|H. P. Lovecraft|
|Born||Howard Phillips Lovecraft
August 20, 1890
Providence, Rhode Island, United States
|Died||March 15, 1937 (aged 46)
Providence, Rhode Island, United States
|Occupation||Novelist, Short story writer, Poet|
|Genres||Horror, Science fiction, Fantasy, Weird fiction, Gothic fiction, Lovecraftian horror, essay, travel literature|
|Notable work(s)||The Call of Cthulhu, The Shadow Out of Time, At the Mountains of Madness|
|Spouse(s)||Sonia H. Greene (1924–1929)|
Lovecraft's major inspiration and invention was cosmic horror, the idea that life is incomprehensible to human minds and that the universe is fundamentally alien. Those who genuinely reason, like his protagonists, gamble with sanity. Lovecraft has developed a cult following for his Cthulhu Mythos, a series of loosely interconnected fiction featuring a pantheon of human-nullifying entities, as well as the Necronomicon, a fictional grimoire of magical rites and forbidden lore. His works were deeply pessimistic and cynical, challenging the values of the Enlightenment, Romanticism, and Christian humanism. Lovecraft's protagonists usually achieve the mirror-opposite of traditional gnosis and mysticism by momentarily glimpsing the horror of ultimate reality.
Although Lovecraft's readership was limited during his life, his reputation has grown over the decades, and he is now commonly regarded as one of the most influential horror writers of the 20th century. Lovecraft, as did Edgar Allan Poe in the 19th century, exerts "an incalculable influence on succeeding generations of writers of horror fiction". Stephen King has called Lovecraft "the twentieth century's greatest practitioner of the classic horror tale."
Lovecraft was born on August 20, 1890, at 9:00 a.m. in his family home at 194 (later 454) Angell Street in Providence, Rhode Island. (The house was torn down in 1961.) He was the only child of Winfield Scott Lovecraft, a traveling salesman of jewelry and precious metals, and Sarah Susan Phillips Lovecraft, who could trace her ancestry in America back to the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1630. His parents married, the first marriage for both, when they were in their thirties, unusually late in life given the time period. In 1893, when Lovecraft was three, his father became acutely psychotic in a Chicago hotel room while on a business trip. The elder Lovecraft was taken back to Providence and placed in Butler Hospital, where he remained until his death in 1898. Lovecraft maintained throughout his life that his father had died in a condition of paralysis brought on by "nervous exhaustion" due to over-work, but it is now almost certain that the actual cause was general paresis of the insane. It is unknown whether the younger Lovecraft was ever aware of the actual nature of his father's illness or its cause (syphilis), although his mother likely was, possibly having even received tincture of arsenic as "preventive medication".
After his father's hospitalization, Lovecraft was raised by his mother, his two aunts (Lillian Delora Phillips and Annie Emeline Phillips), and his maternal grandfather, Whipple Van Buren Phillips, an American businessman. All five resided together in the family home. Lovecraft was a prodigy, reciting poetry at the age of three and writing complete poems by six. His grandfather encouraged his reading, providing him with classics such as The Arabian Nights, Bulfinch's Age of Fable, and children's versions of The Iliad and The Odyssey. His grandfather also stirred the boy's interest in the weird by telling him his own original tales of Gothic horror. His mother, on the other hand, worried that these stories would upset him.
Lovecraft was frequently ill as a child, at least some of which was certainly psychosomatic, although he attributed his various ailments to physical causes only. Early speculation that he may have been congenitally disabled by syphilis passed on from father to mother to fetus has been ruled out. Due to his sickly condition and his undisciplined, argumentative nature, he barely attended school until he was eight years old, and then was withdrawn after a year. He read voraciously during this period and became especially enamored of chemistry and astronomy. He produced several hectographed publications with a limited circulation beginning in 1899 with The Scientific Gazette. Four years later, he returned to public school at Hope Street High School. Beginning in his early life, Lovecraft is believed to have suffered from night terrors, a rare parasomnia disorder; he believed himself to be assaulted at night by horrific "night gaunts." Much of his later work is thought to have been directly inspired by these terrors.
His grandfather's death in 1904 greatly affected Lovecraft's life. Mismanagement of his grandfather's estate left his family in such a poor financial situation they were forced to move into much smaller accommodations at 598 (now a duplex at 598-600) Angell Street. Lovecraft was so deeply affected by the loss of his home and birthplace that he contemplated suicide for a time. In 1908, prior to his high school graduation, he himself claimed to have suffered what he later described as a "nervous breakdown", and consequently never received his high school diploma (although he maintained for most of his life that he did graduate). S. T. Joshi suggests in his biography of Lovecraft that a primary cause for this breakdown was his difficulty in higher mathematics, a subject he needed to master to become a professional astronomer. This failure to complete his education (he wished to study at Brown University) was a source of disappointment and shame even late into his life.
Lovecraft wrote some fiction as a youth but, from 1908 until 1913, his output was primarily poetry. During that time, he lived a hermit's existence, having almost no contact with anyone but his mother. This changed when he wrote a letter to The Argosy, a pulp magazine, complaining about the insipidness of the love stories of one of the publication's popular writers. The ensuing debate in the magazine's letters column caught the eye of Edward F. Daas, President of the United Amateur Press Association (UAPA), who invited Lovecraft to join them in 1914. The UAPA reinvigorated Lovecraft and incited him to contribute many poems and essays. In 1917, at the prodding of correspondents, he returned to fiction with more polished stories, such as "The Tomb" and "Dagon". The latter was his first professionally-published work, appearing in W. Paul Cook's The Vagrant (November, 1919) and Weird Tales in 1923. Around that time, he began to build up a huge network of correspondents. His lengthy and frequent missives would make him one of the great letter writers of the century. Among his correspondents were Robert Bloch (Psycho), Clark Ashton Smith, and Robert E. Howard (Conan the Barbarian series).
In 1919, after suffering from hysteria and depression for a long period of time, Lovecraft's mother was committed to Butler Hospital just like her husband before her. Nevertheless, she wrote frequent letters to Lovecraft, and they remained very close until her death on May 21, 1921, the result of complications from gall bladder surgery. Lovecraft was devastated by the loss.
A few weeks after his mother's death, Lovecraft attended an amateur journalist convention in Boston, Massachusetts, where he met Sonia Greene. Born in 1883, she was of Ukrainian-Jewish ancestry and seven years older than Lovecraft. They married in 1924, and the couple moved to Brooklyn. Lovecraft's aunts may have been unhappy with this arrangement, as they were not fond of Lovecraft being married to a tradeswoman (Greene owned a hat shop). Initially, Lovecraft was enthralled by New York, but soon the couple was facing financial difficulties. Greene lost her hat shop and suffered poor health. Lovecraft could not find work to support them both, so his wife moved to Cleveland for employment. Lovecraft lived by himself in the Red Hook neighborhood of Brooklyn and came to dislike New York life intensely. Indeed, this daunting reality of failure to secure any work in the midst of a large immigrant population—especially irreconcilable with his opinion of himself as a privileged Anglo-Saxon—has been theorized as galvanizing his racism to the point of fear, a sentiment he sublimated in the short story "The Horror at Red Hook".
A few years later, Lovecraft and his wife, still living separately, agreed to an amicable divorce, which was never fully completed. He returned to Providence to live with his aunts during their remaining years.
Back in Providence, Lovecraft lived in a "spacious brown Victorian wooden house" at 10 Barnes Street until 1933. The same address is given as the home of Dr. Willett in Lovecraft's The Case of Charles Dexter Ward. The period after his return to Providence — the last decade of his life — was Lovecraft's most prolific. In that time he produced almost all of his best-known short stories for the leading pulp publications of the day (primarily Weird Tales), as well as longer efforts, such as The Case of Charles Dexter Ward and At the Mountains of Madness. He frequently revised work for other authors and did a large amount of ghost-writing, including "The Mound", "Winged Death", and "Under the Pyramids" (also known as "Imprisoned With the Pharaohs") (for Harry Houdini) and "The Diary of Alonzo Typer."
Despite his best writing efforts, however, he grew ever poorer. He was forced to move to smaller and meaner lodgings with his surviving aunt. He was also deeply affected by Robert E. Howard's suicide. In 1936, Lovecraft was diagnosed with cancer of the intestine, and he also suffered from malnutrition. He lived in constant pain until his death on March 15, 1937, in Providence.
Lovecraft was listed along with his parents on the Phillips family monument. That was not enough for his fans, so in 1977 a group of individuals raised the money to buy him a headstone of his own in Swan Point cemetery, on which they had inscribed Lovecraft's name, the dates of his birth and death, and the phrase "I AM PROVIDENCE", a line from one of his personal letters.
H. P. Lovecraft's name is synonymous with horror fiction; his writing, particularly the "Cthulhu Mythos", has influenced fiction authors worldwide, and Lovecraftian elements may be found in novels, movies, music, comic books and cartoons. Many modern horror writers, including Stephen King, Bentley Little, Joe R. Lansdale, Alan Moore, Junji Ito, F. Paul Wilson, and Neil Gaiman, have cited Lovecraft as one of their primary influences.
Lovecraft himself, though, was relatively unknown during his own time. While his stories appeared in the pages of prominent pulp magazines such as Weird Tales (often eliciting letters of outrage from regular readers of the magazines), not many people knew his name. He did, however, correspond regularly with other contemporary writers, such as Clark Ashton Smith and August Derleth, people who became good friends of his, even though they never met in person. This group of correspondents became known as the "Lovecraft Circle", since they all freely borrowed elements of Lovecraft's stories – the mysterious books with disturbing names, the pantheon of ancient alien gods, such as Cthulhu and Azathoth, and eldritch places, such as the New England town of Arkham and its Miskatonic University – for use in their own works (with Lovecraft's blessing and encouragement).
After Lovecraft's death, the Lovecraft Circle carried on. August Derleth was probably the most prolific of these writers, having added to and expanded on Lovecraft's vision. Derleth's contributions have been controversial to say the least; while Lovecraft never considered his pantheon of alien gods more than a mere plot device, Derleth created an entire cosmology, complete with a war between the 'good' "Elder Gods" and the 'evil' "Outer Gods" (such as Cthulhu and his ilk), which the 'good' Gods were supposed to have won, locking Cthulhu and others up beneath the earth, in the ocean etc., and went on to associate different gods with the traditional four elements.
Lovecraft's fiction has been grouped into three categories by some critics. While Lovecraft did not refer to these categories himself, he did once write, "There are my 'Poe' pieces and my 'Dunsany pieces' – but alas – where are my Lovecraft pieces?"
Some critics see little difference between the Dream Cycle and the Mythos, often pointing to the recurring Necronomicon and subsequent "gods". A frequently given explanation is that the Dream Cycle belongs more to the genre of fantasy, while the Mythos is science fiction. Also, many of the supernatural elements of the Dream Cycle take place in its own sphere or mythological dimension, separated from our own level of existence. The Mythos on the other hand, is placed within the same reality and cosmos as the humans live in.
Much of Lovecraft's work was directly inspired by his night terrors, and it is perhaps this direct insight into the unconscious and its symbolism that helps to account for their continuing resonance and popularity.
All these interests naturally led to his deep affection for the works of Edgar Allan Poe, who heavily influenced his earliest macabre stories and writing style known for its creepy atmosphere and lurking fears.
Lovecraft's discovery of the stories of Lord Dunsany with their gallery of mighty gods existing in dreamlike outer realms, moved his writing in a new direction, resulting in a series of imitative fantasies in a 'Dreamlands' setting.
Another inspiration came from a totally different kind of source; the scientific progresses at the time in such wide areas as biology, astronomy, geology and physics, all contributed to make the human race seem even more insignificant, powerless and doomed in a materialistic and mechanical universe, and was a major contributor to the ideas that later would be known as cosmicism, and which gave further support to his atheism.
It was probably the influence of Arthur Machen, with his carefully constructed tales concerning the survival of ancient evil into modern times in an otherwise realistic world and his mystic beliefs in hidden mysteries which lay behind reality, that added the last ingredient and finally helped inspire Lovecraft to find his own voice from 1923 onwards.
This took on a dark tone with the creation of what is today often called the Cthulhu Mythos, a pantheon of alien extra-dimensional deities and horrors which predate humanity, and which are hinted at in aeon-old myths and legends. The term "Cthulhu Mythos" was coined by Lovecraft's correspondent and fellow author, August Derleth, after Lovecraft's death; Lovecraft jocularly referred to his artificial mythology as "Yog-Sothothery".
His stories created one of the most influential plot devices in all of horror: the Necronomicon, the secret grimoire written by the mad Arab Abdul Alhazred. The resonance and strength of the Mythos concept have led some to incorrectly conclude that Lovecraft had based it on pre-existing myths or occult beliefs. Faux editions of the Necronomicon have also been published over the years.
His prose is somewhat antiquarian. Often he employed archaic vocabulary or spelling which had already by his time been replaced by contemporary coinages; examples including Esquimau, and Comanchian. He was given to heavy use of an esoteric lexicon including such words as "eldritch", "rugose", "noisome", "squamous", "ichor", and "cyclopean", and of attempts to transcribe dialect speech which have been criticized as clumsy, imprecise, and condescending. His works also featured British English such as "colour" and "honour" (he was an admitted Anglophile), and he sometimes made use of anachronistic spellings, such as "compleat" (for "complete"), "shew" ("show"), "lanthorn" ("lantern"), "phantasy" ("fantasy"; also appearing as "phantastic"), and "Buenos Ayres" (for Buenos Aires).
Several themes recur in Lovecraft's stories:
In the opening of his 1926 tale "The Call of Cthulhu" Lovecraft wrote:
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.
Lovecraft's protagonists are nevertheless driven to this "piecing together", which becomes a primary plot device in many of his works.
When such vistas are opened, the mind of the protagonist-investigator is often destroyed. Those who actually encounter "living" manifestations of the incomprehensible are particularly likely to go mad, as is the case of the titular character in The Music of Erich Zann. The story features an insane mute viol virtuoso's sixth-floor apartment, whose window is the only one high enough to see over a wall on a mysterious, disappearing Parisian street—a wall whose other side contains unexplainable horrors.
Similarly, his last, and arguably most mature novel "At The Mountains Of Madness" reveals the existence of a remote frozen and ancient (non-human) city in the central wastes of Antarctica. Mankind's true origins are revealed (incidental 'playthings' created for amusement by the Great Old Ones). Many of the expedition members are killed, one (Danforth) driven incurably insane by the ancient knowledge and unpleasant events which overtake the expedition. The theme of 'forbidden knowledge' is echoed in the very opening lines of the story by the expedition's leader and survivor (Professor Dyer of the Miskatonic University): "I am forced into speech because men of science have refused to follow my advice without knowing why".
Those characters who attempt to make use of such knowledge are almost invariably doomed. Sometimes their work attracts the attention of malevolent beings; other times, evoking the spirit of Frankenstein, they are destroyed by monsters of their own creation.
The beings of Lovecraft's mythos often have human (or mostly human) servants; Cthulhu, for instance, is worshiped under various names by cults amongst both the Eskimos of Greenland and voodoo circles of Louisiana, and in many other parts of the world.
These worshipers served a useful narrative purpose for Lovecraft. Many beings of the Mythos were too powerful to be defeated by human opponents, and so horrific that direct knowledge of them meant insanity for the victim. When dealing with such beings, Lovecraft needed a way to provide exposition and build tension without bringing the story to a premature end. Human followers gave him a way to reveal information about their "gods" in a diluted form, and also made it possible for his protagonists to win paltry victories. Lovecraft, like his contemporaries, envisioned "savages" as closer to the Earth, only in Lovecraft's case, this meant, so to speak, closer to Cthulhu.
Another recurring theme in Lovecraft's stories is the idea that descendants in a bloodline can never escape the stain of crimes committed by their forebears, at least if the crimes are atrocious enough. Descendants may be very far removed, both in place and in time (and, indeed, in culpability), from the act itself, and yet, from however remote the past, blood will out ("The Rats in the Walls", "The Lurking Fear", "Arthur Jermyn", "The Alchemist", "The Shadow Over Innsmouth", and The Case of Charles Dexter Ward).
Often in Lovecraft's works the protagonist is not in control of his own actions, or finds it impossible to change course. Many of his characters would be free from danger if they simply managed to run away; however, this possibility either never arises or is somehow curtailed by some outside force, such as in "The Colour Out of Space" and "The Dreams in the Witch House." Often his characters are subject to a compulsive influence from powerful malevolent or indifferent beings. As with the inevitability of one's ancestry, eventually even running away, or death itself, provides no safety ("The Thing on the Doorstep", "The Outsider", The Case of Charles Dexter Ward, etc.). In some cases, this doom is manifest in the entirety of humanity, and no escape is possible ("The Shadow Out of Time").
Though little known to his fan base, Lovecraft was familiar with the work of the German conservative-revolutionary theorist Oswald Spengler. Spengler's pessimistic thesis of the decadence of the modern West formed a crucial element in Lovecraft's overall anti-modern, conservative worldview. Spenglerian imagery of cyclical decay is present in particular in At the Mountains of Madness. In his book titled H.P. Lovecraft: The Decline of the West, S. T. Joshi places Spengler at the center of his discussion of Lovecraft's political and philosophical ideas. Lovecraft wrote to Clark Ashton Smith in 1927: "It is my belief, and was so long before Spengler put his seal of scholarly proof on it, that our mechanical and industrial age is one of frank decadence" (see China Miéville's introduction to "At the Mountains of Madness", Modern Library Classics, 2005). Lovecraft was also acquainted with the writings of another German intellectual who dealt with civilized decadence in philosophical terms: Friedrich Nietzsche.
Lovecraft frequently dealt with the idea of civilization struggling against more barbaric, primitive elements. In some stories this struggle is at an individual level; many of his protagonists are cultured, highly-educated men who are gradually corrupted by some obscure and feared influence.
In such stories, the "curse" is often a hereditary one, either because of interbreeding with non-humans (e.g., "Facts Concerning the Late Arthur Jermyn and His Family" (1920), "The Shadow over Innsmouth" (1931)) or through direct magical influence (The Case of Charles Dexter Ward). Physical and mental degradation often come together; this theme of 'tainted blood' may represent concerns relating to Lovecraft's own family history, particularly the death of his father due to what Lovecraft must have suspected to be a syphilitic disorder.
In other tales, an entire society is threatened by barbarism. Sometimes the barbarism comes as an external threat, with a civilized race destroyed in war (e.g., "Polaris"). Sometimes, an isolated pocket of humanity falls into decadence and atavism of its own accord (e.g., "The Lurking Fear"). But most often, such stories involve a civilized culture being gradually undermined by a malevolent underclass influenced by inhuman forces.
There is a lack of analysis as to whether England's gradual loss of prominence and related conflicts (Boer War, India, World War I) had an impact on Lovecraft's worldview. It is likely that the "roaring twenties" left Lovecraft disillusioned as he was still obscure and struggling with the basic necessities of daily life, combined with seeing non-European immigrants in New York City.
Lovecraft lived at a time when the eugenics movement, anti-Catholicism, nativism, and strict racial segregation and miscegenation laws were all widespread in the United States, and his writings reflect that social and intellectual environment. A common dramatic device in Lovecraft's work is to associate virtue, intellect, civilization, and rationality with upper class White Anglo-Saxon Protestants. These are often posed in contrast to the corrupt, intellectually inferior, uncivilized and irrational attributes which he associated with both the lower classes in general and those of non-Anglo Saxon ethnicity, especially those who have dark skin. He held English culture to be the comparative pinnacle of civilization, with the descendants of the English in America as something of a second-class offshoot, and everyone else below.
Ethnicity was more salient than race for Lovecraft; he admired Anglo-Saxons in particular, not white people generally. Non-Anglo-Saxon whites of European descent are frequently disparaged in his work on ethnic grounds. The degenerate descendants of Dutch immigrants in the Catskill Mountains, "who correspond exactly to the decadent element of white trash in the South", are common targets. In "The Temple", Lovecraft's highly unsympathetic narrator is a German World War I U-boat captain whose faith in his "iron German will" and the superiority of the Fatherland lead him to machine-gun helpless survivors in lifeboats and, later, kill his own crew, while blinding him to the curse he has brought upon himself.
Class distinctions inform Lovecraft's worldview nearly as much as ethnicity. The narrator of "Cool Air" speaks disparagingly of the poor Hispanics of his neighborhood, but respects and admires the wealthy and aristocratic Dr. Muñoz, described as "a man of birth, cultivation, and discrimination."
S. T. Joshi notes, "There is no denying the reality of Lovecraft's racism, nor can it merely be passed off as 'typical of his time', for it appears that Lovecraft expressed his views more pronouncedly (although usually not for publication) than many others of his era. It is also foolish to deny that racism enters into his fiction." In his book H. P. Lovecraft: Against the World, Against Life, Michel Houellebecq argues that "racial hatred" provided the emotional force and inspiration for much of Lovecraft's greatest works.
Recent studies have begun to question, not Lovecraft's racism per se, but his dedication to the theory. For example, Michael Gurnow's study of "The Dunwich Horror" relays that Lovecraft makes martyrs of African American twins by the close of the text, thus suggesting that, at least in part and at various times throughout his life, Lovecraft explored and questioned the veracity of his racial views.
According to L. Sprague de Camp's biography, Lovecraft greatly moderated his views toward the end of his life as he began to travel more and came into contact with people of diverse ethnic backgrounds. He says Lovecraft was horrified by reports of anti-Jewish violence in Germany during the 1930s, which he regarded as irrational. Sprague de Camp also says that Lovecraft enjoyed getting a rise out of people he considered his intellectual inferiors by stating in a deadpan manner whatever he thought would offend them the most, and suggests that at least some reports of Lovecraft's racism derived from this practice.
In his personal letters, Lovecraft was explicit and candid in expressing his racism. For example, of the Jews he wrote,
|“||The mass of contemporary Jews are hopeless as far as America is concerned. They are the product of alien blood, & inherit alien ideals, impulses, & emotions which forever preclude the possibility of wholesale assimilation... On our side there is a shuddering physical repugnance to most Semitic types...so that wherever the Wandering Jew wanders, he will have to content himself with his own society till he disappears or is killed off in some sudden outburst of mad physical loathing on our part. I've easily felt able to slaughter a score or two when jammed in a N.Y. subway train.||”|
And in the same letter (No. 60), Lovecraft wrote,
|“||All the issues that were alive in Bible times are dead now--as are the races. The so-called Jews of today are either Carthaginians or squat Mongoloids from Central Asia, & the so-called Christians are healthy Aryan pagans who have adopted the external forms of a faith whose original flabbiness would disgust them.||”|
In "The Call of Cthulhu" he writes of a captured group of mixed race worshippers of Cthulhu:
|“||the prisoners all proved to be men of a very low, mixed-blooded, and mentally aberrant type. Most were seamen, and a sprinkling of negroes and mulattos, largely West Indians or Brava Portuguese from the Cape Verde Islands, gave a colouring of voodooism to the heterogeneous cult. But before many questions were asked it became manifest that something far deeper and older than negro fetishism was involved. Degraded and ignorant as they were, the creatures held with surprising consistency to the central idea of their loathsome faith.||”|
In a letter of January 23, 1920, Lovecraft wrote:
|“||For evolved man — the apex of organic progress on the Earth — what branch of reflection is more fitting than that which occupies only his higher and exclusively human faculties? The primal savage or ape merely looks about his native forest to find a mate; the exalted Aryan should lift his eyes to the worlds of space and consider his relation to infinity!!!!||”|
In "Herbert West–Reanimator", Lovecraft gives an account of a just-deceased African-American male. He asserts:
|“||He was a loathsome, gorilla-like thing, with abnormally long arms that I could not help calling fore legs, and a face that conjured up thoughts of unspeakable Congo secrets and tom-tom poundings under an eerie moon. The body must have looked even worse in life — but the world holds many ugly things.||”|
In "The Horror at Red Hook", one character is described as "an Arab with a hatefully negroid mouth". In "Medusa's Coil", ghostwritten by Lovecraft for Zealia Bishop, the story's final surprise—after the revelation that the story's villain is a vampiric medusa—is that she
|“||was faintly, subtly, yet to the eyes of genius unmistakably the scion of Zimbabwe's most primal grovellers.... [T]hough in deceitfully slight proportion, Marceline was a negress.||”|
In "The Case of Charles Dexter Ward", this is a description of an African — New English couple: "The present negro inhabitants were known to him, and he was very courteously shewn about the interior by old Asa and his stout wife Hannah." In contrast to their apparently alien landlord: "a small rodent-featured person with a guttural accent"
In the short story "The Rats in the Walls", one of the narrator/protagonist's nine cats is named "Nigger-Man", after Lovecraft's own cat.
|“||As I have said, I moved in on July 16, 1923. My household consisted of seven servants and nine cats, of which latter species I am particularly fond. My eldest cat, "Nigger-Man", was seven years old and had come with me from my home in Bolton, Massachusetts ...||”|
The narrators in "The Street", "Herbert West: Reanimator", "He", "The Call of Cthulhu", "The Shadow Over Innsmouth", "The Horror at Red Hook", and many other tales express sentiments which could be considered hostile towards Jews. Lovecraft married a woman of Ukrainian Jewish ancestry, Sonia Greene, who later said she had to repeatedly remind Lovecraft of her background when he made anti-Semitic remarks. "Whenever we found ourselves in the racially mixed crowds which characterize New York", Greene wrote after her divorce from Lovecraft, "Howard would become livid with rage. He seemed almost to lose his mind."
At the turn of the 20th century, man's increased reliance upon science was both opening new worlds and solidifying the manners by which he could understand them. Lovecraft portrays this potential for a growing gap of man's understanding of the universe as a potential for horror. Most notably in "The Colour Out of Space", the inability of science to comprehend a contaminated meteorite leads to horror.
In a letter to James F. Morton in 1923, Lovecraft specifically points to Einstein's theory on relativity as throwing the world into chaos and making the cosmos a jest. And in a 1929 letter to Woodburn Harris, he speculates that technological comforts risk the collapse of science. Indeed, at a time when men viewed science as limitless and powerful, Lovecraft imagined alternative potential and fearful outcomes. In "The Call of Cthulhu", Lovecraft's characters encounter architecture which is "abnormal, non-Euclidian, and loathsomely redolent of spheres and dimensions apart from ours". Non-Euclidean geometry is the mathematical language and background of Einstein's general theory of relativity, and Lovecraft will reference it again and again in exploring alien archeology.
Maltheism is a recurrent theme in Lovecraft fiction. Many of Lovecraft's works are directly or indirectly adversarial to the belief in a loving, protective God; Lovecraft's works are ruled by several distinct pantheons of deities who are either indifferent or actively hostile to humanity. Several, particularly those of the Cthulhu Mythos, indulge upon alternate human origins in contrast to those found in Genesis and creation stories of other religions. Protagonist characters are often educated men who favor the claims of the physical sciences over those of scripture. In Herbert West - Reanimator, reflected on the atheism common within academic circles. Also in Through the Gates of the Silver Key the character Randolph Carter attempts after losing access to dreams to seek solace in religion, specifically Congregationalism, but doesn't and ultimately loses faith.
In 1932, Lovecraft wrote in a letter to Robert E. Howard: "All I say is that I think it is damned unlikely that anything like a central cosmic will, a spirit world, or an eternal survival of personality exist. They are the most preposterous and unjustified of all the guesses which can be made about the universe, and I am not enough of a hair-splitter to pretend that I don't regard them as arrant and negligible moonshine. In theory I am an agnostic, but pending the appearance of radical evidence I must be classed, practically and provisionally, as an atheist. "
Lovecraft was influenced by such authors as Gertrude Barrows Bennett (who, writing as Francis Stevens, impressed Lovecraft enough that he publicly praised her stories and eventually "emulated Bennett's earlier style and themes"), Oswald Spengler, Robert W. Chambers (writer of The King in Yellow, of whom H. P. Lovecraft wrote in a letter to Clark Ashton Smith: "Chambers is like Rupert Hughes and a few other fallen Titans — equipped with the right brains and education but wholly out of the habit of using them"), Arthur Machen (The Great God Pan), Lord Dunsany (The Gods of Pegana and other Dunsany works), Edgar Allan Poe, A. Merritt (The Moon Pool, later a great liking and admiration of the original version of The Metal Monster) and Lovecraft's friends Robert E. Howard and Clark Ashton Smith.
Lovecraft considered himself a man best suited to the early 18th century. His writing style, especially in his many letters, owes much to Augustan British writers of the Enlightenment like Joseph Addison and Jonathan Swift. Lovecraft even went so far as to write using the antiquated grammatical peculiarities of that literary era. While Lovecraft's fiction radically inverted the Enlightenment belief in mankind being able to comprehend the universe, his personal outlook as revealed in his letters shows Lovecraft largely agreeing with rationalist contemporaries like Bertrand Russell.
He also cited Algernon Blackwood as an influence, quoting The Centaur in the head paragraph of The Call of Cthulhu. He also declares Blackwood's "The Willows" to be the single best piece of weird fiction ever written.
Among the books found in his library (as evidenced in Lovecraft's Library by S.T. Joshi) was "The seven who were hanged" by Leonid Andreyev and "A Strange Manuscript Found in a Copper Cylinder" by James De Mille .
Beyond direct adaptation, Lovecraft and his stories have had a profound impact on popular culture and have been praised by many modern writers. Some influence was direct, as he was a friend, inspiration, and correspondent to many of his contemporaries, such as August Derleth, Robert E. Howard, Robert Bloch and Fritz Leiber. Many later figures were influenced by Lovecraft's works, including author and artist Clive Barker, prolific horror writer Stephen King, comics writers Alan Moore and Neil Gaiman, film directors John Carpenter, Stuart Gordon, and Guillermo Del Toro, horror manga artist Junji Ito, and artist H. R. Giger. In 2007, writer Grant Cogswell, director Daniel Gildark and a cast including Jason Cottle and Tori Spelling created the movie Cthulhu, a "reinvention" of Lovecraft's "The Call of Cthulhu" set in the Pacific Northwest. H. P. Lovecraft's writing, particularly his so-called "Cthulhu Mythos", has influenced fiction authors worldwide, and Lovecraftian elements can be seen in novels, films, comic books (e.g. the use of Arkham Insane Asylum in The Batman comic book series), music, games, and even cartoons.
Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges wrote his short story "There Are More Things" in memory of Lovecraft. Contemporary French writer Michel Houellebecq wrote a literary biography of Lovecraft called H. P. Lovecraft: Against the World, Against Life. Prolific American writer Joyce Carol Oates wrote an introduction for a collection of Lovecraft stories. The Library of America published a volume of Lovecraft's work in 2005, essentially declaring him a canonical American writer.
In music, three examples of the widespread Lovecraftian influence include the psychedelic rock band called H. P. Lovecraft (later shortened to just Lovecraft) who released four albums in the 1960s and 1970s, the thrash metal band Metallica, devoted readers of Lovecraft's work, who recorded a song inspired by The Call of Cthulhu, titled The Call of Ktulu, a song based on The Shadow Over Innsmouth, titled The Thing That Should Not Be and a song based on H.P.'s Hounds of Tindalos titled All Nightmare Long off of Metallica's 2008 album Death Magnetic, as well as the Black Sabbath song Behind The Wall Of Sleep, from their 1970 debut album, based on Lovecraft's short story Beyond The Wall Of Sleep.
The British anarcho-punk band Rudimentary Peni released the LP album Cacophony in 1987, which was heavily influenced by the writings of H.P. Lovecraft. Punk Band The Marshes also had a number of Lovecraft-themed songs on their 1996 album Fledgling.
The Lovecraftian world has also made its mark on gaming. Cthulhu and its company has been brought to life in a variety of hobby game formats such as role playing games and collectible card games. The board game, Arkham Horror, is enjoying its fourth edition and a steady stream of expansions 22 years since its initial release. Chaosium first made its mark as a publisher of games based on Lovecraft's Mythos.
For most of the 20th century, the definitive editions (specifically At the Mountains of Madness and Other Novels, Dagon and Other Macabre Tales, The Dunwich Horror and Others, and The Horror in the Museum and Other Revisions) of his prose fiction were published by Arkham House, a publisher originally started with the intent of publishing the work of Lovecraft, but which has since published a considerable amount of other literature as well. Penguin Classics has at present issued three volumes of Lovecraft's works: The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories, The Thing on the Doorstep and Other Weird Stories, and most recently The Dreams in the Witch House and Other Weird Stories. They collect the standard texts as edited by S. T. Joshi, most of which were available in the Arkham House editions, with the exception of the restored text of "The Shadow Out of Time" from The Dreams in the Witch House, which had been previously released by small-press publisher Hippocampus Press. In 2005 the prestigious Library of America canonized Lovecraft with a volume of his stories edited by Peter Straub, and Random House's Modern Library line have issued the "definitive edition" of Lovecraft's At the Mountains of Madness (also including "Supernatural Horror in Literature").
Lovecraft's poetry is collected in The Ancient Track: The Complete Poetical Works of H. P. Lovecraft, while much of his juvenilia, various essays on philosophical, political and literary topics, antiquarian travelogues, and other things, can be found in Miscellaneous Writings. Lovecraft's essay "Supernatural Horror in Literature", first published in 1927, is a historical survey of horror literature available with endnotes as The Annotated Supernatural Horror in Literature.
Although Lovecraft is known mostly for his works of weird fiction, the bulk of his writing consists of voluminous letters about a variety of topics, from weird fiction and art criticism to politics and history.
He sometimes dated his letters 200 years before the current date, which would have put the writing back in U.S. colonial times, before the American Revolution (a war which offended his Anglophilia). He explained that he thought that the 18th and 20th centuries were the "best"; the former being a period of noble grace, and the latter a century of science.
Lovecraft was not a very active letter-writer in youth. In 1931 he admitted: "In youth I scarcely did any letter-writing — thanking anybody for a present was so much of an ordeal that I would rather have written a two hundred fifty-line pastoral or a twenty-page treatise on the rings of Saturn." (SL 3.369–70). The initial interest in letters stemmed from his correspondence with his cousin Phillips Gamwell but even more important was his involvement in the amateur journalism movement, which was responsible for the enormous number of letters Lovecraft produced.
Lovecraft clearly states that his contact to numerous different people through letter-writing was one of the main factors in broadening his view of the world: "I found myself opened up to dozens of points of view which would otherwise never have occurred to me. My understanding and sympathies were enlarged, and many of my social, political, and economic views were modified as a consequence of increased knowledge." (SL 4.389).
Today there are five publishing houses that have released letters from Lovecraft, most prominently Arkham House with its five-volume edition Selected Letters. Other publishers are Hippocampus Press (Letters to Alfred Galpin et al.), Night Shade Books (Mysteries of Time and Spirit: The Letters of H. P. Lovecraft and Donald Wandrei et al..), Necronomicon Press (Letters to Samuel Loveman and Vincent Starrett et al.), and University of Tampa Press (O Fortunate Floridian: H. P. Lovecraft's Letters to R. H. Barlow).
Ohio University Press also published "Lord of a Visible World — An Autobiography in Letters" in 2000 which presents his letters according to themes, such as adolescence and travel. It was edited by S. T. Joshi and David E. Schultz.
There is controversy over the copyright status of many of Lovecraft's works, especially his later works. Lovecraft had specified that the young R. H. Barlow would serve as executor of his literary estate, but these instructions had not been incorporated into his will. Nevertheless his surviving aunt carried out his expressed wishes, and Barlow was given charge of the massive and complex literary estate upon Lovecraft's death.
Barlow deposited the bulk of the papers, including the voluminous correspondence, with the John Hay Library, and attempted to organize and maintain Lovecraft's other writing. August Derleth, an older and more established writer than Barlow, vied for control of the literary estate. One result of these conflicts was the legal confusion over who owned what copyrights.
All works published before 1923 are public domain in the U.S. However, there is some disagreement over who exactly owns or owned the copyrights and whether the copyrights for the majority of Lovecraft's works published post-1923—including such prominent pieces as "The Call of Cthulhu" and "At the Mountains of Madness"—have expired as of April 2008.
Questions center over whether copyrights for Lovecraft's works were ever renewed under the terms of the United States Copyright Act of 1976 for works created prior to January 1, 1978. The problem comes from the fact that before the Copyright Act of 1976 the number of years a work was copyrighted in the U.S. was based on publication rather than life of the author plus a certain number of years and that it was good for only 28 years. After that point, a new copyright had to be filed, and any work that did not have its copyright renewed fell back into the public domain. The Copyright Act of 1976 retroactively extended this renewal period for all works to a period of 47 years and the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act of 1998 added another 20 years to that, for a total of 95 years from publication. If the works were renewed, the copyrights would still be valid in the United States.
The European Union Directive on harmonising the term of copyright protection of 1993 extended the copyrights to 70 years after the author's death. So, all works of Lovecraft published during his lifetime, became public domain in all 27 European Union countries on 1 January 2008. In those Berne Convention countries who have implemented only the minimum copyright period, copyright expires 50 years after the author's death.
Lovecraft protégés and part owners of Arkham House, August Derleth and Donald Wandrei, often claimed copyrights over Lovecraft's works. On October 9, 1947, Derleth purchased all rights to Weird Tales. However, since April 1926 at the latest, Lovecraft had reserved all second printing rights to stories published in Weird Tales. Hence, Weird Tales may only have owned the rights to at most six of Lovecraft's tales. Again, even if Derleth did obtain the copyrights to Lovecraft's tales, no evidence as yet has been found that the copyrights were renewed.
S. T. Joshi concludes in his biography, H. P. Lovecraft: A Life, that Derleth's claims are "almost certainly fictitious" and that most of Lovecraft's works published in the amateur press are most likely now in the public domain. The copyright for Lovecraft's works would have been inherited by the only surviving heir of his 1912 will: Lovecraft's aunt, Annie Gamwell. Gamwell herself perished in 1941 and the copyrights then passed to her remaining descendants, Ethel Phillips Morrish and Edna Lewis. Morrish and Lewis then signed a document, sometimes referred to as the Morrish-Lewis gift, permitting Arkham House to republish Lovecraft's works but retaining the copyrights for themselves. Searches of the Library of Congress have failed to find any evidence that these copyrights were then renewed after the 28-year period and, hence, it is likely that these works are now in the public domain.
Chaosium, publishers of the Call of Cthulhu role-playing game, have a trademark on the phrase "The Call of Cthulhu" for use in game products. Another RPG publisher, TSR, Inc., original publisher of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, included in one of that game's earlier supplements, Deities & Demigods (originally published in 1980 and later renamed to "Legends & Lore"), a section on the Cthulhu Mythos; TSR, Inc. later agreed to remove this section at Chaosium's request.
Regardless of the legal disagreements surrounding Lovecraft's works, Lovecraft himself was extremely generous with his own works and actively encouraged others to borrow ideas from his stories, particularly with regard to his Cthulhu mythos. He actively encouraged other writers to reference his creations, such as the Necronomicon, Cthulhu and Yog-Sothoth. After his death, many writers have contributed stories and enriched the shared mythology of the Cthulhu Mythos, as well as making numerous references to his work. (See Cthulhu Mythos in popular culture.)
Lovecraft drew extensively from his native New England for settings in his fiction. Numerous real historical locations are mentioned, and several fictional New England locations make frequent appearances. (See Lovecraft Country.)
Howard Phillips Lovecraft (20 August 1890 – 15 March 1937) was an American author of fantasy, horror, and science fiction, noted for combining these three genres within single narratives. He is considered, along with Edgar Allen Poe, to be one of the greatest Horror writers.
|←Author Index: Lo||Howard Phillips
An American author of
fantasy, horror and science fiction.|
The icon identifies that the work includes a spoken word version.
|Some works by this author are under copyright. Before adding a new text, please review the Copyright policy and Help:Copyright to determine the copyright status.|
He wrote many really scary short stories. These often were about weird creatures that Lovecraft made up by himself or with his friend, August Derleth, who wrote mysteries. The creatures did not really care about human people at all, so they were not out to hurt people, but if they did, they did not care. They looked at us like we would be ants. Their behaviour, attitude and look also tended to make people go crazy.
Lovecraft's stories were inspiration for lots of other authors and writers.
|Error creating thumbnail: sh: convert: command not found|