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Mack Williams: Lovecraft and the ‘Old Ones’

Recently, I again watched a movie, also a favorite of daughter Rachel and son Jeremy, “Never Ending Story” (1984). (Its German release name: “Die Unendliche Geschischte.”)

In it, a boy steals a mysterious book, opening up a world of fantasy appropriately called “Fantasia,” a wonderful land where he meets a monstrous “rock biter,” a noble horse, a child queen, and a dark, mysterious wolf (sort of like Siegfried’s dragon), etc. Unfortunately, this “fantastic” world is being consumed from the outside by a force called the “Nothing” (like a travelling black hole). In the end, the mostly destroyed world is set back to “pre-Nothing” time (as with a computer’s “operation restore.”)

In comparison with this story, in which a boy named “Bastien” steals a mysterious book from an antique shop, is “my story” (factual, not fiction), in which a boy named “Mack” finds and checks out a mysterious, more frightening book from the Rowan Public Library.

This happened when I was around 13 years old, in 1964.

I’m a lifelong fan of science-fiction/ horror, just like my mother. She took my brother Joe to see the Peter Lorre classic, “The Beast With Five Fingers” (1946) when he was 5 years old. In it, a dead pianist’s hand returns from the grave to play again (and choke a few people between performances). Afterwards, Joe suffered from nightmares for a month.

So there I was at the Rowan Public Library, looking through books of science fiction and horror lined up in Dewey Decimal fashion (hopefully still used, but I thought “cursive was forever,” too).

The volumes’ spines all had title, author, and printer’s name, except one, bound in deep maroon, wine-colored leather, with only the gilded name, “Lovecraft.” Outer front and back were totally slick, with no name impressed as is sometimes done (lasting long after paper cover is crumbled and gone). Such mysterious appearance led me to check out this book.

In one particular story, “The Call of Cthulhu,” a pantheon of ancient beings, “Old Ones,” once held sway over the earth (so long ago that contemplation of it almost brings me to nausea) but had been entombed (but still alive) in another dimension and were trying to return to cause mayhem and death.

In another story, “The Colour out of Space,” there was a strange New England community where tree limbs swayed on windless nights. Reading this in my bedroom off the Old Concord Road on a summer night, I looked out the window at the nearest great tree in the tiny “island” within our driveway circle. Craning my head, I noticed that the upper arboreal silhouette’s edge of twigs and leaves moved; but upon placing my ear to the screen, thankfully heard a subtle night breeze.

Lovecraft mentioned a book, “Necronomicon,” in which ancient chants written down by a madman would allow the “Old Ones,” who had pre-dated time, to return from their nether-world to this one.

In my “required” reading then, published by “Holt Rinehart and Winston,” we learned in our classroom at Granite Quarry School about really ancient, factual history, along with attendant geology. At this time, I purchased my first fossils during a sixth-grade class trip to the Charlotte Nature Museum with our teacher, Mrs. Roselyn Misenheimer.

I still enjoyed reading about H.P. Lovecraft’s fictional “Old Ones,” while the physical remains of some other “old ones” from the museum gift shop sat on my bedroom dresser.

The contents of one compartment of the mind often “oozes” over into the contents of another, such “contamination” helping the mind to grow. By virtue of this, one day I felt I had solved the riddle of the “Old Ones,” locked in another dimension and trying to return across a threshold to threaten us.

There truly were “Old Ones,” some entombed alive by collapsing dunes and mudslides, but in this world, not another. They were patiently waiting in death, not life, for erosion and excavation to return their remains to the light of day.

One by one, they are still returning, these wondrous “creatures great and small.” Instead of “coming for you,” they are “coming to a natural history museum near you,” having crossed a “threshold” of eroded, excavated rock.

Instead of terrorizing, they provide silent instruction about an actual “land before time,” where the real “old ones” ruled.

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