COOL AIR IX

His voice, if queer, was at least soothing; and I could not even perceive that he breathed as the fluent sentences rolled urbanely out. He sought to distract my mind from my own seizure by speaking of his theories and experiments; and I remember his tactfully consoling me about my weak heart by insisting that will and consciousness are stronger than organic life itself, so that if a bodily frame be but originally healthy and carefully preserved, it may through a scientific enhancement of these qualities retain a kind of nervous animation despite the most serious impairments, defects, or even absences in the battery of specific organs. He might, he half jestingly said, some day teach me to live—or at least to possess some kind of conscious existence—without any heart at all! For his part, he was afflicted with a complication of maladies requiring a very exact regimen which included constant cold. Any marked rise in temperature might, if prolonged, affect him fatally; and the frigidity of his habitation—some 55 or 56 degrees Fahrenheit—was maintained by an absorption system of ammonia cooling, the gasoline engine of whose pumps I had often heard in my own room below.

Relieved of my seizure in a marvellously short while, I left the shivery place a disciple and devotee of the gifted recluse. After that I paid him frequent overcoated calls; listening while he told of secret researches and almost ghastly results, and trembling a bit when I examined the unconventional and astonishingly ancient volumes on his shelves. I was eventually, I may add, almost cured of my disease for all time by his skilful ministrations. It seems that he did not scorn the incantations of the mediaevalists, since he believed these cryptic formulae to contain rare psychological stimuli which might conceivably have singular effects on the substance of a nervous system from which organic pulsations had fled. I was touched by his account of the aged Dr. Torres of Valencia, who had shared his earlier experiments with him through the great illness of eighteen years before, whence his present disorders proceeded. No sooner had the venerable practitioner saved his colleague than he himself succumbed to the grim enemy he had fought. Perhaps the strain had been too great; for Dr. Muñoz made it whisperingly clear—though not in detail—that the methods of healing had been most extraordinary, involving scenes and processes not welcomed by elderly and conservative Galens.


THE INCANTATIONS OF THE MEDIAEVALISTS: Quite frequently, Lovecraft’s protagonists learn not to scorn the wisdom of the ancients. In “The Dreams in the Witch House” (1932), the incantations of the mediaevalists provide “a mediocre old woman of the seventeenth century [with] an insight into mathematical depths perhaps beyond the utmost modern delvings of Planck, Heisenberg, Einstein, and de Sitter.” 

VALENCIA: One of the largest cities in Spain, Valencia lies on the Balearic Sea, southwest of Barcelona and due west of the Balearic Islands. During the Middle Ages, the city and the surrounding coastline belonged to the Crown of Aragon. It was united with the rest of Spain in the fifteenth century by the Catholic Monarchs, King Ferdinand of Aragon and Queen Isabella of Castile. To this day, the people of Valencia speak Catalan as opposed to Spanish.

ELDERLY AND CONSERVATIVE GALENS: Lovecraft is alluding to Galen of Pergamon, a Greek physician and philosopher whose teachings remained influential throughout the Middle Ages. During the Renaissance, physicians disproved many of Galen’s theories by performing dissections on human corpses, something Galen had never done. With that in mind, Lovecraft may be hinting that Dr. Muñoz’s “elderly and conservative” peers are just as misguided as Galen was. 

In “Herbert West—Reanimator” (1922), the title character, who resembles Dr. Muñoz in so many ways, also earns the censure of his colleagues. While a student at Miskatonic University Medical School, West proposes that, with the proper chemical solution, life could be restored to dead issue, a hypothesis that is “widely ridiculed by the faculty and his fellow-students.” 

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COOL AIR X

As the weeks passed, I observed with regret that my new friend was indeed slowly but unmistakably losing ground physically, as Mrs. Herrero had suggested. The livid aspect of his countenance was intensified, his voice became more hollow and indistinct, his muscular motions were less perfectly coördinated, and his mind and will displayed less resilience and initiative. Of this sad change he seemed by no means unaware, and little by little his expression and conversation both took on a gruesome irony which restored in me something of the subtle repulsion I had originally felt.

He developed strange caprices, acquiring a fondness for exotic spices and Egyptian incense till his room smelled like the vault of a sepulchred Pharaoh in the Valley of Kings. At the same time his demands for cold air increased, and with my aid he amplified the ammonia piping of his room and modified the pumps and feed of his refrigerating machine till he could keep the temperature as low as 34° or 40° and finally even 28°; the bathroom and laboratory, of course, being less chilled, in order that water might not freeze, and that chemical processes might not be impeded. The tenant adjoining him complained of the icy air from around the connecting door, so I helped him fit heavy hangings to obviate the difficulty. A kind of growing horror, of outré and morbid cast, seemed to possess him. He talked of death incessantly, but laughed hollowly when such things as burial or funeral arrangements were gently suggested.


LOSING GROUND PHYSICALLY: In many ways, “Cool Air” resembles Edgar Allan Poe’s story “The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar” (1845), in which a mesmerist hypnotizes a dying man, thus saving him from death. When awakened, the hypnotized corpse, which has been preserved in a kind of living death, instantly disintegrates. As disturbing as Poe’s tale is, Lovecraft improves upon the basic plot by giving Dr. Muñoz a far more active role than the one Poe assigned to M. Valdemar and forcing readers to watch as Dr. Muñoz, who still insists that he is alive, decomposes.

VALLEY OF KINGS: For almost five hundred years, from the sixteenth to the eleventh centuries B.C., the ancient Egyptians buried their pharaohs in a valley on the west side of the Nile, just across the river from Thebes. The tombs, one of which belonged to Tutankhamun, were cut into the rock cliffs lining the valley.

Though Lovecraft never felt the psychological attachment to ancient Egypt that he felt for ancient Rome and, to a slightly lesser extent, ancient Greece, he was still fascinated by the civilization. Lovecraft frequently and learnedly discusses the history of Egypt in his correspondence, but only one of his tales, “Under the Pyramids” (1924), which he wrote for Harry Houdini, actually takes place in Egypt. References to Egypt, however, appear in several tales. In “Nyarlathotep” (1920), for instance, the Antichrist, who is “of the old native blood and [looks] like a Pharaoh,” appears first in Egypt.

TALKED OF DEATH INCESSANTLY: Unlike Edgar Allan Poe, Lovecraft found knowledge, not death, to be the source of all horror. That is not to say that his protagonists never find themselves in physical danger; they do. Having said that, they are not haunted by a fear of death. They are haunted by a truth they cannot bring themselves to accept.