The Numinous in Lovecraft: A Christ-follower’s Thoughts on Horror

Jewelers refer to the brilliance of well-cut diamonds as their “fire.” There are a variety of factors that allow a diamond to sparkle: the quality of the cut, the clarity of the diamond’s surface, the carat size.

The same can be said, I think, of literature. A writer’s brilliance can be determined by a number of things: the quality of craftsmanship, the clarity of the message, the sheer enormity of the story.

But ultimately, the written work, like the diamond’s fire, is only as good as the light pouring through it. Often, I’ve marveled at the multifaceted worlds of some luminous writer, and thought to myself, “What beautiful intricacy, but what a dingy light.”

I regret to say this was my reaction to much of H.P. Lovecraft’s work.

As I’ve culled through the mainstays of his work, I must admit, I’ve been blown away by the cohesive universe he built around the Cthulu mythos. Previously, I’d read “The Dunwitch Horrors” and “The Music of Erich Zann.” Recently, I’ve delved into “The Call of Cthulu” and “At the Mountains of Madness.” Most of Lovecraft’s corpus of work weaves seamlessly into the fabric of the Cthulu universe–populated by “Old Ones,” multidimensional beings, and non-Euclidean geometry.

But the aspect of Lovecraft’s work that most interests me most is his particular attentiveness to the numinous.

I’ve written in depth about the concept of the numinous in the past, which can be broadly defined as the “uncanny” or “wholly other” impression left upon human beings by the supernatural. In spiritual terms, the numinous is the aspect of holiness beyond the grasp of human’s rational mind. But in Lovecraft’s pulpy, weird tales, the numinous takes on a much more ominous connotation. His works are replete with beings and knowledge that exceed humanity’s reach. These alien beings overwhelm and mystify Lovecraft’s protagonists, driving them to madness, homicide, or suicide.

What makes Lovecraft’s stories so chilling is that they have a basis in reality: the numinous devoid of benevolence is unsettling.

It’s one thing to think of God in terms of the numinous. As we read scripture, many of us have grappled with the thought of “fearing God.” We may wonder if the Hebrew or Greek word for “fear” connotes the same feelings of trepidation as the English one. C.S. Lewis wrote in The Problem of Pain that when we experience the numinous aspect of God, we “feel wonder and a certain shrinking.”

But no matter how you define the “fear of God,” we as believers in Christ can ultimately put our trust in Him because we know that his intentions toward us are good, and that He is loving.

Not so with Lovecraft’s creatures. The numinous divorced from holiness becomes something utterly profane. They’re not supernatural, but instead become something preternatural, and eventually even subnatural.

In Lovecraft’s works, he imagines entities from other realms beyond humanity’s understanding–aliens as malevolent as they are beyond us, and that is what makes his work truly horrifying.

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Thank you to “The Drabble” for publishing this flash fiction I wrote.

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By Daniel R. Jones

It was 1:27 a.m. when I awoke to a knock on our front door.

“Wasn’t Kaylee’s curfew midnight?” I asked my husband as I rose and peered through the blinds.

Two policemen wearing navy-blue peaked caps stood on our doorstep.

“It’s the police!” I told my husband.

“Are their hats on or off?” he asked, now sitting upright in the bed.

“Now what does that have to do with anything?” I asked.

But by the time I opened the front door, their hats were off.

           
Daniel R. Jones is a writer from Indianapolis with an MFA degree from Lindenwood University. His work has previously appeared in the South Bend Tribune, In the Bend, StarLine, and Parody Poetry. He won an award for best poem in the 2013 edition of Bethel College’s Crossings.

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Thinking it Over, Overthinking it

Thinking it Over, Overthinking It

(by Daniel R. Jones)

Five percent of the people think; ten percent of the people think they think; and the other eighty-five percent would rather die than think. -Thomas Edison

I’d like to think I think,
(I think.)

For Edison ought
to have thought
he thought.
Else it’s for naught,
the lines he wrought
to gather his thoughts.

I’d like to think I think,
(I think.)

But isn’t to think
“I’d die ere I think,”
in itself a thought?
I think, therefore, I am, they say.
Not
I think, therefore, I’m not.

I’d like to think I think,
(I think.)

For not to think, means death,
methinks,
‘twixt thinking and dying,
the latter stinks,
so

I’d like to think I think,
(I think.)

But I haven’t bought
what Edison thought.

’cause
surely the five percent who think
must think they think
and they think right, I’d think.

So, fifteen percent
think they think,
but only five
actually think,
and

I’d like to think I think,
(I think.)

Well, I don’t know if I think,
from cognoscenti stock so pure.
But I’d rather think than die, (I think?)
No! This much I know for sure!

 

Learning Not to Dance

Stepping from the dance floor, she asked me, who taught you to dance?

Who taught me to dance? No one, per se. No formal lessons, no wealth of experience to draw on. Truth is, you have to start dancing before you know how. You do know how, really.

What makes you sway when your song comes on, completely involuntarily, like it’s some function of your autonomic nervous systems, as innate as a pulse? You’d sync your heartbeat itself with the snare and hi-hats if it didn’t mean cardiac arrest for you.

Where’d you learn to syncopate your steps with your earbuds in—your left foot hitting the ground each time the bass drum strikes; your right foot when the tom is hit? No one taught you that. It’s intrinsic.

When it’s 72 and June and you’re cruising in your aught-two Malibu, why is it you roll the windows down, even though your A.C. works just fine? When you go to the grocery store, what makes you roll through the aisles using your shopping-cart like a scooter, despite being in your mid-twenties, relegating your day off to crossing out errands and picking up paper-towels?

Why is it that your affinity for sidewalk-chalk and swing sets never goes away, fully? Why, on cross-country drives, do you look at the tree line with a strange sense of yearning- to get off the grid and become drastically human?

How do you justify giving the guy by the side of the road fifty-cents bus fare? You know he’s scrounging just enough to buy a Forty.

Who, what, where, when, why, how did you learn to dance?

Though it’s a truth we so often forget, we, as Anglos, the chief offenders—you don’t learn to dance, sister.

You learn not to.

Lessons from Chess

(by Daniel R. Jones)

Arguing about vinyl siding on their dream home—
whether her canary yellow was better
or his forest green.

I don’t understand synapses,
those dastardly electric impulses
throughout the brain.

An odd time for it to pop in my head, I know:
‘the queen always gets her color.’