Friday, August 22, 2014

Fear - Chapter 1, Part 3 - Ground Zero

Professor Tommy Williams lives alone in his family mansion, and since it's been a while since those air spirits and corpse-stuffed furniture, let's make the house scary.  For a moment, Lowry thinks that "The mansion seemed to repel him as he stared at it, for the two gable windows were uncommonly like a pince-nez sitting upon the nose of a moldering judge," and he nearly considers walking away.  But then he thinks about his old friend and realizes he's being silly.

And maybe I was wrong about Hubbard identifying more with Professor Lowry, given the glowing description of Professor Tommy that follows.

But if [Lowry] had come out of his boyhood with a shy reticence, Tommy had chosen another lane, for Tommy Williams was the joy of his students and the campus; he had traveled much in the old countries and therefore brought to this place an air of the cosmopolitan, a gay disregard for convention and frumpy thought.  Tommy Williams loved to dabble with the exotic and fringe the forbidden, to drink special teas with weird foreign names and read cabalistic books; he told fortunes out of crystal balls at the charity affairs and loved to eye his client afterward with a sly, sideways look as though outwardly this must all be in fun, but inwardly - inwardly, mightn't it be true?  Tommy was all laughter, froth and lightness, with London styles and Parisian wit, a man too clever to have any enemies - or very many friends.

Wait, no.  Hubbard got involved with sex magic and occultism around 1945-46, over a decade after dropping out of college, and several years after publishing Fear.  Hmm.  Is this an homage to someone Hubbard knew?  His idea of a cool college professor?  

At any rate, that's Tommy, acting borderline mystical to mess with the establishment.  And somehow Lowry's the one who gets fired for causing a scandal, from writing a single newspaper article, instead of spending years playing heathen parlor tricks on the university's patrons.  Ah, but that's right, Jebson had a jealous grudge or something.

After another attempt to inject a creepy mood into the story, involving dead leaves "making a dry and crackly music of their own" as they skitter into the shadows, Lowry knocks on the door, reminding himself that his chills are due to malaria and still trying to shake off the sensation that he's late for an appointment.  When there's no answer, he pushes the door open - nobody around here locks their doors, it's a sleepy college town - and Lowry goes inside.  He thinks he hears a rat upstairs, and proceeds to the living room, where he finds his friend Tommy, sprawled on the couch as if dead!

He's not, of course, but weren't you scared for a moment?

Tommy wakes up, greets his friend, invites him to warm himself by the fire since Lowry's already let himself inside, even offers him a drink.  Lowry takes a moment to admire his friend's artfully disarrayed black hair, slender build, and winsome features, concluding "with a sudden clarity" that Tommy is "pretty."  It's 1940, though, so we aren't allowed to read into this.

Instead he brings up the article, and Jebson's reaction to it.  Tommy complains that the board would never allow it, Lowry replies that Jebson controls the board, Tommy demands that Lowry go "straighten this thing out," but we're told after a brief page break that eventually the two trail off as the hopelessness of the situation settles on them.

Tommy finally announces that Lowry's article has caught up with him, and figures out his main problem - Lowry is under the delusion that the world is a good place, as "a sort of mechanical reaction by which you like to forget all the ghastly things the world has done to you," which is why he gets blindsided by people like Jebson.  Tommy, on the other hand, is wise enough to be cynical enough to be bored with evil, because he expects it, and therefore delighted with good, which always comes as a pleasant surprise.

"Phantoms or not, that man is the safest who knows that all is really evil and that the air and earth and water are peopled by fantastic demons and devils who lurk to grin at and increase the sad state of man."

"And so," said Lowry, "I am to bow low to superstition and reinherit all the gloomy thoughts of my benighted ancestors.  Devil take your devils, Tommy Williams, for I'll have nothing of them."

"But it would appear," said Tommy in a quiet, even ominous way, "that they will have something of you."

I'm confused.  I can kind of get the "shield of cynicism" angle Tommy is working from, but I can't work out the logic leading from "the world is a terrible place" and "people are bastards" to "and there are demons around making things even worse."  Nevertheless, Tommy insists that Lowry's article insulted malicious spirits by suggesting they don't exist, and Jebson's firing of him is no coincidence.  "It would appear that the devils and demons have won their first round."  And then he suggests that his friend go home and rest.  Devils are real and they hate you - sleep tight!

Lowry wryly notes that he came to his friend for solace, and Tommy replies that he gave him something even better: "wisdom."  Lowry goes back into the hall, his chill worse, and still feeling like he's late for an appointment.  He notes the time is a quarter to three, reaches for his hat, and... the chapter unceremoniously ends.

Hmm.  How strange...

Back to Chapter 1, part 2

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