VNS – The Houdini Connection

Under the Pyramids, a story ghostwritten by Lovecraft for the American escapologist Harry Houdini, has never been one of my favourite Lovecraft stories, but our assignment today is to write on any aspect of the story.

I have now reread it, and I’m trying to work out why I don’t like it. Is it because it purports to be a “true” story? Or because it is in Houdini’s voice, and the Lovecraftian element is obscured? I have to reject that explanation. This is no more “in Houdini’s voice” than The Thing on the Doorstep is “in Daniel Upton’s voice” and the Lovecraftian element is obscured. In Under the Pyramids Houdini is simply a character, a Lovecraft character in a Lovecraft world.

I think it is the fact that by the end of the story it is dismissed as a dream. Houdini knows that what he has experienced was a dream. And perhaps that is necessary, in order to maintain the illusion that the story was “true”, and for Houdini to remain insanity free, unlike so many survivors of a Lovecraftian encounter.

But we know from the rest of the Mythos that you simply don’t get away with it that easily. If you are the unfortunate protagonist in a Lovecraftian nightmare, dream is no respite, and waking is no rescue. What haunts dreams may easily cross over to the waking plane. What lurks in the world of consciousness may just as easily take residence in the dreamworld. Indeed, an entire dimension of the Lovecraftian world is only accessible through dreams–see the Dreamlands of Lovecraft’s Dream Cycle, and Beyond the Wall of Sleep for the ability of those dreams to enter the “real” world.

In order to be a Houdini story, the nightmares are confined to, and dismissed as, dreams. But that isn’t Lovecraft, and that’s why this story remains unsatisfying.

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