Do You Have to Read Lovecraft to Be a Lovecraftian?
I am sometimes asked what I think it takes to make a piece of fiction “Lovecraftian.” Does it have to presuppose Lovecraft’s philosophy of Cosmic Futilitarianism? If it does, is that sufficient? Or does it also need to feature familiar names like “Miskatonic,” “Cthulhu,” “Necronomicon”? Or are these names by themselves perhaps enough? Is Colin Wilson’s The Mind Parasites truly Lovecraftian? Are Laird Barron’s stories? Interesting question, but not to be explored again here. Instead, I want to ruminate on a kindred question: what does it take to make you a Lovecraftian?
Suppose a person became interested in “the Mythos” through role playing games and eventually expanded his interest to, say, Lovecraftian rock, Lovecraftian comics, movies, etc., but never got around to reading the fiction of Lovecraft and his disciples and successors? I feel rather sure it has happened.
It is quite natural that individuals initially attracted to Mythos RPGs become curious about the strange and intriguing lore underlying the game and want to go back to its literary sources. I know for sure that this has happened. In fact, it happened so frequently that the late Keith Herber approached me back in 1990, asking if I’d like to compile volumes for Chaosium featuring the essential stories about each Old One, each haunted town, each blasphemous tome, all for the benefit of this new generation of Mythos fan-addicts.
This suggestion took me aback, making me realize how long ago I had obtained the various books by HPL, August Derleth, Robert Bloch, Ramsey Campbell, et. al. The obvious suddenly struck me: much of the relevant fiction was by now out of print and not readily available even if one knew where to look! And then again, there were plenty of Mythos tales that had never even been published in single-author collections. Others lurked, largely forgotten, in obscure anthologies–if they had ever been reprinted from their original pulp appearances at all! What an opportunity! The Cycle Horror Series would have contents to appeal both to the completist and connoisseur as well as to the new fan seeking remedial indoctrination. Plus, many of these stories had never received any critical analysis. Pedantic windbag that I am, I rejoiced to supply this lack. And there was so much interesting religious, mythical, and cultural background to elucidate! Stuff from Theosophy, Shi’ite Islam, Greek myth, the Bible, etc.
Thus many were moving from gaming into reading. Some even left gaming behind, though very many still enjoy it. But the big irony about Mythos gamers who had not yet dived into the fiction was that it displayed in an extreme form something David Schultz and others had long bemoaned: the isolation of the Mythos, the tendency of writers like Lin Carter to make it into a systematic theology and bring it to the fore, to make it more important than the stories to which it formed the background. Carter was not above writing new stories, which sometimes were barely stories at all, merely as vehicles to get this or that new item of Mythos lore into print, thus establishing it as part of the canon. I will not deny that the result could be a lot of fun. I, too, after all, had always been a Mythos geek (or is that “Mythos” nerd?).
But it did strike me as a bit perverse that the lore had left the texts behind! I have always loved the stories of these wonderful authors for various reasons, whether they featured Cthulhu and Rhan-Tegoth or not. That’s what made me happy to see the gamers discovering the fiction, not any disapproval of gaming.
But, again, suppose someone never made this transition. Should they be entitled to call themselves “Lovecraftians”? Well, of course, the question is both moot and silly: can you imagine anyone actually arguing over this? I hope not! But it is kind of interesting. And I would have to say that such a person would be correctly, meaningfully, designated a “Lovecraftian.” He or she would still be devoted to the creations of Lovecraft, even at second hand. Like a Christian who does not make a point of reading the Bible. Why wouldn’t he? But he wouldn’t have to. After all, Christian ethics and beliefs are the result of abstracting a system from a disparate group of texts which do not set forth a system and which even sometimes contradict one another. “Lovecraft” has become a larger phenomenon, bigger that H.P. Lovecraft, bigger even than his texts.
Robert M. Price
Hierophant of the Horde
Robert M. Price is an American theologian and writer. He teaches philosophy and religion at the Johnnie Colemon Theological Seminary, is professor of biblical criticism at the Center for Inquiry Institute, and the author of a number of books on theology and the historicity of Jesus, including Deconstructing Jesus (2000), The Reason Driven Life (2006), Jesus is Dead (2007), Inerrant the Wind: The Evangelical Crisis in Biblical Authority (2009), The Case Against the Case for Christ (2010), and The Amazing Colossal Apostle: The Search for the Historical Paul (2012).
A former Baptist minister, he was the editor of the Journal of Higher Criticism from 1994 until it ceased publication in 2003, and has written extensively about the Cthulhu Mythos, a “shared universe” created by the writer H. P. Lovecraft.
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