There are many ways I could talk about the point I want to make in this week’s post, but when it comes to the really difficult issues—and yes, we’re going to be talking about one of those—the indirect routes are generally the most useful. For that reason, I want to start out with a seeming irrelevancy, and talk a bit about shoggoths.
Some of my readers already know about shoggoths. For the benefit of those who don’t, I’ll note that they’re one of the many species of imaginary critters that slithered out of the perfervid brain of iconic American fantasy-horror author H.P. Lovecraft. Shoggoths look a bit like huge hungry masses of iridescent black soap bubbles, fitted out with a random scattering of phosphorescent green eyes that ooze to the surface and then sink again. They’re big, they’re strong, they’re nightmarishly fast, and like most of the other critters in the Lovecraftian universe, their entire purpose in existence is to give investigators something to run away from as quickly as possible, screaming in terror all the while.
That sort of thing is a staple of bad horror fiction, but Lovecraft was doing something at once highly subtle and unpleasantly familiar with it. Central to his worldview was the belief that the eight-inch-long lump of meat called the human brain is completely out of its league when it tries to make sense of the cosmos in which we live, and can all too easily go stark staring crazy if it makes the attempt. His monstrous beings and tentacled devil-gods get most of their power over the reader from their sheer incomprehensibility. In his very best stories—“The Color Out Of Space” is perhaps the finest example—that theme takes center stage, and lives are destroyed and minds shattered by a force without malice and without meaning, irrupting from an impersonal cosmos serenely indifferent to the pretensions of our species.
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