Flotsam: A Hodgepodge Ending in Lovecraft

1. I try to hunt up simple, straightforward points where ideas make contact with reality in order to judge their truth or falseness. Preferably reality I can see for myself, or which is at least clear and concrete enough to be resistant to rhetoric.

For instance, a question that occurred to me this week: has anyone ever successfully bred a given species to the point where the new breed is unable to sire fertile offspring with the original branch, but can sire fertile offspring in its own, new branch?

If yes, then natural selection is a viable way to bring about new species, at least in principle. If no, then it isn’t and the theory of natural-selection driven macro-evolution is simply false whatever else may be said of it.

I would legitimately like to know which is the case, though I strongly suspect that if this had ever happened, the newly-created species would be as famous and talked about as Dolly the sheep. Still, I’m not well-versed in scientific literature, so it might be so.

2. Another example: What is the Earth’s climate *supposed* to be like at the moment, and how did you determine this?

3. Something occurred to me the other day:

You have a wheelchair-bound old man who, through cunning, high-position, and unscrupulousness takes advantage of the desperation and fear of people facing hard times in order to seize control of more and more of the community and ultimately re-make it in his own image. While those fighting against him use local institutions, relationships, and entrepreneurial spirit to prove they don’t need his ‘help’.

Is Mr. Potter a caricature of FDR?!

(Seriously, I highly doubt it, though both Capra and Stewart were conservatives. Especially since Potter being in a wheelchair was only due to the arthritis-stricken Lionel Barrymore being cast in the role. Still, I can’t help finding the parallels amusing)

4. Something to keep in mind when discussing how and why a given piece of work appeals to someone or doesn’t, why it’s popular or not, is that there are two sides of the equation: the content of the work and state of the audience. It’s a question of harmonizing the composition of the work with the composition of the reader / viewer: almost like getting medicine right, where you have to make sure the chemical composition of the medicine interacts with the chemical composition of the body in such a way that it will do what it’s supposed to do in most cases (though it will almost certainly not interact the same way in all cases, because everyone has different factors going into their bodily composition, which is why we have government-mandated legal shields rigorous long-term testing).

Anyway, whether a given story ‘hits a note’ with people is dependent, in part, on what the people themselves bring to the table. Something to keep in mind while writing: what kind of person would this story appeal to? What ‘elements’ are your trying to react with in a person?

5. This is also why some stories are gigantic hits when they first come out and then fade to obscurity or become punchlines later on. Their success was not due primarily to whatever merits they have as stories, but due to the surrounding cultural or social factors present in the audience. The Billy Jack films are a good example of this, becoming massive hits at the time by tapping in the youth zeitgeist of the moment, while now they’re almost forgotten because that particular geist ist abgefahren.

I think you can tell what this means for much of today’s film woke, even those that make money.

6. I think I’ve said this at some point, but any list of the greatest American writers that does not include H.P. Lovecraft is immediately suspect. Not just for his drippingly-rich prose and titanic imagination, but also just in terms of sheer influence. When you look at science-fiction horror stories that have had any kind of impact, you can see Lovecraft’s fingerprints everywhere (Alien, the works of John Carpenter, Nightmare on Elm Street, Evil Dead, Half-Life, etc.).

The only branch of that particular tree that really evades it (sometimes) would be cyber-horror, like The Terminator (though it would not at all surprise me to find a Lovecraftian ancestor there as well). Lovecraft’s general approach is “some ancient, almost-forgotten nightmare is uncovered in the modern, scientific world, exposing an entirely new and horrible understanding of reality”. ‘Cyber-horror’ is more “we’ve created something brand new…and it’s far worse than anything that’s come before.” Past-focused versus future focused.

7. I’ve even heard rumors – though I haven’t yet been able to confirm it – that Prof. Tolkien himself was an admirer of Lovecraft’s work, and that his influence even found its way into Middle Earth: e.g. the ‘nameless things’ that gnaw the Earth in the deep places, of which Gandalf will ‘bring back no word of them to darken the light of day.’ Creatures like Shelob and Ungoliant also have a Lovecraftian tone to them, in their weird, ancient, utterly destructive and almost otherworldly nature.

I would like to find out for sure whether it’s true or not, but it wouldn’t surprise me much.