Montag, 31. August 2015

The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath or lost with Randolph Carter No. 1

Analogue to our podcast, this blog post will investigate into H.P. Lovecraft’s famous Dream Circle story: “The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath”.  It will give you an insight into Lovecraft’s life during the time of 1926; when he wrote the story; and its publishing history afterwards. The post will further summarize the plot for you and will point out important elements and existing interpretations

Living in a Dream – Lovecraft’s Return to Providence in 1926

Lovecraft and his wife, Sarah Greene, in 1924
After living in Brooklyn for nearly 2 years, Lovecraft returned home to Providence in 1926.Apart from hanging out with fellow writers and trips to historic scenes, it seems that he did not enjoy New York very much. He not only disliked mixed raced crowds, talking in languages he did not understand; the city was also way too expensive to for a writer of dime novel fiction. With no considerable income of his own, he was depending on his wife and aunts for money. He could only afford a basic room on the edge of a sketchy neighbourhood - which lived up to all his prejudgements when his suits were stolen at one point of his stay. Already in 1925 he had enough, in a letter to his aunt Lillian he wrote:
     “…It so happens that I am unable to take pleasure or interest in anything but a mental re-creation of other & better days— for in sooth, I see no possibility of ever encountering a really congenial milieu or living among civilized people with old Yankee historic memories again—so in order to avoid the madness which leads to violence & suicide I must cling to the few shreds of old days & old ways which are left to me. Therefore no one need expect me to discard the ponderous furniture & paintings & clocks & books which help to keep 454 always in my dreams. When they go, I shall go, for they are all that make it possible for me to open my eyes in the morning or look forward to another day of consciousness without screaming in sheer desperation & pounding the walls & floor in a frenzied clamour to be waked up out of the nightmare of ‘reality’ & my own room in Providence. Yes— such sensitivenesses of temperament are very inconvenient when one has no money—but it’s easier to criticise than to cure them.”  (Letter to Lillian D. Clark, 8. August 1925)
     In the summer of 1926 he was finally able to return to his beloved Providence. The following year turned out to be his most effective writing period. As soon as he got back, he started working on “The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath” in October 1926 until January 1927.
1943 Cover
Throughout the process he was quite critical with his writing, mentioning to August Derleth
“I…am very fearful that Randolph Carter’s adventures may have reached the point of palling on the reader; or that the very plethora of weird imagery may have destroyed the power of any one image to produce the desired impression of strangeness” (Letter to August Derleth, early Dec. 1926). And elsewhere, shortly afterwards: “Actually, it isn’t much good; but forms useful practice for later and more authentic attempts in the novel form” (Letter to Wilfred B. Talman, 19 Dec. 1926)    
     But Lovecraft never rewrote the story. In his later years he even refused to provide a tipped manuscript when asked for it. “The Dream Quest to the Unknown Kadath” remained unpublished during his life and was only published after his death by Arkham Sampler in a collection called Beyond the Walls of Sleep in 1943. 

“The Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath”

The story follows Randolph Carter throughout his dream in which he searches for the unknown city of Kadath, the home of the Gods. His quest leads him to all kinds of landscapes, to the moon and underground, meeting numerous fantastic creatures including the magical Cats of Ulthar and their human priest Atal; King Kuranes, who came to dream his own kingdom in which he is now a prisoner unable to go back to the real world; and Richard Pickman, a former painter who after leaving the real world turned into a ghoul. On several occasions Carter is warned and even threatened. At the end, the godlike priest Nylarlathotep tricks him and instead of reaching Kadath, he awakes in his own room in Boston, realizing the beauty and the actual healthy reality of the city.  
     Unpolished as it is, the story is the longest of Lovecraft’s Dream Circle stories and also the longest one featuring Randolph Carter as a character.  That Lovecraft did not intent to publish it is even more curious since Randolph Carter remains an important, persistent character throughout his later work. Considering all the stories in which he is mentioned together, “The Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath” serves as a central narrative, conditioning his later – then also published – character development. The  details of which will be the topic of another post, for now it is important to notice that the story itself can be identified as central for his Dream Quest writing.
Map of the Dream Land
Not only because of its importance regarding the character of Randolph Carter, but also due to its detailed description of the geography of the Dream Lands.   In “The Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath” several historic landscapes Lovecraft created in his previous work; like in “Cats of Ulthar”, “The Other Gods”, “The White Ship”; are presented as belonging to the Dream Lands, portraying Lovecraft’s own desire to be able to go back in time through his dreams. Another fantastic place; the Plateau of Leng; which is mentioned in this story and in several others, changes its position in every narrative it appears. Maybe with these geographic alterations, the early Lovecraft wanted to give the reader a sense of wandering geography which he later would make more plausible by letting his characters travel to other dimensions, conditioning an estrangement of place.

Randolph Carter, the Anti-Hero

Through the looking class, “The Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath” can also be read as an inversion of the classical odyssey theme, making Randolph Carter an unusual, but believable Anti-Hero figure. Carter is not presented as a physical active character; he gets taken prisoner several times, left in the need of external help to rescue him.
Randolph Carter, Arkam Horro Card Game
Norman Gayford similar argued that Carter “…exemplifies the path of the modern anti-hero in that he faints, seems unable to use a traditional weapon.”  All the way throughout his quest he is warned by his alias, reacting by not only ignoring their advice, but also violating their friendship. As Gayford illustrates: “…Atal offers “discouraging advice. Carter then violates the relationship, and gets Atal drunk in an attempt to force out more information than is offered. He is not playing exactly by the rules of the game. Kuranes, former hashish user who dies in the dream world, becomes King of Ilek-Vad, and remakes a small portion of dream world into his idyllic vision of the English countryside, is a significant aid. Out of his harshly learned wisdom, Kuranes tells Carter to quit seeking the city because its attainment cannot be as good as it is in the form of a vision. […]
   When Carter meets with Kuranes, it is as if we see Father warning Son against his course of action. […] Kuranes is a psychically wounded king. For all his prestige, he cannot recreate reality; merely manufacture a simulacrum of it. The confrontation between the two reminds us of his estrangement and Carter’s freedom. […]
   Richard Pickman, late artist-cum-ghoulmaster, is of vital aid in getting Carter back onto the right path. Like Kuranes, he is a fitting aid for the anti-hero, himself an outcast artist.”
   Cater, unable to decipher the warnings, continues his quest. But without realizing it, his dream had gotten the control over him – using his obsession to suppress him. Trapped it is now for him impossible to reach Kadath. Gayford concludes: “Carter awakens from that final plunge negatively transformed. Yes, he realizes his New England, but the dream world has been lost to him. This plunge through the universe may be the first true crossing of the threshold. Only then does a vital transformation of the anti-hero occur: he loses his creativity. […]
     Carter emerges from Dream-Quest emptied rather than cleansed, deposited in reality rather than transcending it. […]There is no trophy with which to return. Carter left his castle, Kadath, behind; he rejected dissolution, and in doing so he places himself in a spiritual coma. His experience with the Being leads him to the realization that the universe is not malignant. Rather, it is uncaring of man. That, as we know, was Lovecraft’s philosophy. […]” (Norman Gayford, Randolph Carter: An Anti-Hero’s Quest, Part I, in: Lovecraft Studies, No. 16, 1988, p. 3-12)
     In this sense, “The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath” provides a deeper insight into the interpretive patterns Lovecraft formed and implanted into his fiction. The story connects Lovecraft’s nostralgia for the fantastic and the past with an almost cynical understanding of entrophy produced by time. But if he ever read Hegel’s philosophical writing on Heraclitus; which shares striking similarities with Lovecraft’s (fictional) worldview; is unknown, but will remain as an interesting subject of comparison for a furture post. As a teaser, here is a quote from James Strilin, back in 1850’s a scholar on Hegel, writing about Heraklitus in Hegel’s work and at the same time – strangely - summarizing Lovecrafts’s Dream Land:

(James Hutchison Stirlin, The Secret of Hegel, 1865, p. 60.)

Donnerstag, 2. Juli 2015

Origins: Prometheus vs. Necromancer

The following post will investigate into the two literature archetypes - Prometheus and Necromancer – which inspired numerous written and visualized narratives. It will give you an idea about both ancient concepts and will show you how elements of both can still be identified in modern popular culture phenomena.

Frankenstein meeting his creation in the 1931 movie adaption
     Since the historic past of the Prometheus myth takes us back to the genesis of the world and the recording of myths itself, we will start here: According to ancient Greek myths, Prometheus was the first pagan rebel. The myth identifies him as a Titan who did not fight in the war between Zeus and the elder Titans. Only afterwards he became a rebel against Zeus omnipresent power. Through trickery he managed to foster the development of the human race, known as “The Trick at Mekone” and the “The Bringer of Light”. In the “The Trick at Mekone” Prometheus presents Zeus two sacrificial offerings; beef hidden in a less pleasing looking stomach and ox-bones hidden under delicious looking fat. Zeus chooses the later and  it is “…because of this the tribes of men upon earth burn white bones to the deathless gods upon fragrant altars.” (Hesiod, Theogony, 557 ff., 800 BC.) Tanks to Prometheus the humans were able to keep the nourishing parts of animals and only had to burn the uneatable bones as sacrifices to the Olympian gods. 

Prometheus forming a human, 
Gem stone, 300 BC, Italy,
Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien
     For burning the bones they needed fire; and it was also Prometheus who stole fire from the gods and gave it to humanity. The myth was part of a famous trilogy of plays by Aeschylus (500 BC.). The first part is called Prometheus Pyrphoros – Prometheus the fire bringer. The play itself is lost. Ironically, only the line “Quiet, were need is…” (Scholium Noctes Atticae) survived. Nevertheless is the fire-bringer story the most important of the Prometheus myth, because it kindled Plato’s philosophy on the distinction between humans and animals. Plato argued that Prometheus stole the fire of teche – creative power – and gave it to humanity. This made humans superior to animals, which were in comparison only following their native instinct; and ultimately, unable to understand the world beyound survival. (Plato, Potagoras, 400 BC).

Prometheus Bound, National Gallery, Berlin
    Zeus did not tolerate Prometheus behavior and punished him by chaining him to a mountain in the Caucasus, where an eagle - the symbol bird for Zeus - came every day to eat his liver until Heracles aka Hercules freed him. Zeus also punished humanity by marring Pandora to Epimetheus, Prometheus brother. Her name literally means “All gifts”. Hesiod writes about her that “…of her is the deadly race and tribe of women who live amongst mortal men to their great trouble, no helpmeets in hateful poverty, but only in wealth” (Hesiod, 90 ff.) Disguised in this way, she carried a little box with her, which opened released “…evils, harsh pain and troublesome diseases which give men [humanity] death” (Hesiod, 92 ff).  

     Prometheus by his name means “Fore-sight” and having foreseen the event, he had warned his brother. But Epimetheus, namely the “After thought",
Dr. Faustus meeting the devil, ca. 1825, 
rare books collection London

was not fast enough to catch up and fell for Pandora. Since then, Prometheus remains an allegory figure in literature. He stands for the intellectual human being, aiming to lead the human race into its next stage of existence.The most known literary figures following his ideals are of course Dr. Faustus and Dr. Frankenstein. Both were consumed by their own knowledge which lead them to their tragic destruction. Their actions reflect a form of hubris and the only thing changing throughout the different narratives is the antagonist: Prometheus is punished by Zeus, Faustus is punished by the Christian god (and forgiven by Goethe) and Frankenstein gets haunted by creation itself. 

Hecate with torches guiding Persephone to the underworld, 
Greek vase, 440 BC., Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
Considering the whole picture, even though Prometheus is presented  “…smiling softly and not forgetting his cunning trick” (Hesiod, 545 ff.), his actions do also bring evil into the human world. In this way, his initial actions remain questionable: The concept of light bringer, or as in Plato’s understanding of the “bringer of enlightenment”, is combined with the invention of shadow. In ancient mindset this balanced concept was well understood, for Prosporus – light bringer – was also one nickname of Hecate, the goddess of magic and the underworld. She is often depicted with tow torches, guiding ghost between the world of the living and the dead. The  original concept of light-bringer is therefore a liminal concept, which does not imply that human development is an overall positivistic enterprise, it is more or less a realistic neutralization of the very  exaggeration. Light and shadow, good and evil are coexisting, conditioning each other throughout time, not preventable by any intellectual foreseeing the events

If we follow the torch carrying goddess of the underworld, Hecate, we discover that she is the one invoked by magicians and witches to perform Necromancy. Tertullian, a 200 AD. Christian author, writes “… It was held that the unburied were not accepted into the underworld until they had received the due rites. […] Either it is excellent to be kept here with the “untimely dead” or it is awful to be kept here with the “dead-by- violence”, to employ the terms now voiced by the source of such beliefs, namely the magic […]. A famous promises to evocate even souls that have been laid to rest at their proper age, even souls separated from their bodies just death, and even souls dispatched with prompt burial…’” (Tertullian, De Anima, 56 f.).

The ghost of Eplenor, Odysseus and Hermes
 reunited in the underworld,
Greek, 440 BC., Museum of Fine Arts Boston
     As said before, Hecate guides the souls and spirits through the different worlds and it was therefore believed that she could bring back a dead soul. But not all souls could be utilized, for it was believed that violent and sudden deaths were ideal cases in which the soul of the diseased turned to haunt its burial place, trying to understand the circumstances of its death. For this reason battlefields were believed to be mass- haunted. Pausanius, a Greek geographer of the same time, writes about the famous battlefield of Marathon were the first Persian invasion of Greece had taken place 490 BC., that “…all night long there one can hear the sound of horses neighing and men at war” (Pausanius, 1,32,4 f.)


  The Greek term Nekyomanteion for Necromancy is already documented in 500 BC and originally means death oracle. It goes back to Homers Iliad in which Achilles is visited by the ghost of Patroclus, who demands to be buried properly, otherwise his ghost would haunt the earth forever (Homer, Iliad, 23,62 f.). Another term used as a synonym from the same time onward was the Psychagogos – Soul incantator. Two different kinds of Necromancy developed from there onward: [1] To calm lost souls by giving mutilated corpses a proper burial and [2] to bind lost souls to task before they could rest. The former form developed into modern ghost stories and the later form into modern re-animation or zombie narratives. In Antiquity, both was offered by wandering magicians who were employed by males and females alike. 

     From ancient literature sources we have a case in which a woman “… sent the ghost of a woman killed by violence to kill [her husband]” (Apuleius, Metamorphoses, 9,29 f., 200 AD.). Little tablets were often left at the burial sides of violent deaths in order to slay the restless ghosts. On a tablet from Boeotia a ghost is addressed as: “… Just as you , Theonnastos [name of the dead], have no power in your hands, feet or body to do, organize, love[...]”.  After he has been addressed, he is ordered to make: “… Zoilos stay powerless to have sex with Antheira…” (Ziebarth 1934, no. 23, 300 BC-300 AD.).  Ghost were utilized as demons in curse-, sex and love-binding spellsm for it was believed that they still could affect the living. From the last quote it could be suspected that ghosts could act detached from their body, for a proper burial however the corps was needed. This does not necessarily mean that ghost did not have a body, stories of bodily visitations also survived. Phlegon of Tralles tells a story in which a dead girl comes back to sleep with the new lodger of her former home (Phlegon of Tralles, Mirabilia, 1, 140 AD.).

Female Necromancer 
with a mirror
summoning a male
ghost in a tunic,
Greek, ca. 330 BC.,
The J. Paul Getty Museum

     There are three cases of reanimation, involving a corpse, handed down to us. All of them report stories or resemble persons outside of Greece or Rome. One is the foreign and mystified Thessaly, were numerous coins depicting Hecate were found and current research believes that she was extensively worshiped there. The reanimation scenes show similarities with Egyptian mummification and accordingly, various herbs were used. Because of the rigor mortis, in all cases the corpse rushes to its feet when called upon, as to demonstrate that the necromancy had indeed worked. Important is further that in all cases the ghosts which returned to their body, are angry. This might be, because corpses of violent deaths were used in all cases.  
     The most detailed description can be found in Lucan‘s novel on the civil war. In it, the Thessaly witch Erictho reanimates a throat cut Soldier for General Sextus Pompey. 

“… She put a hook into a deathly noose round its neck and dragged the pitiful corpse, destined to live again, over the crags and rocks, Dour Erictho stationed it under the high roof of the mountain cave she had dedicated to her rites.[…]

Candelstick depicting a burial mount 
with the ghost of warrior on top, ca. 500 BC,
Greek, Museum of Fine Arts Boston
Then she opened up the chest with further wounds and filled it with seething blood. She rinsed the innards of corrupt matter and unstintingly administered moon-juice. In this was mixed whatever creature nature had produced under ill omen. Nothing was missing: not a foam of the water-fearing rabid dog, not the guts of the wryneck, not the hump of the dreadful hyena, not the bone marrow of a deer pastured on snakes, not the ship-stopper fish […you get the picture].

     After putting these common-or-garden and namable blights into her mixture, she added branches drenched in unspeakable spells, herbs on which her dread mouth had spat at the moment of their birth, and all the poisons she herself had contributed to the world. Then her voice, […], mutterings that were discordant and not all of which sounded like the products of a human tongue.[…]Then she pronounced more clearly a second set of utterances, in a Thessalian spell, and penetrated Tartarus with her tongue: “[…] Hecate, the lowest manifestation of my goddess, by whose grace the ghosts and I hold converse, with silent tongue; Doorkeeper of the broad house, you who throw human guts to the cruel dog [Cerberus], sister-fates, destined to take up the threads of life again and continue spinning […] I do not ask for a soul lying hidden in the cave of Tartarus and long accustomed to the dark, but one that is only just now abandoning the light and coming down”.[…]

     The corpse did not raise itself from the ground gradually, one limb at a time. Rather, it shot up from the earth and was upright in an instant. The eye were laid bare, the mouth an open grimace. His appearance was of one not yet fully alive, but of a man still in the phase of dying….” (Lucan, Pharsalia, 6,588 ff., 65 AD.)

In Heliodorus’ writings a similar act is described: an Egyptian woman reanimates her son (Heliodorus, 6,12 f., 400 AD.). The sources differ in the reason for the death oracle: While Erictho brings the soldier back so he might give a prophecy on the upcoming war, the Egyptian woman reacts out of grief. In a story written by Apuleius another cause is presented to the reader: The Egyptian magician Zatchlas reanimates the corpses of a murdered man to ask him about the circumstances of his death: Zatchlas “… laid a spring of a certain herb on the corpse’s mouth and another on his breast. Then he faced east and prayed silently to the majesty of the rising sun. […] First the dead man’s chest swelled out, then an artery throbbed in jolts, and finally his body was suffused by his soul. The Corpse rose, and the young man gave voice: “Why, I beg you, do you restore me to the functions of live […] Stop now, I pray, stop, and leave me to my peace! […] I was killed by the evil crafts of my new bride” […] The people fell in tumult, and divided into opposite camps, one group insisting that the wicked woman should at once be buried alive together with the body of her husband, the other insisting that no faith should be placed in the lies of a corpse…” (Apuleius, Metamorphoses, 2,28 f., 200 AD.).
     The corpse can prove that he is indeed telling the truth. He points towards the narrator of the story, who so far was watching the scene as part of the audience. The corps claims that the narrator himself is a reanimated corps. Since both have the same name, after his death, a witch tried to reanimated him so his wife could pretend that he is still alive, but got the wrong guy. A different man with the same name rose instead and while making his way from his grave to the place where he had been summoned, lost his ears and nose. “…To tidy up after their trick, they molded some wax into the shape of his chopped-off ears, fitted them onto him in exact fashion, and got him a nose like his own”. Terrified the narrator says: “ I was petrified by these words and made to test my face. I put my hand to my nose and grasped it. It came off. I felt my ears. They fell away. The people pointed at me with their fingers and nodded at me, and there was an outbreak of laughter. Drenched in cold sweat, I escaped…”(Apuleius, Metamorphoses, 2,30).  

Photo taken behind the scene of the 1931
 movie adaption of Frankenstein

     The last part of this reanimation scene finds its later echo in Frankenstein’s monster. The Necromancer as traveling sages, magicians and witches were in their professions the first earthly incarnations of Prometheus. They challenged religious power dynamics by summoning the dead. They were tolerated and even praised for death oracles which helped the community, like court cases or calming of a poltergeist. But – like Prometheus – the potentially evil and harm they could bring, when utilizing the dead for curse and binding spells, was recognized too, and so they were often dispelled and executed – intensely under Christian doctrine after 200 AD.
    They died out, but their material, like curses and magical papyri, survived and so early scientists transformed their mystical knowledge of herbs and philters into alchemy and from there into modern science. This is why, over time, different explanatory models of re-animation developed.
Scene from the 1985 movie adaption of Herbert West Re-animator
  This we still can observe in the early Jewish golem story, were the golem seems to be a product of alchemy, similar to the homunculus.The later, modern reanimation stories, like Frankenstein or Herbert West Re-animator, feature the Scientist as the necromancer, because science had become by then the most familiar knowledge system to a contemporary audiences. 
    Still, the main characters and the conflict arising in this narrations as well as characteristics of the reanimated subjects outlasted: The ambitious scholar commits an act of hubris, deluding himself to be able to control powers beyond his reach. They then fight back, reestablishing the former order by not only destroying the scholar, but often annihilating him. Like in the ancient literature, in the modern too, the reanimated subjects had often experienced a violent death and come back to live angry. The main difference between the ancient stories and the development of the material into modern versions of it, is the aspect of horror. While ancient literature when talking about ghosts aimed to tell a fantastic tale or illustrate a religious argument, the modern stories with their blood and gore aim to terrify the reader.
A scene from Skyrim
  This portrays a shift of sensationalism in readership over time. As for gender, it is surprising that while ancient sources portrait both, witches and magicians, in modernity, reanimation seems to be a man's business. Only recently with new television shows, like American Horror Story, and games, like Skyrim, daughters of Hecate and Erictho came back to live as well.
   If you want to know more about famous Re-animators, check out our new podcast on H.P.Lovecraft's Herbert West - Re-animator or the previous post by Nicholas on Herbert West in the Army of Darkness Comic adaption.

Mittwoch, 1. Juli 2015

Re-Animator Comics Analyzed - Herbert West and the Opposite Sex in Re-Animator #0

Re-Animator Comics Analyzed - Part 01 - Herbert West and the Opposite Sex in Re-Animator #0
By Nicholas Diak
ver. 2015-07-01

Second only the Great Cthulhu, H.P. Lovecraft’s character of Herbert West has had a sizable impact on popular culture and other works, be it films, short stories, table top role playing games, and comics. The Jeffrey Combs Re-Animator films are probably the most well known of these successor stories, but the series has been dormant since Beyond Re-Animator in 2003. In 2005 however, Dynamite Comics resurrected West in a series of comics books with brand new stories, giving new life to the iconic character. There are currently three story-arcs with Herbert West published by Dynamite for a total of 10 issues (as of 2015-07-01):

·       Re-Animator #0 / Army of Darkness vs. Re-Animator #1-4 – Sept 2005 to Feb 2006
·       Army of Darkness Re-Animator one shot – Oct 2013
·       Re-Animator #1-4  - Apr 2015 – July 2015

Each of these comics expands and builds off the original Lovecraft story, fleshing out some minor aspects into bigger ones, but also modifying  and retconning major elements as well, causing some incompatibilities with other works, both in and out of the mythos.

This blog entry will be the first in a series to do a deep reading on these comics, highlighting the new and altered elements, how they trickle through the Lovecraft-verse (be it mythos or not), how that expand the character of Herbert West, and other general musings. This particular entry will start with examining Re-Animator issue #0, the first chronologically in this Dynamite-Reanimator canon. The issue is extremely small, acting more as a prologue of sorts to Army of Darkness vs. Re-Animator proper, but despite its condensed form, the story and visuals raise many questions that are worth exploring. For this first essay, it will concentrate on West and his relationship with the opposite sex. However first, a plot synopsis will need to be given to lay the foundations for subsequent analysis of this issue.

Personal Copy of Re-Animator #0 (autographed by Nick Bradshaw)

Plot Synopsis of Re-Animator #0

In a medical lecture hall of Miskatonic University, Professor Halsey admonishes his class whilst returning the student’s graded exams. One of the students, Herbert West, lashes back at Prof. Halsey, taking the position that a dead body could be revived even after brain death. West has been working on a formula to accomplish such a feat for many years, but his subjects only last a few minutes before they disintegrate. At the urging of his friend Candy, West approaches University Chairman Whateley in the hopes to remove Halsey so West can work on perfecting his regent. Whateley, in possession of the Necronomicon and working in alliance with Halsey, instead has plans to summon Yog-Sothoth. He casts a spell on West, splitting him into two: his human self, apparently dead, and a double, dubbed “The Re-Animator”, who promptly stabs Halsey in the eye with a paper weight. Whateley resurrects Halsey by extracting a fluid from the binding of the Necronomincon, and hints to the West double that he has plans for the rest of his classmates.

West and the Opposite Sex

Lovecraft stories are acknowledged for their lack of female characters, (Lavinia Whateley from The Dunwich Horror not-withstanding), and the original Herbert West-Reanimator is no exception. Aside from the mother of the missing child who dies during a fit of hysteria in the “Six Shots by Midnight” segment, there are no other female characters in the story. During the many decades that transpire during the story, one could pose a few questions: Does the narrator and West ever have any romantic encounters? Girlfriends? Wives? The nature of their macabre work probably means the two characters are unable to form close ties with other people, let alone establish romantic connections.

West, Candy and another female student

Re-Animator #0 has a unique scene that gives a bit more dimension to West in this regard. There are two female students: one who goes by the period appropriate name “Candy” and wears glasses, and one nameless lass wearing an upside down mars-symbol necklace.

West in the lecture hall

West sits between the pair in the lecture hall, with the Candy putting her arm on his shoulder to hold him back from lashing out at Prof. Halsey. She later offers the advice to West that he should go above Prof. Halsey to Dr. Whataley, the university chairman (more on these characters in a future essay).

Candy suggests West to go above Prof. Halsey

Both ladies could be considered attractive, (classic occidental version of beauty; blonde hair, slender, cleavage showing). The unnamed female student only appears in one panel (she is blocked for reader viewing by Halsey who stands in front of her during wide shot panels) while Candy appears in seven panels. Candy’s numerous appearances and interactions with West: calming him from lashing out, giving him advice, comforting him after Halsey’s verbal lashing, indicates a more complex relationship. She even colloquially refers to West as “Herbie”. However, the unnamed female student is also shown grabbing West’s bow tie and gently tugging it to lead him away.

The way these interactions are portrayed can be taken in a variety of manners. Both girls could simply be friends with West. If teen comedy films have taught us anything, West could be the “nice guy nerd” that the ladies copy their homework off of. However, West is not exhibiting these traits: he is not reaching out to the women to win a modicum of their affection or attention (after all, his singular focus is his re-animation formula), but it is the women who are reaching out to him. It could be argued they are reaching out to him solely for help in their own academia, but Candy’s actions in particular seem to transcend this. The body language, touching, and possible terms of endearment could indicate that West is actually quite a ladies man, and it is not too farfetched to conclude that the two students are actually attracted to him.

Bodily contact - Candy restrains West

It’s only a few panels, but a semiotic reading of them and of the characters’ interactions (hopefully articulated succinctly above) do support this idea. There are other possible readings of these panels that should be acknowledged: perhaps the two girls are acting in a “big sister” capacity to West, or perhaps they are truly gold mining his book smarts to their own ends, but these two scenarios seem to be the weakest supported by what transpires in the sequential art. If the attractive angle is accepted it adds a bit more dimension to the West character, that he has a modicum of desirability to women and if acted on it, he could establish a romantic relationship with one (or perhaps both!). If extended to the original short story, such an attractive attribute would no doubt be a boon to West if he ever chooses the route to seduce any women with the intent to perform his experiments on them.

One final thought to entertain, if the sexuality angle isn’t palpable, is the idea that Candy could perhaps be the narrator of Herbert West-Reanimator. Since the narrator’s name and gender are never divulged, it is open to interpretation and exploring. Going by the relationship of the narrator and West as described in the opening salvo from the story forms the foundation:

…when we were in the third year of our course at the Miskatonic University Medical School in Arkham. While he was with me, the wonder and diabolism of his experiments fascinated me utterly, and I was his closest companion.

The actions and dialog of Candy could be the early stages of this partnership. She’s obviously in a relationship with West that’s more than student-peer or acquaintance. The dialog shown is mostly one sided, from Candy to West, but again, this could be the early stages of forming the partnership that is yet to come. Accepting Candy as the future narrator of the short story would have a profound change on a re-reading of it, such as envisioning a female lieutenant surgeon during WWI. Another pill that could be hard to swallow, but certainly plausible and worth entertaining.