This Post is by John A. DeLaughter, a Lovecraft eZine Contributor.
“…Pleasure to me is wonder—the unexplored, the unexpected, the thing that is hidden and the changeless thing that lurks behind superficial mutability. To trace the remote in the immediate; the eternal in the ephemeral; the past in the present; the infinite in the finite; these are to me the springs of delight and beauty…” (1).
When Howard Phillips Lovecraft passed away on March 15, 1937, at the age of 46, obscurity beckoned him. Except for a few standouts – The Shadow Out of Time (1935) and The Haunter of the Dark (1935) – he spent his final days trying to eke out a living by ghostwriting for others. Lovecraft was mostly unknown beyond his devoted circle of correspondents and the readers of a little-known and ill-regarded rag, Weird Tales.
Even when Lovecraft’s tales were published, they faced scandalized responses from an audience who considered Old Western Shoot-em-Ups, recast as Outer Space Melodramas, the height of literary art. Often, Lovecraft thought to swear off writing because of the indiscriminate tastes of the puerile public:
“…I am well-nigh resolv’d to write no more tales, but merely to dream when I have a mind to, not stopping to do anything so vulgar as to set down the dream for a boarish Publick. I have concluded, that Literature is no proper persuit for a gentleman; and that Writing ought never to be consider’d but as an elegant Accomplishment, to be indulg’d in with Infrequency, and Discrimination…” (2).
So, beyond the early disciples – such as August Derleth and Donald Wandrei – who kept Lovecraft’s writings before the public, and the later game designers inspired by his Mythos, why has HPL cast a larger literary shadow in death than he did in life?
Why did Lovecraft influence numerous writers that came after him, including giants of horror and the macabre like Clive Barker, Robert Bloch, Neil Gaiman, and artists like H. R. Giger?
In this essay, I would like to share some thoughts about why Lovecraft’s writings have endured while other weird fiction writers of that era – with the exception of equally pioneering authors, such as Robert E. Howard – languished in anonymity.
The Generational Curse of a Bad Review:
What factors might have consigned Lovecraft’s fiction to the historical dustbin?
I would like to focus on one briefly. That is the effects of a bad review.
In a 1945 review, Edmund Wilson dismissed Lovecraft’s stories as “hackwork.” He also sneered at the magazines for which they were written, Weird Tales and Amazing Stories, “where…they ought to have been left” (3).
Wilson’s comments became the unexamined holy words concerning Lovecraft for a generation of literary elites.
Why did a wake of literary snobs encircle the corpse of Lovecraft’s fiction like swirling vultures?
Elitist conceit centered on Lovecraft’s focus. Good literature examined the human condition in its many sorted and sordid details. Top-notch fiction exposed a reader to a full-on dose of realism, of the mundane trappings of human existence painstakingly explored in excruciating detail. The contradictions and complications of human relations, including all the seedy and sexual variations, became Avant-garde, a hallmark of good literature.
Hand-in-hand with the valuing of the human experience were the story-telling devices that when skillfully employed, conveyed the nuances and neuroses of humanity. Character development, good dialogue, the discovery of things about a person as a story is told, the psychological decomposition of a normal human being into madness and psychosis after a normal loss – these guided a reader into a deeper understanding of themselves, those around them, and his or her moment in human history. A proper composition could be judged by how well it used those devices in recapitulating the human condition in a fresh, meaningful manner.
In contrast, Lovecraft diverged wildly from the aforementioned standards of good literature.
One, HPL had no interest whatsoever in human beings. Human astronomy – mapping the courses of neural pathways and ganglia clusters in inter-cranial space – held no fascination for HPL:
“The opinions of the masses are of no interest to me, for praise can truly gratify only when it comes from a mind sharing the author’s perspective. There are probably seven persons, in all, who really like my work; and they are enough. I should write even if I were the only patient reader, for my aim is merely self-expression. I could not write about ‘ordinary people’ because I am not in the least interested in them. Without interest, there can be no art. Man’s relations to man do not captivate my fancy. It is man’s relations to the cosmos—to the unknown—which alone arouses in me the spark of creative imagination. The humanocentric pose is impossible to me, for I cannot acquire the primitive myopia which magnifies the earth and ignores the background…” (4).
Two, Lovecraft had a disdain for human biology. He had no more desire to explore human sexuality than he did the sexual lives of amoebas.
Few explicit sexual references are found in Lovecraft’s body of literature. While some researchers find HPL’s fiction rife with shaded and symbolic allusions to sex, such assertions are largely Freudian conjectures, interpretations of Rorschach inkblots, or the product of those raised in an age with extreme sensitivities to identity politics. Note HPL’s opinion on Fielding’s Tom Jones said to be the height of realism and liberation from Victorian sexual morals:
“In a word Child [Belknap Long], I look upon this sort of writing as a mere prying survey of the lowest part of life, and a slavish transcript of simple events made with the crude feelings of a porter or bargeman and without any native genius or colour of the creative imagination whatever…’Fore God, we can see beasts enough in any barnyard and observe all the mysteries of sex in the breeding of calves and colts. When I contemplate man, I wish to contemplate those characteristicks that elevate him to a human state, and those adornments which lend to his actions the symmetry of creative beauty. ‘Tis not that I wish false pompous thoughts and motives imputed to him in the Victorian manner, but that I wish his composition justly apprais’d, with stress lay’d upon those qualities which are peculiarly his, and without the silly praise of such beastly things as he holds in common with any hog or stray goat…I do not think that any realism is beautiful” (5).
Michael Houellebecq believed Lovecraft eliminated references to sex because it did not fit into HPL’s vision of literature as art or his aesthetic universe (6). To Lovecraft, sex was a common biological act that distracted from the wonderment and fascination he attempted to instill in his readers.
The one anomaly – The Loved Dead (1919) – a scandalous tale for its time that dealt with necrophilia – represented part of the revisionary work Lovecraft did for other authors. Of that tale, different Lovecraftians hold divergent opinions on how much C.M. Eddy wrote, and how much originated with Lovecraft.
August Derleth wrote of C.M. Eddy’s tales and Lovecraft’s involvement:
“Lovecraft’s revision work can be divided into two classes. The bulk of it amounted to little more than professional correction of language, syntax, punctuation, and the like…Some [tales], as in the case of…the tales of his old Providence friend C.M. Eddy, Jr., required less drastic revision work and more or less advisory assistance” (7).
On the other hand, S.T. Joshi – Dean of Lovecraft researchers – states of HPL’s additions to the tale – “…the two authors probably contributed equally” (8).
A couple of thoughts emerge, based on our original line of inquiry – the absence of the said stamps of good literature in Lovecraft’s stories – and the existence of The Loved Dead.
First, there is a lack of definitive proof concerning the size of Lovecraft’s contribution to C.M. Eddy’s story. Such a study is the subject of an essay all to itself. That and The Loved Dead represents one questionable story – about 4,000 words – among the tens of thousands of words Lovecraft penned that are not in question. One should not make conclusive assertions when the collaborating evidence is sorely lacking.
Second, even if Lovecraft did write the majority of The Loved Dead, as he did in The Mound (1930), the brand of sexuality it portrays would not win him points, even among Progressive literary critics of the day. The point is, if you search Lovecraft’s fiction for the aforementioned signposts of good writing, that hunt is ill-advised. And it misses some of the points of what HPL wanted to accomplish in his Yog-Sothothery:
“…In my own efforts to crystallise [a] spaceward outreaching, I…utilise as many…elements which have…given man a symbolic feeling of the unreal, the ethereal, & the mystical — choosing those least attacked by the realistic mental and emotional conditions of the present. Darkness — sunset — dreams — mists — fever — madness — the tomb — the hills — the sea — the sky — the wind — all these, and…other things have seemed…to retain a certain imaginative potency despite our actual scientific analyses of them. Accordingly I…tried to weave them into a…shadowy phantasmagoria which…have the same…vague coherence as a cycle of traditional myth or legend — with nebulous backgrounds of Elder Forces & transgalactic entities which lurk about this infinitesimal planet…establishing outposts thereon, & occasionally brushing aside other accidental forces of life (like human beings) in order to take up full habitation…Having formed a cosmic pantheon, it remains for the fantaisiste to link this ‘outside’ element to the earth in a suitably dramatic & convincing fashion. This…is best done through glancing allusions to immemorially ancient cults & idols & documents attesting the recognition of the ‘outside’ forces by men — or by those terrestrial entities which preceded man. The actual climaxes of tales…have to do with sudden latter-day intrusions of forgotten elder forces on the placid surface of the known — either active intrusions or revelations caused by the feverish & presumptuous probing of men into the unknown…” (9).
A Flexible versus a Static Writing Style:
Edmund Wilson’s dismissive critique of Lovecraft is also based on a static view of HPL’s writing. That sees HPL’s style as one-dimensional, seldom straying from a maze of the bewildering paragraphs bent on adjectival anarchy.
Yet, as we will see, there was a flexibility in Lovecraft’s writing style, depending on what he wanted to convey, and when a story was written.
First, consider a passage of HPL from the mid-twenties that he wrote for the famous escape artist, Harry Houdini:
“…suddenly my attention was captured by the realization of something which must have been impinging on my subconscious hearing long before the conscious sense was aware of it. From some still lower chasm in earth’s bowels were proceeding certain sounds, measured and definite, and like nothing I had ever heard before. That they were very ancient and distinctly ceremonial I felt almost intuitively; and much reading in Egyptology led me to associate them with the flute, the sambuke, the sistrum, and the tympanum. In their rhythmic piping, droning, rattling and beating I felt an element of terror beyond all the known terrors of earth – a terror peculiarly dissociated from personal fear, and taking the form of a sort of objective pity for our planet, that it should hold within its depths such horrors as must lie beyond these aegipanic cacophonies. The sounds increased in volume, and I felt that they were approaching. Then – and may all the gods of all pantheons unite to keep the like from my ears again – I began to hear, faintly and afar off, the morbid and millennial tramping of the marching things…” (10).
Literary critics use such a passage to characterize all of Lovecraft’s writing. By habit, a writer with limited skills would revert to an adjectival-heavy compositional style.
Lovecraft did not return to a florid style for lack of a more refined approach to wordsmithing. In Imprisoned with the Pharaohs, HPL purposely employed an extravagance writing style to achieve the ultimate weird atmosphere for his client:
“…BOY, that Houdini job! It strained me to the limit, and I didn’t get it off till after we got back from Philly. I went to the limit in descriptive realism in the first part, then when I buckled down to the under-the-pyramid stuff I let myself loose and coughed up some of the most nameless, slithering, unmentionable HORROR that ever stalked cloven-hooved through the tenebrous and necrophagous abysses of elder night…” (11).
Lovecraft conveyed in such a paragraph the literary equivalent of an auditory hallucination experienced by someone suffering from paranoid schizophrenia. There he wrote that way, not by chance, but by choice.
In other instances, Lovecraft wrote in such fashion as to engage the reader’s imagination. Think about HPL’s vague description of Cthulhu:
“…Above these apparent hieroglyphics was a figure of evidently pictorial intent, though its impressionistic execution forbade a very clear idea of its nature. It seemed to be a sort of monster, or symbol representing a monster, of a form which only a diseased fancy could conceive. If I say that my somewhat extravagant imagination yielded simultaneous pictures of an octopus, a dragon, and a human caricature, I shall not be unfaithful to the spirit of the thing. A pulpy, tentacled head surmounted a grotesque and scaly body with rudimentary wings; but it was the general outline of the whole which made it most shockingly frightful. Behind the figure was a vague suggestion of a Cyclopean architectural background…” (12).
Rather than telling the reader in excruciating detail what they should see, he used circumstantial evidence, nebulous associations, rough idols, and the wake of destruction left by one of his Great Old Ones – to allow the reader to draw their own conclusions of what a Lovecraftian God looked like. To that end, HPL wrote:
“…Moreover, one can never produce anything even a tenth as terrible and impressive as one can awesomely hint…” (13).
In yet another example, Lovecraft jettisoned the hazy hints approach. In At the Mountains of Madness, human beings conducted detailed autopsies of the gods – the Elder Things dissection:
“…10:15 P.M. Important discovery. Orrendorf and Watkins, working underground at 9:45 with light, found monstrous barrel-shaped fossil of wholly unknown nature; probably vegetable unless overgrown specimen of unknown marine radiata. Tissue evidently preserved by mineral salts. Tough as leather, but astonishing flexibility retained in places. Marks of broken-off parts at ends and around sides. Six feet end to end, 3.5 feet central diameter, tapering to 1 foot at each end. Like a barrel with five bulging ridges in place of staves. Lateral breakages, as of thinnish stalks, are at equator in middle of these ridges. In furrows between ridges are curious growths. Combs or wings that fold up and spread out like fans. All greatly damaged but one, which gives almost seven-foot wing spread. Arrangement reminds one of certain monsters of primal myth, especially fabled Elder Things in Necronomicon. These wings seem to be membraneous, stretched on framework of glandular tubing. Apparent minute orifices in frame tubing at wing tips. Ends of body shrivelled, giving no clue to interior or to what has been broken off there. Must dissect when we get back to camp. Can’t decide whether vegetable or animal. Many features obviously of almost incredible primitiveness…” (14).
Here, Lovecraft related the marvels of modern science – that deeply sparked the imaginations of modern minds – to a new world of myths that pushed hard against the boundaries of scientific reality. HPL blurred the edge of between fact and fiction.
In the three examples, we note that Lovecraft employed different styles of writing to achieve different ends:
1) One heavy with adjectives, intended, to capture the eerie atmosphere of an otherworldly experience.
2) One littered with clues like a Sherlock Holmes mystery, to impart a sense of growing revelations that lead to a horrible, but inescapable truth.
3) One that reads like a zoological dissection, to impose a sense of scientific realism on a disbelieving public.
Lovecraft’s Self-Awareness of the changes in His Writing Style:
As we have seen, Lovecraft was not wedded to one pattern of writing as opposed to another.
Lovecraft was a self-educated man, often more widely read than was his audience. HPL owned a small library that he considered indispensable:
“I couldn’t live a week without a private library – indeed, I’d part with all my furniture and squat and sleep on the floor before I’d let go of the 1500 or so books I possess.” (15).
His collection chiefly centered around four areas in particular: ancient literature and history; the history and antiquities of New England; astronomy, chemistry, other sciences; and weird fiction.
Lovecraft studied literature to discover what other authors did to achieve their desired effects. HPL’s own Supernatural Horror in Literature (1927) was a distillation of his reading on the subject.
Lovecraft’s choice of a literary style grew because of his study of other literary giants and as his own style matured over time.
Lovecraft was aware of phases in his writing style. During those periods – not so clearly demarked as a scientific theory – he knew that under the influence of authors, such as Poe or Dunsany, who captured his imagination, he penned tales that attempted to capture the same elusive qualities that impressed him. He did not simply parrot the unfiltered, indiscriminate ideas of the greats, as others have written imitative pastiche of HPL’s own works.
For instance, Lovecraft noted such a phase in his fascination with Lord Dunsany:
“Dunsany does not deal much in horror, but weaves a strangely potent fantastic beauty which has its roots in primitive myth & folklore. I know of no other writer who so magically opens up the enchanted sunset gates of secret & ethereal worlds. He influenced me overwhelmingly about a decade ago—my White Ship period—& if you liked that, you would like Dunsany himself still better. I’d be inclined to advise you to read his Gods of Pegana, A Dreamer’s Tale, The Sword of Welleran, The Book of Wonder, & Time & the Gods. It is sheer music, colour, ecstasy, & dream.” (16).
Lovecraft described the effect Dunsany had on his writing as follows.
“Truly, Dunsany has influenced me more than anyone else except Poe—his rich language, his cosmic point of view, his remote dream-world, & his exquisite sense of the fantastic, all appeal to me more than anything else in modern literature. My first encounter with him—in the autumn of 1919—gave an immense impetus to my writing; perhaps the greatest it has ever had…” (17).
During Lovecraft’s “phases,” he did not simply ape authors who impressed him. His tales were not pastiches per se, as many first-time writers today add a tentacle here and drop a name like “Cthulhu” or “Hastur” there in order for their tale to be admitted to the Cthulhu Mythos.
He wrote in a 1929 letter that “There are my ‘Poe’ pieces and my ‘Dunsany pieces’—but alas—where are my Lovecraft pieces?” (18).
After that date – March 8, 1929 – and despite Lovecraft anguish over the seeming lack of individuation in his tales from his literary mentors, he wrote seminal works such as At the Mountains of Madness (1931) and The Shadow out of Time (1935) – stories without apparent literary peer or parentage.
Further Experimentation with His Writing Style:
Lovecraft experimented with how to dissect the reader’s psyche with his words. But this was a dissection on a living being. The dissector does not care about the comfort or longevity of the one being dissected.
HPL crafted his tales to bypass the scientific conscious minds of his readers, and tap into the mythic roots of unconsciousness – where mankind’s primal fears reside and are hard-wired instincts. A luminosity surrounds the primitive events that shape our species collective memory, where extremes of curiosity and caution motivated our ancestors. Lovecraft approached this goal in three ways.
One, Lovecraft experimented with using his dreams as the basis of some of his weird tales.
Contrary to Lovecraftian lore, few of HPL’s stories were based on his dreams. The Statement of Randolph Carter (1919) and Nyarlathotep (1920) are examples of stories Lovecraft based largely on his dreams. On the other hand, the presence of an adjectivally-extravagant atmosphere, as in Imprisoned with the Pharaohs (1924), was no guarantee that the tale found its origins in a dream.
So, while HPL used some dreams as inspiration for his weird stories, he also recognized their literary limitations:
“As to dreams – the only trouble with fictionising them is plot-invention. In spite all the value of imagery, the real [crux] of a story is the plot – a connected, climatic unit which must move along with relentless coherence & suspense to a thrill of horror & surprise which shall impress the reader more than all the fine speech and scenery combined. The plot must be stronger than the atmosphere, else the ‘story’ will degenerate into a mere fantasy. It is far easier to write prose-poems than to create real-stories, & I am determined to make my products stories in every sense of the word” (19).
Two, Lovecraft wrote to achieve an effect; his work was an avant-garde that mirrored in literature – Picasso’s cubism. The staid and stodgy traditions that defined good “art” and “literature” were set aside. The new art sought to evoke novel experiences in their beholders.
Cubism left behind traditional perspectives used to order space in paintings since the Renaissance. Cubistic innovations epitomize a response to the changing experience of space, movement, and time in the modern world (20).
Likewise, in his writing, Lovecraft abandoned traditional views of the cosmos, theistic notions of good versus evil behind space-time events, and spiritual worlds overlaying the materialistic spheres. In their places, he gave us non-Euclidian perspectives and led us to experience emotions outside the norms. And he positioned us in a nihilistic universe cast loose from its theocentric and anthropocentric moorings.
HPL went outside the gothic lines that befriended others to create his own literature, related to, but apart from other forms of fiction. Those who could not think outside traditional forms of art or thought criticized the new, non-traditional, non-linear in either artistic medium.
Imagine visiting a Cubist exhibition of Picasso, featuring his geometric representation of living things on canvas by day. And then by night, reading about similar geometric entities populating the space in-between the three-dimensions either in From Beyond (1920) or Dreams in the Witch House (1932).
Lovecraft’s prose, like Picasso’s paintings, took us places we had never seen, nor been to before. Both shuffled the decks of reality, which bothered those high-strung human beings who lived by the motto, “stay within the lines, the lines are our friends.”
Three, in the same spirit of experimental composition, Lovecraft wrote like one under the influence of drugs without needing a drug.
HPL did not use drugs like other authors to dream vividly. The free associations of surrealism, used by artists like Salvador Dali to bypass the constraints of the conscious mind and tap into the creative unconscious, also found expression in the psychedelic, adjectival-rainbow hues that filtered through HPL’s Dream Cycle. Lovecraft endued his writing with a luminous quality, a dark life of its own, a séance in every sentence.
Lovecraft was proud of his ability to dream more vividly than authors who used drugs, to enhance the Technicolor-aspects of their own literary dreams:
“Dequincy is familiar to me, but impressed me more with his language and erudition than with his fancy. I never took opium, but if I can’t beat him for dreams from the age of three or four up, I am a dashed liar! Space, strange cities, weird landscapes, unknown monsters, hideous ceremonies, Oriental and Egyptian gorgeousness and indefinable mysteries of life, death, & torment were daily – or rather nightly – common places to me before I was six years old. Today is the same, save for a slightly increased objectivity…” (21).
And in another instance, Lovecraft referred to a similar result in his dreams apart from another drug:
“…I am forever dreaming of strange barren landscapes, cliffs, stretches of ocean, & deserted cities with towers & domes…All this dreaming comes without the stimulus of cannabis indica. Should I take that drug, who can say what worlds of unreality I might explore…” (22).
Only in deference to another titan of Weird Tales, Clark Ashton Smith did Lovecraft observe his dream better:
“…Your unusual dreams are tremendously interesting, & much fuller of genuine, unhackneyed strangeness than any of mine…Of what festering horror in space-time’s makeup have you had a veiled intimation?” (23).
Four, Lovecraft played with irony in many of his stories. He wrote many tails with a twist in the ending. He toyed with punchline endings to titillate his readers, to menace them, to build suspense in the story, to draw the reader from the vaulted phantasmal halls they tread in his stories to establish some evidence of those sanity-rending experiences in real life. Lovecraft knew that a satisfying ending is vital to the success of any story, of any length. In The Shunned House (1924), HPL editorialized on this value, “From even the greatest of horrors irony is seldom absent.”
Here are a few of Lovecraft’s works and the ironic twists in the story or endings (Spoiler Alert! And I make no claim to equal the impact Lovecraft obtained when he originally penned his ironic plot twists and punchline endings):
1) In Pickman’s Model (1926), a monstrous figure in a painting that exhibits a nauseous
realism is, in fact, based on a photograph from life.
2) In The Lurking Fear (1922), the strange, inherited dissimilar eyes, one eye blue,
and the other brown, found in a degenerate Dutch clan that disappeared in a wild
countryside, resurfaces 146 years later in the eyes of a seething swarm of whitish
cannibalistic subterranean ape-things.
3) In The Shadow Over Innsmouth (1931), as an antiquarian investigates an isolated
town, he not only discovers its secret – that ancient fishmen have interbred with the
town’s human population – but that he too, as a distant descendant from that town, is
gradually becoming a fish-human hybrid.
4) In The Dunwich Horror (1928), concerning the isolated village of Dunwich, the union
of Lavinia Whateley, an unstable albino mother, and an unknown father (referred to
by mad Old Whateley, as “Yog-Sothoth”) produces Wilbur Whateley, a hideous
caricature of humanity. After the death of Wizard Whateley, Lavinia, and her horrific
son, the countryside is ravished by a mountainous, but invisible monster who, upon
its destruction, materializes briefly – to reveal itself to be a titanic paternal twin
brother of Wilbur.
5) In The Shadow Out of Time (1935), the consciousness of Prof. Wingate Peaslee is
displaced by the intellect of a member of the Great Race of Yith – advanced beings
from the earth’s distant past, who mastered time travel. During that possession,
Peaslee’s identity resides in the body of his captor, where he is encouraged to write-
out the history of the human species. After the displacement ends, and Peaslee
returns to his body, he doubts his sanity and the reality of his experience. His mind
deteriorates and his attitude changes when, upon the exploration of ancient ruins in
Australia – some 250 million years old – he finds the fossilized remains of a Yithian
tablet, unmistakable written in English and undeniably in his own handwriting.
6) In Facts Concerning the Late Arthur Jermyn and His Family (1920), the source of a
grotesque facial and bodily disfigurements, congenital traits in a clan of British
explorers, are traced back through ancestral artifacts and mummified remains
to a grandfather who cohabited for many years with a human-like white ape, while
he lived in the unexplored parts of Africa.
Lovecraft’s attempts to surprise his readers with ironic endings were not always successful. To HPL’s chagrin, Facts concerning the Late Arthur Jermyn and His Family, was retitled, The White Ape, by Farnsworth Wright when it appeared in Weird Tales (1924). Lovecraft’s comment on the Editor’s decision, “If I ever entitled a story ‘The White Ape’, there would be no ape in it” (24).
Lovecraft is a pioneer without peer in the field of weird tales. King called Lovecraft one of his biggest influences and “the twentieth century’s greatest practitioner of the classic horror tale.”
Yet stereotypes of Lovecraft’s style, as peddled by literary snobs, biased many readers against HPL’s fiction. They miss out on the gateway experiences, the introductions to other worlds and altered states of literary consciousness proffered in Lovecraft’s fiction.
You do not have to celebrate all of Lovecraft’s tales. He looked down on some of his efforts, such as Herbert West, Reanimator (1922), He felt that work tainted because he wrote it on spec versus his normal aesthetic inspiration. Yet measurably, the cinematic spinoffs from that story are great popularizers of Lovecraft to the non-Lovecraftian public.
Lovecraft is an acquired taste, like a regional dish, worshiped in one part of the country while looked down with disdain in another part.of the country. It is difficult to deny the impact of his fiction with platitudes like, “his writing was horrible and distracting, but his stories were full of imagination and wonder.”
As we have seen, Lovecraft employed different writing styles, based on the dynamics of the weird experience he intended to convey in a story. His writing approach matured with time, expanded as he studied past giants in the field, such as Poe, or as he experimented with novel techniques. My hope is when you next read Lovecraft, you do so with fresh eyes, and a greater appreciation for the weird worlds that he wove with his words.
(1) “The Defence Remains Open!” (April 1921), published in Collected Essays, Volume 5: Philosophy edited by S. T. Joshi, p. 53.
(2) “Ritual Literature,” H. P. Lovecraft: Against the World, Against Life, by Michel Houellebecq, 1999, p. 39.
(3) Classics and Commercials, Farrar, Straus and Co., 1950, p. 288.
(4) “The Defence Remains Open!” (April 1921), published in Collected Essays, Volume 5: Philosophy, edited by S. T. Joshi, p. 53.
(5) HPL Letter to Belknap Long, as quoted in “Utter the Great ‘No’ to Life without Weakness,” H.P. Lovecraft: Against the World, Against Life, by Michel Houellebecq, Orion Publishing Group, 2005, p. 58.
(6) “Utter the Great ‘No’ to Life without Weakness,” H.P. Lovecraft: Against the World, Against Life, by Michel Houellebecq, Orion Publishing Group, 2005, pp. 58-59.
(7).“Lovecraft’s Revisions,” by August Derleth, The Horror in the Museum: H.P. Lovecraft and Others, Ballantine Books, 2007, p. xix.
(8) “A Note on the Texts,” by S.T. Joshi, The Horror in the Museum: H.P. Lovecraft and Others, Ballantine Books, 2007, p. xvii.
(9) H.P. Lovecraft’s Letter to Harold Farnese, 22 September 1932.
(10) Imprisoned with the Pharaohs, by H.P. Lovecraft,1924.
(11) H.P. Lovecraft’s Letter to James F. Morton, 12 March 1924.
(12) The Call of Cthulhu, by H.P. Lovecraft,1926.
(13) H.P. Lovecraft’s Letter to James Blish and William Miller, Jr. 1936.
(14) At the Mountains of Madness, by H.P. Lovecraft, 1931.
(15) Selected letters, Volume 2, 1925-1929 (Arkham House, 1968), p. 287.
(16) H.P. Lovecraft’s Letter to Miss Elizabeth Toldridge, 21 February 1929.
(17) H.P. Lovecraft’s Letter to Clark Ashton Smith, 30 July 1923.
(18) H.P. Lovecraft’s Letter to Elizabeth Toldridge, 8 March 1929.
(19) H.P. Lovecraft’s Letter to Rheinhart Kleiner, 6 June 1920.
(20) “Cubism: Started: 1907, Ended: 1922,” by Justin Wolf, The Art Story.Org: Your Guide to Modern Art.
(21) H.P. Lovecraft’s Letter to Rheinhart Kleiner, 6 June 1920.
(22) H.P. Lovecraft’s Letter to Rheinhart Kleiner, 27 September 1919.
(23) H.P. Lovecraft’s Letter to Clark Ashton Smith, 22 October 1933.
(24) The Call of Cthulhu and Other Dark Tales, Barnes and Noble, 2009, page 12.
John A. DeLaughter M.Div., M.S., is a Data Security Analyst and Lovecraft essayist, horror, and fantasy author. His work has appeared in The Lovecraft eZine, Samsara: The Magazine of Suffering, Tigershark eZine, Turn To Ash, The Eldritch Literary Review Journal, and The Chamber. Follow John and all things Lovecraft on Twitter @HPL_JDeLaughter. John is presently editing his original epic fantasy work Dark Union Rising and lives in rural Pennsylvania with his wife Heidi.
I read Lovecraft with an open mind. I can’t even tell you the different styles as I don’t understand it. He can scare the bejabbers out of me without using blood and guts or cuss words. My imagination is all I need. Sometimes sleeping is out and creaks of the house are nerve wracking. I love Lovecraft no matter what he writes.
Hello falcorargo, thank you for taking the time to leave a comment. I, too, fell for Lovecraft as a reader – what he wrote was so startlingly original, so otherworldly, you sensed doom in the air that arose from the various graves he opened fictionally. I only much later – decades later in fact – began to write about him personally. Lovecraft put it this way, on what he saw as good horror literature, in terms on how it overall affected its reader: “Atmosphere is the all-important thing, for the final criterion of authenticity is not the dovetailing of a plot but the creation of a given sensation. We may say, as a general thing, that a weird story whose intent is to teach or produce a social effect, or one in which the horrors are finally explained away by natural means, is not a genuine tale of cosmic fear; but it remains a fact that such narratives often possess, in isolated sections, atmospheric touches which fulfill every condition of true supernatural horror literature. Therefore we must judge a weird tale not by the author’s intent, or by the mere mechanics of the plot; but by the emotional level which it attains at its least mundane point…The one test of the really weird is simply this — whether or not there be excited in the reader a profound sense of dread, and of contact with unknown spheres and powers; a subtle attitude of awed listening, as if for the beating of black wings or the scratching of outside shapes and entities on the known universe’s utmost rim.” Thanks again for leaving a comment!
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Hey Edward, agreed, not from my perspective, but to those who downplay and dismiss the importance of the Lovecraft literary legacy. I expose the fallacy of such thought, as espoused by critics like Edmund Wilson in 1945 later in the article.
“a little-known and ill-regarded rag, Weird Tales” If this were completely true, would you actually publish a magazine for 32 years? (March 1923 – September 1954)
Well done! Thanks so much for this! I often find a focus on sex in a story to be off-putting but could never really articulate it other than it being distracting from the true goings on. HPL’s thoughts nail it. Thanks again!
Greetings James, I appreciate your taking time to leave a comment about the essay. Yes, Lovecraft was very aware of what he included and excluded from his stories, to achieve the atmospheric effects in his signature pieces. I’m glad you enjoyed the essay!
Many good reads. Thanks for sharing. I have a few on cd and love his works.
Hey Louis, thank you for taking the time to leave a comment. I’m glad you enjoyed the article. The Lovecraft eZine is a great place to keep current on all things Lovecraft!
You are welcome. It certainly does seem like the place to get all things Lovecraft. I am still learning much about his stories and have listened to a few. His style is remarkably differently from others of that era, with it’s own unique style. It seem like he mastered the English language, while captivating the imagination. His stories of horror do not need the physical scene of blood and guts, it leads one into many paths or horror that are very descriptive and unique. I am glad to read something like that. A good story does not need all the four letter words nor visuals of that kind to make its point. Keep up the good work with the Lovecraft section of wordpress.