“Lovecraft was a bad writer”, they said. Discuss!

Lovecraft eZine wallpaper -- click to enlarge for use

Lovecraft eZine wallpaper — click to enlarge for use

I scour the web daily for links to post here and at the eZine Facebook page, and I frequently see comments in forums about Lovecraft’s “poor writing ability”.  Great ideas, they say, but poor execution.

I have to disagree.  Lovecraft doesn’t write like other authors, it’s true; but that doesn’t make it bad writing.  And I could be wrong, but it seems to me that the majority of those who are on this bandwagon have barely glanced at his work.  They “couldn’t get into it”, so therefore it must be terrible.

Lovecraft has his own distinctive style, just like Bradbury, Block, Child, and so many others.  And like any author, some of Lovecraft’s stories are better than others; but I honestly can’t see how anyone could say that At the Mountains of Madness, The Call of Cthulhu, and The Shadow Out of Time are examples of poor writing.

I’ll venture to say that many authors that these people love won’t be read one hundred years from now — but Lovecraft will.

Your comments are welcome below, just be respectful.

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45 responses to ““Lovecraft was a bad writer”, they said. Discuss!

  1. I have to agree that Lovecraft’s execution was at times poor and frequently old fashioned. His story-telling, however, was first rate. The two things should not be confused. Most writers excel at certain things and do less well at others, Lovecraft was no exception. His stories are not character-centric, instead, he focuses on plot and atmosphere and there is nothing wrong with that. His over use of certain words and overly scientific language can be grating at times but whether he was a bad writer really depends on what his writing and what it’s intended purpose was. He wrote fiction, therefore, its purpose was to entertain; it does that and so I would say that he was a good writer. It’s just unusual to have such a good story-teller with such a bad writing style. Though, I would certainly take content over style any day.

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  2. Debating the merit of any writer usually seems pointless. And I do it anyway. I notice that most commenters here favor Lovecraft, so I feel safe to say that I agree. A lot of his work doesn’t work, to put it frankly. So I suppose I can understand why a person might believe he was untalented. I don’t worry about the bad work Lovecraft produced, or that any writer produced. A writer’s career should be measured by his worthy pieces. If a single story strikes me as meaningful, then that’s all I need. In Lovecraft’s case, there was more than one, but I won’t mention any specific stories. That’s an entirely different debate.

    A lot of people aren’t going to appreciate Lovecraft’s better work anyway. It requires a special perspective. If you can’t see it, if your imagination doesn’t actually take you to the experience, then you won’t enjoy it. Is enjoy the right word? Probably not in this case. Anyway, I know it’s true of any fiction that the right point of view is necessary, but it is particularly true of Lovecraft. Knowing that I can’t fault Lovecraft detractors, but I certainly don’t agree with them.

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  3. Good or bad. Who can really say what is good or bad, with authority? For me it is about ideas and the feel of his stories, not the technical aspects.

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  4. It is a loaded question really without a meaningful answer. His works are read and loved by many people around the world (in the original and in translation), and I believe that’s not just because of the plots of his stories but the way in which they are told.

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  5. Today, people are in a hurry. They’re impatient and want it now, buddy! Today’s novels and stories are fast-paced to accommodate today’s fast-paced society. In the twenties and thirties, life was less hectic and slower paced. Compared to today, life was much simpler. Not easier, but simpler. The twenties were extravagant and fun, the thirties dark and uncertain and dangerous. Proabition began and the criminal bootlegging and gangster element horrified the nation.

    H.P. Lovecraft deemed himself a gentleman. He admired Edgar Allen Poe and in his early writing period mimicked his style of writing. Later, he drew upon the writings of Lord Dunsany to create a whole new direction for his unique fiction of cosmic terror. He didn’t write for money, he detested the very idea of being paid for what he did for pleasure as a gentleman. However, in time, that attitude would change.
    Broke and nearly destitute, he lived on nearly nothing, eating beans and noodles. He was a product of his times, and anti-Semitism was rampant. He saw and hated the flood of “alien” immigrants into America. He hated it. By today’s standards, he was a bigot.

    H.P. Lovecraft, like many great artists, was a complex man. He lived in his own world and I doubt that he would ever intentionally harm anyone.
    Did he hate Jews? He married a Jewish woman. Would a man who really hated a race, marry one. Not likely.

    During the thirties, he found his market in Weird Tales magazine. And his writing was exposed to its readership. Fans were created, fans that would carry on his legacy for future generations.

    If one is used to reading fast-paced modern fiction which is a Lamborghini flashing down the super highway, then one must realize that to read a Lovecraft story, one must step out of the Lamborghini and climb into an old-fashioned horse and buggy. And take a leisurely journey into unexpected cosmic terror!

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  6. Part One of Graham Harman’s Weird Realism: Lovecraft and Philosophy gives a rebuttal to the literalizing of Lovecraft by the Wilsonian school of critics (along with some philosophical slogging). Worth a look if you can’t get enough about HPL.

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  7. I have to admit when I was 14 or 15 I liked Howard much better than Lovecraft. My first experience was “The Doom that Came to Sarnath” and the first time I read it I didn’t like it at all. I discovered “In the Midst of Life” by Bierce soon after that and as I matured my enjoyment of HPL increased. The first of his stories that really caught me was “The Strange High House in the Mist” and after that I was hooked.

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  8. People complain about the “purple” writing,” yet I read Lovecraft continually and find very little such affected prose. His narrative voice is perfectly natural, if a bit antiquated. People accuse we who strive for a Literary style as writing in an old-fashioned way–but good writing is timeless, to my mind, and Lovecraft was a very good writer. Lin Carter’s ranting about “stilted, artificial, affected” is nonsense, Lovecraft’s prose is the complete opposite of this. HPL thought of writing as an art form, and he desired to write as an artist, to create fiction that had substance. He succeeded, and his fiction will remain in print for all of mortal time. Every new edition of his work swells his audience. I am SO EXCITED about reading the fiction anew in THE NEW ANNOTATED H. P. LOVECRAFT!

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    • “stilted, artificial, affected” Hmm… Why does it sound right when I read it aloud then?
      In my humble opinion, reading a text aloud is the easiest way to determine if it is natural or artificial, if you cannot make it sound right while reading it aloud, well, then it is time to rewrite.

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