Well, my 12 days of Lovecraft are nearing an end. I have a couple of gigantic stories to tackle, but I thought I’d warm up with a short one that was the basis of an excellent movie from the 80s, (Watch the whole thing for free here! Bargain!) so today we see what’s knocking on the door… “From Beyond”!
Our narrator has a buddy, Crawford Tillinghast, who, unsatisfied with having an awesome name, is making certain scientific and philosophical inquiries. Our narrator is of the belief that ol’ Crawford doesn’t have the cool, detached temperament necessary for such inquiries, and boy is he right! He tries to discourage his pal from pursuing these inquiries when he finds him drawn, unshaven, and lacking his former healthy chubbiness. Crawford angrily throws him out, only to invite him back a few days later “to see something.”
The servants have all disappeared, and Crawford takes our narrator into his lab where he turns on a machine that glows with an unearthly electricity. After a lot of hooey about the pineal gland, our narrator begins to see stuff—yucky stuff—that is all around us all the time. Then Tillinghast, who’s gone completely mad, mad I say, announces that this is his revenge for our narrator’s lack of support, and that there are far ickier things on the way—things which apparently devoured the servants and which will presumably devour our narrator. But, our narrator happens to have a pistol which he uses to shoot the machine. And, um, Crawford Tillinghast dies at the same time.
As is often the case with H.P., we’ve got a real winner of a central conceit here. The very air around us, and, indeed, inside us, is crawling with gross creatures. That’s creepy, and it connects to H.P.’s OCD-esque obsession with purity and contamination that shows up in nearly every story. (I can’t help wondering if he was a guy who boiled his toothbrush every morning.) I also enjoyed the couple of twists in the story—to wit, it’s clear that Tillinghast has gone nutty from the get go, but I was as surprised as the narrator that Tillinghast was after revenge and not just eager to share his scientific discovery. There’s also clever business with the pistol where it appears that the narrator has shot Tillinghast, though of course it turns out he’s actually shot the machine.
What’s Less Than Awesome:
As he’s done in a couple of other stories, H.P. undermines the story by telling it in the first person. We know the narrator is going to escape unharmed to tell the story in the past tense, so there’s basically no suspense. Also, the pistol feels a little deus-ex-machina-y. “Oh, yeah, by the way, I just happen to always carry a pistol because I got mugged a while back.”
And then there’s the money shot issue. Tillinghast threatens the narrator with something that lives in this unseen dimension that is more horrifying and dangerous than the flopping jellyfish that are apparently passing through us even as we speak, and then we don’t really get to see them in action. There’s always a tension around this stuff—I liked, for example, the fact that we never saw the unseen menace in “The Music of Erich Zann,” but here it feels kind of like a cheat. These monsters presumably dispatch Tillinghast, and all we get to see is his corpse. I guess the bottom line is sometimes it’s scarier to know, and sometimes it’s scarier not to know. In this particular case, I really felt like I wanted to see the horrific menace from beyond.
Seamus Cooper is the author of The Mall of Cthulhu (Night Shade Books, 2009). He lives in Boston and invites you to come over later: he has something remarkable he’d like you to see. Purely in the interest of scientific inquiry, you understand. He bears no grudge for your lack of support in the past.