Tuesday, October 22, 2013

October 22: A Night in the Lonesome October-fest


 October 22 is probably my least favorite chapter in the book, for reasons I will address shortly. I do, however, enjoy the opening and the ending.

     "A chihuahua?"  The thing in the circle suggested.  "Just for laughs?"
   "Nope," I answered.  "Language barrier."
   "Come on!" it said.  "I'm almost strong enough to break out of here on my own now.  It won't go well with you if you keep me till I do." 
     "'Almost,'" I said, "isn't good enough." 
     It growled.  I growled back.  It flinched.  I was still in control.
Gray and Snuff continue mapping possibilities for the site of the endgame, now accounting for the Count's extra locations, but still come up empty, with this site being no more suitable than the others. They discuss the Game.
     "Do the Games always get confusing at some point?  Do they mess up the players' thinking, ideas, values?" 
 "Always.  Especially as events begin to cascade and accelerate near the end.  We create a kind of vortex about us just by being here and doing certain things.  Your confusion may trip you up.  Somebody else's confusion may save you."
 "You're saying that it gets weird, but it all cancels out?"
 "Pretty much, I think.  Till the end, of course."

I thought that Zelazny did a great job conveying this acceleration of events, with the short chapters in the beginning laying the groundwork so that the longer ones near the end could provide the narrative dividends.

They investigate some runic rocks and Gray accidentally draws the attention of the Elders with an offhanded remark ("Well, I hope the whole gang of them appreciates all this trouble," she said, "Nyarlathotep, Chthulu, and all the rest of the unpronounceables.  Makes me wish I had a nice simple job catching mice for some farmer's wife...”)

Insert your own Army of Darkness and/or Beetlejuice joke here.

Snuff pulls Gray away from a lightning strike, but the pair gets sucked into the gateway from which it originated, and then they're between their world and the Dreamlands.

This is the most Lovecraftian segment of the book and the only section that I really wish had been shorter. Gray goes on about the geography of the Dreamlands in a trance.

The imagery is nice. Zelazny was a poet, after all. But it goes on forever and ever and ever.

When Gray is finally finished recounting the travelogue about the king of Ilek-Vad coming up the Oukranos River from the Cerenerian Sea to visit the jasper terraces of Kiran, we arrive at the rose-crystal Palace of the Seventy Delights, where an ancient Primal Cat has called Gray.

     When we came into its precincts, I beheld a small, gray form, the only other living thing in sight, sunning itself on the terrace before the palace, head upraised, regarding us.  Graymalk led us that way.  It proved to be an ancient cat, lying on a square of black onyx. 
 Drawing near and prostrating herself, she said, "Hail, High Purring One." 
     "Graymalk, daughter," he answered.  "Hello.  Rise, please." 
     She did, saying, "I believe that I felt your presence at the time of an Elder One's wrath.  Thank you." 
     "Yes.  I have been watching for all of your month," he said.  "You know why." 
     "I do." 
     He turned his head, antique yellow eyes meeting my own.  I lowered my head out of respect for his venerability, and because Graymalk obviously regarded him as someone of great importance. 
     "You come in the company of a dog." 
 "Snuff is my friend," she said.  "He pulled me out of a well, cast me back from the Elder One's lightning." 
     "Yes, I saw him move you when it fell, right before I decided to call you here.  He is welcome.  Hello, Snuff." 
 "Hello, sir," I answered. 
     Slowly, the old cat rose to his feet, arched his back, stretched low, righted himself. 
"Times," he said, "are complicated just now.  You have entered an unusual design.  Come walk with me, daughter, that I may impart a small wisdom concerning the final day.  For some things seem too small for the Great Ones' regard, and a cat may know that which the Elder Gods do not." 
     She glanced at me, and since few can tell when I am smiling, I nodded my head.
    They strolled along into the temple itself, and I wondered whether, somewhere, an ancient wolf in a high, craggy place were watching us, always alert, his only message, "Keep watching, Snuff, always."  I could almost hear his timeless growl from the places beneath thought. 
I sniffed about, waiting.  It was hard to tell how long they were gone in a place without time.  But it followed that it should not seem to take long.  Nor did it.

I like that whole scene. I forget who first observed it, but seems like people always assume cats of unknown gender are female and unknown dogs are male, so it was unusual to see the Elder Cat as male.

When they return, the elder cat offers Snuff the boon of an answer to any one question. Snuff asks what tomorrow holds.
     Then, "Blood," he said.  "Seas and messes of it all around you.  And you will lose a friend.  Go now through the gate." 
     Graymalk stepped into the rectangle, was gone.  
     "Thanks, I guess," I said. 
     "Carpe baculum!" he added as I followed, somehow knowing that I recalled a bit of my Latin, and doubtless getting some obscure cat-laugh out of telling me to fetch a stick in a classical language.  You get used to little digs from cats about being a dog, though I'd thought their boss might be above that sort of thing.  Still, he is a cat, and he probably hadn't seen a dog in a long time and just couldn't resist. 
     "Et cum spiritu tuo," I replied, moving forward and entering. 
     "Benedicte," I heard his distant response as I drifted again in that place between worlds.
     Carpe baculum! "Seize the stick." "Fetch", in other words. I think the book could have coasted on being "merely" a fantastically well-written novel based around a brilliant concept, but what really makes it a classic to which I, and other readers return every year, is how deftly Zelazny ties everything together at the end.

They return home through a gateway and Snuff tells Gray about where he goes when he dreams: I'm back in a primal wood with an old wolf named Growler.  He teaches me things.

I think that's the best evidence for the viewpoint that Snuff is a dog, in that he is instructed by the Ur-Dog. I just don't see Jack or the infernal forces that might give rise to a demon that could be bound in dog form having a primal force like Growler on retainer in order to teach pretend dogs to pass for real ones.


  1. When I realized the 22nd was the Dreamworld chapter, I thought, "Oh God, not this chapter." But as Gray was describing all the different places, I found myself paying closer attention and actually making an effort to visualize them all, which made for a much better experience than previous years. I thought to myself, "You know, this chapter isn't so bad after all."

    Then I turned the page and realized there were still several more blocks of text coming.


    I will say this, though: I didn't previously realize how many Lovecraftian references there were in Gray's descriptions. My friends and I have been playing a lot of the board game Arkham Horror over the past year or so, so I recognized a lot of names from that. I also recently read "The Cats of Ulthar," so that part made more sense.

    But in the end, yes: this chapter is way too long.

    And yeah, I'm on board about Snuff being an elevated dog now. Stop rubbing it in!

  2. I think I've mentioned Zelazny was GOH at my local club's annual convention, and it was the last one he attended before his passing. He did a reading from Lonesome October and a large chunk of it was the tour of the world of catnappery.