My first post of 2018 sees another from this classic author, once perceived as lowly pulp and now given the title of visionary, bigot, racist, and grandfather of SF. He deserves perhaps all these titles, though visionary and grandfather of SF is debatable.
Beyond the Wall of Sleep is the first story HPL ever wrote that brought up the idea of brain transference, in which technology is used to transfer brain waves from one person to another, so letting the receiver experience what the subject is thinking (or in this story’s case, dreaming). After the last two stories I read from this collection, I was ready for a story that was not simply a justification for the narrator’s actions. Instead, this story is the account from an intern in a mental hospital who studies a man who committed murder while in his sleep. The man tells the other, certified alienists (a doctor of the mind) stories of his waking dreams in which he is pursued by a Nemesis that has done him some unknowable wrong. The man is intent on ending this Nemesis.
In an attempt to understand this man and his dreams the narrator uses a technology to connect with this man and enter the ethereal world in which the man exists when he falls asleep.
I won’t ruin it for you. It’s weird.
Another aspect of this story is one brought back to HPL himself. This story shows his aversion to anyone, even white people, who were not of New England stock. The man who is having these horrific dreams is a southerner from the Catskills. A “deplorable,” “degenerate,” man. He is commonly referred to as “white trash,” by the narrator, among other unsavory names. To me, it is a sad look at, perhaps, my own bias of people from the south, though I would not, as HPL does in this story, claim that southern Americans have on average a lower IQ than any other group of Americans, I have often looked down on southern states–mostly due to a frustrating voting record in the region as well as infatuation with the Confederacy. HPL had an acute dislike of “the other,” which is to say, anyone who he was not like. While this is now being addressed and condemned, I know I can learn from HPL’s work–as this story made me think about one of my own biases, which I believe is important to acknowledge.