“The Old Ones, Great and Small”

UPDATE: “The Old Ones, Great and Small” can now be read, for free, at Diabolical Plots!

With great pride and pleasure, I can now announce that my story “The Old Ones, Great and Small” is now available in the Diabolical Plots Year Five collection! It will also be available to read for free on the Diabolical Plots website in March 2020.

Charles Payseur wrote a lovely QuickSip Review in his long-running short fiction review column!

Tara Grimravn also wrote a lovely review for Tangent!

Jeff Xilon had kind things to say in his Short Fiction Roundup!

Author’s Notes

Writing this story started, as is so common with a fledgling SFF writer, with being inspired by H.P. Lovecraft. Maybe it’s a burning desire to use “squamous,” “cyclopean,” or “non-Euclidean geometry” in a sentence. Maybe it’s a desire to describe the indescribable. Maybe it’s a need to respond to the xenophobia and gynophobia underpinning Lovecraft’s stories. Or maybe it’s curiosity about why and how those stories endure and continue to spawn a thousand young.

I’m not immune. To me, the horror of H.P. Lovecraft’s Great Old Ones is the Fear of the Other to the ultimate degree. Not only are his horrors shadowy and inscrutable, they are so alien as to defy understanding; the sane human mind is incapable of comprehending them. Merely knowing of them, of their scale and cosmic indifference, moves us far from the center and threatens our sense of significance. How existentially angsty!

So, what if we beat them? What if humanity did what it always does in the face of an imminent, adversarial threat: girded ourselves, developed weapons and defenses, and subdued or annihilated our foe? “The Old Ones, Great and Small” takes place in the after-times. Humanity has gone into the shadows and dragged what lurked there out into the light. We’ve caged them, studied them, and even forced them to perform for us. Now, once we’ve gotten past our fear, how do we see the Ultimate Other? Is it much different from how we’ve evolved on all the other Others we feared?

I read that the original concept pitch for the movie Jurassic World described a scene where a bored teenager takes a selfie with a Tyrannosaurus Rex. I love that notion. I’ll never forget the sense of wonder from the original movie, when they first see the Brachiosaurus stand on it’s hind legs to reach a treetop. But years later… Ho hum. Kids these days, right?

Of course the protagonist of my story would be an old man. Not the sort to take selfies. A brooder, a park bench philosopher. And in a short story, I didn’t have to make a Lovecraftian Jurassic Park in three acts, complete with escaping, rampaging monsters (as fun as that could be) and a cautionary message. The story could focus on a smaller, quieter concern. Like where the sense of terror (and wonder) had gone–and whether it could ever be rediscovered.

A Night In Na-Nupp: Dr. Seuss In Lovecraft’s Dreamlands

And then, like a lot of dreams… There’s a monster at the end of it.

— Rust Cohl, True Detective

Howard Phillip Lovecraft (born 1890) and Theodor Seuss Geisel (born 1904) were literary contemporaries, both with a penchant for creating fantastic worlds that teetered on the brink of madness. But until the discovery of Dr. Seuss’ “secret stories,” nothing had been written about the hidden dialogue Lovecraft and Geisel exchanged through their writing. There are pages in Seuss’ children’s books that, lifted and rearranged, form a contribution to the weird fiction canon as unsettling as anything Robert Chambers, August Derleth, or Lovecraft himself envisioned — often with the same problematic attitudes on race and gender.

The excerpt below is from the hidden story “A Night In Na-Nupp,” which was scrambled and embedded in Dr. Seuss’ Oh the Things You Can Think. That is the danger with too much free-range thought. The journey inward just might lead you to the eldritch dangers of Lovecraft’s Dreamlands.

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Na-Nupp, like Carcosa, is a mythical “country” with details that point to an otherworldly or other-dimensional location. It is at night that the humans of Na-Nupp walk freely, when the birds are asleep. We are never privy to the specifics of the threat the birds pose. They are a menace that is noted, but otherwise taken for granted, a masterful technique of world-building often employed by Lovecraft.

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Light in the darkness is a common theme in the Lovecraftian sub-genre, but instead of illumination providing safety, peering under the darkness is the path to madness and death. The symbol of ascending stairs is similarly inverted. Here, the ascent is not a rise out of fear and darkness, but into the lair of the Beast.

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And at last, the monster at the end of the dream, inescapable, inevitable. The monster’s form echoes and enhances the menace of Na-Nupp’s birds, but its dusky coloration and referential appellation calls back to the most controversial aspect of Lovecraft’s work — his xenophobic dread of other races. Indeed, what would you do? Geisel provides no answers.