Childhood Dreams

This Week’s Prompt: 37. Peculiar odour of a book of childhood induces repetition of childhood fancy.

The Resulting Story: In The Closet
This week’s prompt is an interesting trip into the notions of childhood, fancy, and nostalgia. Sense information stimulating memory is a fact so certain it is almost common sense. That a certain sight or sound might bring recollections long forgotten to the fore, but smell strangely enough seems particularly adept. Among writers, it is probably the most neglected sense, far from the favorites of sight and sound. Personally, I blame language, which is read and heard more than it is inhaled through the nostrils.

The place then is what sort of memory is conjured by the childhood book. It is an odd memory, a fancy that is ‘repeated’ not recalled. This indicates a sort of delusion perhaps. Or maybe the fancy is being told to someone?

It’s also of acute intreast that it isn’t the contents of the book, but the smell of the book that recalls the fancy. Again, as a book lover will tell you, there is an old book smell. But what sort of fancy is so tied to the smell of a childhood favorite, rather than the words or pictures? It seems logical to suppose that the book itself must be key, or something in the book. A stain, a flower pressed between the pages, a leave that has in a way become one with the paper.

The childhood fancy is thus more likely an incident that touches on the book as a physical object rather than as a container of ideas and feelings.

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Next is the examining of fancy. What is a fancy? I will brush aside a perfect dictionary definition. A fancy seems, colloquially, to be a notion. Or rather, a brief thought about the world that is not necessarily true. A recurring bit of imaginative practice. I might say that a childhood fancy of mine was that a chicken was lurking in my closet at night, despite our house being miles away from such foul fowl. Another might be that a teacher is a vampire, that an old lady down the street is a witch, and other similar concerns. Concerns that, in retrospect, are probably a tad silly.

What I would consider childhood fancies, then, are sort of in that place we discussed briefly before of magical realism. They are extensions of the child’s mind and conclusions to create a dream like reality the child operates in. They aren’t questioned or even in the realm of questionable things, being unstated and assumed facts of the child’s existence.

One that, presumably, is inaccurate. An adult may find his childhood fancies therefore silly, or he might find himself longing for those more innocent years, where he could believe in such things. Certainly, there is a running theme of longing for the innocence of children by adults, wanting the comfort and presumed simplicity of yesteryear. It is tied deeply with other nostalgia, longing for what memory has obscured into simpler, kindlier days.

Without tipping my own hand on the matter too much, I think such presumptions were made to be overturned. Memory has a tendency to abandon half of what occurred, either the good or the ill. And given that we have been without, well, straight forward horror for a time, I believe the ill be what is missing.

In this case, perhaps the smell restores a fancy that was clear as a child, but the adult dismissed until recollecting it. Fairy stories have provided us endless terrible creatures that prey on children, from ogres to beasts of the woods. Perhaps he or she recalls a nasty encounter with one of these nightly terrors?

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But then, how did they survive?

Leaving that question be, a return home to confront a monster that one believed since childhood to be a mere fable seems a fairly good start for a story. Apart from the ultimate question we mentioned above, there are a few others that will need answering. Why is the person in question back in town? Presumably they left long enough not to encounter the book again. What do they remember the monster as? An imaginary friend? A nightmare? A more mundane horror?

Of course, there is also the question of ‘what the thing is?’ but that is a question to save for later in the cycle. I think, if we are to create a childhood nightmare, it should be something tailored. Folklore creatures are wonderful, but for now simply inventing a new beast might be better. I’ve yet to engage in that for sometime. I might fall back on folklore for inspiration, of course, but the field of frightening children is a…broad one indeed. If you have a favorite, post it below!

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The Old Ones…The Human Old Ones

This Weeks Prompt: 31. Prehistoric man preserved in Siberian ice. (See Winchell—Walks and Talks in the Geological field—p. 156 et seq.)

The Resulting Story:At the Bottom Of The World

Finding textbooks is getting easier and easier my friends. Sadly, what exactly caught Mr. Lovecraft’s eye in Walks and Talks is unknown to me. The source I used can be found here, and seems to be dealing with the distribution of iron veins across multiple strata. It might relate to the lodestone, given the lodestone’s association with arctic locales. But given that it seems a bit distant, and obscure, we’ll focus on the other trope. The frozen caveman.

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The frozen caveman (unfrozen for our amusement) is a trope of television that is primarily the realm of comedy. Hence finding people frozen for their preservation in places like Scooby Doo, Futurama, and Austin Powers. But clearly there was something frightening about such a being to Mr. Lovecraft, and to explain that we’re going to have to look at the nature of time and ‘evolution’.

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I don’t mean ‘evolution’ as in the biological process of change over time on a massive scale. That is another discussion. I mean the more classic model of human change often accepted in the ancient world, the progress of Golden Age to Iron Age (back to Golden Age sometimes). These epochs are marked by mass changes in size and power and intellect, with mankind often shrinking in every capacity as time goes on. Occasionally there are tales of men from past time coming forth, and being revered for their older better ways. Ogier the Dane and Muchukunda.

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There are exceptions, of course. The Aztec passage of deities does not include a continuity, but rather a violent termination of each world by one or another of the gods, and the creation of animals instead of simply declining. In fact, the Aztec cosmos has a world where in man is growing more refined instead of weaker.
This theory of spiritual evolution had growing popularity in Lovecraft’s time, with the arrival of both Theosphany and the increasingly prevalent notions of eugenics. The past ancestors of mankind, as presented by pulp fiction authors of the era, where either alien in form and mind or inhabited an untamed and alien world. This is where we might find some of our horror, in the savagery of the past, but we discussed the problems (and strangeness) of that prehuman path here. Likewise, the snake men, who are often placed in the past of mankind were discussed here as a possibility.
So what does that leave us, for describing the shape of a plot? We fundamentally have a story of two worlds meeting, albeit separated by the gulf of time rather than of space. This disturbs both (well, barring time travel, it disturbs the one) and things begin to fall apart. How and why is then the questions.
Well, we are left with two possibilities. The one is a story where we sit as we normally do, as moderns observing the behavior of a discovered savage. Here, perhaps, the horror is formed like a monster story. We are concerned with a monster that is a man, almost a slasher film on the page.
Alternatively, we examine the discovery of a savages…well, savageness. If we begin with believers in the Five Ages of Man, then it is horrifying to find how cruel and monstrous humanities origins are relative to their expectations (we could attempt this with our modern understandings, and the numerous species of the homo genus we have, but that would be far less entertaining and frankly significantly harder). This basic outline could also be reversed, with the discovery of some primeval Adam or Eve that was as noble and civilized as the ancients would have expected being discovered by moderns looking for monsters.
Finally, there is the perspective of the awakened one. Either as a most noble ancestor shocked at the decline all around him (again, Muchukunda is more than applicable here) or the primitive ancestor horrified at the strange and noisy sights around him as modern technology is quite terrifying to the unawares.
Of these, the middle seems the most interesting. A ‘noble’ ancestor can be horrifying in unexpected ways, alarming moderns with antiquated ideas of proper behavior or with their bizarre physiology (drawing from Muchukunda’s accidental annihilation of a man with his mere gaze). There is something more horrifying about a well meaning monster. There always hope of relief from monsters and beasts, that some salvation will come in the form of civilizing endeavors. But when the opposition is the more ‘civilized’, than things are strained. When a demon comes, there is always hope an angel will arrive. When an angel comes, there is little refuge left.
That is what I will be starting with then. An ancient ancestor of a stranger, more noble sort. Constructing that sort of entity without treading into Theosphany’s imperialism or racism will be tricky if one wants to avoid going completely alien. But we will try. Multiple subjects might be better.

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This? Hopefully not this. I mean, good movie. But still.

What ideas do you have from this prompt? What lies beneath the Siberiean ice for you?

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