On Sunday, I nearly got a hit by a car. Now, “nearly” means “not actually hit” means I suffered no actual injury at all, but I was whacked out on adrenaline for like three hours and then crashed super hard afterwards, so the post that should’ve been written on Sunday for Monday has instead been written on Monday for Tuesday, and will appear alongside an article coming three hours from now, at the usual posting time. I’m also taking the opportunity to throw things up at slightly weird times and see if it affects traffic at all. These posts are mostly written 24-48 hours in advance, so I figure if the 9 AM time gets more traffic than the 12 noon, then hey, may as well schedule it for then.
Life is a hideous thing, and from the background behind what we know of it peer daemoniacal hints of truth which make it sometimes a thousandfold more hideous. Science, already oppressive with its shocking revelations, will perhaps be the ultimate exterminator of our human species—if separate species we be—for its reserve of unguessed horrors could never be borne by mortal brains if loosed upon the world.
The idea that being sheltered and ignorant is actually a good thing is something that Lovecraft will come back to at least a few more times, and something he’s pretty famous for. The unknown is frightening, so the idea that learning about something is inherently deadly means that it is, in theory, perpetually scary. In practice, the ambiguous contents of darkened rooms only hold the imagination for so long, and once you have described a fictional horror, no matter how much you insist afterwards that you have described only part of it, what you described will ever after be all of it, and its horror will wear away until it becomes mundane.
Anyway, while the idea that there can be types of knowledge that are inherently dangerous is a compelling fictional concept, it is sometimes overshadowed by Lovecraft’s actual neuroses poking through. For example:
Arthur Jermyn went out on the moor and burned himself after seeing the boxed object which had come from Africa.
Knowing how much Lovecraft hates everyone who isn’t a New England WASP, the idea that the whole story might just be an allegory for the inherent cosmic horror that somewhere out there black people exist (scare chord) immediately punches the momentum out of it. I don’t even know if that allegory is going to be borne out, but its mere plausibility harms the story. On the one hand, that isn’t this specific story’s fault. I only know that because I have a greater understanding of Lovecraft’s work. On the other hand, part of the point of this project is taking Lovecraft’s works as a collective, as a shared universe, picking through them to see which parts of them are the Cthulhu Mythos. And there’s a pretty good argument for including both the Street and the Terrible Old Man.
This Arthur fellow has an ancestor named Wade, after whom the whole family tree apparently went mad.
Madness was in all the Jermyns, and people were glad there were not many of them. The line put forth no branches, and Arthur was the last of it. If he had not been, one cannot say what he would have done when the object came. The Jermyns never seemed to look quite right—something was amiss, though Arthur was the worst, and the old family portraits in Jermyn House shewed fine faces enough before Sir Wade’s time. Certainly, the madness began with Sir Wade, whose wild stories of Africa were at once the delight and terror of his few friends.
I can’t yet tell how intentional it is that the object is getting so much blame for what is probably the doing of hereditary mental illness, and that whatever mania the object triggered in Arthur likely would’ve occurred anyway, just with slightly different specifics.
It shewed in his collection of trophies and specimens, which were not such as a normal man would accumulate and preserve, and appeared strikingly in the Oriental seclusion in which he kept his wife. The latter, he had said, was the daughter of a Portuguese trader whom he had met in Africa; and did not like English ways. She, with an infant son born in Africa, had accompanied him back from the second and longest of his trips, and had gone with him on the third and last, never returning.
Looking forward to the plot twist where it turns out that the source of insanity in the family is that one of their distant answers was A BLACK PERSON!!! ‘Course, she’s already Portuguese, who’ve been named as untermenschen by Lovecraft in the Terrible Old Man, so.
Sir Wade was, indeed, most peculiar in his solicitude for his family; for when he returned to Africa he would permit no one to care for his young son save a loathsome black woman from Guinea.
And as the Guinean woman lay dying, she proclaimed her last words, too horrifying a revelation for any mortal to bear: “I WAS SIR WADE’S WIFE!!!”
And since Lovecraft’s wandering perilously close to Poe’s Law, I’ll clarify that the last paragraph there was a sarcastic prediction, not summary.
But it was the talk of Sir Wade, especially when in his cups, which chiefly led his friends to deem him mad. In a rational age like the eighteenth century it was unwise for a man of learning to talk about wild sights and strange scenes under a Congo moon; of the gigantic walls and pillars of a forgotten city, crumbling and vine-grown, and of damp, silent, stone steps leading interminably down into the darkness of abysmal treasure-vaults and inconceivable catacombs.
See, this part is actually getting interesting, now. Forgotten ruins of a lost civilization in some unexplored corner of the world. Africa doesn’t actually work great as the location for that even in Lovecraft’s time, but you could still do something with that set in the Amazon rain forest, even today. Tree cover there is thick enough to obscure things from satellite and I’m pretty sure we don’t have a complete and thorough map of the interior.
Sir Wade ends up in an asylum because of his “mad” ravings, so chalk up another Lovecraft protagonist whose “madness” was limited to knowing true things that other people didn’t believe. His descendants have a tendency to be both mad and deformed.
His grandson Robert Jermyn is a pretty level-headed fellow, though, and makes an anthropological study of the artifacts Wade brought back from Africa.
The elderly scholar had been collecting legends of the Onga tribes near the field of his grandfather’s and his own explorations, hoping in some way to account for Sir Wade’s wild tales of a lost city peopled by strange hybrid creatures. A certain consistency in the strange papers of his ancestor suggested that the madman’s imagination might have been stimulated by native myths. On October 19, 1852, the explorer Samuel Seaton called at Jermyn House with a manuscript of notes collected among the Ongas, believing that certain legends of a grey city of white apes ruled by a white god might prove valuable to the ethnologist. In his conversation he probably supplied many additional details; the nature of which will never be known, since a hideous series of tragedies suddenly burst into being. When Sir Robert Jermyn emerged from his library he left behind the strangled corpse of the explorer, and before he could be restrained, had put an end to all three of his children; the two who were never seen, and the son who had run away.
So maybe, rather than the big twist being that it is literally a black woman in their lineage, it is instead going to be these “white apes” or perhaps their “white god” who is in their lineage. This is less racist, but less racist than “marrying a literal black person caused centuries of tragic madness and deformity” is pretty firmly in “at least we’re not Hitler” territory.
One of the remaining descendants pursues that most repugnant of all careers, stage performance, and ends up training a gorilla for a circus, getting into a fight with said gorilla, and being quickly killed.
That brings us to murdered-by-gorilla’s only surviving son, the titular Arthur Jermyn.
Most of the Jermyns had possessed a subtly odd and repellent cast, but Arthur’s case was very striking. It is hard to say just what he resembled, but his expression, his facial angle, and the length of his arms gave a thrill of repulsion to those who met him for the first time.
His gangly arms and misshapen ears would later be recognized as indicative of his being a descendant of Liu Bei.
Arthur is a keen intellect, though more inclined to poetry than science (probably because he’s a stand-in for the author). He nevertheless continues the anthropological studies of his…I wanna say great-grandfather? Whoever the one that went nuts and tried to kill all his kids was. He mounts an expedition to Africa and confirms that there are legends of a lost city that Wade Corbyn was likely basing his “delusions” on, and that the city may have existed, and may have even been built by white apes. I honestly don’t know what kind of narrative the white apes are supposed to support, but on the basis that it’s Lovecraft writing about Africa, I’m inclined to believe it’s a racist one.
In any case, a Belgian trader offers to track down the idol allegedly recovered from the ruined city by an African tribe subsequently subjugated by the Belgian crown, and wow, that provides a grim reminder that this story is set just a handful of years after the nightmare regime of Belgian King Leopold II over the Congo. Anyway, this idol is apparently a mummified princess of the fallen tribe of white apes.
In June, 1913, a letter arrived from M. Verhaeren, telling of the finding of the stuffed goddess. It was, the Belgian averred, a most extraordinary object; an object quite beyond the power of a layman to classify. Whether it was human or simian only a scientist could determine, and the process of determination would be greatly hampered by its imperfect condition. Time and the Congo climate are not kind to mummies; especially when their preparation is as amateurish as seemed to be the case here. Around the creature’s neck had been found a golden chain bearing an empty locket on which were armorial designs; no doubt some hapless traveller’s keepsake, taken by the N’bangus and hung upon the goddess as a charm.
But inside the locket was A PORTRAIT OF SIR WADE!!!
Still sarcastic predictions, by the way, I’m a page and a half out from the actual end.
Here’s the end:
The reason why Arthur Jermyn’s charred fragments were not collected and buried lies in what was found afterward, principally the thing in the box. The stuffed goddess was a nauseous sight, withered and eaten away, but it was clearly a mummified white ape of some unknown species, less hairy than any recorded variety, and infinitely nearer mankind—quite shockingly so. Detailed description would be rather unpleasant, but two salient particulars must be told, for they fit in revoltingly with certain notes of Sir Wade Jermyn’s African expeditions and with the Congolese legends of the white god and the ape-princess. The two particulars in question are these: the arms on the golden locket about the creature’s neck were the Jermyn arms, and the jocose suggestion of M. Verhaeren about a certain resemblance as connected with the shrivelled face applied with vivid, ghastly, and unnatural horror to none other than the sensitive Arthur Jermyn, great-great-great-grandson of Sir Wade Jermyn and an unknown wife. Members of the Royal Anthropological Institute burned the thing and threw the locket into a well, and some of them do not admit that Arthur Jermyn ever existed.
So, uh…that’s it? The Jermyn family line intermingled with the white apes of Africa. That is the horror. Apparently not only the Jermyn line itself, but also the Royal Anthropological Institute find this utterly horrifying, so much so that they destroyed the mummy and the locket and deny the very existence of Arthur Jermyn. We’re firmly in “Lovecraft expects everyone else to be as neurotic as he is” territory, here, where the horror is not that Arthur Jermyn is cursed by hereditary madness, but rather that white humans and white apes interbred (humans actually are apes, but you know what I mean). People with no connection to the Jermyn line whatsoever are horrified by the miscegenation, and two of the Jermyn line seemed perfectly sane and functional until their heritage was revealed.