Strange Flesh: The Use Of Lovecraftian Archetypes In Queer Fiction: The Glittering World (2015)
Authors note: this is part 6 in an 8 part series.
The Glittering World is a 2015 novel by author and award-winning playwright Robert Levy. It tells the story of Michael “Blue” Whitley, his best friend Elisa, her husband – Jason and Blue’s romantic admirer, a young twenty-year-old named Gabriel, or Gabe.
Traveling to Blue’s estranged childhood home town and ex-commune of Starling Cove in Canada, the gang intend to sell the house of Blue’s even more estranged grandmother, which was left for him in her will. Upon arriving however, Blue finds himself strangely drawn to the mysterious forest surrounding the township and begins to hear voices calling from the trees, beckoning him to come home.
After several days of enjoying his holiday and getting to know the left-over hippy population of the ex-commune, Blue steps foot in his grandmother’s house for the first time since he was a small boy. While investigating the cellar, he finds a deep hole with a large iron cage suspended above it, and littered around this – old newspaper articles reporting on how when Blue was a child, he and another girl disappeared into the woods for several days causing mass panic of child abduction, only to return days later with no memory of what had happened to them.
Blue begins to have flashbacks of the events and that evening while cooking dinner in their hired cabin, while alone, he makes a horrifying discovery:
“Who are you? He gave himself a cold clinical look, a scientist observing a specimen in a petri dish. Who are you really, underneath it all? He put a hand to his face… …He let his hand come to rest below his right eye socket, where he hooked his fingernails into the tender area below. He grasped a fold of skin and pulled downward, tearing into himself, a narrow runnel dug along his flesh. There was no pain this time, not as he stripped away a flap of skin from his cheekbone… …He’d been wearing this camouflage for so long he must have forgotten it was a disguise in the first place… …I’m not human at all. All that was left of his old face were two unchanged eyes, two white and green-lensed orbs that stared back at him from the window like a pair of hardboiled eggs. They were what remained of the masquerade, relics of this too-bright world. And all the rest of this pretend human squander, there was his secret self, his real self. Arms sickled like the forelegs of a mantis, tensed and released as his uncovered form rippled like a wave upon the shore. He was made of this place, of the night sky and the grass and the woods on the far side of the glass. He was made of this land. And he would never forget again.” (Levy, 2015, p. 87-88)
It is revealed that the little boy who went missing in the woods all those years back, never actually came back. He was instead, replaced by what Blue now has remembered himself to be – one of The Other kind, a Changeling. Upon remembering who he is, Blue decides to return to the forest, to his own species, but not alone. His best friend Elisa is pregnant with Blue’s baby after a lust-filled night several months ago, the child is part Other Kind, and Blue wants him.
Elisa’s husband Jason and Gabe arrive home shortly after this reveal to discover the front door of the cabin wide open, with Blue and Elisa both missing.
There are two things worth discussing at this point of the text in regards to Lovecraftian tropes. The first is that of genealogical horror. Much like TSOI, The Glittering World’s first act deals with the slow reveal of Blue’s discoveries about his family history and his true parentage.
Returning to Bobby Derie’s excellent book “Sex and the Cthulhu Mythos” Derie explains the importance of this Lovecraftian trope:
“Lovecraft’s focus on physical determinism – that people are trapped, by circumstances they cannot control, in the biological mechanism of their bodies, inheritors of the sins of their parents and ancestors – is more prevalent in the Lovecraft Mythos than in much of the Cthulhu Mythos, because it is such a bleak worldview, where nothing the individual does in his lifetime can change the unassailable facts, and to marry or have children is only to share the horror with loved ones.” (Derie, 2014)
Blue’s progressive discovery, beginning with the knowledge of his crazy fundamentalist grandmother (the reason why his mother moved with him away from Starling cove as a child in the first place) and eventuating with the realization that he is in fact an Other Kind and he has a half-breed child, ties neatly into Lovecraft’s ideas, and provides the reader with a truly horrifying experience upon reading. It becomes worse later on, as we realize that much like the narrator in TSOI, Blue upon discovering his true parentage actually embraces it and forsakes his humanity.
The second interesting thing to note is the impregnation of Elisa. It is hinted at throughout the novel that the Other Kind cannot reproduce on their own, that they must mate with human kind to produce kin. Whether this is true or not in the actual mythology of the novel, it is an obvious call back to TSOI, where the Deep Ones must mate with the inhabitants of Innsmouth.
Continuing on into act two of the novel “Jason,” the novel shifts perspective to Elisa’s husband as he and Gabe work with the Starling Cove police to try track down their missing friends. In this part of the novel, we delve deeper into Jason’s character and his backstory as being mentally unhinged due to seeing his mother commit suicide in front of his father for leaving her. Jason has tried to cope with by becoming a psychologist, and his rational mind refuses to entertain any ideas outside the natural. Gabe on the other hand, we begin to discover, is the total reverse of Jason. While Jason stays in Starling Cove out of hope that he will find his wife, Gabe sticks around yearning for and hoping to find Blue, whom he shared a night of passion with prior to the novel’s beginning. Gabe, is young, whereas Jason is comparatively older, Gabe also is free-spirited and open minded to the supernatural, whereas Jason is not.
This juxtaposition comes into play when the two men discover that many of the locals believe that Blue is one of the Other Kind and that Elisa has been kidnapped by him and taken to the “root of the mountain” that towers over the cove and forest.
There is not much to note in this act of the novel regarding Lovecraftian or queer themes asides from Gabe’s almost obsessive love for Blue who he increasingly believes is a supernatural being, however this will come to play later in greater context.
Act three “Elisa” begins with Elisa stumbling onto the property of the Cabin after several weeks have gone by, naked and covered in mud. She is no longer pregnant. Elisa is rushed to hospital where she is taken care of. She seemingly has wilful amnesia about the events of the past weeks, and much to Jason’s dismay, obsesses alongside Gabe about finding Blue before they leave the cove and return home.
“ “We’re going to find him,” she whispered into the curved shell of Gabe’s ear. She said the words, heard them from her lips and spoken in her own voice. She didn’t know why she had said it, only that it was true.” (Levy, 2015, p. 185)
The rest of this act consists mainly of Elisa and Gabe hunting for Blue. This puts a strain on Elisa’s relationship with Jason, however it is as if she is addicted to finding her friend no matter the consequences. It concludes with the local police finding the mangled and half-eaten body of whom they believe to be Blue, but Elisa, remembering now the events that have occurred, is convinced that this body is not the Blue she and Gabe knew and loved, it is instead the grown up child that Blue replaced all those years ago.
In the fourth and final act of the novel “Gabriel”, Elisa and Jason separate, Jason drives home, leaving the novel for good, he cannot open his mind up further to the goings on, for fear of being driven over the edge. With Jason out of the picture, Elisa and Gabe begin their final, desperate attempt to reach Blue below the earth in the Other Kind’s kingdom.
This part of the novel is perhaps the most important part in regards to this article. The character arc of Gabe is on full display here and we really get to see inside his mind and understand his desperate love for Blue.
Once again, we fall on not just the Lovecraftian theme of Forbidden Knowledge, but the eroticism of that forbidden knowledge, perhaps more so than in any other text analysed here. In The Glittering World, Robert Levy has carefully constructed the character of Blue as a physical manifestation of forbidden knowledge, and a very literal eroticism that draws both Elisa, but more importantly (in the context of this article) Gabe towards him and the horrors that will be revealed by finding him again.
“Gabe’s skin goosefleshed with the memory of Blue’s hands as they roamed the scars on his back, his secret wings. That night Gabe had lifted Blue’s hands from his body, but he immediately regretted it. Indeed, he’d longed for Blue to touch that sacred and shameful part of him, to quiet the scars and their ceaseless humming.” (Levy, 2015, p. 290-291)
While searching for a way underground to get to the Other Kind, Gabe and Elisa become separated, and suddenly the stakes are raised even higher for Gabe, he now has to find Elisa as well as Blue, he fears for her life beneath the earth.
Gabe eventually finds his way deep into the bowels of the earth, and claws his way through the dark, hoping to eventually find his way to Blue. This harrowing experience is thick with dread, but Gabe’s love for Blue surpasses it:
“The dark passageways became increasingly erratic as he pressed forward, neither pebbles nor bread crumbs to help him find his way. Dilapidated remnants of pine-slatted staircases dangled from the ceiling of the uneven corridor at odd angles, alongside crumbling auxiliary tunnels that appeared to have been burrowed by subsurface mammals. Gabe wiped the blood from his face, pulled a candy bar from his pack, and bit it in two. As he let the sugar do its work he tried to calm himself, reassured in the knowledge that he had kept Blue with him. That he was safe, so long as Blue was near, if only as a conjured memory. It kept him walking.” (Levy, 2015, p. 298)
Eventually, Gabe arrives amidst the Other Kind’s hive and is reunited with Blue, who is now completely devoid of humanity. Elisa is there as well, reunited with her lost child, both of them sinking into a black abyss. Gabe initially pleads to join them, to forsake his individuality and become part of the hive mind that controls Blue’s species:
“go. Blue, pleading. Compelling. His dewy wet eyes a fractalized maze of surfaces, all reflecting Gabe;s anguished expression back at himself. Go. Now. He shook off Blue and his command. Why would he go now? He had nothing to live for above, not when everything he wanted was right here in front of him, down in this scorched world. But this world was ending. The colony – the real colony – was gone. Just like the old Blue.
And that was the one Gabe wanted. The old Blue, the stressed-out, chain-smoking chef who was his best friend, his only friend. The only one who ever made Gabe feel special rather than freakish, who let im believe all would be well in the end. Now Blue had become like the rest of his kind, both awesome and fathomless, and there would be no more knowing him, not entirely. Not unless Gabe were to lose himself to the colony, and even then it wouldn’t be enough. It would never be enough….
“You can still come with us, if you want. Is that what you want?”
Blue’s smile dissolved. “That’s what I thought.”
“So that’s it?” Gabe wiped away tears. “Now you’re just going to leave?”
“I never left. Not you. Not really.” He pressed an open hand to Gabe’s chest, and his body jolted and sung with rapture as the roar of dying earth commenced. All was well, all was well, everything crashing down around them again but so what? Gabe shielded his eyes with an arm as dirt fell over his face. There was no place else he would rather be.” (Levy, 2015, p. 327-328)
As the mountain collapses around them, Gabe does something that possibly no other Lovecraftian character has ever done before, he manages to let go of his lust for the forbidden knowledge, and escapes through a tunnel that comes out underneath the bay. He swims to the surface and walks off into the distance.
Gabe’s character is of particular interest as he is firstly, the classic Lovecraftian outsider – all his life he has experienced the unexplained, he has been misunderstood and mistreated by those around him. But he is also a modern twist of the outsider – a young gay man who is forced to even greater levels of outsider-ness by his insatiable love for a non-human creature – Blue.
He is however possibly the most advanced outsider archetype studied in this article, simply because he breaks out of the shell of not only the doomed outsider, but also out of the shell of the tragic or unlikeable gay stereotype so often seen in modern fiction.
Gabe is a powerful character not only in the context of Lovecraft, but in the context of Queer horror and Queer fiction in general.
Derie, B. (2014). Sex and Lovecraft. In Sex and the Cthulhu mythos [Kindle 6 version]. Retrieved from http://www.hippocampuspress.com/h.p-lovecraft/about-hp-lovecraft/sex-and-the-cthulhu-mythos
Levy, R. (2015). Blue. In The glittering world (pp. 87-88). New York, NY: Gallery Books.
Levy, R. (2015). Elisa. In The glittering world (pp. 185). New York, NY: Gallery Books.
Levy, R. (2015). Gabriel. In The glittering world (pp. 290-291). New York, NY: Gallery Books.
Levy, R. (2015). Gabriel. In The glittering world (pp. 298). New York, NY: Gallery Books.
Levy, R. (2015). Gabriel. In The glittering world (pp. 327-328). New York, NY: Gallery Books.