"I-it's like underneath everything there's just... just this chaos" - Robert Black
Providence is one of Moore's most recent works, drawn by the very talented Jacen Burrows which blends many H.P Lovecraft story plots and tropes into one road trip being taken by central character the closeted gay Jewish journalist Robert Black. It's 1919 and he left his job at a large New York newspaper to start researching a book about the story of life going on in the underbelly of New England. He's already met a community that's been breeding with fish people and the monstrous teenage offspring of an Old God who used the father of his mother as a vessel for his power. He's also been introduced to tales of a magickal group known as "The Stella Sapiente" who have their fingers in all the various occult goings on in the area. His research has lead him to seek out a book called the "Kitab Al-Hikmah Al-Najmiyya" which means "Book of the Wisdom of the Stars" of which the college St Anslem has a translation of and that's his next stop. There is a theme in this volume of dreams and the subjective nature of reality as Robert has some very nasty brushes with things he find difficult to process as actually happening to him even though to our eyes, they did. And H.P. Lovecraft makes a small appearance to, thankfully being treated much better this time than Neonomicom did to him. As before each chapter is followed by Robert's copius hand-written notes on what he's discovered and his thoughts on the events which I am not covering in any detail as otherwise it'd stretch this post out to ten times the length. But if you are interested in picking this series up and are put off by the fact there are only four issues per trade, there is plenty of added value. Let us continue.
We begin with Robert recounting his arrival in Manchester where the college of St. Anselms is to a priest there called Father Walter Race who he fills in on the book he's researching.
Father Race: "...Saint Anselm seems to have attracted every squinting eccentric or outlandish rumor in the region. Sometimes you'd almost think that mystery had contaminated the brickwork".
Robert mentioned he'd heard about a mysterious meteorite (The Colour Out Of Space) and also the Arab alchemical work they have in the library and wasn't it gifted to the college by a philanthropic group? Father Race says he must be talking about the Kitab which he's enjoyed a "long relationship with that particular conundrum".
The Stella Sapiente gave the college the book, Father Race doesn't know much about them just that they are important benefactors who gave the college its motto, "Initium Sapiente Timor Domini. The Fear Of The Lord Is The Beginning Of Wisdom". Robert will have to wait and see the librarian who is back next week before he can look at the book. Robert asks about hotels in the region, Father Race says the hotels fill up fast in August but there are lodging houses around "Goff Falls". Also if he wants to kill some time he can go check out the meteorite site which the goverment is poking around.
|Hector North accosts Robert.|
Robert tells him he's researching a book and the man says he thought Robert looked like someone who knew his way round Greenwich Village. Robert laughs and says it's nice to meet a "kindred spirit". He then asks, "you and your.. friend. Is your persuasion why your 'not Catholic enough' to join the faculty?" The man says that's the least of it, and gives Robert his address if Goff Falls proves "tiresome." He and his friend, "always appreciate a male body in good condition". He finally introduces himself as "Hector North" (Herbert West: Reanimator) and Robert leaves for Goff Falls.
He meets a teenage girl on a bridge and asks her the way to Goff Falls in a somewhat patronising manner. The girl calls him out saying she's a "student of some standing at Saint Anselms". Robert apologises and is surprised a girl of thirteen is attending there. She tells him she just "got real smart".
Robert tells him he was directed by Doctor North, she says he's not a very reputable fellow, "I'm told when he studied here his behaviour was simply shocking", she rooms near him and doesn't think he's a very nice man. Then she points him to Goff Falls saying the houses there have been there since the sixteen hundreds. Robert says he is sorry for talking down to her, she introduces herself as Elspeth and they part.
Mrs Macey: "Oh my, goodness, no, no. I've not been living here for a long time. Mostly I'm in another space nearby, where I can keep an eye on things. I see what goes on."
She tells him that a team from St Anselms came and measured the room, but she didn't speak with them directly so she doesn't know what they wanted, probably too much for an uneducated person like herself. She shows him into the room, apologises for the clutter and asks for his two dollars rent in advance in case she isn't there for his departure. She says if she isn't around it's an honour to have him stay, "the work you're doing, it's both hard and glorious".
She says he'll be wanting to look around Manchester "seeking out all the scandals and secrets our little town's concealing". Robert mentions the meteorite and she says it came down forty years ago and destroyed a family called the Forresters although they could have moved out. She tells him where to go and gives him a key and off he goes to the crash site.
Once there he gets talking to an Agent Frank Stubbs who says this assignment is "horseshit". The men there keep coming down sick all the time and they aren't officially there. He says the thing fell out of the sky on the eleventh June 1882. Landed by the well which he points out to Robert. The Forresters who lived there called Father Bradley, the man who founded Saint Anselms, who turned up with some Church Benefactors to check it out.
|At the meteorite site.|
Agent Stubbs: "You take a look at this place: people gone mad and perished, land dying by the year... and this was something natural. Now, you imagine somebody coming up with a weapon... a gun or a bomb that could do the same thing".
He then asks where Robert is staying and Robert describes the house, although Stubbs says he heard the real old place wasn't to let. Robert says it must be a different house, then he leaves thanking Stubbs for his time. He returns to the house and goes to sleep. Then he wakes up in a car being driven by a giggling man. Robert tells him he had the strangest dream, that he had arrived in Manchester and found lodgings and visited a blighted farm. The giggling man says he's in a maze and by the time he realises he's in it, it's too late..
Then Robert wakes again in the bed in his lodgings. Sitting in the same room as him is a naked woman breastfeeding a small grotesque human with a tail. The woman looks just like the landlady Mrs Macey. She talks in strange riddles to him as Robert freaks out and starts getting dressed. She tells him "in those parts foreign to Euclid do we reside, of where the animal is thought to be indigeneous".
As Robert sleeps, Hector and James argue about him. Hector wants to do... something to him saying nobody knows he's here and nobody will miss him. James says a "scandal here in Manchester could finish us". Then we cut to Robert and Hector eating breakfast as served by James. Hector snipes at James who responds with irritation. Robert says as his job and rooms in New York are gone now he'll press on with his book.
Hector whispers to him that James will be out of the house that afternoon, "we could meet up here, spend some time together, play some games". Before Robert can reply, someone knocks at the front door. Robert answers and goes pale when he hears what the person has to say. Apparently there had been a letter asking about them. Hector comes to the door as well leaving Robert alone.
A few minutes later he returns and tells Robert he'll have to go, he and James have to leave Manchester. Robert says he's knows what "it's like when there's business you'd prefer to keep buried." Hector says "God, you have no idea." Hector bids him farewell, while James snaps at him to hurry up and call the removal people and Robert leaves.
|Hector and James have to make a getaway.|
He goes inside as says that he knows the librarian is away for a week, but Father Race tells him the librarian has been back for a week now. Robert mumbles he must have misunderstood before. Father Race introduces him to the librarian Dr. Henry Vantage who takes Robert to the library saying he understands Robert is here for Hali's book. Apparently it was gifted to the college just before the old library burned down.
Robert asks about the Stella Sapients and Vantage shows him a photo of the group which includes Garland Wheatly and his daughter as seen in volume one. There is also one Edgar Wade, Elspeth's father who died when she was eight. Vantage queries Robert knowing the Wheatleys and Robert admits he met them and "they're certainly unusual". Vantage says that's an understatement. It was Wade who insisted they be banned from the library.
|The Stella Sapiente|
After he is done we see him shaking Vantage's hand who says he's was looking forward to meeting him since Father Race told him he was going to come a couple of weeks ago. A flustered Robert says it was like yesterday to him. Vantage laughs saying "times flies as we get older" and wishes well on the rest of his journey, hoping his research comes to a satisfying close and he leaves a confused Robert in his wake.
Robert bumps into Elspeth again and tells her he must be crazy, Vantage thinks he arrived in Manchester three weeks ago. He babbles that something must be wrong with him, he doesn't even know what day it is. She tells him it's September the tenth and he can recover in her lodgings if he likes. They pop into a shop so he can buy a new raincoat to replace the one he left in the Goff Fall's lodging house then they arrive at her place.
He starts telling her how he feels like he's having a nervous breakdown and maybe he should stop researching the book. But he's been given another lead, a photographer in Boston called "Pitman" (Pickman's Model), and also he's been researching the Stella Sapients and he knows one was her father. While he rambles, Elspeth starts removing her clothes. What follows is a rape scene so horrifying, so despicable, so monumentally fucked up that I... have to applaud it. No really, just read on.
Robert realises she's naked and starts to leave, then suddenly he finds his mind has been transferred into Elspeth's body, "no, you... this isn't my voice!" The mind in Elspeth's body wasn't hers either, it is a much older being now in control of Robert's body and he says he hasn't has a phallus for a long time and now he's looking forward to using it. The being tells Robert to lie on the divan and open Elspeth's legs, he doesn't want to bruise her body as he'll have to live with it when he's done.
|Just couldn't help yourself eh Alan?|
Robert can only stammer, "O-oh God you... on my God". "Elspeth" lights a cigarette and tells him to be on his way in case she decides she wants some more. Robert stumbles away into the pouring rain, breaking into a run. Then he comes across the car driven by the giggling man but he runs on and away from the horror and confusion he experienced in Manchester.
We cut to him having been shoved off the bus in Boston, a man drinking close by asks what's got himself so rattled. Robert stammers, "I think I might have gone crazy. I-I think I might have raped a young girl." The drinking man shrugs and says "well.. you wouldn't be the first". And the scene pulls back to show a crowd of people fighting in the streets.
The man says he doesn't sound like a "raper". He doesn't seem the type, "you seem more shell shocked, like the fellers abroad." He then asks what brings him to Boston on such a grand old night? Robert asks what's going on and it turns out the police, of which the drinking man is one, have gone on strike and so chaos has broken out. Robert can't believe this is what the country is like when there is no police.
|O'Brien steers Robert to his destination while Boston riots.|
The man says it's hardly a country at all with nothing holding it together, "and Boston's the very start of America mind. I'm thinking it's seen one revolution, and it's shy of another." Robert says it seems chaos is what is underneath. The man tells him about last January when a molasses tank exploded. The police cleaned it up and came under attack by rioters while their requests for a pay rise was ignored.
They walk together into a quieter area, they arrive at Pitman's house and the man introduces himself as Eamon O'Brien. He tells Robert the boys in gaiters are more likely scared of you than the other way round. The sailors were rushed and told to fire over their heads but the sailor who gave the order was accidentally shot. O'Brien says some might envy his death, when the strike's finished there is little fear of getting jobs back after. He asks Robert if he wants him to knock on Pitman's door?
He does so and Pitman peers out and O'Brien introduces Robert to him saying he's in a bad way. Robert stumbles over his words as he says he saw Pitman's work at the Wheatley farm. Pitman semi-reluctantly lets them both in. He starts to say that in Manchester there was "this girl Elspeth Wade". Pitman says he knows the Wades and offers him a bed for the night to recover.
With Robert in bed, Pitman goes down to speak to O'Brien who is admiring one of his pictures. Pitman says it's an imginative interpretation of the Boylston Street Subway. O'Brien says there was a terrible explosion there summer before last, "people dead, bodies unrecovered. A gas explosion, so they reckoned". O'Brien says the painting is very real looking. Pitman offers him a drink, "now your talkin' a language I can understand" replies O'Brien.
Next morning Robert apologises for just turning up in a state. Pitman says if he's been involved with the Stella Sapiente that can be pretty bad He says the Wades can intefere with people's minds, "what they want is to exchange dreams and reality". Robert wonders if his missing three weeks and the business with Elspeth was all a dream. Pitman says that could be so, and if he wants to stay as long as he needs he can.
Robert then introduces himself properly as a writer doing a book on ancient traditions surviving in America. Pitman says he can get settled and then he'll answer his questions and show him around.
Robert: "That's swell. Thanks for everything Ronnie. You've really helped me put things in perspective. 'Illusion'. Huh."
Later they both take a walk outside, Pitman telling him of the tunnels under Boston used by the Freemasons. Robert says he hadn't realised how influential the various occult groups have been on early American history. They return to Pitman's studio and he asks if Robert saw his photo of the Stella Sapiente there.
Robert says yes, and he remembers seeing a photo of Wade at Elspeth's place too when he had his "hallucination". But it felt so real, how could he have dreamed that? Pitman tells him that the Stella Sapiente can enter the dream-world while concious. Like Jung's ideas except more physical.
Pitman: "It, uhm, it treats the unconcious as a literal underworld. I, uhm, I find it very useful for my paintings".
He tells Pitman that occultism and art have been connected since the first cave paintings, the symbolists, surrealists, cubists are all "trying to be more real than reality."
Pitman says he can show Robert his method, he doesn't show it to everyone but "I just feel that you, uhm, you deserve to know." He says by literally going underground he can reach-the dream world. Robert thanks him for his kindness as they decends the stairs. He wonders how this helps him enter a different state of awareness.
Pitman: "Uhm. Well, you are. It doesn't matter whether you, uhm, you believe it. You, uhm, you said you'd seen the book of theirs at St Anselms. It mentions uhm, it mentions a Redeemer."
Robert says yes, it's the being whose meant to make "all the Earth put right". He figures he's a messiah figure, bringing about the Kingdom of Heaven.
Pitman says not really, more the world of dreams "that's been suppressed by our reality. They, uhm, they want ro restore it." Robert asks if they can change human psychology so the unconcious dominates the rational self. Robert says that's one way of looking at it. They reach the bottom and Robert asks if they have reached a place where they can experience dreams as real.
Pitman tells him to sit on a box facing away from the tunnel. He says he's not tyrin to scare him, just that he "should be given the chance to understand". And he mustn't look around no matter what happens. Pitman then leads a demonic creature out of the tunnel and introduces him as "King George". He wants to talk, that's all.
George says Robert has pretty hair, "it is red ones I like best." Robert asks what he is, and George says he's one of the boys "who work downstairs". Robert asks where he comes from and George says from between his mother's legs.
King George: "But not to be funny, we are downstairs from world, upstairs from dream. We are halfway in middle."
Robert asks if there are many more "boys" like him. George says more than five, all living under Boston. He ask Robert if he is happy in Boston. "I... no. No, I-I don't think I'd be happy anywhere right now". Pitman explains to George that Robert had some bad things happen to him in Manchester. George says "the old man who is another old man who is a girl who is other people, yes? Poor Robert".
George says they are below them but one day they'll eat their bodies, "you must smile Robert". Robert says he will, then asks George if he knows what goes on in Boston. George says they do the best they can, the fighting above has left five dead not more good than the sweet time though. He's referring to the molasses explosion which allowed them to feast on many humans.
|King George is an affable demon.|
George: "You are good boys. Ronnie, he is like our family, yes? And you, Robert. You do your work, and then you are gone. Our worry is for you."
Robert wonders if this is his unconcious warning him. Kind George gets up and walks up to Robert standing just behind him. He tells Robert about rot. Everything rots in the end including America and the rest of the world. They eat the rot and Robert as a journalist eats the rot up above. He must remember that cemeteries to him are orchards to George, everyone in life has a purpose and no one goes to waste. He tells him to be happy and Pitman leads him back to the tunnel. They speak some runic language then George is gone and Pitman takes Robert back upstairs.
Back upstairs Robert is sitting looking thoughtful. Then he tells Pitman that what happened was unblievable, experiencing hypnotism just by physically descending. He wonders if that's what happened in Suydam's house when he found the cave and black sea. Pitman says he hopes he's helped him understand.
Robert says he sure has, especially the business with Elspeth being a dream. Pitman starts to say that's not what he meant, then cuts himself off saying maybe he needs to speak with someone who understands and can explain dreams more clearly. He tells them there is an author in Boston who knows all about the dreamworld, "his name is Carver". Robert says he's been here ten days so he really ought to go, Pitman says he's enjoyed having him but "Randell Carver" (The Statement of Randolph Carter) would be more helpful.
Robert goes to pack his things saying it looks like Pitman has more work to do, and Pitman says he developing a piece based on the police strike. On the doorstep, Robert bids Pitman farewell saying he knew his work was political. Then as he walks off we cut to Pitman developing a photograph of the creatures George is one of eating dead protestors.
The final chapter begins with Robert already friends with Carver. He'd lent Robert a manuscript of one of his stories about an incident when a giant glowing flying manta-ray like creature floated above Boston and a man called Tillinghast who claimed to have mentally ridden the creature round the heavens. This sparked an idea for a story, "so I suppose you could say all of my tales are inspired by dreams and delusions, even if they're sometimes those or someone else."
Robert asks if dreams are essential to unlocking the Stella Sapiente's whole philosophy. Carver says he is quite certain.
Carver: "Dreams, writings, and our outlandish human imaginings They're at the very heart of it."
Robert then comments on another story he lent him by H.P. Lovecraft called "Beyond The Wall of Sleep" and says it's ideas are powerful. The pamplet it is in are what Carver's own stories have appeared in offering great consolation during an otherwise unaccomplished career.
Robert can't believe that, but Carver says he has lived an uneventful life and his exploits have been wholly imaginary. He tells his life story which was growing up outside Manchester where he was truly contented for the only time in his life. Robert asks if his dream experiments are "a consolation then, for a vanished childhood?" Carver says he supposes so.
|Robert and Randall talk dreams.|
Carver says he knew the place was dangerous, but it ended his diabolism and he embraced decadence. As they talk alternate panels show dream imagery. He puzzles about the dream country and how it seemed both from another world and also of their own. His approach to dreams is the "seven hundred steps to deeper slumber".
He tells Robert a representative of the Stella Sapiente's met a Freemason called Albert Pike in 1863, they discussed the dreamworld. They view it as physically existing in Earth's past, "supplanted by our world but capable of future resurrection" . He plundered the idea shamelessly for his stories.
He's thinking of an offering called "Twilight Odyssey" which an explorer discovers a region of the congo where the pre-human dream-world still persists, "much influenced by Lord Dunsany's 'Idle days On The Yann' obviously". Robert says isn't that the speaker they are going to see tonight, he's not familiar with his work. Carver is a fanboy saying his heroism inspired him to join the French Foreign Legion. Although he admits what little action he saw he found terrifying.
Robert then asks if his seven hundred steps techiques is physical like Pitmans. Carver says no and that what he has told him puzzled him. His approach is purely cerebral and decides to show it to Robert and they close their eyes. They walk down the seven hundred steps to induce a lucid dream. As they descend Robert says the stairs keeps changing shape. Carver says this is because they are in a strata where ideas are less fixed.
As they descend, George pokes his head through a window and says he is happy to see Robert. They go deeper and Robert comments on how real it feels like his experinence in Pitman's place. They reach the seventh hundred step. Robert comments on how vivid it is, Carver says it's only the upper limits of the dreamland, where recent waking memories could be found.
They bump into Pike, and the Stella Sapiente fellow they were discussing earlier as well as a bunch of Klansmen. Carver says they coud be symbolic. If they want unearthly matters they most venture onwards. Robert says he remembers the Stella Sapiente man from the photo, "van Buren". Carver says maybe so, but now they have to concentrate as they are "approaching the ragged outskirts of dream."
Robert points out a humanoid with a strange head, and Carver says that's what makes the Stella Sapiente's notion of reality engulfing our own so alarming, "the fauna here is frightfully diverse and becomes more prolific the further we travel..."
They are in a cemetary where the corpse eaters that Pitman paints so he must travel here too. He asks if the Stella Sapiente's Redeemer is only wishful thinking.
Carver: "Reasonably so, and even should such a person exist, he is apparently useless unless contacted by an equally unlikely messenger. While such a meeting would be undoubtably catastrophic, it seems improbably certainly in our lifetimes."
Robert says that's reassuring, then asks about the tower he can see. The corpse eaters use it to access the lower reaches. Robert asks if the dream world is literally underground, but how is that physically possible?
|A herd of dream cats.|
Robert is impressed by what he's experienced. Carver says it was Lord Dunsany's fictions that first got him to dream. So they leave the house and start walking towards where Dunsany is going to be doing a reading. On the way they bump into Hector and James, Hector panics asking why he has followed them. James says it's just coincidence and they move on.
Robert and Carver arrive at the hall where the reading will take place. They sit at Carver points out H.P. Lovecraft sitting a couple of rows in front of them. Dunsany sits and reads while Carver and Robert fanboy about him in the audience. Once his reading is over, Robert says he could listen to him all night. Later people come up and have him sign books for them.
While Carver goes to the toilet, Robert approaches Lovecraft who says he doesn't approve "of fawning upon those that one admires" and can see that Dunsany barely tolerates his fans. Robert gets a bit flustered and Lovecraft softens saying he is a "blundering curmudgeon" and if Robert wants Dunsany's autograph he intended no personal criticism. Robert says he'd actually read his story and he understands if... Lovecraft cuts him off saying unlike Dunsany he can't get enough of flattery.
|Meeting H.P. Lovecraft for the first time.|
So another eventful journey for Robert Black. And this volume continues the sly humour at his expense of things actually physically happening to him that he writes off as dreams and hallucinations. Of course there is nothing funny about the rape he is subjected to, but it's such an utterly creepy concept that in the context of a book based around the horror lurking under various respectable facades it feels justified if appalling and I appreciated that Robert didn't just walk it off but had to be convinced it was a dream before he could cope with what had happened to him. Mind raped into someone else's body, then physically raped by a being wearing his body like an off-the-peg suit. Brrr. We're taken on a tour of some of Lovecrafts more famous works, from Hector North and his mysterious "taxidermy" hobby causing scandal enough to make him and his partner flee, to the non-Euclidian geometry of the Goff Falls house which causes him to time travel three weeks into his future, to Pitman who uses very real, and surprisingly affable monsters in his artwork. What's also interesting is that several times Robert is told his work is important and that he has some role to play in some undefined future happening, hopefully to be revealed in the final volume which isn't out until the middle of September. The machinations of the Stella Sapientes seem to be driving Robert's journey as everyone has turned out to be linked to them so far. It remains to be seen what role Mr. Lovecraft himself will play in the book, but you can almost imagine he's been on a similar journey to Robert's gaining inspiration for his fictions here at the start of his career. I also liked the cats appearing as guides in the dreamworld. Lovecraft was a cat person and they appear often in some of his works. Overall this volume kept the quality of the first one, dealing more with the workings of the mind than the physical bodies of volume one. Jacen Burrows artwork continues to impress, he manages to make two men having long coversations look interesting and his King George was appropriately creepy. So I'll be covering the final volume before the end of the year, I'm fascinated by how all the plot threads are going to come together and if Robert will ever manage to write his book and what will happen if and when it is finally published.