Recently I watched a quite informative documentary on H. P. Lovecraft which included various writers, such as Neil Gaiman and Caitlin R. Kiernan, giving their thoughts on him as a writer. This has got me re-reading some of my favourite stories of his over the last week (if things weren’t hectic enough at the moment!). I would like to write about my own thoughts about Lovecraft and the effect he’s had on me.
The thing that got me intrigued about Lovecraft’s writings, initially, was a game called Call of Cthulhu, which is a horror role playing game that uses the Cthulhu Mythos. When I was around 16 years old I came across this game but didn’t know who Cthulhu was, or even Lovecraft for that matter. The game looked interesting as the artwork showed it was set in the 1920s and mostly set in the New England area from the look of the buildings. At that time it was difficult to find any of Lovecraft’s writings, but I did look for them. I actually found two of his stories in my book collection from two different collections of horror stories I owned: “The Evil Clergyman” and “The Dunwich Horror” and amongst my father’s books I found the stories “The Music of Erich Zann” and “The Rats in the Walls”. And that was all I knew of his works for a couple of years. Out of all of those “The Rats in the Walls” was the one that affected me the most. Just before I went to University I found The Lurking Fear and Other Stories in a second-hand bookshop. It contained about eleven stories, mostly early ones including the disturbing “The Picture in the House” and “Cool Air”. However the last two stories, and by far the longest ones, were from his later period: “The Shadow Over Innsmouth” and “The Shadow Out of Time”. I’ve always loved the atmospheric buildup in “Innsmouth”. I feel it goes to an obvious conclusion, but the story contains some quite memorable images. There is also an implied threat to it all: if one town has been taken over by Deep Ones, what’s to stop them from doing the same to every other town along the New England coastline? And maybe elsewhere??? “Shadow Out of Time” deals with the idea of other races with quite advanced civilisations living on Earth during different epochs. I recently saw on article which explored this idea for real…
These days I have Lovecraft omnibuses which have most of his stories (annoyingly they miss out about four of them) and on my phone I have a more complete version. I’ve read all of his stories now, many of them multiple times. I think my favourite Mythos story of his is “At the Mountains of Madness”. Guillermo del Toro wants to do a film version of it and I desperately want to see him do it. It’s all about a scientific expedition to Antarctica which investigates a newly discovered mountain range only to find the ruins of an ancient city which turns out not to be as dead as they think… It would make a really good movie, especially in the hands of the right director, such as del Toro. My other favourite stories of his include: “The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath”, “The Whisperer in Darkness”, “The Outsider”, “Dagon”, “The Cats of Ulthar”, “The Dreams in the Witch-House”, “The Colour Out of Space” and “The Strange High House in the Mist”.
There is something I don’t feel comfortable with regarding Lovecraft, and that is his racism. I usually avoid writers I know to be racist (or are extremely right wing) and yet I seem to give Lovecraft a free pass. Why is that? Some people say he was a man of his time, with all the prejudices they had back then, but there are many other writers and thinkers around that time who weren’t racist, or at least not as blatant as he was. In his stories, in-particularly the ones he wrote in the 1920s, people with dark skin or from Eastern Europe, or Asia are described as being inferior and are often in league with the dark powers. Lovecraft was from a well-off family and was fairly reclusive in his late teen years onward. I think these views developed from a person who was shut off from the real world and would often correspond with people of like mind. It’s interesting that after his marriage fell apart and he moved back to Providence his views began changing. At the time the population of Providence was becoming more diverse and Lovecraft had started traveling around North America and the effect of seeing other places broadened his mind. He also had friends who didn’t hold with his views, and so slowly his views became less extreme. If you look at his fiction in the early 1930s the various Mythos creatures from beyond our world become the threat, not people, as these creatures are an anathema to all humanity. He makes that clear. You could say he started looking outwards rather than inwards. Like him I can be a bit of a recluse and I also wanted to be an astronomer as he did, so I feel a connection, and I still read Lovecraft because basically I think highly of his work, even though I don’t like his views. Some of his stories are genuinely disturbing and terrifying. And at least he did begin to change. Unfortunately in the 1930s he died of cancer and I do wonder what would have happened if he had lived another twenty or thirty years. Would he have continued to develop and grow as a person? I also wonder what else he would have written.
I’m not sure what effect he’s had on my writing. Though I guess we are a sum of our influences in many ways. In my early twenties I tried writing a Mythos story. It ended up being quite long and I only got half way through it until I gave up writing it. Not that it was a great loss to literature as it was rather derivative of “The Shadow Over Innsmouth”. The Sky-Pirates of Durn story I’m working on and currently serialising I think has a Lovecraftian influence, and while I don’t want to give too much away it will become more obvious as the story progresses.
Do you have a favourite Lovecraft story? What other horror writers do you like?
By the way things have been a bit hectic for me over the last few days. I was hoping to write another Sky-Pirates installment, but I’ve had little writing time so far this week. It’s my birthday in a few days and I’m organising a party (which is really out of character for me), and have some other things planned, so I’m not sure how much I’ll be online in the short term.