Game in the Pope's Head

Publication(s)

Wolfe's comments from the Introduction to Starwater Strains

"Game in the Pope's Head" impressed Ellen Datlow; I've loved it ever since. The Pope's Head was a London pub back when Sherlock Holmes walked among men, and this is a Jack the Ripper story. I hope you like it.

Summary

Four people: Debbie, Edgar, Bev, and Randy are playing a game: rather, each seems to be playing their own game. Reality keeps shifting, and it seems likely that all these people are in Hell. Randy is probably Jack the Ripper.

Analysis

The name Randolph Carter is that of the protagonist in several Lovecraft stories, in particular The Dream Quest of the Unknown Kadath. There are multiple references to this story, including the 700 steps to the Gate of Deeper Slumber, the Enchanted Wood, the temple of Nasht and Karnan-Thah, and three times dreaming of a marvelous city and being snatched away.

What's the connection between Jack the Ripper and Lovecraft? Robert Bloch wrote the famous horror story Yours Truly, Jack the Ripper. Bloch was one of the youngest members of the Lovecraft Circle. Lovecraft used a fictionalized version of Bloch in the story "The Haunter of the Dark" (1935) named Robert Harrison Blake. Blake was credited with five fictional short stories: "The Burrower Beneath", "The Feaster from the Stars", "In the Vale of Pnath", "Shaggai", and "The Stairs in the Crypt". Robert M. Price believes that Blake's "In the Vale of Pnath" is another name for Lovecraft's "The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath" (1926), since in the story Randolph Carter travels to the Underworld and finds himself "in the vale of Pnath."

The sword Sacnoth is from the Lord Dunsany story The Fortress Unvanquishable, Save for Sacnoth. According to this Knowledgerush article "H. P. Lovecraft was greatly impressed by Dunsany after seeing him on a speaking tour of the United States, and Lovecraft's early stories clearly show his influence."

"Where did the fictional American philosopher Thomas Olney teach?"..."Kingsport, Massachusetts." This is another Lovecraft reference. The fictional town of Kingsport is mentioned in several of his stories, including "The Dream Quest of the Unknown Kadath" and a few other Randolph Carter stories. Professor Thomas Olney appears in The Strange High House in the Mist.

Herman Mudgett, aka. "H. H. Holmes" is America's first serial killer. There are many parallels in his story with that of Julian Smart of PEACE. He took over a pharmacy from a sick druggist whose wife disappeared (in Smart's version the druggist murdered her, in Mudgett's case he himself did).

  • Sources of quotes
  • Meanings of names
  • References to other works
  • Theories about what happens under the surface, what the narrator isn't telling us, who the narrator is and when and why s/he is telling the story, what the whole thing "means," etc.
    If there are multiple or competing theories, each one should be given a name with a three-bang (!!!) header; if the page begins to get out-of-hand from the size of these, as could happen in a few cases, they should be shuffled off to their own page(s).
  • Etc.

Unresolved Questions

  • Who are Edgar, Debbie, and Bev?
  • Edgar may be Edgar Allen Poe, famous for his macabre stories. The Edgar in this story is making chess moves, and Edgar Allen Poe once wrote a critique of Maelzel's Chess-Player, a supposed chess-playing machine. Wolfe wrote a story featuring a modern version of such a machine: The Marvelous Brass Chessplaying Automaton.
  • If the other players all have horror writer associations,then Debbie may be Deborah LeBlanc.

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