This post is by John A. DeLaughter, a Lovecraft eZine Contributor.
“…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…” (1).
“…A form only a diseased fancy could conceive…”
Thank the Great Old Ones of primal myth and legend for such diseased fancies.
Myth: The Desire to Escape the Mundane Matrix:
In the theater of the mind, many people are preoccupied with the mundane world. The phantasms science has contrived to explain all that surrounds us, where the real world has become disjointed figments of our cultured imagination, have taken all mysteries out of the world.
But, when the world was so drained, all the wonders that once inspired awe and fear in humanity were bleed dry.
In the process, human beings became empty husks of their former selves.
Many live lives devoid of the richness that imagination, once interacting with unknowns in the environment, previously seasoned and invigorated their tedious existence.
A few people in recent times have bucked that trend towards trite interests and tepid lives.
One was weird author Howard Phillips Lovecraft born out-of-time on August 20, 1890, and prematurely exiting this life on March 15, 1937. Lovecraft looked backward, into the past, and in the process, created a forward-looking, trans-mythic view of the world and larger cosmos that fired afresh the hunger for meaning in modern humanity. Once we caught Lovecraft’s vision and beheld the world afresh through his eyes, we never saw the earth again in the same fashion, dulled by myth and science, to the wonders that lay in the heavens above and on the earth below.
Of that myth-hunger, Lovecraft wrote:
“…I think that psychology has been rather slow in calling attention to a certain peculiar human impulse which bears every evidence of being a definite one—the feverish desire (irresistible on the part of many) to foist evidence of unreal and impossible phenomena on other people…to make people believe things that aren’t so…There are probably profound & natural reasons behind this desire—reasons based on symbolism & on a frantic desire to escape from the galling limitations of reality. The causes promote the survival of religion–& the writing of weird fiction!” (2).
It is interesting that Lovecraft paired the survival of religion and the desire for weird literature in humanity to stem from a need for symbols—another word for myths—and to provide an escape for those “…wearied with the commonplaces of a prosaic world (3).
Another was Academy Award-winning Artist Hans Ruedi Giger, born February 5, 1940, died May 12, 2014.
Giger’s ways of pulling back the veil of the commonplace, to expose what teems in the stippled shadows, were perverse to some while profound to others. Of those mysteries—the turned over rocks in the deep, dark forest exposed to the light of day—Giger said:
“…You know I was curious – I was interested in all kinds of mystery or deeper meanings in the paintings because I myself have not analyzed why they have turned out like this or like that…” (4).
Each man, Lovecraft in his prose and Giger in his pigments, crossed lines that in many people’s minds were not meant to be crossed. Instead of fearing the skeletons in each man’s closets, they embraced their dead. Over each pile of bones, they chanted tried and true necromantic formulas—the archaic symbol called “Dragon’s Head” and used in almanacks to indicate the ascending node–to raise for themselves eyewitnesses to what visions lay beyond the grave:
Like Dr. Herbert West’s un-indicted co-conspirator, perhaps Lovecraft and Giger used whatever means available, known and unknown, to peer beyond the mortal veil, utilizing the eyes of the reanimated dead:
“West was a materialist, believing in no soul and attributing all the working of consciousness to bodily phenomena; consequently, he looked for no revelation of hideous secrets from gulfs and caverns beyond death’s barrier. I did not wholly disagree with him theoretically, yet held vague instinctive remnants of the primitive faith of my forefathers; so that I could not help eyeing the corpse with a certain amount of awe and terrible expectation…In a moment of fantastic whim, I whispered questions to the reddening ears; questions of other worlds of which the memory might still be present. Subsequent terror drove them from my mind, but I think the last one, which I repeated, was: ‘Where have you been?’” (6).
In this essay, we will explore facets of how each man documented the abyss through their own “diseased fancies”—or however you might define the facilities that allowed them to capture the images they did.
Did they record figments of their imaginations? Or photographic memories from life?
Lovecraft and Giger, Asymmetrical Lives:
In life, Giger stood in stark contrast to Lovecraft.
One, after the early death of his father, Winfield Scott Lovecraft, the young Howard was raised by his mother’s family—the Phillips, headed by industrialist, Whipple Van Buren Phillips. As part of the Phillips clan, Howard was reared with the expectation that he would be part of the New England’s well-heeled, well-to-do elites. But through a series of financial setbacks where the family fortune was lost, and the death of his grandfather Whipple due the stress of that circumstance, his mother and her sisters had to downsize their standard of living. The stress of becoming poor overnight led to the mental deterioration of Lovecraft’s mother, Sarah Susan Phillips.
Despite his poverty, Howard lived most of his life with the mental habits prescribed by his upbringing, that he was supposed to live as the rich do. One ideal was that a proper gentleman pursued a pastime for the pleasure that it afforded him. To follow such a pastime for the profit it might return was considered the height of bad taste. It was considered a repugnant trait of the working class.
Unlike Lovecraft’s tumultuous childhood, Giger was raised in a comfortable middle-class family. His father, Hans Richard Giger, was a doctor and pharmacist with his own pharmacy (7). Though Giger’s father wanted Hans Ruedi to follow him in the family business, Ruedi lacked the needed success at school to do so. His mother, Melly, who doted on her son, also encouraged Giger’s artistic pursuits, while his father tried to put Ruedi into a practical occupation, sending him to architectural school.
So, the traumatic upbringing and related stress that some might point to as the genesis for Lovecraft’s genius cannot be blamed for Giger’s virtuosity.
Two, Lovecraft was a starving author/artist. He lived off a small stipend from a dwindling inheritance, an erratic income from ghostwriting and revising jobs for other people, and the sporadic sales of his fiction.
In contrast, Giger found fortune and fame while alive, fleeting as those might be after the pinnacle of his success in the movie Alien (1979). Lovecraft’s life was heavily documented, largely by the thousands of letters he wrote outside his fiction. While the events in Giger’s life are known, his inner thoughts over time are sketchy at best.
Three, for decades, the elusive Philosopher’s Stone to some Lovecraft devotees has been the search for evidence that secretly, HPL was an Occultist. Despite much evidence to the contrary—his early published opposition to the validity of Horoscopes, his heated opposition to all religious and myth-systems that he thought enslaved humanity, etc. Lovecraft once shared his thoughts on varied occult systems as follows:
“No-I’ve never read any of the jargon of formal ‘occultism’…weird writing is more effective if it avoids the hackneyed superstitions & popular cult formulae. I am…an absolute materialist…with not a shred of credence in any form of supernaturalism—religion, spiritualism, transcendentalism, metempsychosis, or immortality. It may be, though, that I could get the germs of some good ideas from the current patter of the psychic lunatic fringe; & I have frequently thought of getting some of the junk sold at an occultist’s bookshop in 46th St. The trouble is, that it costs too damned much…in my present state. How much is the brochure you have just been reading? If any of these crack-brained cults have free booklets & ‘literature’ with suggestive descriptive matter, I wouldn’t mind having my name on their ‘sucker lists’. The idea that black magic exists in secret today, or that hellish antique rites still survive in obscurity, is one that I have used & shall use again” (8).
Many arguments for Lovecraft occult ties form around arguments of silence. Where HPL failed to explicitly, through a surface reading of his letters, state that he was not an occultist, then in absence of that unambiguous evidence, it can be argued that knowingly or unknowingly, consciously or unconsciously, Lovecraft was, in fact, in touch with the actual occult entities he wrote about in fiction.
Donald Tyson assertions about Lovecraft are representative of the desire for an occult reality behind Lovecraft’s fictional accounts. Though Tyson is hardly dogmatic, he is nonetheless persistent throughout his book in regards to his occult claims about Lovecraft:
“…It cannot be denied that the supernatural, in its various forms, had an interest in Lovecraft. It harried his thoughts day and night, by turns in seducing him in his musings and terrifying him in his dreams. Writing down his dreams was Lovecraft’s way of objectifying them and controlling them…Yet, despite Lovecraft’s almost fatal fascination for the beauty and joys of dreaming, he was never willing to take the ultimate and irrevocable step in his philosophy, and equate dream reality with waking reality” (9).
In contrast, Giger embraced the Occult, to the point of studying infamous magician, such as Aleister Crowley:
“Well, everyone who is interested in magic and the occult is familiar with Aleister Crowley, though I must say that I tried to study his books and his system of magic and I found it quite difficult to understand him. I was always interested in what kind of paintings he made, but it took many years before I was actually able to see them. I have a copy somewhere of the catalogue that was produced for the Crowley art exhibition that was held in London back in 1998, and a catalogue for an exhibition in 1932, in Berlin. Most of the works I’ve seen are portraits of his friends. He made them look very evil! He also painted the ladies very terrible looking. In my painting, women are beautiful goddesses — to me, anyway!” (10).
In a word, Giger was the occultist Lovecraftians often wished Lovecraft was.
Four, Lovecraft was largely asexual in his lifestyle, except for his brief marriage to Sonia Greene. Plus, HPL’s fiction is mostly devoid of explicit sexual references or overtones.
In contrast, Giger was a lady’s man in lifestyle, even when he was in a “committed” relationship, such as his girlfriend Li Tobler, who committed suicide in 1975, before his great successes. And Giger’s art is famous for its no-holds-barred depictions of a spectrum of sex.
In the realm of weird worlds, different as those pictured by Giger and Lovecraft are, a survey of each man’s formative years, did not reveal common threads that may have enabled them to gaze into the fabled Abyss.
Some Thoughts on The Abyss:
The lives of Lovecraft and Giger intersect at the edge of the abyss. Of that abyss, Friedrich Nietzsche wrote:
“…Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And if you gaze long enough into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you…” (11).
Giger in paints and Lovecraft in prose, documented aspects of the abyss. To say that they “documented” features of the netherworlds is to say that in some eyewitness fashion, they provided evidence or proof–such as a record, photograph, perhaps a tape from a psychic seismograph–of the existence of the realms beyond reality. Of the abyss, Lovecraft wrote in many fictional ways. One was:
“…The Old Ones were, the Old Ones are, and the Old Ones shall be. Not in the spaces we know, but between them, They walk serene and primal, undimensioned and to us unseen…” (12).
The future, one feature of the unknown abyss, was of particular interest to Giger. It grew out of the present reality:
“…Some people would say my paintings show a future world, and maybe they do, but I paint from reality. I put several things and ideas together, and perhaps, when I’m finished, it could show the future…” (13).
What reality is Giger referring to? One available to the lion-share of humanity?
Perhaps, it was the one Lovecraft referred to as:
“I have frequently wondered if the majority of mankind ever pause to reflect upon the occasionally titanic significance of dreams, and of the obscure world to which they belong. Whilst the greater number of our nocturnal visions are perhaps no more than faint and fantastic reflections of our waking experiences—Freud to the contrary with his puerile symbolism—there are still a certain remainder whose immundane and ethereal character permits of no ordinary interpretation, and whose vaguely exciting and disquieting effect suggests possible minute glimpses into a sphere of mental existence no less important than physical life, yet separated from that life by an all but impassable barrier” (14).
The Abyss: Extra-Dimensional Reality?
The abyss fits one parameter of the String Theory of physics, first conceived by Gabriele Veneziano (CERN) in 1968. The mature theory suggests that multiple dimensions—layers of reality–exist simultaneously in the same physical space. The String Theory introduces us to the extra-dimensional spider webs spun all around us. Simultaneous but separate. We experience one dimension, one layer of the multi-layered cake known as reality.
Though the String Theory did not exist in Lovecraft’s era, he did base his unseen dimensions on other existing scientific factors.
For one, there were the unseen worlds that existed in the deep past. In some circles, being historically-illiterate is seen as a virtue; events of a hundred years or more are viewed as irrelevant.
The worlds of the past, particularly of Deep Time, are veiled, known only to specialists.
But the fossil records stirred the imaginations of Giger and Lovecraft. For instance, Giger’s Face-Hugger was inspired by a three-hundred million example of the Crinoids, a family of sea animals related to starfish, sea urchins, and brittle stars (15).
In the same vein, early illustrations of Crinoids in Ernst Haeckel, Kunstformen der Natur (Art Forms in Nature), in particular, plate 90, inspired Lovecraft’s famous “Elder Things”, from At the Mountains of Madness (1931) (16).
Beings of Deep Time served as reminders in Lovecraftian literature as to the transitory nature of humanity.
As the Scientific American observed, the Elder Things and their epoch-spanning civilization were features of Deep Time, whereas humanity is a shambling, “Johnny Come Lately” in the Earth’s Geologic Timeline:
“For Lovecraft, the geology and the detailed description of the discovered fossils is an essential part to present the idea of deep time, especially the pre-Cambrian, when according to the knowledge of his time no life existed on earth. However, the expedition of Dyer discovered in rocks dated to this ancient period the traces of highly evolved creatures, referred to only as Elder Ones. They are far superior in their culture, technology and abilities to our civilization, most important they are immeasurable older than humans and Lovecraft’s tale ends with a warning: compared to the almost unimaginable vastness of the age of earth (and these creatures) we should feel quite humble (and afraid)” (17).
Even the influence of the dead past on the living present was a thin veil in Lovecraft’s fiction. One of HPL’s most famous couplet stated:
“That is not dead which can eternal lie. And with strange aeons even death may die” (18).
For instance, the Elder Things in At the Mountains of Madness (1931), first considered “fossils” by the Lake party, with an incalculable age – perhaps 500,000 years—came to life and decimated the explorers’ camp. HPL’s monsters’ broke conventions. The creatures that preyed on human beings in “normal” horror tales—the living dead such as Vampires—were human-like in form and scant centuries old in comparison. For example, the most famous of vampires, Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1897), was between 450-500 years old, based on references that he was the historical Vlad Dracul “the Impaler.” (19).
Had the Elder Things awakened in a camp of vampires, would Stoker’s Undead have fared any better than Lake’s party?
Further, Lovecraft wrote of his invisible, indivisible worlds against three other scientific dynamics
First, there were the seminal extra-dimensional musings of Albert Einstein, where Time became an unplumbed, undiscovered fourth dimension. Second, there was the fact that life existed in the unseen light bands beyond visible, observable light. Third, there were numerous lifeforms that existed on the microscopic level—observable with the correct instruments, but invisible to the naked eye.
So, in the larger scheme of things, one reality, one dimension is as valid as another. To Lovecraft, the past was inexplicably intertwined with the present. That matches the rumination that Lovecraft posed fictionally again in, Beyond the Wall of Sleep (1919):
“…Sometimes I believe that this less material life is our truer life, and that our vain presence on the terraqueous globe is itself the secondary or merely virtual phenomenon…” (20).
Is there an “impassable barrier” between each layer of reality that prevents actors in one dimension from observing the acts of their counterparts in other dimensions? Or, did something in key individuals, in our case Giger and Lovecraft, that allowed such artisans to breach those multiplied walls and detail what they saw or perceived?
Dissecting A Diseased Fancy:
Lovecraft used the term, “diseased fancy” to describe the part of the fictional artist, Henry Anthony Wilcox, that allowed him to “see” the activity of Cthulhu, the High Priest of the Great Old Ones.
What exactly is the “diseased fancy” that Lovecraft had in mind? Is the word “diseased” similar in usage to “unhinged” “unbalanced” “unglued” ‘unsound” or “unsettled?”
Perhaps one means to “mainstreaming” the above series of terms—where an individual can live with certain eccentricities without the “straights” surrounding the person coming unglued—is to summarize those words in the term “unconventional.”
An unconventional person does not accept unquestioned the conventions that rule and reign in a conventional person. Also, unconventional does not mean a person lacks conventions.
Obviously, Lovecraft was very straight-laced in many of the boundaries that marked off his life.
Unconventional does imply a person willing to explore, one willing to expose, one willing to open doors that society says should remain closed. Pioneer may be another bridge word to describe such unconventional individuals.
An unconventional imagination is one key, one gate both Lovecraft and Giger employed to unlock the extra-dimensions of reality.
“…Yog-Sothoth knows the gate. Yog-Sothoth is the gate. Yog-Sothoth is the key and guardian of the gate. Past, present, future, all are one in Yog-Sothoth…” (21).
Bridging the Gap between the Known and the Unknown:
Bridging the gap between the known and the unknown is a formidable task.
When you unite the known with the unknown, you combine what can be explained while leaving room for the inexplicable. What cannot be dissected can still be true. What cannot be analyzed can still be real.
Someone coined the term, “Imagineering” for such a process.
Lovecraft was an architecture enthusiast. His fiction is filled with almost romantic descriptions of pre-modern architecture. In some ways, HPL loved old buildings more than life. And much more than any woman that ever crossed his path, in all deference to Sonia Greene.
H.R. Giger also formally studied architecture and industrial design in Zurich.
Both Lovecraft and Giger interwove the unknown limits of the imagination and the details of authenticity added by engineering.
The existence of the unknown scandalizes our intellect.
Sometimes circumstances defy explanation, so we either wing it or deny it. We wing it when it happens to us – we own up to our experience. We deny it when it happens to someone else – it’s their experience, not ours – and there may be some perceived deficiency in the person that leads us to doubt their experience or their interpretation of that experience.
Perhaps the recalled experience is not a flat-out, fantastic fabrication to garner attention.
Lovecraft and Giger’s creative endeavors established bridges of understanding between the known and the unknown, between the common and the uncommon, between the mundane and the mystery.
TV pioneer Rod Serling referred to that in-between space of the psyche that Lovecraft and Giger road-mapped:
“There is a fifth dimension beyond that which is known to man. It is a dimension as vast as space and as timeless as infinity. It is the middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition, and it lies between the pit of man’s fears and the summit of his knowledge. This is the dimension of imagination. It is an area which we call the Twilight Zone” (22).
Creative types—such as Lovecraft, Serling, and Giger–found paths that others could not conceive.
There is a stage in the theater of the mind. Lovecraft and Giger’s geniuses lay in each man’s ability to reimage, to change stage props that conventional wisdom said could not be changed.
Lovecraft described in fiction an incident where a person’s imaginative, heightened vision overlaid mundane “reality” with mystery:
“Suddenly I myself became possessed of a kind of augmented sight. Over and above the luminous and shadowy chaos arose a picture which, though vague, held the elements of consistency and permanence. It was indeed somewhat familiar, for the unusual part was superimposed upon the usual terrestrial scene much as a cinema view may be thrown upon the painted curtain of a theatre. I saw the attic laboratory, the electrical machine, and the unsightly form of Tillinghast opposite me; but of all the space unoccupied by familiar material objects not one particle was vacant. Indescribable shapes both alive and otherwise were mixed in disgusting disarray, and close to every known thing were whole worlds of alien, unknown entities. It likewise seemed that all the known things entered into the composition of other unknown things, and vice versa” (23).
What Traits does an Unconventional Imaginative Possess?
“Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we know now and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand” (24).
Now, I would like to explore Lovecraft thoughts on one’s “imagination” to identify four traits possessed by individuals like himself and, in some instances, H.R. Giger.
First, according to Lovecraft, an imaginative person needs to be able to achieve some detachment from everyday life:
“…The appeal of the spectrally macabre is generally narrow because it demands from the reader a certain degree of imagination and a capacity for detachment from every-day life. Relatively few are free enough from the spell of the daily routine to respond to trappings from outside, and tales of ordinary feelings and events, or of common sentimental distortions of such feelings and events, will always take first place in the taste of the majority; rightly, perhaps, since of course these ordinary matters make up the greater part of human experience…” (25).
The daily routine of many people hypnotizes them. The love of mundane pursuits creates an intellectual tunnel vision that blinds people to the fantastic elements of existence.
In particular, Lovecraft exhibited a Historic Nostalgia. Such a Pining for the Past represents a desire to escape into an imagined, idealized world of a prior era – even one you weren’t alive for.
Historical nostalgia is often concurrent with a deep dissatisfaction with the present and a preference for the way things were long ago. A person who experiences historical nostalgia might have a more cynical perspective of the present world.
And that’s a value Lovecraft developed into an art form.
Second, Lovecraft believed that a creative person should cultivate an interest in the non-human story of the world and the universe. In his mind, that meant becoming disinterested in the normal human affairs that keep most human being enthralled. Or in other words, that preoccupy most of the humanity to the exclusion of other interests:
“…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 relation 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. 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. Like the late Mr. [Oscar] Wilde, ‘I live in terror of not being misunderstood…” (26).
Lovecraft hated realism in literature. He shunned the fictional retelling of the mundane things that crowded an individual’s life. Instead, Lovecraft and Giger alike sought to “pull back” the veil of the commonplace, to disturb the poise, sensibilities, and bearing of modern man.
Third, Lovecraft asserted that an artistic person attracted to the weird should seek to recapture, in their creative efforts, the same level of emotional terrors they encountered in his or her nightmares.
“…It is in dreams that I have known the real clutch of stark, hideous, maddening, paralysing fear. My infant nightmares were classics, & in them, there is not an abyss of agonising cosmic horror that I have not explored. I don’t have such dreams now – but the memory of them will never leave me. It is undoubtedly from them that the darkest & most gruesome side of my fictional imagination is derived…” (27).
Images that evoke emotional responses, whether painted by words or portrayed in weird art, rattle modern humans to their primitive cores.
Fourth, in Lovecraft mind, the macabre visionary loves to mock the conventions and illusions that form the scaffolding of the mundane world:
“…One can’t write a weird story of real power without perfect psychological detachment from the human scene, and a magic prism of imagination which suffuses them and style alike with that grotesquerie and disquieting distortion characteristic of morbid vision. Only a cynic can create horror – for behind every masterpiece of the sort must reside a driving daemonic force that despises the human race and its illusions, and longs to pull them to pieces and mock them…” (28).
While Lovecraft shunned life in its many human expressions, H.R. Giger embraced it, though perhaps he clasped a darker side of existence.
The Boundless Realms of the Imagination:
“…My brain is only a receiver, in the Universe, there is a core from which we obtain knowledge, strength, and inspiration. I have not penetrated into the secrets of this core, but I know that it exists…” (29).
One puzzling question often arises when you study Lovecraft and Giger. Lovecraft posed the question in Pickman’s Model (1926):
“I remember your asking Pickman yourself once, the year before you went away, wherever in thunder he got such ideas and visions?” (30).
Different ideas emerge, often based on a person’s own metaphysical orientation.
I will briefly touch on a couple of notions; one as it pertains to Lovecraft, the other to Giger. I use words like “ideas” and “notions” because, when they were alive, neither man clearly understood or fully articulated the source or sources of their visions.
On Sources for Lovecraft’s Visions:
On his part, Lovecraft clearly denied any supernatural supplier of his weird fiction. During Lovecraft’s lifetime, some of HPL’s correspondents believed that he and other contributors to the Mythos were agents of outer entities. Lovecraft wrote of William Lumley – his revisionist client for the collaborative work, The Diary of Alonzo Typer (1935) – as:
“…an unique survival from the earth mystical childhood…He is firmly convinced that all our gang – you [Clark Ashton Smith], Two-Gun Bob, Sonny Belknap, Grandpa E’ch-Pi-El [Lovecraft himself] and the rest – are genuine agents of unseen Powers in distributing hints too dark and profound for human conception or comprehension…Indeed Bill tells me that he has fully identified my Cthulhu and Nyarlathotep…so that he can tell me more about’em than I know myself…” (31).
Lovecraft felt amused at Lumley’s beliefs and his client’s simplicity.
On the other hand, Lovecraft treated his dreams as a Shaman might. I wrote an entire Lovecraft eZine essay on that matter entitled, H.P. Lovecraft: Dreams of an Accidental Shaman (2014). While some of his dreams could be explained in conventional terms, as amalgamations of past readings, writings, and life experiences, other could not. Of those dreams, HPL wrote:
“I wonder…if I have a right to claim authorship of things I dream? I hate to take the credit, when I did not really think out the picture with my own conscious wits. Yet, if I do not take credit, who’n Heaven will I give credit tuh?” (32).
I will summarize my findings as follows. Lovecraft did not believe such dreams were his reliving past lives, as suggested by reincarnation. Neither did Lovecraft think that two individuals through some sort of psychic connection, to have shared the same dream. In addition, HPL denied that his dreams had any objective reality.
In a sense, Lovecraft approached his dreams as an open skeptic. An avowed rationalist, HPL denied conventional supernatural explanation for his dreams. To his credit, Lovecraft also flatly dismissed Freud’s “Scientific” Dream Interpretations, based on his experiences as a dreamer.
So, Lovecraft did not set out to create a systematic approach or set of explanations for his dreams. Instead, he wrote of his experiences to others, commenting on them as he saw fit.
How did such beliefs affect Lovecraft’s fiction, the showcase of his weird visions?
Contrary to one common Lovecraftian myth, most of Lovecraft’s stories were not based on his dreams. For example, while HPL used some of his dreams as inspiration for his weird tales—such as The Statement of Randolph Carter (1919) –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” (33).
One thought to finalize this section. It Is hard to get dogmatic when discussing the sources of Lovecraft’s visions. I believe in honoring Lovecraft’s own rationalist views on potential metaphysical sources for his weird literature. Also, when one makes Lovecraft somehow the unwitting instrument of outside, occult forces, it demeans Lovecraft’s achievements as an author that grew out of his study of other weird and classic writers—such as Edgar Allan Poe–in forming his own style
However, some Lovecraftians believe as Donald Tyson does—that HPL’s fiction reflects an unwitting and unconscious connection with otherworldly entities in occult dimensions. They base those beliefs on the potency of Lovecraft’s lore in their own paranormal experiences.
While Lovecraft himself could not intellectually indulge in Tyson’s sort of occult beliefs, he noted such supernatural stances towards life were a symptom of modern existence:
“…We’re only cooking up a passable substitute for a…delusion which the dying orthodox civilisation of Platonick-Christian…took for granted & worked for a kick under the amusing impression that it was reality!…Every…bimbo to his own brand of gin…” (34).
HPL’s “…Every…bimbo to his own brand of gin…” is similar to the phrase, “To each his own”. In modern usage, the truism means, “we’re all different and we all like different things”. Though the teetotaler Lovecraft was not one to make politically-correct statements, during the Prohibition Era from 1920-1933 and the days of bathtub Gins, people drank all manners of homemade alcoholic concoctions to escape reality.
In the “Big Tent” of Lovecraft devotes, there is plenty of room for both those who hold Lovecraft’s belief towards the supernatural and those who believed, as Donald Tyson:
“Lovecraft never asserted that the Old Ones are real, and he…mocked those who made the suggestion…but he did put forward…the premise that alien races such as the Old Ones could be real and might…have visited the ancient earth in her long and unknown history. Below…his cynical scoffing at all forms of spirituality and the supernatural was the nagging awareness that the Old Ones arose from his dreams, and that his dreams came from some unknown place beyond his control and beyond his conception” (35).
The Mystery that was Giger:
Moving on, where did Giger acquire his artistic visions?
Giger embraced to varying depths the non-rational sources that Lovecraft shunned. Therefore, we will briefly review the mystery that was Maestro Giger.
In rational traditions, we are taught to accept the evidence of our eyes but to deny truths sensed by our hearts. Yet, the eye only sees what the mind is prepared to comprehend.
We are bombarded by media with “facts” daily, hourly, minute-to-minute, many that later prove fictitious.
What we want to believe is more important, truer than reality. One becomes invested in his or her “truth”, whether they be true or scientifically-defendable.
Often, so-called truths turn out to be illusions that we live by:
“…We all dance in front of a mirror of our own illusions, believing the lies we and others have created shard-by-shard about ourselves, never seeing the true truths. So, we just dance away our lives to forget about the absurdity of it all…”
Given that brief critique of rationalism, let us use a historic figure in the potential, non-rational sources of Giger’s art.
John Dee (1527-1608) noted mathematician, occult philosopher, and advisor to Queen Elizabeth used a scrying glass to contact the spirit world and divine what he thought the secret of the ages. Lovecraft was so enamored with the character that he claimed Dee penned a faulty English translation of the dreaded Necronomicon.
The scrying glass in question was made of obsidian (black volcanic glass) and brought from Mexico to Europe between 1527 and 1530 after Hernando Cortés’s conquest of the region (35).
H.R. Giger employed his canvases and air-brush, in the same fashion as Dee did his scrying glass.
I would like to examine three possibilities of what Giger accessed. This list is not meant to be exhaustive.
One, Giger accessed his creative unconscious. There, great associations are blindly made, which later appeared in flashes of inspiration. In turn, such inspirations burn for expression in the conscious mind, until they take form outside the artist or author mind. They became the unique, celebrated prose and paintings which made each man famous, whether live in Giger’s case, or dead, in Lovecraft’s case.
Two, Giger may have accessed something greater than himself, a mechanism beyond his life experiences; the collective unconscious of humankind bound up in his genes. As Giger delved into the dark, through his occult studies, his fascination with skeletons, and his passion for ancient Egypt death motifs, they combined in a synergistic whole greater than its parts, the difference being supplied and molded by ancestral memories.
Perhaps Giger felt the same passion noted by the Maestro of the Macabre, Vincent Price when the Actor said:
“I sometimes feel that I’m impersonating the dark unconscious of the whole human race. I know this sounds sick, but I love it!” (37).
Three, perhaps Giger accessed some reality outside himself. This point aligns itself with Donald Tyson’s earlier quoted beliefs about Lovecraft’s sources.
There is a darkness and other quasi-defined worlds where occult entities dwell and seek expression through unwitting human pawns—such as was Lovecraft’s purported case—or through willing participants, which may describe Giger’s participation.
The stimulus of the séance and flashes of inspiration arising from one’s muse originate from unknown beings, shadows from the abyss.
Which view is correct? Does one notion exclude the others?
Debates rage in Lovecraftian and Gigeresque circles over the subject, perhaps more so in the former than the latter.
Similar scholastic exchanges occur over the truth behind John Dee’s angelic visions. Has there been any conclusive, authoritative finding in the case of Dee? If not, should we expect any more in “The Strange Case of H.P. Lovecraft and H.R. Giger?”
The Medium Molds the Message:
“…the only thing I didn’t see was Lovecraft’s power was in what’s Not seen. Giger is like Clive Barker as well related to strong because he Did show Everything…” (38).
Why did Lovecraft apparently withhold the “goods” in much of his fiction whereas Giger unleased the “goods” full-on, no-holds-barred in his art?
In this section, we will explore how the medium each man expressed his art in, Lovecraft in prose and Giger in paints, molded the message.
H.P. Lovecraft: Slow-walking Sinister-endings:
Lovecraft loved to capture the atmosphere of the weird in his tales. At times, like an opium vision, he clouded some features, then suddenly bringing into rapid, realistic focus those once veiled features.
The vague opium cloud of illusions that surrounds its users and the sudden crystallization of reality that intrudes through such vague veils is a metaphor for reality. Our reality is simply a reconstruction of the illusions that our limited and primitive five senses see in the world around us.
Lovecraft loved to flip back and forth between the vague cloud of conventions we hold as “the empirical evidence of the senses,” the “seeing is believing” construct of the world, and the sudden, sensory intrusions of evidence that life is not as it appears.
But Lovecraft, crafting stories in a conscious manner—his artful fiction was no accident—knew how important the climax to a story was. The climax was the punchline to the thing, to make the reader’s investment of time and suspension of disbelief worthwhile and curiously satisfying in the end.
So, Lovecraft, while gradually weaving a weird atmosphere, stringing together hard facts with horrific fictions, to create an inescapable notion that the events portrayed might have actually happened, slow-walked the conclusion, the final irony that was the nail in the coffin.
HPL was in no hurry to end his tales, though end them he must, and end them he did with touches of drama, the scratching on the door, the finding of modern English written on tablets millions of years old, etc.
The satisfaction of the atmosphere he wove, layering adjectives as an impressionist painter might lay on heavy the blinding pigments, kept his artistic interest satisfied with the tale, while the conclusion, perhaps a tip-of-the-hat not only to his art form, but to the few humans from among the hominin herd who could appreciate his work.
H.R. Giger: One Shot, One Shock:
A piece of art, the picture that paints a thousand words to use that cliché, has one shot, one chance to capture a beholder’s attention, one opportunity to stir things inside an observer.
In some sense, readers decide within the span of the first paragraph of a story, whether they take a chance on reading further, or moving on to another story in an anthology of offerings.
That’s why many of Lovecraft’s most memorable quotes are taken. For example, there is this quote from The Call of Cthulhu (1926):
“The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far. The sciences, each straining in its own direction, have hitherto harmed us little; but some day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the deadly light into the peace and safety of a new dark age” (39).
In the case, Giger’s art faced a similar reality. He had one chance to catch an anonymous viewer attention, for good or bad, arousing ire or interest. Controversy brought more attention that conventionality, to be famous or infamous, the two-sided blade on the same knife.
One-way Giger made his mark was to be unconventional, to upset the sensibilities of the masses, to redefine a genre. To upturn the apple cart rethinks what was in “good taste.”
Why not excite and stir human instincts with art. Why not by-pass the cognitive, civilized filters and incite the primal impulses that guide our unconscious choices?
Giger crowded his art with twisted but enticing visions of fertility. In Giger’s case, a fertile imagination meant a feral imagination. His art was instinctual, stirring the unconscious motivations that, in some fashions, stands behind all our “good-intentions.” His is the art of the Freudian-Slip laid bare, without all its civilized pretenses, for all to see, to be at once repulsive and, at-the-same-time, hypnotic, where you cannot take your eyes off it.
Giger was also a symbolist. He also populated his visions with Occult symbols that outraged some, while exciting the rebellious spirit in others.
Maybe, that one reason Giger’s art is such a favorite among Tattoo enthusiasts.
When Hans Ruedi’s work first was shown, traditionalists spit on it. Others stayed, held captive by what they saw. Some felt like they needed to shower after gazing long into the world portrayed in Giger’s art.
Giger made each easel, every artwork, an incantation. Part of the modern conservation of old masterpieces is the practice of x-raying said painting. Such preservation efforts have sometimes revealed older visions that the artist painted over. Sometimes, the artist did so, as he tried to perfect the recreation on canvas the visions that stirred them. Other times, artist starved, canvases were costly. They simply re-purposed a canvas for a new art project.
What if future art archivist X-ray Giger’s paintings as a means to conserve them in the same fashion? Will they find beneath the dark hues, hidden occult symbols and words that, taken as a whole, represent dark incantations from dire grimoires, such as Lovecraft’s fictional Necronomicon? Is that why Giger’s bewitches us so, why it beguiles us beyond reason?
Are the lines and shapes in Giger’s art, like the lines and shapes in the comer of Keziah Mason’s room, that when studied, lead one to other worlds, other dimensions, and other terrors?
While Giger did not analyze his art, as noted earlier, let us make a quick statement. His art mirrors Today’s Evolutionary trends as they flow into Tomorrow’s Reality. Man evicted from the World of Nature become the victim of the World of Machines. Mechanistic evolution finally mechanizes man.
And what of Giger’s titular creation, the Xenomorph from the Alien Franchise? Is it simply an embodiment of the teeming dangers that await humanity, as we push into Outer Space? Is it simply a personification of the uncaring, unconscious universe that humanity hoped to find a caring god in?
Or is the Xenomorph simply a mirror image of man’s brutality? Consider what Author Stephen King said in that context:
“At bottom, you see, we are not Homo sapiens at all. Our core is madness. The prime directive is murder. What Darwin was too polite to say, my friends, is that we came to rule the earth not because we were the smartest, or even the meanest, but because we have always been the craziest, most murderous motherfxxkxrs in the jungle…” (40).
“…They told him that every figure of space is but the result of the intersection by a plane of some corresponding figure of one more dimension—as a square is cut from a cube or a circle from a sphere. The cube and sphere, of three dimensions, are thus cut from corresponding forms of four dimensions that men know only through guesses and dreams; and these, in turn, are cut from forms of five dimensions, and so on up to the dizzy and reachless heights of archetypal infinity…” (41).
Theories about reality change over time. Once, priests spoke of invisible worlds beyond our sight as destinations in the afterlife, one heaven, one hell. The names of those places varied from culture to culture, if a finality to existence was envisioned and enshrined.
Today, patrons of science describe the invisible worlds that overlap ours with other cultural constructs that are often as extremely difficult to prove or disprove as their religious forerunners.
Lovecraft wrote of how past demons intrude on present dimensions. As a Prophet in Pigments, Giger’s work peered into the near future. Instead of bright tomorrows, Giger exposed a mad blending of man, machines, and the menace that filled the Milky Way.
Giger illustrated a Necronomicon whose original autographs never existed, save in the Mind of Lovecraft. Together, they invented new myths for modern man.
In the ever-changing landscapes of reality, H.P. Lovecraft and H.R. Giger added their own distinctive road marks, landmarks, and monsters that forever became part of the collective human psyche.
They seemed to have seen in part, scenes that Lovecraft’s Wilbur Whateley wrote of:
“…Today learned the Aklo for the Sabaoth…which did not like, it being answerable from the hill and not from the air…Grandfather kept me saying the Dho formula last night, and I think I saw the inner city at the 2 magnetic poles. I shall go to those poles when the earth is cleared off…” (42).
(1) The Call of Cthulhu, by Howard Phillips Lovecraft, 1928.
(2) H.P. Lovecraft’s Letter to Donald A. Wollheim, July 9, 1935.
(3) The Hound, by Howard Phillips Lovecraft, 1922.
(4) “H.R. Giger Quotes,” Brainy Quotes, brainyquote.com.
(5) The Case of Charles Dexter Ward, by Howard Phillips Lovecraft, 1927.
(6) Herbert West: Reanimator, by Howard Phillips Lovecraft, 1921-22.
(7) “H.R. Giger: Master of the Fantastic”, TheArtFile, the-artfile.com.
(8) H.P. Lovecraft’s Letter to Clark Ashton Smith, October 9, 1925.
(9) “Dream Traveler,” by Donald Tyson, The Dream World of H.P. Lovecraft: His Life, His Demons, His Universe, 2010, pp. 89-93.
(10) “Baphomet’s lament: An interview with H.R. Giger,” by R.F. Paul, Esoterra #9, 2000.
(11) “Friedrich Nietzsche Quotes,” Brainy Quotes, brainyquote.com.
(12) The Dunwich Horror, by Howard Phillips Lovecraft, 1928.
(13) “H.R. Giger Quotes,” Brainy Quotes, brainyquote.com.
(14) Beyond the Wall of Sleep, by Howard Phillips Lovecraft, 1919.
(15) “The fossil that inspired Alien: 300 million-year-old relic which designer used to create extra-terrestrials in sci-fi classic,” by Libby Galvin, The Daily Mail, dailymail.co.uk, January 28, 2013.
(16) “The influence of Haeckel’s plate 90 on Lovecraft and Giger,” by Sean Michael Ragan, seanmichaelragan.com, July 8, 2008.
(17) “Geology of the Mountains of Madness,” by David Bressan, A Scientific American Blog, blogs.scientificamerican.com, December 17, 2011.
(18) The Call of Cthulhu, by Howard Phillips Lovecraft, 1928.
(19) “How old is Dracula in the original Bram Stoker novel?” quora.com, September 24, 2017.
(20) Beyond the Wall of Sleep, by Howard Phillips Lovecraft, 1919.
(21) The Dunwich Horror, by Howard Phillips Lovecraft, 1928.
(22) “Twilight Zone (1959-1964): Quotes,” Opening Narration, Season One, http://www.IMDb.com.
(23) From Beyond, by Howard Phillips Lovecraft, 1921.
(24) Albert Einstein, quotesofdaily.com.
(25) “Introduction,” Supernatural Horror in Literature, by H.P. Lovecraft, 1927.
(26) “The Defence Remains Open!” An Essay by H.P. Lovecraft, April 1921.
(27) H.P. Lovecraft’s Letter to Harry O. Fischer, February 1937.
(28) Letter to “Weird Tales” editor Edwin Baird, printed in “Weird Tales” 3, No. 3 (March 1924); Quoted in “Lord of a Visible World: An Autobiography in Letters” edited by S. T. Joshi, (p. 122), 2000.
(29) Nikola Tesla, goodreads.com.
(30) Pickman’s Model, by H.P. Lovecraft, (1926).
(31) H.P. Lovecraft’s Letter to Clark Ashton Smith, October 3, 1933.
(32) H.P. Lovecraft’s Chain Letter to the Gallomo, (Alfred Galpin, Samuel Loveman, and Maurice W. Moe), December 11, 1919.
(33) H.P. Lovecraft’s Letter to Rheinhart Kleiner, June 6, 1920.
(34) __________________to James F. Morton, 1 April 1930.
(35) “Yog-Sothothery”, by Donald Tyson, The Dream World of H.P. Lovecraft: His Life, His Demons, His Universe, 2010, pp. 89-93.
(36) “John Dee’s spirit mirror,” The British Library, bl.uk/collection-items.com.
(37) “36 Thoughtful Quotes by Vincent Price”, quotes.thefamouspeople.com.
(38) Max Stern commenting on an H.R. Giger post by Gordan Hensell, July 17, 2018, Facebook Group: H.P. Lovecraft Society.
(39) The Call of Cthulhu, by Howard Phillips Lovecraft, 1928.
(40) Cell, by Stephen King, 2006.
(41) Through the Gates of the Silver Key, by H. P. Lovecraft (with E. Hoffmann Price), 1933.
(42) The Dunwich Horror, by H.P. Lovecraft, 1928.
© 2019 John A. DeLaughter
John A. DeLaughter, M. Div., M.S. is a Data Security Analyst. His work has appeared in The Lovecraft eZine, Aphotic Realm, Samsara: The Magazine of Suffering, Tigershark eZine, Turn To Ash horror zine, The Atlantean Supplement, The Eldritch Literary Review, The Chamber, and Horizontum (Mexico City). John’s first novel in the Dark Union saga, NIGHT OF THE KWATEE is now available (on Amazon), published by Night Horse Publishing House. DAWN OF THE DARK UNION, the second novel in the Dark Union Series will be available in 2019. His horror short, “The Thing Beneath the Tree,” also appears in the PROTECTORS OF THE VEIL anthology from the Lovecraft Lunatic Society (on Amazon). His horror short, “The Horror in the Heights,” also appears in THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE OLD ONES anthology from the Lovecraft Lunatic Society (on Amazon). Follow John’s latest publication news on Twitter @HPL_JDeLaughter, Facebook @HPLJDeLaughter, or Lovecraft essays @lovecraftzine.com/author/johndelaughter/. John lives in Pennsylvania with his wife Heidi.