“A Haunted Mind: Inside the Dark, Twisted World of H. P. Lovecraft” – REVIEW

A Haunted Mind: Inside the Dark, Twisted World of H. P. Lovecraft, Written by Bob Curran.
New Page Books. Trade Paperback. August, 2012. 352 pgs. $19.99.

(NOTE FROM MIKE DAVIS: My wife constantly refers to me as a “softy”.  It’s true.  Many writers send me books to review, but as you probably know, if I don’t like the book, I don’t typically mention it.  After all, maybe it’s someone’s first attempt, or perhaps it’s merely a question of taste.  Of course, if I do enjoy the book, I say so.  Recommending only the best Lovecraftian books is something I take seriously.

The point is, this is the first time I have published a negative review.  But please keep reading, and you’ll see why I’ve made an exception.)

A Haunted Mind: Inside the Dark, Twisted World of H. P. Lovecraft. Written by Bob Curran.

Reviewed by Sam Gafford.

This is a bad book.  It is flawed on so many levels that it is difficult to pick just one with which to start this review.

In truth, I thought that we had seen the last of these types of Lovecraft books with L. Sprague deCamp’s abysmal LOVECRAFT: A BIOGRAPHY in 1975. It’s been that long since I’ve seen a book so filled with misinformation, wild accusations and just plain absurd conclusions that I had come to believe we’ve moved beyond such dreck. Sadly, I am proven wrong with Curran’s inexplicably schizophrenic book.

It is difficult to fathom Curran’s purpose in writing this book. His attitude towards Lovecraft the man is nothing less than hateful and borders on the libelous. And yet, he seems to take great delight in talking about the trappings of Lovecraft’s fiction as he tears down the writer himself. It is almost as if Curran resents the fact that such things were created by a man whom he so obviously dislikes even to the point of pathological hatred.

The book is divided into several parts. A biographical section starts off the book and then it careens wildly into exploring Forbidden Books, Mythos Characters and Mythos locations. It is the last three sections that take up the majority of the book, mercifully.

However, it is the biographical chapter that commits the most heinous errors.

I suppose that when one subtitles a book Inside the Dark, Twisted World of H. P. Lovecraft then an objective, balanced examination is not to be expected. Still, Curran provides a biography that rivals deCamp’s for inaccuracies and blatant character assassination.

It is not merely that Curran gets some facts wrong but that he presents his own personal conclusions as “facts”. In this way, he violates the objective viewpoint of a biographer and becomes a “commentator” and Curran clearly has some very strong issues with Lovecraft.

Were I to point out all of the errors, this review would be nearly as long as the book itself. However, let us look at some of the more egregious statements:

  • For someone who assumed affected speech, had eccentric interests, put on airs of superiority, and often made bizarre facial grimaces, school was a difficult place. The other teenagers called him “Lovey” and bullied him physically, mentally, and emotionally. Because of his aversion to popular forms of music and dancing and his lack of interest in women, rumors circulated that he was homosexual. He had no girlfriends and his odd mannerisms kept him apart from all of his classmates. (p. 10)
  • He withdrew from the school [Hope Street High School] in 1905, citing the reasons that he had used at Slater Avenue: a nervous condition and a weak constitution. The real reason may have been his difficulty with and dislike for his fellow students. He took to wandering about the streets at night talking to himself and stopping at lighted windows to peer in and frighten small children. (p. 10)
  • In his attempt to repress any sexual desires (and it may be that sex simply did not interest him), Lovecraft seemed to withdraw even more from his peers. He became fearful of various conditions, one of which was wide-open spaces. This fear would later manifest itself in some of his writings that involved vast subterranean caverns and limitless gulfs between worlds. The darkness that was starting to infest his mind was slowly taking shape. (p. 11)
  • He left the UAPA in 1917 and joined a rival writers’ group called the National Amateur Press Association. He later claimed that the sole reason for his defection was to bring the two groups closer, but it’s more likely because he thought his high intellect and work were not being fully appreciated. (p. 13)
  • In his magazine, The Conservative (which had strong right-wing views), he complained about immigrants–Italians, Poles, Irish, and other–entering the country in terms that would not be far removed from the perspectives of Adolph Hitler. (p. 13)
  • [Farnsworth] Wright was far less tolerant of Lovecraft. He was not as enamored with his style as Baird had been, and preferred to give work to Robert E. Howard, who had a more gritty style, and it’s thought that he didn’t particularly like Lovecraft personally. (p. 16)
  • Some have commented that, for Lovecraft, it was “love at first dollar.” Sonia had already financed two issues of a magazine called The Rainbow in which Lovecraft’s writings were featured, so he may have also seen her as a financial opportunity to self-publish more of his work. (pg. 18)
  • Yet as a person, H. P. Lovecraft could not be counted as “normal” in any accepted social sense. He was cosseted, selfish, and something of a sponger who placed his own needs far above others. He was emotionally stunted and was not even a good or trustworthy friend. His vision was narrow, inhibited, and formulaic. (p. 27)

Most of these comments do not even deserve rebuttal as they are known to be patently false to even the most casual of Lovecraft readers. Here we see once again the tired chestnuts of Lovecraft being racist, weird, homosexual and a “mama’s boy”. But Curran has added even new aspects by depicting Lovecraft as a selfish, “gold-digger” with Sonia as well as a pampered wastrel who was content to sponge off of others. In addition, Curran suggests that Lovecraft’s movement towards more cosmic and science fiction themes as being a concession towards a desire to write more ‘marketable’ stories.

None of these assertions are correct.

Perhaps most frustrating is the lack of any sort of reference throughout this book. There is no bibliography at all. The index is laughable in its insufficiency. There are no footnotes. In short, none of the claims Curran makes are supported in any way, sense or form. There are simply stated with the attitude that they are to be accepted without question. Thankfully, readers of Lovecraft are much smarter than that.

In another area of my literary life, I am a student of the Jack the Ripper crimes and the many and various theories regarding the mysterious killer’s identity. In many of those books, the scholarly process is the same that Curran has used here: begin with a fact and then build upon it a pile of suppositions and wild conjectures that the end result is presented with the air of truth even though it is far removed from any truth.

The remainder of the book is a confusing combination of historical facts with ‘facts’ from Lovecraft’s and other writer’s Mythos fiction. It is difficult to separate fact from fiction which, I suppose, is Curran’s purpose. Perhaps he is attempting to place the Mythos into a more realistic environment but the end result is simply confusing and frustrating.

The sections that are devoted to Mythos Monsters and Locations actually take up a great portion of the book and, in the end, say nothing new. Any Lovecraft fan would have already learned the majority of this information from other, better sources like Joshi & Shultz’s An H. P. Lovecraft Encyclopedia, Anthony Pearsall’s Lovecraft Lexicon and Daniel Harms’ Cthulhu Mythos Encyclopedia. If someone is a beginner to Lovecraft’s Mythos, they would be better served getting their information from the sources I just mentioned rather than here. If someone is well-read in Lovecraft’s Mythos, they will be insulted by the rehashing of information that has been said previously in other places and said far better.

I do not understand why this book exists.

If it is meant to appeal to the Lovecraft fan, it is a miserable failure as that fan will likely hurl it across the room after reading a few pages. If it is supposed to bring new readers to Lovecraft, it fails in that area as well in that it portrays Lovecraft as such an unappealing person that no one is likely to seek our his work after reading this character mutilation.

In future years, this book will be regarded in the same breath as deCamp’s Lovecraft: A Biography, Derleth’s “Cthulhu Mythos Letter” and Edmund Wilson’s initial assessment of Lovecraft as “a hack”. It is a book best forgotten and ignored.

Reviewed by Sam Gafford.

32 responses to ““A Haunted Mind: Inside the Dark, Twisted World of H. P. Lovecraft” – REVIEW

  1. Although I would hate to give this hack any remuneration, I might buy it to see just how bad it really is. I have a copy of the de Camp biography and it is pretty terrible. If this one is worse, I feel obligated to find out how much worse.

    There is also a section of a book called Pilgrims of the Night devoted to HPL. That one is remarkable for its untenable position of tying Lovecraft to the occult. While the author does make some interesting arguments on the themes of HPL’s work and the occult, it really isn’t for anyone not interested in the study of the western magical tradition.

  2. I’m very glad that you decided to run this review. To me this wretched book is almost a criminal act, in that it tries to rob a wonderful writer of his dignity, originality and genius. It paints a sordid picture of a man who, although as deeply flawed as many of us, was a good, loyal friend and an outstanding artist. I hope that this review, and those on Amazon and elsewhere, will warn people who want to buy the book that it is deeply flawed and worthless.

  3. This volume reminds me of that famous review…

    “This is not a [book] to be tossed aside lightly. It should be thrown with great force” (sic).

  4. I worry about this book. Based on your review it seems like the author would jump at any chance to criminalize anything remotely related to Lovecraft; such as the anthrax terrorist mentioned a while ago. If the media makes any connection to a large enough criminal and interviews Mr. Curran, I believe public backlash is guaranteed. The question then becomes how long it lasts and how large it becomes.

  5. Thanks for posting this – I also tend to refrain from writing bad reviews (if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all was a mantra from my childhood) but in the case of a book as egregiously misleading, incorrect, and sloppy as this one, all potential buyers need to be warned away. I’m thankful for Wilum’s review on the amazon page for this pointless and nauseating agglutination of bile which kept me from wasting my pennies on it, and appreciate your efforts to correct the record and call a bad book bad. – rdl

  6. You’re denying that Lovecraft was racist? Really? Many Lovecraft fans and scholars acknowledge that. Read his “New York” stories.

    • No one in their right mind would deny his racial views. Look at what the man became in NY, look at his view changed. Never, ever, confuse a writer and his writing. When in doubt, do some research. You’ll be surprised about the members of the KaLeM Club.
      Another thing you may want to pay attention to is the time period and HPL’s upbringing. For someone who lived in a WASP environment, in a quiet provincial town, as part of the “old genteel” … to be thrown into a miasma of multi-cultural noise and faces … to have been robbed of most of their belongings in one day …. and to still come out of all this as a reasonably well-adapted human being. Actually, you may even get as far with your reading to see that he denounced his views and wished to be able to undo what he had written earlier.

      • Of course Lovecraft’s views were influenced by his time and his upbringing. I understand that. I was just pointing out that he held racist views.

      • ” Actually, you may even get as far with your reading to see that he denounced his views and wished to be able to undo what he had written earlier.”

        When did this happen? I’d be very pleased to see this; while “At the Mountains of Madness” certainly shows signs of a broadening view, I wasn’t aware HPL had ever denounced his earlier views?

      • You’ll get the best idea about his changing / broadening views by reading his letters and general correspondence. There is an excellent collection out that is, as far as I remember, called Lord of a Visible World. It will give you an excellent overview.
        Hippocampus Press should also have several collections of letters with different correspondents in print, but I can’t come up with any spefic titles right now. As soon as I’m back home I will do some research …

  7. Have you ever read Michael Moorcock’s “Starship Stormtroopers” essay? Look it up on-line. I wonder what you’ll think of his comments on Lovecraft.

    • Interesting read. I usually never give a rats @$$ about the politics in my SciFi & fantasy reading; it just never seemed important, just part of the story. Now I may be disquisitive, forever reading into my current favorite author is really saying rather than enjoying a good read. If so, I will curse your name forever. I get way too much politics in my day to day life at work and on the news and now you may have just destroyed one of my lifes little pleasures. Of course, I always did get that, for example, Heinlein was very political, and I wonder at how many authors subtly indoctrinated me in my younger years formulating the person I am now. Damn, now I do need to curse you.

    • Actually he just couldn’t deal with the lifestyle. At least one of his NYC friends was openly gay and HPL just saw it as inappropriate.
      Not liking the lifestyle and homoerotic relationships and being anti-gay are two completely different views.
      The Old Gent lived from what he had learned from books until the real life caught up with him.

      • Lovecraft didn’t hate gay people as PEOPLE, but he was against homosexuality. He was anti-gay. Quit kissing the ass of your idol.

  8. Wow. Why do non-existent research and bad spelling always go together? Or is the latter a reason for the first?
    Arguably, deCamp’s biography is filled with errors and assumptions, but considering which sources he had, he may have actually believed that he was telling the truth. Somehow … But in this day and age you should be able to do better. Even for those that are trying to tear HPL .down there’s enough material that can be quoted from – which is, just for the record, as badly “researched” as this one.
    I’ve read quite a lot of occult research about HPL and most of it made more sense. Even the one that quoted a lengthy text that was supposedly German … I’be seen better results with google translate.
    That being said, I would love to see a PDF version, just so I can point out the unsourced quotes and everything else, just to send it back to the publisher. Wait, don’t tell me, it was selfpublished ….

    LL

  9. By all accounts, HPL definitely DID hold racist views… though there’s evidence that he relaxed those views later. Who knows for sure…

    What’s important is that a research book or biography backs up what they write with EVIDENCE. I don’t care if a writer says that HPL liked to frolic naked under a full moon with a dog collar, as long as there’s evidence to support the claim. Bob Curran doesn’t back up anything in his book with evidence, and that more than anything is the failing of the book.

    • Agreed. When you’ve got spare time on your hands, look his books up on Amazon. The general critical view seems to be that research was not exactly his favourite thing to do. What a surprise.

    • You’re absolutely right, Mike. Curran’s biggest failing is the complete LACK of any research or facts to back up his assumptions. Lovecraft had his failings (as we all do) but if you’re going to make what boils down to rampant character assassination, you’d better document your facts first.

  10. Unfortunately, Curran’s book found a lot of exposure in October. He appeared on shows like Coast to Coast AM promoting it. While C2C is an intellectual wasteland, it has a gigantic audience. Curran’s book may be the only exposure many have to Lovecraftian scholarship (to use a loose interpretation of the word). And though there are better books on Lovecraft the man out there (Joshi’s I Am Providence), anyone seeking serious research on HPL will be drawn to the more accessable, in price-point and length, “A Haunted Mind”.

    • C2C is by no means an intellectual wasteland. True, they do sometimes feature bottom-of-the-barrel conspiracy theorists and such, but they also feature respectable scientists (such as Michio Kaku, the famed theoretical physicist) and other intellectuals. The show’s a mixed bag, but by no means a total wasteland. I agree that Curran’s an opportunistic jerk, though.

      • I have recently heard that it’s “easy” to be a guest on the show these days. If someone like Bob Curran can get on, perhaps I could go on and get some more fans for the ezine.

        I’d rather not — I don’t want the personal attention — but if it would help the ezine, I’d do it. Of course, maybe I’m not the kind of guest they want. Who knows.

        Perhaps Wilum and I could go on as some sort of “rebuttal” show to Curran’s episode.

      • While Coast to Coast may on occasion have a guest like Michio Kaku or Neil deGrasse Tyson, such guests are the exception not the norm.

    • You touch upon what is probably the greatest danger of this book in that it could be many readers first exposure to Lovecraft. If that’s the case, they will not be inclined to look further and will have a detrimental (and erroneous) opinion of both Lovecraft and his work.

  11. Thanks Mike for keeping it real for us. Sometimes I grab anything “Lovecraftian” at the book store. This one – I will trust your read of it and save myself some time and money.

    Love the zine.

    Leo in Seattle

  12. For me, the best response is to write a review of the book on Amazon, where people can go to ACTUALLY BUY THE BOOK, and then hopefully our reviews will persuade them not to waste their time & money. But I think this worthless book will fade away in time, and Lovecraft will reign eternal. Oxford University Press will bring out a new edition of his tales in hardcover next summer, and then we get the wonderful illustrated NEW ANNOTATED H. P. LOVECRAFT from Norton.

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