‘Ex Oblivione’ by H. P. Lovecraft: Short Story Analysis
‘Ex Oblivione’ was penned in late 1920 or early 1921 by American writer H. P. Lovecraft also known as Howard Phillips Lovecraft. H. P. Lovecraft was the writer of macabre, weird, and horror fiction. ‘Ex Oblivione’ in Latin means ‘oblivion’. In this short story, which is also considered a poem in prose form, Lovecraft, in his usual haunting and unnerving style with a dash of mysticism, tells the tale of a dying man. The dying man was fed up with his existence. He was happy to drift off into sleep and wander amid the visions of his slumber. Note that the sleep was mostly an opiate-induced one. The man smoked opium and other drugs and in his sleep saw visions of an area filled with wonderment. Lovecraft tries to show the shallowness of reality and how we are all called towards oblivion, which removes consciousness and individuality itself. It is similar to the writings of Gnostics and theosophists down the centuries. The scholars who wrote the tale of this sacred place in Lovecraft’s mystic story were from the fictional land of Zakarion. Note that Zakarion has Persian and Zoroastrian derivatives. The dying man reads the yellow papyrus written by these scholars and decides to enter by imbibing another drug the land he was being called to by the daemons.
Note that H. P. Lovecraft created hazy and macabre mystically fictional places for his stories. Using suspense, he shows the falsity of reality and the truth behind all life, which leads us towards the daemonic life that seeks only one thing of us: oblivion. The meaning of ‘daemon’ is an evil spirit or angels and demons. It can also mean a source or agent of evil, harm, distress, or ruin. There is a hint of Gnostic teachings of the many lures of life until one seeks to cut off all life’s ties and enter into the realm of the divine. In the Gnostic or Theosophic sense, the world and everything in it was not created by God. The theory goes that daemons or lesser angels or demons made it. The Spirit that got them working in this manner was the fall of thought that is ‘Sophia’. Thus, Lovecraft refers to this daemon or creature luring the dying man through the bronze gate on the other side of the ivy-clad antique wall. The daemon came from nothing and so led the spiritual being into oblivion. It is not the real source of life, which is of a higher essence. For more information, you can check out my book review of The Secret History of the Gnostics by Andrew Phillip Smith. The dying man is fed up with the sameness of life. He seeks something new on his death bed. Probably, he was on his death bed due to drug overdose or long term opium addiction.
He is fascinated with the visions of loveliness, lasting beauty, and radiance he sees in his dreams. They consist of the following:
- Dreams of his idea of beauty, which were old gardens and enchanted woods: This indicates hidden secrets and shadowy parts of a person’s psyche.
- A barge in a sunless stream in the purple twilight: This indicates the passing away of one’s life through death. It also means that the person is nearing his ultimate doom.
- A golden valley which is similar to the theme of the Biblical golden valleys.
- Shadowy groves and ruins like old temples and moss-stained stones: This is one’s buried mind and the ancient source of one’s ideas and overall being. It is passed onto us physically through our parents’ genes and mystically through the Spirit or soul body we were in earlier.
- Ancient ivy-clad walls indicate the many coils in our minds, hiding from us from truth and divinity.
- The locked bronze door is the door to salvation. But in the dying man’s case, it was the door to the daemonic life, which is the salvation not taught by the Lord Jesus, Lord Krishna, Lord Buddha, and all philosophers. The daemonic life is a mindless beast which, like the moon, is a mere shadow of the true God or Oneness we seek throughout our lives.
The dying man has not received enlightenment. His enlightenment is his despondency with life and his drugs. Since the lower spirits rule him, the bronze door is the door that will not lead to happiness or wonderment but oblivion. He learned which drug to use while he was in his sleep by visiting the dream city of Zakarion and reading the yellow papyrus filled with Persian and Zoroastrian wisdom of dream sages who dwelt in the old city. Using this drug, he passes through the bronze gate. Sadly for him, that new realm had:
- No sea.
- No land.
- It was a white void.
- It was illimitable or without limits or end.
- It was unpeopled.
- The daemon life ruled it.
- It was filled with native infinity, which was the primeval spiritual soup of creation.
- One can only stay there for a little while.
The dying man mentions that he could stay for only one brief and desolate hour in this primeval soup of oblivion. Yet, he was so fed up with the vanity of the world that oblivion was preferable even for this limited time. This ‘one hour’ could also indicate that time is not the way we think it to be in our realm of existence. The ‘one hour’ with daemon life could be a whole hour, days, months, years, decades, centuries, eons; we do not know. So, did the ‘one hour’ poetically mean an extended period, or was it indeed, according to human time, just ‘one hour’ of death? It is left to conjecture like most mystical elements in H. P. Lovecraft’s stories are left to conjecture. But they are a thrill to read and drown in. You can read another short story review of H. P. Lovecraft, ‘The Hound’ here. It is one of my all-time favorite H. P. Lovecraft stories.
I enjoyed re-reading and analyzing this short story by American writer H. P. Lovecraft. It is steeped in spiritual lore, and I love reading and writing about books on Gnostic and theosophical matters. I have recently published a sort of Theosophical fiction book for middle school children titled Someone Is Burning My Lord, Kumbaaya. It is about life in the Vedic times with a Christian Biblical bent to it.
To celebrate the most critical 2020 USA Presidential Elections culmination, I will be reviewing or analyzing American novels, short stories, novellas, essays, and non-fiction books. So, if you are looking for more American bookish content, keep watching this site. I hope to read and analyze more works by H. P. Lovecraft soon.
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