The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents.
—H. P. Lovecraft, from “The Call of Cthulhu”
Poets think in lines, prose writers in sentences; the best of both work from sound to sense, with an ear for the music in their compositions. S for Sentence celebrates lyricism in prose, the play and craft at work in the artful sentence. We post a sentence a month along with comments by a guest writer on the craft that shapes it, on what makes it great. In one or two sentences.
—Pearl Abraham, Editor
So opens horror writer Lovecraft’s most famous tale of cosmic dread, but what’s the antecedent of its? The human mind—or the world? Yes, the rest of the paragraph provides context, but why wasn’t Lovecraft clearer? He could have written “In my opinion, people are lucky they can’t correlate the contents of their minds.” (Or “the contents of the world.”) One might be inclined to favor mind as the antecedent, since it seems more natural to speak of a human mind having contents than the world.
I believe Lovecraft was deliberate in his ambiguous word choice, that the dissonance sounded in this sentence foreshadows the difficulty of using language to describe that alien creature represented by a name not meant to be pronounced by human vocal chords, Cthulhu.
—Peter Cannon is the author of H. P. Lovecraft, a critical study in Twayne’s U.S. Authors Series