If we look at Lovecraft’s “The Whisperer in Darkness,” we can see how many different ways Lovecraft both reveals and conceals knowledge. Much of the knowledge we gain about the horrors of the mi-go comes via a scholarly recluse in the mountains of Vermont who believes he is being attacked by beings from another planet – hardly the most reliable individual. Yet even Akeley appears a model of credibility when we begin to encounter a mysterious individual or cult stealing and even fabricating portions of his correspondence. Thus we are forced to rely upon the unreliable source when confronted with a source even more dubious.
Nonetheless, Lovecraft goes further than this. Hints are made to mythology and folklore, whether real-life or as part of Lovecraft’s own pantheon. When revelations do seem to come, they raise even more questions (These beings are giant mushrooms, essentially? Can they really fly through space? What are these more dubious stellar objects from which they come?). When it comes to the worst of all of it, even our trusted narrator Wilmarth shies away from repeating some of the darkest secrets he learns – or believes he learns – from Akeley. In brief, Lovecraft uses the revelation and concealment of information in numerous permutations that create a classic work of horror fiction.
I would say that, in the subsequent Mythos fiction, much of this has been discarded. The Necronomicon, for instance, once a source of vague hints of the Beyond, becomes an inerrant and meticulously detailed text. In some ways this is because of lack of Lovecraft’s vision on the part of the author, and in some ways it speaks of the necessity of taking what is essentially a sequel beyond the original story.
Much of this has also fallen by the wayside in Call of Cthulhu – but, as I’ve learned, it’s for a damn good reason. An author of fiction can choose where to put our gaze, determining where we focus, what is revealed, what is hidden, what is glossed over, and what simply cannot be grasped. Players in roleplaying games cannot be led in a similar fashion. A hint or a quick leap over a topic can send the group off on a wild goose chase. This is occasionally fun, but most often takes the group off the paths that will lead to what will hopefully be a satisfying game experience. Some groups will find this appealing, but to have a game that will be fun for both the players and the Keeper, some of the complexity of Lovecraft’s vision – and the nature of real-life research – has to be cut. This is a lesson that I’ve learned to my dismay in the early drafts of Fury.
I suppose this might be my way of saying that I’m starting to grasp “The Watchers in the Sky” and what it’s trying to accomplish within this particular medium a little better.