The LNN recently received an early release copy of the upcoming graphic novel Howard Lovecraft and the Frozen Kingdom by author Bruce Brown. In lieu of a "review," which we find dull and cliche, we have unleashed our director of public relations, Charles Ward, on the task of chronicling a personal encounter with the text.
Disclaimer: The LNN does not necessarily endorse or support the following opinions. In fact, we will just go ahead and wash our hands of them altogether in advance, just in case they don't make any sense, you don't like them, or they make you want to sue us. Unless, of course, you do like them, at which time we take full credit for their presentation.
"Howard Lovecraft and the Frozen Kingdom": Appetizer for Existentialism
by Charles Ward
The mind of a child is precious thing to waste. . . at least that is what I would imagine a cannibalistic cultist might say before shopping at a local daycare. My childhood mind was filled with Heinlein, Bradbury, and all the Outer Limits and Twilight Zone reruns I could bear to watch alone. Sometimes I wonder how I would have turned out differently had I not been permanently traumatized by The Zanti Misfits, but I'm sure it only improves the complexity of my cranial culinary potential.
I will freely confess that I was never a big fan of comic books, as they were hard to come by and always seemed a bit patronizing to me in their lack of intellectual complexity. My local library had too many other tempting distractions, and I usually ended up loading up my bicycle with tapes of Arthur C. Clarke's Mysterious World and forgetting about Superman and his spandex beclad escapades.
Considering these things, reading a pre-release copy of Bruce Brown's upcoming graphic novel Howard Lovecraft and the Frozen Kingdom evoked a different feeling than I had anticipated. The text is a juxtaposition of two starkly disparate worlds: on the one hand, it is a family friendly tale of adventure, and its rhetoric is clearly dialed down to a child's level; yet conversely it draws from the literary heritage of the deepest and darkest of weird fiction à la the treacherous dreamscapes of Lovecraft. Though the cartoon bubbles are filled with the language of a child, its images are unremittingly menacing and I image they could easily be seen as quite disturbing. This conflation of the puerile and sinisterly sublime is not something that we see too often--if ever--in mainstream media, but it was also something I appreciated and sought out when I was young and always found deeply fulfilling.
Though I will admit that my feelings about Wes Craven are mixed at best, in the documentary The American Nightmare (2000), he offers a glimmer of insight into his work that I have felt is a key to unlocking many of the mysteries of entire horror genre. He says,
“Kids who are in a much more chaotic state of mind and life than most adults remember or realize, they can go into these [horror films] as kind of boot camps for the psyche, as I have said. Strengthening their egos, strengthening their sense of fortitude; just as a soldier comes, you know, from momma’s arms into the drill instructor’s gaze and ends hardened, but feeling like he can survive battle. I think that’s, in a sense, what goes on with kids that go to scary movies. And it’s something that the grownups never seem to think about; they’re always worried about, ‘Oh, the kids have been damaged, the kids have been traumatized.’ It’s always been kind of the basis for my sort of optimism about what I do, and of being kind of a right thing, because the kids feel spontaneously grateful for it, even if it gives them nightmares, there’s something going on there that is needed.”
While Freddy Kreuger was probably too much for me at a very early age, the terror of the Outer Limits, for example, was just about right and provided me an entry point into what I was then too young to understand was a very real craving for the intellectual and ideological challenge unique to horror media. It was wasn't merely a "scary movie" I was watching for fun. I would later develop a vocabulary that allowed me to begin to process what I was watching: Lovecraft, of course, called it "cosmic horror."
This is what sprang to mind while perusing Howard Lovecraft and the Frozen Kingdom. It is a children's story to be sure, but it is attached to something so much deeper. Like the dreams of its titular character, the graphic novel itself is a gateway and portal to an intellectual awakening and reevaluation of one's place in the universe, wrapped up neatly in a package digestible for the cautious, young existential acolyte curious about what he or she might find.
Perhaps I am over analyzing this--maybe it's just wishful thinking--but since this reading only serves to heighten my enjoyment of the project, I remain blissfully unrepentant. However, it does seems prudent at this point to at least briefly casually invoke Sartre at the expense of Mr. Brown's status as not-yet-dead: my reading is neither definitive nor at odds with any intentionality of his.
In summation, reading Howard Lovecraft and the Frozen Kingdom was a highly pleasurable experience, but it was not an empty thrill. It is precisely the sort of dark, yet accessible text I would have sought out as a child and risked my mother's wrath to furtively read before she discovered and confiscated it. It is an entrance into something much bigger than the simple story of a boy's strange adventure: it is a doorway into a new way of thinking about one's place in the universe. There's something going on there that's needed.
I haven't decided yet if it's a good thing or not that this type of project does not appeal to more people. This is a complex and perhaps unanswerable question I shall have to ponder further. When the text is released early next year, Mr. Brown might have the opportunity to share it with a large contingent of the current generation of youth. I don't know what TV shows kids watch these days, but I can just picture this erupting violently into my childhood via Reading Rainbow. I imagine it would go something like this, as read from the lips of an exuberant eight year old:
"And then little Howard enters the hideous cave and encounters the blasphemous monstrosity of unspeakable horror where his sanity is destroyed and his insignificant place among the cosmos is finally revealed--but you don't have to take my word for it!"
Charles Ward is the LNN's Director of Public Relations and resident phrenologist. He enjoys pop semiotics, rhetorical altercations, and leverpostej. He lives in a state of denial with his wife and two cats.