As we traverse the labyrinthine annals of Howard Phillips Lovecraft's spectral treasury, we encounter one of his more obscure yet profound works: "Ex Oblivione". An entity of fleeting length, yet vast in philosophical depth, it emerges as a phantasmal flower in the abyssal garden of Lovecraft's oeuvre, radiating a distinct, lonesome hue of existential dread.
A stark departure from Lovecraft's more grandiose cosmic horror, "Ex Oblivione" opens portals not to eldritch realms, but into the inner recesses of the human psyche. Here, we are privy to a nameless protagonist's quest for oblivion—an escape from the trite monotony of life into a realm of dream-induced peace. Lovecraft has always dabbled in the realms of dreams, as seen in works such as "The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath" and "The Silver Key", but here, the exploration becomes deeply personal and introspective, as the dream and reality blur into an indistinguishable haze.
From a purely literary perspective, the story is a masterclass in Lovecraft's distinct style of ‘weird fiction.’ It carries his trademark dense prose, interwoven with an array of arcane and archaic vocabulary that paints a vivid, if eerie, picture of the protagonist's psychological journey. Yet, it is the undercurrent of fatalistic nihilism that truly strikes a chord, echoing the pervasive sentiment of Lovecraft's own life and worldview.
In comparison to the rest of Lovecraft's works, "Ex Oblivione" stands as a testament to his ability to infuse cosmic horror with deep-seated philosophical musings. While it lacks the sprawling mythos found in "The Call of Cthulhu" or the investigative intrigue of "The Shadow Over Innsmouth", its power lies in its introspective nature. It is a raw, unfiltered dive into the mind of a man—much like Lovecraft himself—who sought solace in dreams and fantasy.
Scholars such as S. T. Joshi have often remarked on the autobiographical elements present in Lovecraft's work, and "Ex Oblivione" could be seen as a crystallization of this trend (Joshi, 2001). The protagonist's deep dissatisfaction with life, his yearning for escape into dreams, mirrors Lovecraft's own dissatisfaction with the reality of his time and his retreat into the realm of fiction.
In conclusion, "Ex Oblivione" is a concise but potent exploration of existential dread—a grim foreshadowing of Lovecraft's own fate. As a part of his repertoire, it is an overlooked gem that offers a deeper understanding of the man behind the mythos, and further solidifies Lovecraft's status as a master of macabre literature.
- Joshi, S.T. (2001). A Dreamer and a Visionary: H.P. Lovecraft in His Time. Liverpool University Press.
- Bleiler, E.F. (1998). The Guide to Supernatural Fiction. Kent State University Press.
- Harman, G. (2012). Weird Realism: Lovecraft and Philosophy. Zero Books.
- Burleson, D. R. (1991). H. P. Lovecraft: A Critical Study. Greenwood Press.
- Leiber, F. (1972). Lovecraft's 'The Colour Out of Space. Studies in Weird Fiction, 1, 13–20.
Note: The works of H.P. Lovecraft are in the public domain.
By H. P. Lovecraft
When the last days were upon me, and the ugly trifles of existence began to drive me to madness like the small drops of water that torturers let fall ceaselessly upon one spot of their victim’s body, I loved the irradiate refuge of sleep. In my dreams I found a little of the beauty I had vainly sought in life, and wandered through old gardens and enchanted woods.
Once when the wind was soft and scented I heard the south calling, and sailed endlessly and languorously under strange stars.
Once when the gentle rain fell I glided in a barge down a sunless stream under the earth till I reached another world of purple twilight, iridescent arbours, and undying roses.
And once I walked through a golden valley that led to shadowy groves and ruins, and ended in a mighty wall green with antique vines, and pierced by a little gate of bronze.
Many times I walked through that valley, and longer and longer would I pause in the spectral half-light where the giant trees squirmed and twisted grotesquely, and the grey ground stretched damply from trunk to trunk, sometimes disclosing the mould-stained stones of buried temples. And always the goal of my fancies was the mighty vine-grown wall with the little gate of bronze therein.
After a while, as the days of waking became less and less bearable from their greyness and sameness, I would often drift in opiate peace through the valley and the shadowy groves, and wonder how I might seize them for my eternal dwelling-place, so that I need no more crawl back to a dull world stript of interest and new colours. And as I looked upon the little gate in the mighty wall, I felt that beyond it lay a dream-country from which, once it was entered, there would be no return.
So each night in sleep I strove to find the hidden latch of the gate in the ivied antique wall, though it was exceedingly well hidden. And I would tell myself that the realm beyond the wall was not more lasting merely, but more lovely and radiant as well.
Then one night in the dream-city of Zakarion I found a yellowed papyrus filled with the thoughts of dream-sages who dwelt of old in that city, and who were too wise ever to be born in the waking world. Therein were written many things concerning the world of dream, and among them was lore of a golden valley and a sacred grove with temples, and a high wall pierced by a little bronze gate. When I saw this lore, I knew that it touched on the scenes I had haunted, and I therefore read long in the yellowed papyrus.
Some of the dream-sages wrote gorgeously of the wonders beyond the irrepassable gate, but others told of horror and disappointment. I knew not which to believe, yet longed more and more to cross forever into the unknown land; for doubt and secrecy are the lure of lures, and no new horror can be more terrible than the daily torture of the commonplace. So when I learned of the drug which would unlock the gate and drive me through, I resolved to take it when next I awaked.
Last night I swallowed the drug and floated dreamily into the golden valley and the shadowy groves; and when I came this time to the antique wall, I saw that the small gate of bronze was ajar. From beyond came a glow that weirdly lit the giant twisted trees and the tops of the buried temples, and I drifted on songfully, expectant of the glories of the land from whence I should never return.
But as the gate swung wider and the sorcery of drug and dream pushed me through, I knew that all sights and glories were at an end; for in that new realm was neither land nor sea, but only the white void of unpeopled and illimitable space. So, happier than I had ever dared hoped to be, I dissolved again into that native infinity of crystal oblivion from which the daemon Life had called me for one brief and desolate hour.