Finding Lovecraft in the Weird World of Creepypasta

The following blog post is by David Burke.

H.P. Lovecraft said in his essay Supernatural Horror in Literature, “The one test of the really weird story 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…” In 2008, I read my first Creepypasta story. The premise was an angry spirit who wished so strongly to disappear from human knowledge that it would gruesomely eviscerate anyone who came to know its story. The entity would always knock first, and then destroy the victim upon their opening the door. The tale accounted multiple cases of this very thing happening. It concluded with the authors’ panicky confession that now the reader, too, would be hunted by the entity, and that while the post was being written, the entity had in fact been trying to get at the writer for hours, pounding at their door to be let in (malevolence does not mean manner-less, apparently). The author pleads for mercy and forgiveness.

This rip-off of numerous and easily identified urban legends and films had me chuckling my whole train ride home. However, when I got up for a drink of water in the middle of the night, my dopey 23-year-old self was uneasily peering out the windows for some shadowy evil, preparing to knock on my door and tear me to pieces or sell me Avon or some such. I am now 33, and as you can probably tell, the evil never came for me. To be on the safe side, though, I am not even going to try to find a link to that original story for this post, as I would like to see 34, and being gutted sounds like a bad way to go.

Creepypastas have been around for over a decade, and they are something of a natural link in the progressive evolutionary chain of the traditional campfire story. There is something very special about this type of story, however, that no matter how many excellent podcasts, pretty good TV shows, or so-so films find their inspiration in internet horror stories, nothing quite unsettles like the semi-anonymous, somewhat plausible accounts of strange events that have haunted many a device screen in many a darkened bedroom in the wee-hours.

What does Creepypasta have to do with Lovecraftian or weird fiction? Many of the attributes that make The Russian Sleep Experiment or Candle Cove so unsettling can be easily compared to the classic weird fiction of Lovecraft and his peers. It really is more than just their use of weird nightmare creatures such as The Rake or Slender Man. In stories such as the Call of Cthulhu or the Whisperer in the Dark, the protagonist learns of unusual and disturbing events through reviewing documentation and correspondence. Initially, the events might be simply confounding. However, as the pieces of the mystery come together, the conclusion alludes to, without entirely revealing, a terrible divergence in the hero’s perception of reality. Creepypastas can and do work in the same way. At their individual conclusions, the geologists of At the Mountains of Madness and the Soviet Scientists of The Russian Sleep Experiment have reached a similar realization: Something unimaginably awful awaits humanity just beyond a relatively thin boundary. In “At the Mountains of Madness”, it is the Antarctic wilderness, and in “Russian Sleep Experiment”, it is the maximum threshold of the brain’s ability to go without sleep. In either case, those who witness the horrible truth are left to question whether it is even worthwhile to continue existing. Often, within Creepypastas, the reader finds the “macabre unreality” Thomas Ligotti mentions in the forward to his story collection Noctuary. To paraphrase Ligotti, “macabre” because of the fatalistic doom met by the protagonist, and “unreality” because of the bizarre, not even fully comprehensible nature of that doom. Truly, who was phone?

It also seems that, when comparing elements of classic weird fiction to internet Creepypasta myths, the resemblance goes both ways. The Night Wire, written in 1926 by the lesser-known author H.F. Arnold, and a favorite of August Derleth (as well as comedian Patton Oswalt), is as creepy a “pasta” as any found today. The story is a series of bizarre, overnight news reports, transferred over the long-distance wire telecommunication system of the 1920’s, from a city that no one seems to recognize. The incoming story tells of an eerie fog, originating from a churchyard, and slowly enveloping the city. This is followed by the appearance of shadowy figures within that fog, their overrunning of the panicked citizens, and some very unsettling apocalyptic imagery, before finally going silent. The tale concludes with the narrating wire operator wondering what in the hell just happened, and deciding it is not at all worth knowing. Not only does this tale work as a chiller almost 100 years after it was written, but it resembles the more recent popular story, The Disappearance of Ashley, Kansas. Incidentally, “…Ashley, Kansas” was so disturbing to some of its readers, that Snopes.com actually covered it as an urban myth because of ongoing rumors of its being true, a delightful trait which many Creepypastas share.

If you’d like to take a dip into the world of Creepypasta, Reddit’s nosleep thread is the home to many a frightening and weird tale, as is creepypasta.com. I highly recommend my personal favorite, the award winning No Sleep Podcast, which brings the stories to life in high quality, well performed readings with effects and music, along with links to the stories themselves. Also, check out the MrCreepyPasta youtube channel which seems to have hours of similar audio productions to NoSleep. On a lighter side, the very funny Horrorfied Podcast featured a great episode on Creepypastas, explaining a bit more of their origin as well as performing some of them as the 2nd in a 3-part series on “The Horrors of the Internet”. To find some of the best (as well as worst) stuff, however, you really just need to dig around on the internet, where the nightmares of tomorrow are born.

By David Burke.

5 responses to “Finding Lovecraft in the Weird World of Creepypasta

  1. Thank you so much for this post! I love Creepypasta, and this has led me to some great stories.

  2. oh my oh my more good late-night lights-out stories to keep me hiding under the covers (grin) … thanks for sharing (big smile)

  3. I’ve been saying for a few years now, since first encountering and thinking a bit about the Creepypasta movement, that Creepypasta is in many ways one of the modern heirs to the legacy of the pulp magazines that Lovecraft championed.

    I think that, if Lovecraft were alive and were just getting started writing today, he would be among Creepypasta’s most vocal supporters and contributors – and among its most dedicated and reliable critics, in much the same way that he was both contributor and critic to the Pulps in his day, struggling to raise the bar of amateur genre writing as high as he possibly could by encouraging promising young writers and helping to hone their craft and giving them the push needed to help ensure that worthy work gets much-needed attention.

    Of course, Creepypasta has its fair share of work that was often lazy, derivative, misguided, and just plain bad – just as the Pulps had their fair share of forgettable hack work. I think that the world of Creepypasta today, however, perhaps misses the efforts of an H.P. Lovecraft-calibre talented champion and mentor of the good work that comes out of the movement. Still, it seems to me that, warts and all, some of the most promising and influential new genre fiction of the next few generations of writers has a very good chance of coming out of amateur internet-based media such as Creepypasta, with literary scholars of the future writing about Creepypasta sites as hotbeds of creativity and the birthplaces of exciting new visionary authors in much the same way that such scholars today write about the likes of “Weird Tales” magazine.

  4. Thanks for re-blogging this, Mike. I would have never seen it, and there are some great links within. I treasure urban myths, especially the books by Jan Harold Brunvand; his special sense of humor is priceless. Now I have to seek out “The Disappearance of Ashley, Kansas”.

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