“Who the heck is this Lovecraft guy?”

Posted by Peter Hall - July 15th 2007 @ 1:56 pm
Cthulhu painting
 
"The world is indeed comic, but the joke is on mankind."
H.P. Lovecraft 

Reader Brian poised the question a few days ago in response to Cloverfield, which some are hypothesizing to be about a Cthluhu-y monster.  Well, that rumor seems to be circling the drain, but the Lovecraft question remains all the same.

To textbook it, Howard Phillips Lovecraft was born in 1980 1890, died in 1937 and used those reclusive years alive to write stories of cosmic horrors that no one would give a damn about until 90 years later.  There isn’t a genre writer alive who can deny the man’s influence.  Not so much that he invented a style or was even that great of a writer, but that he perfected the art of things that are so far beyond human comprehension to merely glimpse even the shadow of any of these monstrosities would be enough to induce permanent insanity.

He was a lonely man, constantly ill and fascinated by cats.  So, basically, he was two parts genius, one and a half parts bubble boy and half crazy cat lady man.  Those precise and undeniable ingredients explain why he could construct some of the most quotable horror ever written.

Though his style was always top notch, his actual stories are grab bag.  There are some epic in scope ("The Call of Cthluhu", "At the Mountains of Madness"), more intimate shorts ("The Statement of Randolph Carter", "Dagon", "The Picture in the House") and then just plan bores ("The Cats of Ulthar", "Nyarlathotep)".  Running a scoreboard there are considerably more inconsequential works than true successes (especially if you count films based on his works, of which IMDB credits 69), but thats only because the man went to bat again and again.  Can’t win all the time, but the home-runs he hit really went the distance. Side note, is there any sport that provides better reference points than baseball?  I submit that there is not.

Anyways, that’s who Lovecraft was.  There isn’t a story of monsters and cosmic mayhem written in the last 50 years that escapes a likening to one of his many tales.  Which is why you hear (especially on this site ) that something is "Lovecraftian" quite often.  Plus you just can’t beat his more inspired works:


"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." – The Call of Cthulhu

"It is uncommon to fire all six shots of a revolver with great suddenness when one would probably be sufficient, but many things in the life of Herbert West were uncommon."

"It is natural that such a thing as a dead man’s scream should give horror, for it is obviously not a pleasing or ordinary occurrence; but I was used to similar experiences" – Herbert West–Reanimator

"If we knew what we are, we should do as Sir Arthur Jermyn did; and Arthur Jermyn soaked himself in oil and set fire to his clothing one night." – Facts Concerning the Late Arthur Jermyn and His Family

His most popular pieces are things like "Call of Cthulhu" or "Herbert West", but my favorites are two more subtle stories; "The Statement of Randolph Carter" and "Dagon".  All of his works are, as far as I know, public domain, so if you don’t want to pay for any of the many collections (I recommend anything edited by Lovecraft scholar J. T. Toshi), they can all be found online .

Oh, and this site consisting entirely of Lovecraft quotes is a fantastic read all by itself.  Bookmark it.


rss 7 comments
  1. July 15th, 2007 | 6:10 pm | #1

    1980 – 1937 = magical powers of reverse living!

    I’d highly recommend Matthew Baldwin‘s The LiveJournal of Zachary Marsh piece. It won’t help newcomers to Lovecraft understand his writing much, but it’s a treat for anyone familiar with his works.

  2. Brian
    July 16th, 2007 | 2:07 pm | #2

    For the record, I asked that question in jest. Of course I know who Lovecraft was. I just didn’t know what the big deal was about. Thanks for explaining it a little.

  3. July 16th, 2007 | 2:17 pm | #3

    I had absolutely no clue who he was up until two years ago. Took another year for me to read a single word he wrote. At that point it took about 30 minutes sitting in a Borders to realize the man was the very brand of asphalt used to pave the alley I’d say other likes of mine are right up.

    Star, Thanks, I dig that LiveJournal. Great idea done just right.

  4. R.J. Sayer
    July 16th, 2007 | 6:28 pm | #4

    we also shouldn’t forget to mention that good ol’ Howie was a bit of a racist and anti-semite (despite being married to a Jewish woman).

    too bad.

    visionary writer.

  5. July 17th, 2007 | 6:21 pm | #5

    His mother also dressed him up in girls’ clothes when he was young. While this is by no means a eureka detail, it does shed some light on his peculiar sense that some things are very, very different than what they appear.

    While not a great writer, there is no discounting his influence.

    Good post. Thanks.

  6. March 2nd, 2008 | 5:05 pm | #6

    This man’s writing style fascinates me. I need to read some of his books.

  7. Urong
    February 15th, 2010 | 1:37 am | #7

    His writing is terrible, only exquisite due to his use of words that were not common usage even when he was originally published. It’s only his influence on better, more popular writers that have made Lovecraft well known and worshiped.

    Read some of his character dialogue and you’ll see what I mean.

    And his stories are very predictable and boring – the same three themes somehow spawn dozens of works;
    1) Always dark, brooding settings,
    2) Always that man is not in control, weak and insignificant.
    3) Madness MADNESS MADDDDDDDDNESSSSSSSSSSSSS!

    Read one of his stories and that’s all you need.

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