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Lovecraft and Goethe
Posted: Posted May 26th, 2019
Edited May 26th, 2019 by chiarizio
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Were H.P. Lovecraft, in his Cthulhu Mythos, and J.W. von Goethe, in “The Erl-King”, making the same general point?
That there are things, forces and agencies, in this universe, that we have no hope of understanding, nor of defending ourselves against?


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Bump.

Posted February 25th by chiarizio
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oooo fun question. i’ll reply to this later when i get off work.

Posted February 25th by poptart!
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I am familiar with Lovecraft's work, but I am not familiar with Erlkonig. I only read it just today, in response to this thread.

That there are things, forces and agencies, in this universe, that we have no hope of understanding, nor of defending ourselves against?


The poem is sophisticated. I think that it is purposefully ambiguous and has more to do with human interpretation of natural phenomena and human tendency to rationalize or bargain in the face of death than is has to do with an objective and direct statement of the low position of humanity in the cosmic order.

The dying son speaks of things that are obviously fantastic, projecting his internal knowledge onto the forms around him. The father rationalizes it all down to mere phenomena as a way of denying the idea that his son is communicating to him, while making promises of the various resources at his disposal to his son as long as death does not take him. In other words, I think that the things described in the son's dialogue are untrue but meaningful while the things described in the father's dialogue are true but meaningless.

In the Lovecraft mythos, truth and meaning are both ultimately remote from humanity and are only stumbled across by chance or by the sacrifice of humanity (and the bits of truth and meaning that humanity inherently possesses were not of our original composition, but were forced upon us aeons ago by cosmic machinations).

I think that both works share a horror at a perceived greater order (or greater chaos). I think that both works portray the idea that we cannot ultimately defend against or bargain with eternity. However, the role of truth and understanding regarding these themes are, I think, very different.

Posted February 25th by 9x19
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9x19
 



@9x19:
Thanks!

@poptart!:
I look forward to your remarks!

Posted February 26th by chiarizio
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If you haven't heard Schubert's Erlkönig yet, you should definitely check it out!



I'm a little ketamine'd up, so apologies if this response is unorganized. I love questions that put my English major to good use, though, lol.

I agree with 9x19. I also want to say that this is very insightful:

I think that the things described in the son's dialogue are untrue but meaningful while the things described in the father's dialogue are true but meaningless.


What if we flipped this, though? If we accept that the son's dialogue is true — and we're not overstepping by doing so because we also get the Erlkönig's dialogue without any couching — then the father and his son are being pursued by a supernatural force, some sort of Grim Reaper figure, or maybe an elf king from the Otherworld (which calls to mind the Wild Hunt). So, how does that being compare to the Lovecraft mythos?

I haven't read as much Lovecraft as I'd like, but the unknown (or the unknowable) seems to be a theme. What do we know about the Erlkönig? We can only go by what it says and what it can do. If we believe it, it has a family (a mother and daughters — it's interesting that it only mentions women, but that's a tangent, or even an entire paper lol). It also has an understandable motivation: "I love thee, I'm charm'd by thy beauty, dear boy!"

It may be lying or applying the abstract to concepts that the child can understand, but the Erlkönig has "human" qualities. A family, emotions, an appreciation for beauty, etc. These are all understandable to a human. On the other hand, Lovecraft's beings are incomprehensible and unknowable (correct me if I'm wrong, I don't have my book of Lovecraft stories with me, and it's been awhile). For example, just seeing Cthulhu would drive a man mad. It has incomprehensible motivations (afaik), and the human concept of family likely doesn't apply. The Erlkönig seems to be closer to the realm of human understanding than Lovecraft's creatures.

Hmm, I'm starting to drift off, so I'll have to think about this for awhile and come back to it.

Edited February 26th by poptart!
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some sort of Grim Reaper figure, or maybe an elf king from the Otherworld (which calls to mind the Wild Hunt). So, how does that being compare to the Lovecraft mythos?


It is rare that a unique creature (such as Cthulhu) in the Lovecraft mythos shows specific interest in any human, or shows awareness of humanity beyond a dim and condescending disregard. However, there are high-profile exceptions to this. The most relevant of these is Nyarlathotep, who is defined almost exclusively in terms of his mysterious and predatory relationship with humanity. He is cruel and deceptive. He is otherworldly (Azathoth is his father), but he almost always appears to humans in humanoid form. He directly bargains with and manipulates humans for the benefit of the Great Old Ones.

Nyarlathotep may serve as adequate analogue for the Erl-King.

On the other hand, Lovecraft's beings are incomprehensible and unknowable (correct me if I'm wrong, I don't have my book of Lovecraft stories with me, and it's been awhile). For example, just seeing Cthulhu would drive a man mad. It has incomprehensible motivations (afaik), and the human concept of family likely doesn't apply. The Erlkönig seems to be closer to the realm of human understanding than Lovecraft's creatures.


Many of Lovecraft's unique entities are indeed incomprehensible (unable for a human observer to develop a cohesive, complete and rational understanding thereof), but they have aspects that are somewhat knowable. It just that they have many facets and that many of those facets are either disparate or contradictory.

Many of their core motivations and end goals are not even available for speculation.

The concept of family applies only in a very vague and oddly Gnostic sense, with Azathoth functioning as a Godhead from which emanations like Darkness and the Nameless Mist spring forth. There is a "genealogy" present, but not a traditional one.

Posted February 26th by 9x19
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9x19
 


@poptart!:
Yes, I like the Schubert version!
Also I like the Italian version “Figlio Perduto”. I’m sorry I can’t remember the poetess. I think it was she who set it to Beethoven’s Seventh.
You can hear Sarah Brightman perform it.
....
@9x19:
Good discussions from both of you! Thanks!

Posted February 26th by chiarizio
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