Disconnect Between Designer's Intent and Player Intepretation

Yes and the narrator of Innsmouth doesn’t go insane, he justs becomes a Deep One. You might say by his new perspective his old life was the insane period.

These are always worth a re-read as some of the things people repeat, like everyone going mad, doesn't need up being true. But madness was definitely a theme (pretty sure both his parents were institutionalized). I can see some of that fear at work in Innsmouth, but the interesting thing about the Shadow over Innsmouth is he ends up embracing it by the end like you point out, and it is actually not horrifying (he paints an almost pleasant picture of becoming a deep one).
 

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Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
These are always worth a re-read as some of the things people repeat, like everyone going mad, doesn't need up being true. But madness was definitely a theme (pretty sure both his parents were institutionalized). I can see some of that fear at work in Innsmouth, but the interesting thing about the Shadow over Innsmouth is he ends up embracing it by the end like you point out, and it is actually not horrifying (he paints an almost pleasant picture of becoming a deep one).

Um .... I don't think the ending of Shadow Over Innsmouth paints a pleasant picture? Instead of ending his own life like his uncle, he succumbs to the evil. He had an early choice- be like his grandmother or his uncle.

I read his description as symptomatic of the madness.
 

Um .... I don't think the ending of Shadow Over Innsmouth paints a pleasant picture? Instead of ending his own life like his uncle, he succumbs to the evil. He had an early choice- be like his grandmother or his uncle.

I read his description as symptomatic of the madness.

I think that is certainly a valid reading. But both can be true (especially since this can be read as embracing the madness). One of the cool things about the ending in my view is it can be read multiple ways. There have been times when I read it and your response has been what my response was. But the last few times I have read it, the character feels liberated and I tend to read the subtext as a person coming to terms with something like madness or a physical ailment, a condition that maybe has been inherited. Also just the way he paints the picture, whether our take away is meant to be horror or not, it just seems like he is painting a beautiful visual. And importantly, he doesn't seem anxious or upset like many of the characters at similar points in the telling of his stories. Personally I find the idea of living beneath the sea horrifying, as I don't like being in the ocean. And the bulk of the story reinforces that fear of the deep. But that last portion of the story surmounts that fear and embraces what life there might be. That it was written by a guy who seemed to be pretty fearful that he had inherited his parent's mental illness (and who may even have been feeling the first pangs of the physical illness the would eventual kill him----something I think you see traces of in the story), makes the alternate reading work for me. I do get it isn't a standard reading though.

EDIT: The is the passage for those who haven't read it (I just always liked how he begins with a 'frightful dream' and transitions into a more exalted mood with promises of immortality by the end of these paragraphs)

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Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
I think that is certainly a valid reading. But both can be true (especially since this can be read as embracing the madness). One of the cool things about the ending in my view is it can be read multiple ways. There have been times when I read it and your response has been what my response was. But the last few times I have read it, the character feels liberated and I tend to read the subtext as a person coming to terms with something like madness or a physical ailment, a condition that maybe has been inherited. Also just the way he paints the picture, whether our take away is meant to be horror or not, it just seems like he is painting a beautiful visual. And importantly, he doesn't seem anxious or upset like many of the characters at similar points in the telling of his stories. Personally I find the idea of living beneath the sea horrifying, as I don't like being in the ocean. And the bulk of the story reinforces that fear of the deep. But that last portion of the story surmounts that fear and embraces what life there might be. That it was written by a guy who seemed to be pretty fearful that he had inherited his parent's mental illness (and who may even have been feeling the first pangs of the physical illness the would eventual kill him----something I think you see traces of in the story), makes the alternate reading work for me. I do get it isn't a standard reading though.

Yeah ... look, I don't want to dwell on this too much- I love this story, but it's also problematic for a lot of reasons. There's a whole part of the "horror" that I'd rather not get into.

I'm glad you got your own meaning out of it. But it's established quite clearly (from Zadok) that in order to get these "powers" (aka, to be a cultist) you have to participate in human sacrifice. It's pure evil. The end is not a triumph, but his descent into madness.
 

Celebrim

Legend
Personally I find the idea of living beneath the sea horrifying, as I don't like being in the ocean.

Well, back to the difference between reader perception and author intent, I think it's a valid reading that the narrator accepts his condition joyfully and finds happiness, but I think authorial intent here is that that is horrifying in the extreme. Because it doesn't matter how horrifying you find the sea, it's nothing but a tiny shadow or mere dust compared to overwhelming neurotic horror HPL had to the sea and ocean life. He literally couldn't be in the same room as a fish. He be forced to flee the room in a panic, stomach heaving, heart racing, sweating and gasping for air in the presence of sea food. So it's interesting to think about what this scene means to the author. Is he trying to come to grips with his own phobia? Or is he channeling his own horror?

There was earlier talk about the way vampires have shifted mentally in peoples mind from being horrifying monsters greatly to be feared, to being a desirable state of existence where we romanticize being the monster. The fish people HPL describes are not conventionally attractive at all (contrast strongly the almost anime Harem depiction Stross gives them!). Would we be romanticizing the vampire in CW dramas if they were always portrayed as rotting Nosferatu - high function zombies smelling of dead flesh? Would we be like, "Of course I'd want to live like that?" Of course I'd want to be a grotesque fish person living in the lightless depths among worms and glowing corals?
 

Yeah ... look, I don't want to dwell on this too much- I love this story, but it's also problematic for a lot of reasons. There's a whole part of the "horror" that I'd rather not get into.

I'm glad you got your own meaning out of it. But it's established quite clearly (from Zadok) that in order to get these "powers" (aka, to be a cultist) you have to participate in human sacrifice. It's pure evil. The end is not a triumph, but his descent into madness.

I understand. And definitely has things going on which I don't think can be easily discussed here. I don't disagree with you that those are present.

I was just saying this is an interesting moment in the story where I think you see some of the things underlying the fears behind all that stuff coming to the surface. And its also a moment where I sense he is coming to terms with things going on inside his body and mind. Which is why I feel the description of the deep ones in that section, with a lot of its interesting religious language is so compelling. But I do think the story has a lot of different layers and I wouldn't necessarily bring it down to being about one thing. I see there being a lot of different aspects of it that are worth analysis. Like I said, it can be about a descent into madness, but also about the author embracing that part of himself.

I also think it is interesting because it at least opens up the possibility of the narrator having been an unreliable narrator up to the point of the story as well, as another poster alluded to (which I don't necessarily think is the case but I do think it is an interesting topic of discussion). And that ties to Zadok, because something to keep in mind about him is he is the town drunk. And he rambles like someone who might not be in their right mind, so it is entirely possible details he is conveying to the narrator are not accurate, exaggerated, or at least not the whole story. The whole sequence where they are coming after the narrator in the inn for example may not have been as nefarious as he thought.

And again, I am not saying that means the deep ones are good, or the narrator isn't mad, it just opens up this possible angle where the story can be recontextualized.
 

MGibster

Legend
One of the problems with that discussion is how much you want the game to put its thumb on the genre scale is pretty much in the eye of the beholder. I don't want a game to ignore the genre for which its designed, but I'm not usually wanting it to hem it in too tightly either, which some people very much do want.
They say on cold winter nights, you can hear the bards singing from deep within Y'ha-nthlei.

I'm glad you got your own meaning out of it. But it's established quite clearly (from Zadok) that in order to get these "powers" (aka, to be a cultist) you have to participate in human sacrifice. It's pure evil. The end is not a triumph, but his descent into madness.
As with many "bad guys," they get stale over time and sometimes we like to reinvent them as good guys or perhaps just misunderstood. Ruthanna Emrys' The Litany of the Earth is about a former resident of Innsmouth who fled in the wake of the goverment's raid. She describes the government raid as a bunch of heavy handed thugs who came after a harmless religious group. It's well written, but I didn't particular care for it as I felt it completely invalidated the original story. It would be like someone coming along and writing a story explaining how the rebels were the bad guys in Star Wars and lamenting the death of all those innocent people on the Death Star.
 

Well, back to the difference between reader perception and author intent, I think it's a valid reading that the narrator accepts his condition joyfully and finds happiness, but I think authorial intent here is that that is horrifying in the extreme. Because it doesn't matter how horrifying you find the sea, it's nothing but a tiny shadow or mere dust compared to overwhelming neurotic horror HPL had to the sea and ocean life. He literally couldn't be in the same room as a fish. He be forced to flee the room in a panic, stomach heaving, heart racing, sweating and gasping for air in the presence of sea food. So it's interesting to think about what this scene means to the author. Is he trying to come to grips with his own phobia? Or is he channeling his own horror?

I don't know what his intent was here, but it seems intended a change in tone, so I do think reading it as a coming to terms with that horror and making it something rather beautiful is a fair interpretation. I don't know that we can ever get into the man's head, but I do think authorial intent is important (so I am not discounting that). I just don't think finding something the height of horror, precludes using that to speak of coming to terms with something (and my sense is what he is coming to terms with isn't a fear of the ocean, but a fear of his own mind, of his own body).
 

As with many "bad guys," they get stale over time and sometimes we like to reinvent them as good guys or perhaps just misunderstood. Ruthanna Emrys' The Litany of the Earth is about a former resident of Innsmouth who fled in the wake of the goverment's raid. She describes the government raid as a bunch of heavy handed thugs who came after a harmless religious group. It's well written, but I didn't particular care for it as I felt it completely invalidated the original story. It would be like someone coming along and writing a story explaining how the rebels were the bad guys in Star Wars and lamenting the death of all those innocent people on the Death Star.

I tend to find these kinds of flips boring so I am not particularly into them either. I haven't read the Emrys story (nothing against that particular story or writer, I am just not interested in any of the expanded Mythos stuff from other writers, in the same way that I don't find the stuff written about Conan after Howard all that interesting. But here I do think there is more 'there', there. I just think between the unreliability of Zadok, how this final portion of the story sounds (and what a beautiful picture he paints of immortality beneath the sea), and inclusion of things at the end like the deep ones being put in concentration camps, it much more opens the door to that kind of retelling or recontextualizing. And think both can exist. It isn't like a new version where the Deep Ones are a misunderstood religious group, means the original can't still be read as them being evil. Just like it can be true that the story is about a man's descent into madness, even into transforming into an undersea monster, while at the same time, the writer is using that as a way to come to grips with something or some fear going on internally and maybe find a way to accept it. I think what makes stories interesting is that there isn't necessarily a definitive conclusion about these things, that there is room to discuss them and there are different potential layers of meaning (as well as subjective meaning people might find in it that doesn't have as much to do with the intent).
 

Celebrim

Legend
...precludes using that to speak of coming to terms with something (and my sense is what he is coming to terms with isn't a fear of the ocean, but a fear of his own mind, of his own body).

I think you are giving HPL way too much credit here, but I guess there is no harm in that. Like you, I don't want to discount the role of the reader in the communication either, least of all in rejecting the writer's take even once and especially once you understand it.

For me though your take is tying back into my problem with attempting to scare modern readers with horror, in as much that even forced transformation and loss of humanity and an alien conspiracy that amounts to a cuckoo breeding strategy makes you shrug and go, "Isn't it pretty! Look, he's coping with his mental illness by accepting his inner nature!"

You ever seen the original B&W Dracula with Bela Lugosi? A real classic and worth watching, but it's impossible to watch as a modern viewer in the way it was originally received. Women were literally fainting with terror. The audience was screaming with horror. The original screening was so intense, that the actually edited the final release so that it never actually shows the vampires fangs because that was felt to be too graphic and horrifying. Now days, compared to the sort of stuff people take in and shrug at, it plays as a comedy.
 
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I think you are giving HPL way too much credit here, but I guess there is no harm in that. Like you, I don't want to discount the role of the reader in the communication either, least of all in rejecting the writer's take even once and especially once you understand it.
Keep in mind, the two things I am saying he may be coming to terms with internally are the possibility that he has inherited mental illness from his mother and his father, and perhaps a growing realization that he isn't physically well. I don't know that a writer writing a story like this and using that as fuel to make the sort of ending this story has is giving him a lot of credit. That is pretty much how writers function in my view. I'm also not saying this is fully conscious. I think there are other things going on the story, which again I don't think we can really get into.



For me though your take is tying back into my problem with attempting to scare modern readers with horror, in as much that even forced transformation and loss of humanity and an alien conspiracy that amounts to a cuckoo breeding strategy makes you shrug and go, "Isn't it pretty! Look, he's coping with his mental illness by accepting his inner nature!"

Well, I can see what you are saying, but I don't think that moment of beauty at all undermines the horror for the reader because there is still something very uneasy about that too. When I first read it when I was in highschool the beauty of it was something I completely missed for example, and it wasn't until later that it became more clear that there was beauty there and a kind of religious language. But even then, that is still an odd thing to feel after all the horrors leading up to that. To me that is a very Clive Barker thing, and I think he is very good at making horror that is both beautiful, even morally a lot more cloudy and unclear, while still frightening me as a reader. I suppose everyone is going to have different tastes though in terms of what they find scary. There is a point where you can go too far with things like beauty, comedy, romance, in a horror story and it stops being scary (but there is also a sweet spot where those things can enhance the horror).

Also I am not saying one should take all alien horror and make it beautiful or misunderstood. I don't think that would add anything to the Xenomorphs for example (it might be an interesting political or social commentary but it wouldn't be especially scary I think). So I do take your point. Here though, this is more like a puzzling final passage in the story that makes me question everything I've read to that point.
 

Thomas Shey

Legend
I think Stross actually has an interesting take on it: his Deep Ones are not intrinsically evil entities (nor his Cthonians), just long time dwellers who are not interested in dealing with crap from the newbie surface dwellers. His take is that Lovecraft and his cohort are filtering events through their own prejudices and problems. That said, the actual Lovecraftian gods are every bit as awful as ever--even C'thulhu which is a rather different sort of entity in Stross' work is just appalling, and Nyarlathotep is better only to the degree that he considers humanity fun toys and useful pets rather than something to be exterminated.

So there's room to say that Lovecraft had some understanding of the terror that was behind the facade of the world, but that he was generally bad at separating off the genuinely evil from the merely alien (the Great Race of Yith notwithstanding).
 

Celebrim

Legend
I think Stross actually has an interesting take on it...

I really enjoyed 'The Atrocity Archives' and his early takes on the laundry, but Stross has completely lost me as a reader as the series progressed because Stross came off more like he was saying, "Wouldn't it be fun to live in a Cthulhu universe? Think how much less boring things would be? We nerds could be cool wizards who get to kiss all the hot monster chicks and we could gain superpowers and be vampires and it would all be great and awesome!" Like there is this meme where fans are like, "I wish I could live in Narnia" or "I wish I could live in Middle Earth" or what not, and then at the end of the fandom there is like some fandom whose universe is pure dystopia and they are like, "Can't relate". Well, I would have thought that the world of Lovecraftian horror was one of those places no one wanted to live, but I guess not.
 

You ever seen the original B&W Dracula with Bela Lugosi? A real classic and worth watching, but it's impossible to watch as a modern viewer in the way it was originally received. Women were literally fainting with terror. The audience was screaming with horror. The original screening was so intense, that the actually edited the final release so that it never actually shows the vampires fangs because that was felt to be too graphic and horrifying. Now days, compared to the sort of stuff people take in and shrug at, it plays as a comedy.

I think we might have had this discussion before, but I'n probably the wrong person for this example, as I find older horror movies more scary than modern ones. I will say the original Dracula, as horror movies go, I don't think is particularly scary (though I don't think it is due to the feinting women). Nosferatu on the other hand, I still say is maybe the scariest horror movie of all time for me. And some things can lose their sting over time. Some movies stand the test of time and others don't. I think Dracula is just one of those films whose horror didn't make it across the decades. But I find a lot the techniques in modern horror movies people point to to say that older movies aren't as scary, not particularly impactful on me. Which isn't to say there aren't modern horror movies that I find scary: I found 28 Days Later very effective, and I found the Descent quite scary as well. I can get much more into the suspense of an old hammer movie for instance than I can into the newer movies I see popping up on my netflix page. And I don't think it is because those newer movies aren't as scary or bad, I just tend to engage older movies with more immersion than newer ones (which I think is fundamental to allowing a horror movie to impact you).

Also a lot of older horror movies weren't necessarily aiming for the kinds of scares you have in a movie like the Exorcist or Nosferatu. Bride of Frankenstein is a wonderful monster movie, and I love it, but it is also not particularly about the scares. So they sometimes need to be graded on factors like camp and who they were aimed at.
 

Planescape Torment would have made a great visual novel. I remember loving the characters, dialogue and the intrigue, hated the D&D mechanics constantly distracting me from them. And that was back when I was still in love with D&D!
It would have made an excellent visual novel. But instead it was an extremely bad RPG.
 

These are always worth a re-read as some of the things people repeat, like everyone going mad, doesn't need up being true. But madness was definitely a theme (pretty sure both his parents were institutionalized).

The ones that stand out to me as actually going mad are Herbert West's patients (as well as West himself who, in addition to gradually devolving into sociopathy, also seems to lose the thread of his own work; by the end he seems to just be messing around), and the family from The Color Out Of Space. And both of those groups went mad due to physical brain damage.
 

Thomas Shey

Legend
I really enjoyed 'The Atrocity Archives' and his early takes on the laundry, but Stross has completely lost me as a reader as the series progressed because Stross came off more like he was saying, "Wouldn't it be fun to live in a Cthulhu universe? Think how much less boring things would be? We nerds could be cool wizards who get to kiss all the hot monster chicks and we could gain superpowers and be vampires and it would all be great and awesome!" Like there is this meme where fans are like, "I wish I could live in Narnia" or "I wish I could live in Middle Earth" or what not, and then at the end of the fandom there is like some fandom whose universe is pure dystopia and they are like, "Can't relate". Well, I would have thought that the world of Lovecraftian horror was one of those places no one wanted to live, but I guess not.

I think any reading of the Laundry books that sees it presented as a positive place to be requires a pretty slanted view. In particular, it becomes progressively hard to see the later books that way.
 

Celebrim

Legend
I think any reading of the Laundry books that sees it presented as a positive place to be requires a pretty slanted view. In particular, it becomes progressively hard to see the later books that way.

I admit I haven't read past 'The Annihilation Score' but I think my take holds up to that point.
 

As a recovering English literature graduate student, I could not possibly be more thrilled to see this discussion here. 😍. But at the end of the day, aren't RPG manuals instruction manuals? If the authors fail to convey their meaning, then that is a failure on their part.
As someone who came up in the New Criticism, I’d be inclined to argue that RPGs are more like dances or songs - the work of art is the act played out at the table, not the sheet music or Players Handbook that supports the performance.
 

Thomas Shey

Legend
I admit I haven't read past 'The Annihilation Score' but I think my take holds up to that point.

I'm afraid I don't, really; even early on those books were clear about the sword of Damacles hanging over everyone and the fundamentally terrifying perspective being in the Laundry provided.
 

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