He acquired a habit of writing long documents of some sort, which he carefully sealed and filled with injunctions that I transmit them after his death to certain persons whom he named—for the most part lettered East Indians, but including a once celebrated French physician now generally thought dead, and about whom the most inconceivable things had been whispered. As it happened, I burned all these papers undelivered and unopened. His aspect and voice became utterly frightful, and his presence almost unbearable. One September day an unexpected glimpse of him induced an epileptic fit in a man who had come to repair his electric desk lamp; a fit for which he prescribed effectively whilst keeping himself well out of sight. That man, oddly enough, had been through the terrors of the Great War without having incurred any fright so thorough.
EAST INDIANS: Rarely used today, the term “East Indies” refers to the Malay Archipelago, a series of islands in Southeast Asia, which includes Java, Sumatra, Luzon, Borneo, and New Guinea. In 1926, when “Cool Air” was written, most of the archipelago belonged to the Dutch East Indies.
FRENCH PHYSICIAN: Though subtle, Lovecraft’s prejudices never lie far below the surface of his fiction. In Lovecraft’s mind, Dr. Muñoz’s conspirators could be French, Spanish, or East Asian, but they could never be English.
UTTERLY FRIGHTFUL: Typical of Lovecraft’s style, the passage states that Dr. Muñoz’s appearance has become “utterly frightful” instead of actually describing his appearance. By doing so, Lovecraft’s writing violates the principle “show, don’t tell,” but it also encourages readers to use their own imaginations. Lovecraft’s restraint, moreover, prevents the tale from degenerating into a litany of over-the-top horrors.
THE GREAT WAR: References to World War I abound in Lovecraft’s fiction. The conflict actually plays a central role in “Dagon” (1917), which was written a few months after the United States entered the war, and “The Temple” (1920), which chronicles the strange fate of Karl Heinrich, a commander in the Imperial German Navy.
Though the war is no more than mentioned in “Pickman’s Model” (1926), the narrator of that story expresses a sentiment almost identical to the one above. Eager to prove that the fright he experienced at Pickman’s studio was not the result of either cowardice or squeamishness, Thurber offers his service in the Great War as evidence: “I’m middle-aged and decently sophisticated, and I guess you saw enough of me in France to know I’m not easily knocked out.” The courageous, it seems, can steel themselves against purely natural horrors, no matter how shocking or gruesome, but their bravery provides no defense against the mind-shattering experience that is supernatural horror.