Interview: Jonathan Andrew Sheen on “The Shadow in the Corner”
– Tell us a bit about “The Shadow in the Corner.”
“The Shadow in the Corner” is an homage to the late HP Lovecraft. It’s my humble way of trying to play with the idea of making some of the standard tropes of horror work in the modern world. I sometimes seen “modernized” horror tropes that are attempts at subversion — “I defeated the vampire by shining a sun-lamp at him, because the lamp had the same wavelengths as sunlight” — and I always find that approach annoying. When you’re dealing with the supernatural, I feel like it’s a cheap ploy to treat it as if it’s bound by scientific principles. So I wanted to arm modern, competent, technological heroes with all the advantages that we have, lasers and computers and the internet and command of quantum physics, and still show them helpless in the face of Lovecraft’s Elder Gods.
– “The Shadow in the Corner” is a story in the Lovecraftian tradition: was there a specific story, by Lovecraft or another writer, which provided any inspiration for yours?
Well, there was “The Whisperer in the Darkness” — and the movie adaptation of it by the HP Lovecraft Historical Society — that gave me a feeling for looking at Miskatonic University as a real school that students would attend and where professors would do real scientific research. There was “At The Mountains of Madness,” which was the first Lovecraft story I read, again for ideas about the University. And, of course, “The Call of Cthulhu” (and here again, I can’t say enough about the importance and high quality of the silent movie version made by the HP Lovecraft Historical Society. Those folks are just amazing artists, and the conceit they use making their movies — making them in the style that would have been used had they been filmed when they were released in print — is stunningly effective.)
– Did you do any research for this story?
I read those stories, and looked around for the names of characters associated with Miskatonic. I already had vague notions of quantum entanglement, and I had a couple of science-savvy friends read the story to see if my use of it was too risible. (That said, I wasn’t all that concerned about solid science. It’s a Lovecraft Mythos tale — nobody’s reading that for the science!) I had, a few months previously, spent a day driving around Salem and Marblehead, Massachusetts, which is the region generally believed to be that of Lovecraft’s fictional “Arkham.”
– What is it about cosmic horror that you find so appealing as a writer?
Well, I don’t know that it’s a theme I’ll be concentrating on going forward, but the idea that something can be so alien and incomprehensible that simply seeing it can rob a man of his sanity is a compelling one.
What moved me to write the story was the combination of two things:
First, the notion I’d already had — inspired, truth to tell, by a cute image on the Internet, showing a giant thing chasing a man down the foggy streets of a small modern town, with the caption “Miskatonic – It’s a great school just don’t read any of the textbooks aloud” (http://img.photobucket.com/albums/v296/Mtrink/s640x480.jpg) — of Miskatonic University as a modern, real school, and what the history Lovecraft gave it would mean for people going there currently. I thought it would be a grim joke throughout Academe — but that those actually studying or working there would see absolutely no humor there.
The second was the notion of Agrawal Narendra’s method of escaping the horror in his mind. That awful image, when it arrived, carried with it the notion that an eldritch Thing from another dimension might invade ours through someone’s awareness of it, but it was the terrible act of self-destruction that told me I had a story here.
– What are you working on now?
“Working on” is too strong a word, but I’m playing with ideas about future law-enforcement involving cybernetically-upgraded federal agents and dogs. And, I promise, as much is it sounds like it, it’s in no way related to, nor similar to, my previous F&SF story (really, Matt Jarpe’s story with help from me) “The Bad Hamburger!”
– Anything else you’d like to add?
I had a lot of fun writing “The Shadow in the Corner,” and a wonderful experience with Gordon and Lisa and everyone I’ve had contact with at F&SF. It’s been a wonderful experience, and I hope to be able to come up with material to work with you all in the future.
“The Shadow in the Corner” appears in the May/June 2014 issue of F&SF.
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