"The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown"
-Lovecraft

Content Editor's Note: This is an excellent reference list. Please use it to avoid noding works which are still under copyright protection. That is, anything before 1923 is fair game. Anything published in 1923 or later is off-limits. The copyright status of Lovecraft's post-1923 works in particular is uncertain but Arkham House lay claim to it. Err on the side of caution, we don't really know.

Update:
Please note that Lovecraft’s fiction is still considered to be under copyright by Arkham House,
and any texts presently available on the web without their consent are in violation of that copyright
.

Poems:

Works:

Cthulhu Mythos stories:

Movies based on Lovecraft:

See also: Lovecraft Encyclopedia

Lovecraft was quite an interesting historical character. He was raised in an atmosphere of almost total seclusion in a big old house in Providence, Rhode Island. His father died in early middle age in a mental institution, leaving his mother to pamper and coddle the young Howard to an almost-criminal degree. Lovecraft spent his young years playing alone, reading, writing and staying up all night. He was either a really sickly child or a complete hypochondriac.

Lovecraft, for the record, hated astrology. He was an amateur astronomer. He also showed an early interest in chemistry and history. While he was young, he adopted the eighteenth century as his personal historical ideal, even going so far as to adopt archaic modes of writing ( "Aftronomy," "Inveftigat'd," "God Save the King!") He would have done well in school, but he kept having problems with his nerves. Many biographers have posthumously diagnosed him with schizoid tendencies and/or hypoglycemia.

Perhaps due to his ridiculous upbringing, he grew up an insecure, shy, ineffectual man, which he compensated for by adopting a snobbish attitude, at least in his letters. During his middle years (he only lived to be 46) he took up the cause of racial purity and Anglo-Saxon supremacy. Immigration to his beloved Providence home angered him. He probably wrote over 100,000 letters during his lifetime to many correspondents, mostly members of the amateur writers' community in the 1920's and 30's. His celibacy was apparently a close rival to Sir Isaac Newton's, excepting his brief and troublesome marriage to a woman named Sonia Greene. I'm guessing they knocked boots maybe four or five times before they separated, tops.

Neophyte Lovecraft fans are best warned about his languid, adjective-riddled style, the heir apparent of Edgar Allan Poe. Personally, I feel that he had the ability to use chunky, compound-complex sentences in a very effective way, a suitable tool to create mood. His stories are usually VERY short on dialog.

Anyway, he got old, poor, and sick. He recanted a lot of the bigoted, neurotic views of his youth and unfortunately turned a destructive hand to some of his earlier work. His place in literary history is established in spades: He wrote stories designed solely to give readers the creepy-crawly shivers, without pretense to philosophical or sociological themes. "Lovecraftian" has become an adjective all its own.


As a personal note, probably the finest example of Lovecraftian film is "The Ninth Gate" by Roman Polanski. Not that it's a triumph of the silver screen or anything, but they got the mood right. As far as my Lovecraft biographies tell me, almost all the other information on these nodes is mostly correct.

Howard Phillips Lovecraft (1890 - 1937)

Early life

H. P. Lovecraft clawed himself free of the unnameable horror of being imprisoned alive in the womb at 9:00 A.M. on August 20, 1890, bewildered to find himself in a house at 194 Angell Street in Providence, Rhode Island. Howard screamed in terror to discover his father, Winfield Scott Lovecraft, was a traveling silverware salesman. His mother, Sarah Susan Phillips Lovecraft, was a descendant of George Phillips, who, in turn, was one of the first pilgrims to America. Winfield Lovecraft suffered an astounding nervous breakdown when Howard was just three, and crawled back into the grave five years later.

Youth

Howard was a sickly boy, frequently plagued by illness (both mental and physical) throughout his childhood. This did not diminish his love for the unspeakable (not to mention thankless) profession of writing. He wrote poetry and stories starting in childhood, but did not begin to be recognized for them until 1913, when he wrote an attack, in verse, on the insipid love stories that filled the pulp magazines in those days. Who could have pictured the unimaginable surprise on his face when the President of the UAPA (United Amatuer Press Association) wrote him and asked him to join? Lovecraft eventually became the President of the UAPA himself, but before this would occur, he would have begun writing the tales of complete and utter horror which turn even today's readers into terrified puddles of quivering flesh.

Marriage

Shortly after his mother's death in 1921, Howard met the unnameable beast that he would subsequently make his wife. Sonia Haft Greene, a Russian Jew living in Brooklyn, married H. P. Lovecraft on May 24, 1924, and ran a hat shop for a while, until, of course, misfortune overtook them and the hat shop went belly-up. She subsequently became quite ill, and entered a sanitorium. Howard moved back to Providence in 1926 and divorced Sonia in 1929.

Death

Some of Lovecraft's most famous writings were written after his return to Rhode Island. He continued to write until he succumbed to the unspeakable cancer that moved through his intestines on March 10, 1937. It was mainly due to two of his friends that we have any of his works today. August Derleth and Donald Wandrei had some of Lovecraft's works put into a hardbound edition in 1939, and Derleth subsequently finished many of Lovecraft's incomplete works.

Hello there! Your friendly defender of truth and justice here to provide you with a short primer designed to crush mercilessly beneath my bootheels a number of misconceptions surrounding the life and works of H.P. Lovecraft, a mindblowingly scrumptiously amazing author. With no further ado, I present...

Lovecraft Myths and Misconceptions Dispelled Vigorously!


The man was a total recluse. Never left New England!
Yeah, yeah, you know the drill. Lovecraft is constantly portrayed as an introspective hermit who maintained his friendships through voluminous correspondence and ne'er dared venture from the seclusion of his home.

In reality, Lovecraft traveled widely (frequently to visit friends) and wrote about his voyages in often lengthy travelogues. He trekked as far north as Quebec and as far south as De Land, Florida. To me, that implies he was anything but reclusive. His travelogues include what is Lovecraft's most sprawling work at 75 000 words: A Description of the Town of Quebeck, in New France, Lately Added to His Britannick Majesty's Dominions. Whew, what a title!

And gay too! The gayest gay that ever nanced down the pike!
Haha, sometimes it seems every historical figure or famous author has at least one person out there claiming they were flaming homosexuals. I think a good counter for this myth is to note that he was (albeit briefly) married to a woman who described him as an "adequately excellent lover." If that's not enough to convince you, let me share a few scraps of Lovecraft's letters:

"As a matter of fact—although of course I always knew that paederasty was a disgusting custom of many ancient nations—I never heard of homosexuality as an actual instinct till I was over thirty ... which beats your record! It is possible, I think that this perversion occurs more frequently in some periods than in others—owing to obscure biological & psychological causes. Decadent ages—when psychology is unsettled—seem to favour it. Of course—in ancient times the extent of the practice of paederasty (as a custom which most simply accepted blindly, without any special inclination) cannot be taken as any measure of the extent of actual psychological perversion."

-H.P. Lovecraft, letter to J. Vernon Shea,14 August 1933.

"So far as the case of homosexuality goes, the primary and vital objection against it is that it is naturally (physically and
involuntarily-- not merely 'morally' or aesthetically) repugnant to the overwhelming bulk of mankind..."

-H.P. Lovecraft, letter to August Derleth, 16 February 1933

Well, there you go. Unless he was very much in denial, the man seems to have been more inclined to homophobia than homosexuality. Actually, Lovecraft biographies often express that he was somewhat asexual, preferring intellectual pursuits to physical distractions.

The Necronomicon is like totally absolutely REAL. I've seen it myself!
No, it bloody well isn't. Lovecraft invented the fabled book for his stories and that's that, you tremendous moron. Lovecraft himself was often plagued with letters inquiring as to the reality of his concocted Necronomicon. Here is just one example from his correspondences of our boy asserting that the Necronomicon is fictional and was devised entirely by him:

"Regarding the Necronomicon—I must confess that this monstrous & abhorred volume is merely a figment of my own imagination! Inventing horrible books is quite a pastime among devotees of the weird, & ... many of the regular W.T. contributors have such things to their credit—or discredit. It rather amuses the different writers to use one another's synthetic demons &imaginary books in their stories—so that Clark Ashton Smith often speaks of my Necronomicon while I refer to his Book of Eibon ... & so on. This pooling of resources tends to build up quite a pseudo-convincing background of dark mythology, legendry, & bibliography—though of course none of us has the least wish actually to mislead readers."

-H.P. Lovecraft, letter to Miss Margaret Sylvester, January 13, 1934

Righto, jolly good. Necronomicon not real. You get the picture. There's been a metric fuckton of fake Necronomicons popping up. A website I came across mentions more than ten of them, though most are parodies and inside-jokes. One which qualifies as entirely a hoax (rather than a joke or spoof) is the Simon Necronomicon, published (you can buy it on Amazon, for the love of god!) by a mysterious man named Simon whose hobbies seem to include slinging tremendous quantities of bullshit. Incidentally, this sometimes goes by the clever nickname of the Simonomicon.Whatever, numerous copies of this exist in text on the web so you can go decide for yourself. A google search will also find you some nice essays giving evidence that the Simon Necronomicon is pure unadultered crap.

I heard from my aunt's third-cousin twice removed that Lovecraft's creations were often inspired by Sumerian mythology! Fancy that!
This misconception is the work of that blasted Simon Necronomicon I was just telling you about. It compares Lovecraft's characters to similar figures in Sumerian mythology. Cthulhu is mentioned as being remarkably similar to the Sumerian Ctha-la or Kutulu. These claims should be taken with a dumptruck full of salt because there is no Ctha-la or Kutulu in Sumerian mythology. Or Babylonian. Thoroughly erroneous and entirely a fabrication of the infamous author of the Simon Necronomicon.

Word on the street is Lovecraft didn't like ice cream! How obscene!
Absurd! I have right here an exerpt from a letter by Lovecraft which proves otherwise!

"There are twenty-eight varieties this season, and we sampled them all within the course of an hour."

-H.P. Lovecraft , about ice cream, letter to Maurice W. Moe, July 30 1927

SEE?! And for those who say this isn't really a widespread Lovecraft misconception but rather something I made up so I could share the coolest Lovecraft quote ever... Quiet, you bastards! How dare you not be smitten by H. P. Lovecraft talking about ice cream!?


references:
http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0380751925/qid%3D1011724504/sr%3D2-2/ref%3Dsr%5F2%5F11%5F2/103-4273181-4185456
http://www.hplovecraft.com/life/myths.htm
http://www.amk.ca/quotations/hp-lovecraft/page-8
http://www.geocities.com/SoHo/9879/necfake.htm
http://members.fortunecity.com/moderan/nonfic/20thgothic4.html
http://www.epberglund.com/RGttCM/nightscapes/NS15/ns15nf02.htm

I am not going to touch on the biographical details of Mr. Lovecraft, if you're interested at all in his birth, life and death they are well documented both here and on Wikipedia.

As a human being he was overly racist, even by the standards of his day and pretentious. As an author, well, let me remind you that he wrote pulp fiction, a significant amount of which was rejected in his lifetime. He revisited ideas over and over, and many of those were rehashes of other authors. Dagon, the Deep One immortal fish-people of Innsmouth and so on were based on another author's work, "Fishhead". 

Let's not get into the fact that he reused some set ideas over and over again: the story as suicide note or warning note to others about the main character's disappearance - using a character going insane or fainting in horror so as to avoid writing What Happens Next, descriptions of things as "gibbous, amorphous, horrifying" etc. etc. and refusing to describe them and so forth, vast underwater cities that send dreams to others (an idea he took from another author, in passing....) and so on.

What he did do however, is create a world, a milieu (since referred to as the Cthulhu Mythos and backdrop for storytelling about cosmic horror that other authors and properties have since used, in an "open source" style arrangement - both during his life and afterwards. Just about everyone has heard of the Necronomicon, or the name Cthulhu, or seen a reference to Arkham or Miskatonic University.

And he is, for the record, important in the history of 20th century horror.

Not only because notaries like Stephen King were lauded for finally breaking the cosmic horror stranglehold that Lovecraft and others had on horror - but because he managed to successfully bridge two distinct generations of horror, and be one of the leading horror writers of his time.

I argue that there are two main ideas in horror - that of some kind of physical threat, which is where gorn, splatterpunk and slasher movies get their strength. The other is contagion. And whereas our worries of contagion are based on the viruses, decay and environmental threats we face in our own iives - his were based on earlier concerns in earlier times.

And keep in mind that there's a difference between a jump scare, fear, and horror. A jump scare can as easily be triggered by a cat jumping through a window as someone showing up in the next frame with an ice pick. Fear is something very immediate - "he's out there!". Horror, on the other hand - is something we're getting increasingly immune to. It's the kind of sensation that someone gets knowing there's some doom ahead. It's the existential dread of religion - knowing that the end of life is an eternal Hell - or the Buddhist idea of reality being a never ending cycle of pain - the pain of birth, growing old, old age, and death. Repeating over and over again. Forever. For most, the closest they will get is the sinking feeling a child gets when told they've crossed a line during a trip to the mall and they know that not now, but at some later moment when the shopping trip is over their pants will be removed and a stinging belt will be applied to their buttocks, beyond their threshold to cope. For hippie raised kids like myself who have never been spanked, it's what you get knowing you will need a painful medical procedure, such as a root canal - one that will happen next Monday. It's not the immediate threat, but the wait, and the dreaded anticipation. One that gets worse as time goes on, which weighs on every moment, one worse than the actual spanking, surgical procedure, etc. in many ways.

His world, his real world - was one where scientific discoveries were sometimes breakthroughs but also sometimes curses. Marie Curie discovered radium and did groundbreaking work in nuclear physics, but died of radiation poisoning that doctors didn't even know how to fix. In fact, even after she died some health food aficionados were drinking radium water which promised to give you "the power of atomic energy!"(TM)*  Until one of them keeled over, dead of numerous cancers and people realized to their horror they had unleashed something quite dangerous. As Tom Baker (as Doctor Who) said to Professor Sorenson in Planet of Evil - "You and I are scientists, Professor. We buy our privilege to experiment at the cost of total responsibility." And sometimes that bill carries a LOT of penalties, and interest.

At the same time that Lovecraft's world was understanding more and more about chemistry and physics, new technologies enabled people to travel and intermingle. Explorers could reach further corners of the earth and run into tribes who are now wearing Western clothing and posting on Facebook via cellphones. Artifacts were dug up which revealed doomed civilizations, and Lovecraft's personal interests went beyond the sciences and into archaeology as well.

And a major theme in his work was about our world becoming contaminated by contact - not only with our own experiments, but in contact with other peoples who had made the mistake of poking their noses in to corners where noses should never, ever be poked. Or even worse, breeding with them - in a contract that promised early people short term incredible financial gain in exchange for a long term eradication of the human race.

As someone who grew up during a time of segregation and racial purity, and the monstrous "science" of eugenics - and also with a personal history of sickness and whose parents both died in mental hospitals (and was very probably mentally ill himself) he was terrified of there being something in his own DNA that would "out". It was believed that genes would eventually "out" - after all, what Englishman of a certain age or blue blood New Englander wouldn't have heard at least the concept of "breeding" as applied to people, and the importance of avoiding madness and physical infirmity in the people you bred with.

It's not an idea peculiar to Lovecraft - Bilbo Baggins in the Hobbit was considered to have "gone crazy" and gone off on adventures because of the "Took"ish blood on his mother's side. Bertha Mason in Jane Eyre had the "madness" come out in her "Creole blood". But Lovecraft took it up to 11 in his work, with the idea of the Deep Ones interbreeding with people, and human beings discovering that their skin falling off and their inability to walk anymore was merely a precursor to becoming a scaly fish person worshipping some demonic entity in a dark underwater city, their human personalities eventually eroding as they take on a different, human sacrificing nature. He took his own worry of eventually dying in the same kind of mental sanitarium his parents both died in, as well as his horror of seeing white bloodlines interbred with "darker" people - and stirred up very dark, very primal concerns about "us" and "not us". 

The importance of this, historically - is that prior generations of horror writers concentrated on the importance of the purity of the soul. The horror of Faust is Doctor Faustus knowing full well Satan will come for his immortal soul. But apart from breast-filled Italian horror movies of the 1960s, who really cared about medieval morality plays in a modern world where the Bible, taken literally, would become seen as increasingly ridiculous?

Lovecraft took the worry of contaminating one's soul with contact with sins and sinners, and transferred it to the society's fear of where science would poke its nose in next. This isn't a horror peculiar to his generation - I know people who were utterly convinced that some high-energy physics experiment or other would either create a black hole somewhere at Cal Tech or otherwise somehow disturb the electrical house of cards that underpins all of reality and create a literal reality bomb annihilating all space and time. He also took their fear of contamination of the soul by some kind of deal with the devil, and transferred it to body horror in which someone cannot escape a very real and personal doom.

Horror of the body would have been ridiculous in a time where many children didn't see adulthood and the average age at death was somewhere in the 40s. After all, to religious folk thi is a transient state before an eternity in Heaven, who cares about suffering for a year or two? Having accepted that youth is fleeting, life is short and brutish - most cultures would have just scoffed. But once people stopped fearing for their soul and living long enough - they needed something else, some other kind of fear to adhere to. And in Lovecraft's world the Deep Ones never die, except by being killed. Lurking underwater as a fish demon is an eternal sentence, and an endless body horror. There are gigantic demonic forces that don't fit into our Christian/Zoroastrian ideas about good and evil, and have no human advocate in the way Jesus fits into our theological understanding.

Of course, eventually we came to live in a world where even Big Ideas about the soul and existential life were lost, and the only thing you could scare them with was the idea of being cut to pieces by someone weilding a chainsaw. Clive Barker touched on the idea of the universe having energies behind it that didn't play by our rules with Hellraiser - the Cenobites and the Hell Priest specifically - but even then, that was less based on fear of going crazy over decades and was more based on his concerns while dating (as a gay man) that he'd eventually cross paths with someone whose idea of a Tinder date involved blades and pain, and no safeword.

It's why Lovecraft as a person is little remembered, but why more people know about him from references in Metallica songs and shoutouts than his original work. Because they don't really remember him for his own personal achievements, but by tapping hard into the zeitgeist of what scared people. He's also remembered as someone who brought dread and horror back into a genre which had abandoned previous reasons for dread. And as such, he takes an important place in the pantheon of horror. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

*These statements were never approved by the FDA and are not meant to diagnose, cure, or treat any disease.

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