Pickman’s Model by H.P. Lovecraft (1927)
Tuesday’s Tales of Terror August 19, 2014
This week is the anniversary birth date of H.P. Lovecraft (August 20th).
Lovecraft is held in high regard as a horror author even though he’s been called a racist and a sexist, accused of writing poor dialogue, overwriting his narratives—sinking into purple prose, Oh those adjectives!—convoluting his plots, and failing to create real-life characters that might breathe on the page. Some readers complain, his stories are too bleak, nihilistic, disgusting, and they don’t “get” it. And then there are those who called him one of the “truly great bad writers,” “a master of the macabre,” “a writer of powerful and evocative language.” Joyce Carole Oates said Lovecraft had “incalculable influence on succeeding generations of writers of horror fiction.” Stephen King credits Lovecraft as the single largest figure to influence his fiction writing. No one can deny Lovecraft was a pioneer who fused supernatural with sci-fi, changing the landscape of horror forever. He created gods and worlds like no one else. And to think Lovecraft saw only one book of his work published in a small run before his death at age 46.
Of course Lovecraft did some things wonderfully right, actually lots of that going on or we wouldn’t still be reading him. I’d be curious to see the percentage of people who still read Poe vs. Lovecraft stories today. A quick look on Amazon sales rankings shows Poe is still outselling Lovecraft. I read Lovecraft stories for his atmospherics, isolation, madness, despair, high imagination, his visionary ideas and themes, and the most unsettling way that he opens that gate to the big FEAR OF THE UNKNOWN. Am I trading off some technically faulty writing for a thrilling story? No writer is perfect in all aspects of this creative art, not even Poe who sometimes had dense and wooden prose and was no stranger to clumsy sentences—Oh those adjectives! For me and for many readers, it’s the imaginative force of a story that is so compelling.
What I don’t read him for is the alien god-creatures or his cosmic horrors, but that’s just me. I’m not a big mythos fan (Great Old Ones, Cthulhu [which is now a stuffed toy for kids. Really?]), as I prefer Lovecraft’s more conventional supernatural tales. My favorites are The Music of Erich Zann and Dreams in the Witch House. Today I’m spotlighting Lovecraft’s non-mythos stories and begin with Pickman’s Model (1927). This story, like many Lovecraftian stories, unlocks that forbidden gate.
Richard Upton Pickman is an artist in Boston who is said to know “the anatomy and the physiology of fear.” Most galleries and clubs refuse to exhibit his horrific, graphic paintings, especially the one titled Ghoul Feeding. Pickman claims he wants to paint “human ghosts.” And so he does, and much more.
If some painters are motivated to draw the beauty of life, why not some motivated to draw the terror of life? Pickman paints in the dark cellar of his house, away from all daylight where his inspiration is the thickest. And so our narrator, Thurber, takes us down the cellar steps into Pickman’s studio. There is more here than just morbid art or demonic portraits. There are faces … and tunnels and …. what Lovecraft loved to write about …. “the unexplored, the unexpected, the thing that is hidden and the changeless thing that lurks behind superficial mutability.”
If you are going to enjoy reading Lovecraft, keep in mind that HP was also a poet and loved history, so he naturally employed an antiquated style of language. You are reading a master of horror with a rich imagination, telling you stories that will likely resonate a wave in your own imagination. This is the secret to reading Lovecraft: surrendering your own imagination into his—surrender to his images, his language, his descriptions, his characters who struggle to grasp at the line between reality and the supernatural, and let it bled out into the deepest dark world. That is, if you have the courage.
Read Pickman’s Model at HP Lovecraft Archives
Listen to the audio (30 minutes) at Archive.org
Below is a list of non-mythos titles, and if you have any additions please post in the comments. I’m sure there are more.
Dreams in the Witch House
Herbert West: Re-Animator
In the Vault
Picture in the House
The Cats of Ulthar
The Evil Clergyman
The Music of Erich Zann
The Statement of Randolph Carter
The Thing on the Doorstep
You can access all these stories at HP Lovecraft Archives
Other Reading Web Sites to Visit
For Authors/Writers: The Writer Unboxed
Don’t forget to view the INDEX above of more free Tales of Terror classic Authors.