Victory through Ignorance

David Stark / Zarkonnen
20 Mar 2016, 9:19 p.m.


The letters had been chiselled into the doorway. A relatively recent addition to the 18th-century academic architecture we found ourselves in. Grenville patted his pockets for the keys. The corridor was dimly lit by a forty-watt bulb shoddily installed in a wall sconce meant for a candle. At least it wasn't a flickering torch. That would have been too much.

Grenville found the keys, promptly dropped them on the floor with a clatter, and bent down sighing to pick them up. The lock was stiff. He had to use the force of his entire short body to turn the key. We went through into a large wood-panelled room. The only windows were near the ceiling, grids of yellowish glass tiles letting in a tiny amount of afternoon light. Grenville found the light switch, and a few more underpowered, naked bulbs switched on.

There was a table in the center of the room, a few semi-comfortable chairs upholstered in an institutional shade of green. The walls were covered in bookcases, and the bookcases were filled with slim hand-bound volumes marked only with numbers.

Grenville sat down in the widest of the assortment of chairs and motioned me to sit down also. "It's true, you know. Victory through Ignorance. Believe in the bullshit. That's what will keep you safe."

"So, uh, Lovecraft was wrong?"

Grenville's head swivelled around and he fixed me with his left eye. The whole thing had started normally enough. I'd found a new bar to try out, kind of a dive, but with books. My so-called friends were all on holidays somewhere interesting. "We're summering in Montana" is how Alan had put it. "Summering". The prick. No one had invited me to join them, and so I'd resolved to stay in the halls over the summer, catching up on my reading. It took all of two days for me to give up and resort to drinking.

I found Grenville slowly sipping a murky-looking beer in a corner of the bar. I made it through two drinks sitting by myself before I got up the courage to just sit down opposite him and strike up a conversation. My habits were already turning hermit-like. Grenville introduced himself readily enough. He was apparently an adjunct professor of English literature. We spent some time groping around for common interests until the topic of H. P. Lovecraft came up.

I hadn't expected a literature professor, even an adjunct, to care at all about Lovecraft, who had been something of a teenage obsession for me. With Grenville's encouragement, I quickly waxed lyrical about his ability to invoke a deep, uncaring cosmos, a lasting terror based not on religious symbols but on the knowledge that there were things man was incapable of truly grasping. We bonded over discussing the various attempts at creating a hoax Necronomicon, a sufficiently scary-looking physical artefact that would somehow make Lovecraft's mythos seem a little more real.

"Of course, it's all nonsense.", I said. "But it's fun nonsense."

A calculating look came over my new friend. "That's not strictly true, you know. Things are a bit subtler than that."

I was pretty certain he was setting me up for an elaborate prank, or for an outlandish scam. But I followed him out of the bar, down a narrow alleyway, into a low college building, into this weird room.

"Lovecraft knew what he was doing. His core message - the truth will drive you mad. We don't know how it works, if the human mind really can't hold it all in, or if it's some kind of memetic trap." He fluttered his hands. "O'Leary was doing research on that back in the sixties. He was never able to conclusively prove such a thing really existed. Perhaps it's better that way."

He indicated the slim volumes all around us. "The first book on each shelf is the index. Skim through it, never read. Find the bit you need to know. Read only the parts you need. Treat it all as fiction. Yes, it makes no sense, but if we wrote down what we had truly seen..."

His gaze wandered. There were about a dozen chairs, but there was a thick coating of dust on all of them except his.

"Read what you need to know. Act on it. Perhaps we can do some good yet."

He got up again and picked a scuffed volume from the bottom left corner of one of the bookcases.

"This one's safe enough. A good introduction. I can't let you take it away, of course, but if you'd like to read it here?"

I took it from his hands and started reading. Once I had completed it, I carefully picked another volume. Grenville nodded his approval. I continued reading.

"The Great Old Ones aren't really monsters from outer space, of course. But I advise you to treat them as such. It's a good enough approximation."

He handed me another volume. Things started to become clear, but mercifully not too clear.

I'd tell you more details of what I found out that night, but if I get too precise, you might start to believe me.

Better treat my story as fiction, too. For your own sake.