Thursday, January 13, 2022

Kevin J. Wetmore, Jr.'s "Eaters of the Dead"

Kevin J. Wetmore, Jr. is professor at Loyola Marymount University. He is the author or editor of many books, including Post-9/11 Horror in American Cinema and Uncovering “Stranger Things.” He lives in Los Angeles.

Wetmore applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Eaters of the Dead: Myths and Realities of Cannibal Monsters, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Eaters of the Dead consists of a summary and close reading of H.P. Lovecraft’s The Dream-quest of Unknown Kadath (1926-7) and how it constructs ghouls. It is part of a chapter that examines the origins of the Arabic ghūl, its translation into the ghoul in the west, and then how various horror authors have used the monster and its cadaver diet to inspire horror in the reader/viewer. The analysis points out that one of Lovecraft’s innovations of the ghoul is that unlike in Arabian mythology or early modern western tellings, his ghouls can be helpful, friendly, and even funny. Lovecraft transformed the ghoul from just a hideous, terrifying, desert-dwelling, dog-like corpse-devourer into a hideous, terrifying, desert-dwelling, dog-like corpse-devourer with an entire society, ethos, and culture of their own, encompassing humor, play, and interactions with humans.

Thus opening the book to page 99 doesn’t quite give the reader a thorough sense of the volume, which deals with a wide variety of cannibals, corpse-eaters, and means of body-disposal through ingestion, but it does model what the book does with many of those “monsters” – having just considered the corpse-eater in its original context, the book then considers how artists and authors have used the creature(s) and further shaped our understandings of them. So what page 99 does for ghūls/ghouls, other pages do for wendigo, aswang, jinkiniki, cyclops, Grendel, ogres, cannibals (real and imagined), sky burials, and many, many others.

Perhaps as fun, facing page 99 (on page 98) is an illustration Lovecraft himself drew of a ghoul for “Pickman’s Model” in 1934, demonstrating both what he thought a ghoul looked like and why he is a writer and not a visual artist (no disrespect to H.P.L., but his drawing skills are not exactly on point). So read page 99, look at page 98, and then go back and start at the beginning, as pages 1-97 will illuminate the entire world of corpse-eating monsters, and why we fear them and fear becoming them.
Learn more about Eaters of the Dead at the publisher's website.

--Marshal Zeringue