in the same regard as The Master's Lord of the Rings? Or Starship Troopers? Or the works of Shakespeare, Milton, and Dante?

In the realms of fantasy, George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series is too nihilistic, too bloody, and too depressing to be considered truly legendary fiction. J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter series is strong in terms of character and personalities, but is so ridiculously weak in terms of plot and world-building that future generations will likely find the series too trivial to be worthy of their time.

Mainstream science fiction continues its devolution into trashy werewolves-and-vampires-in-space bodice rippers. A brave and highly effective fightback has long been underway, thanks to publishers like Baen Books and Castalia House, and this has done a very great deal to bring great science fiction written by great authors back to us readers. Yet science fiction remains a niche genre, dedicated to escapism; in terms of delivering a serious message along with a great story, the only author who can lay valid claim to write such works is LTC Tom Kratman, and I suspect he would be the first to acknowledge that another Starship Troopers or Dune will not be seen in our time.

And how many novels, plays, and other similar works can you think of that will be regarded by future generations as being of similar rank with King Lear, Macbeth, or The Divine Comedy? Or, hell, the great works of the Victorian age?

Consider too the state of theatre and film. Here again we see that the modern age is reduced to mere imitation of past works. How many Broadway musicals released in the last fifteen years can compare with works that are now twenty and thirty and even forty years old?

How many films will our great-great-grandchildren watch that can compare with the legends of old? How can future generations watch John Wayne and Gregory Peck and Carey Grant in films from Hollywood's golden age, and compare them with the stunted, miserable drivel that has inundated our movie theatres in the modern age?

Have you ever walked into a modern art gallery? I cannot stand to be in one for more than five minutes, and that is only to use the toilet. Such a place elevates the tawdry, the stupid, and the ridiculous over the beautiful. My favourite art gallery in the world remains, to this day, the Tate Britain, and that is because it preserves works of magnificent skill and beauty dating some five hundred years. Its counterpart across the Thames, the Tate Modern, is one of the ugliest, most horribly depressing and nasty buildings that I have ever had the misfortune of entering.

In terms of music, what has come along since the days of Elgar and Debussy and Ravel that can compare? What piece of classical music has come along since the days of Beethoven that can compare with the soaring, sublime majesty of the final movement of his 9th Symphony?

You could argue that less "mainstream" genres such as heavy metal and jazz have not suffered from such degradation, and indeed are flourishing and more robust than ever. But I am not so easily convinced. Where is the next IRON MAIDEN- who released last year the best album they have released in a quarter-century? Where is the next Stan Getz, the next Thelonious Monk, the next Dave Brubeck? If I think hard among the younger bands that I love and listen to regularly, there are not more than five or six that can even come close to the greats of the past, such as MAIDEN, AMON AMARTH, JUDAS PRIEST, MEGADETH, and HELLOWEEN.

The Great Unraveling

Do not mistake me. I do not claim that nothing of worth has been produced in the last thirty years- that would be stupid. We are fortunate indeed to be living in a day and age graced by some truly great minds. Several of them have written superb works of fiction recently under the banners of Castalia House. They, and others like them, continue to faithfully produce works of outstanding quality that can be enjoyed by readers of any age and time.

There have been great works of art and literature produced in our generation that are certainly worthy of being preserved. They are few and painfully far between in our modern age, but we are still capable of producing them once in a while.

But they are the exception, not the norm. And they are not mainstream works of excellence and artistic achievement.

Indeed, if you look at the wider society, and you go back and re-read what Lovecraft wrote all those years ago, you would be convinced that we have indeed become a society of shoggoths.

We are, as a whole, incapable of truly creating anymore in the West. Certain very laudable exceptions aside, our art and culture is an increasingly pale, increasingly tawdry imitation of the great works of the past.

Our very architecture is degraded compared to the soaring examples of the past- just you try comparing the modern skyscrapers that have come up in the last ten years in London against, say, the Palace of Westminster, or St. Paul's Cathedral. Or the Vatican. In comparison to these works of God-blessed magnificence, our modern buildings are sterile towers of steel and glass, artificially lit, enervating, even soulless beyond a certain point.

On the one hand, Western civilisation has never been more innovative, more dynamic, more capable of inventing and creating and coming up with new and ever-more-wonderful ways to remove the burdens of labour from our lives.

On the other, though, we have lost so much in terms of beauty and Godly art that I sometimes wonder how we can possibly look at our modern world and still understand those concepts.

What we are facing today is a culture in the West that is without vitality, without virility, and utterly without purpose. Bereft of these things, all it can really do is imitate, poorly, the works of greater minds and better men that came before it.

Walk into the nearest movie theatre, and you'll see that most of the films on display are either depressingly boring exercises in leftist navel-gazing, or sequels of one form or another. In the gym earlier tonight I saw a trailer for London Has Fallen, which apparently is a pure cash grab in the form of a sequel to the (admittedly quite entertaining and rather well done) film Olympus Has Fallen from a few years back. Apparently, a bigger, dumber, louder sequel is what passes for "valuable entertainment" these days. Meanwhile, a genuinely brilliant film like 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi, severely underperforms at the box office despite being a magnificent work of cinematic art and a political statement for the ages.

Take a stroll down New York City's Broadway theatre district or London's West End, and you will see very few, if any, musicals or plays that would actually entertain you. Some of them are not too terrible, to be sure, but even at their best, all they can do is imitate truly great works of art that came before them, and badly at that. At most, one can only damn them with faint praise.

Don't bother asking me to visit a museum of modern art. I view such places as no better than literal toilets- and given that I seem to remember that there was once some exhibition involving a toilet that was put up for a major art prize some years back, that's actually a pretty fair estimation. There is no way in Hell that you will ever convince me that a bunch of paint splotches on a canvas can possibly compare to the three greatest paintings ever produced by a Western artist.

And as far as mainstream "music" goes... well, if you asked me to tell you the difference between, say, One Direction and... well, whatever teenybopper phenomenon was big back in the early 90s (New Kids on the Block, I suppose), I wouldn't have the first clue as to where to start, other than to point out that such music was useless trash back then, and is even more useless trash now.

The Way Back

Fortunately, this particular disease is noteworthy because the symptoms are also the cure. We simply need to know how to treat the problem, and do so as ruthlessly as possible.

The art, literature, and music of previous generations are great because they are timeless. They address timeless ideas and fundamental questions about Man's place in this world, his relationship to his fellows, and his relationship to the Almighty. We forget these things at our great peril, and it is only when we remember them that we can go about producing works of real beauty and meaning.

Take, for example, a certain science fiction book by the name of The Tuloriad. Now, I personally thought very highly of this novel- and not merely because it is a very good read. As a sci-fi novel, it is most entertaining and a very enjoyable diversion- but it is far more than that. It is an exploration of the very questions and themes that I outlined above. And because of that, it is elevated far beyond mere entertainment. That is a book that I would not have the slightest hesitation in telling my grandchildren to read (when they're old enough, I mean).

The way back to a culture with meaning, dignity, and beauty is to be found simply in remembering the greatest works and ideas of the past, and building upon them. This is simple, but not easy, because those works were produced by men of astonishing intelligence and talent. But we have one thing that they did not: their example, to guide us.

And that, I firmly believe, is more than enough. With that, we can take what they have given us, the priceless legacy that they have bequeathed to us, and build upon it to ever greater heights.

Comments

  1. A society which has gone down the path of menstrual painting is pretty-much without hope art-wise IMO.

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  2. They just don't make eighteenth century eldritch horror writers like they used to...

    ReplyDelete
  3. The shoggoths at least imitated old works. Modern architects and artists seem to actively avoid making anything that would ever before in history have been regarded as worthwhile.

    ReplyDelete

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