“The Warder of Knowledge”

This week’s weird fiction tale being discussed over at LibraryThing.

Review: “The Warder of Knowledge”, Richard F. Searight, 1992.

Cover by Gahan Wilson

This story has a plus and a minus.

The minus is that it falls in the trap of telling us the experience of its protagonist, Gordon Whitney with no real way, just from his writings, for the narrator, a friend of Whiteny’s, to know these details. Even H. P. Lovecraft’s “Dagon”, with its narrator hurriedly writing his experiences down as the monsters close in, doesn’t go this far.

On the plus side, Whitney emotionally acts like an amateur undertaking a dangerous occult experiment. 

Robert M. Price’s introduction to Tales of the Lovecraft Mythos notes that, though this story was first published in that book, Lovecraft saw the story when Searight sent it to him. Lovecraft liked it and noted Searight’s use of the Eltdown Shards as different than Lovecraft’s own in the round-robin story Lovecraft had participated in, “The Challenge from Beyond”. Lovecraft optimistically noted that Searight’s use would end up being better known than that story. Of course, things worked out completely the opposite. 

The story opens in a standard Lovecraftian vein. 

We hear about how the “neatly typed manuscript” found in Whitney’s desk drawer caused his academic comrades to regard it as the delusions of a mentally unbalanced organic chemist who dabbled in the occult. The writer says that impression would have been heightened if they had his personal journal. Searight throws a bit of novelty in by briefly mentioning the psychic impressions perceived by Professor Turkoff, a psychologist, in Whitney’s bedroom. 

The story is light on physical details and heavy on emotion. 

From an early age, Whitney obsessed about possessing the “most complete and detailed” knowledge of all areas of scientific research as well as the secrets of existences not yet uncovered by science. He became a professor at a Midwest university and studied the occult starting with the Necronomicon, moved on to the Book of Eibon, and then studied the Eltdown Shards and attempted a translation of them. His knowledge of cellular biology and drugs aided him somewhat, but, eventually, he reached an impasse in his studies.

Finally he decides that some very old entity or principle called the Warder of Knowledge in the Eltdown Shards (which Whitney’s employer just happens to have) may provide the key. The Shards themselves are not the product of humans since they were found in Triassic age stratum. The Warder of Knowledge can be evoked by sonic vibrations, i.e. a spoken spell. Whitney, after studying them, suspects the discoverers of the Shards, Dalton and Woodford, may have been lying when they pronounced the Shards untranslatable. Perhaps they knew what knowledge they contained and thought it better suppressed.

With some trepidation, Whiteny also notes that the “dismissal” spell for the Warder of Knowledge seems to have been deliberately chipped off one of the Shards.  Nevertheless, one night Whitney dismisses his housekeeper and very carefully utters the spell. 

A half hour after he’s finished, nothing seems to have happened. He begins to contemplate what a rash action he’s committed. With a feeling of dread, he goes to bed and has a vision of being in some ancient jungle and being pursued. 

The pursuer is a tentacled entity with a vaguely humanoid head and cold, intelligent eyes.

One of its tentacles wraps around Whitney, and he has a vision that goes on for a couple of pages. Not only does it name check various entities from Lovecraft’s stories – the Mi-Go, the Old Ones, and Cthulhu – but also presents a vision of the entities on Earth before man and mammalian evolution, glimpses of all of human history, and the Earth growing frigid as the sun dies in the future. 

Then Whitney feels his intellect and ego absorbed by the creature.

The next day, Whitney is found dead in his bed by his housekeeper. 

A look of horror is on his face and, in a concluding sting for the story, Turkoff notes it’s the sort of expression that “harmonized so strangely with the achievement of a life’s dream”. 

As I said, there is no way the narrator can know the details he presents. That may have kept the story from being published in Searight’s lifetime.

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