THE FESTIVAL: EXPLORING WEIRD TALES Vol. 5, No. 1—PART 27

And finally our exploration of the January 1925 issue of Weird Tales has brought us to the magazine’s most famous (some will say infamous) alum: H.P. Lovecraft and his short story “The Festival,” which, though written in 1923, was published here for the first time. And what perfect timing that this should fall on Christmas Eve… Lovecraft’s weird Christmas story…

It was the Yuletide, that men call Christmas though they know in their hearts it is older than Bethlehem and Babylon, older than Memphis and mankind. It was the Yuletide, and I had come at last to the ancient sea town where my people had dwelt and kept festival in the elder time when festival was forbidden; where also they had commanded their sons to keep festival once every century, that the memory of primal secrets might not be forgotten.

Spooky…

Google thinks the Latin quotation at the beginning means:

They make it out devils, that the things which are not, as though they were so far, however, might be seen by men, municipal official.

…which seems a little off. The H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society has it as:

Devils so work that men perceive things which do not exist as if they were real.

…which sounds lots better. Any Latin scholars out there prepared to help?

What can I say about this amazing story? It’s Christmas Eve, my family wants me to go do family stuff… Maybe I’ll just recommend that you read the story, even make it an annual Weird Xmas tradition. And if you’re dreading the next couple days at all, hey—it could be worse:

Fainting and gasping, I looked at that unhallowed Erebus of titan toadstools, leprous fire, and slimy water, and saw the cloaked throngs forming a semicircle around the blazing pillar. It was the Yule-rite, older than man and fated to survive him; the primal rite of the solstice and of spring’s promise beyond the snows; the rite of fire and evergreen, light and music. And in the Stygian grotto I saw them do the rite, and adore the sick pillar of flame, and throw into the water handfuls gouged out of the viscous vegetation which glittered green in the chlorotic glare. I saw this, and I saw something amorphously squatted far away from the light, piping noisomely on a flute; and as the thing piped I thought I heard noxious muffled flutterings in the foetid darkness where I could not see. But what frightened me most was that flaming column; spouting volcanically from depths profound and inconceivable, casting no shadows as healthy flame should, and coating the nitrous stone above with a nasty, venomous verdigris. For in all that seething combustion no warmth lay, but only the clamminess of death and corruption.

And you’re worried about having to deal with that Trump supporter uncle of yours.

Finally, let’s just roll around in that last sentence for a bit:

Great holes secretly are digged where earth’s pores ought to suffice, and things have learnt to walk that ought to crawl.

Merry Festival!

 

—Philip Athans

 

 

Struggling to summon the spirit of your world’s rites and rituals from the stygian depths of your impenetrable, fevered imagination?

Explore this vital subject and more in my four-week Writers Digest University course Worldbuilding in Science Fiction and Fantasy, starting January 9.

 

 

 

 

About Philip Athans

Philip Athans is the New York Times best-selling author of Annihilation and a dozen other books including The Guide to Writing Fantasy and Science Fiction, and Writing Monsters. His blog, Fantasy Author’s Handbook, (https://fantasyhandbook.wordpress.com/) is updated every Tuesday, and you can follow him on Twitter @PhilAthans.
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