I gotta be honest with you guys, I was really stuck for a blog this week – mainly because I had a lot of other commitments during the week (work mainly) and struggling to get my Halloween blog up on time. But, I knew that I had to put something out today and wracked my brain for something to talk about.
Then I came across this little post that I originally posted on my Tumblr blog last year. As I no longer use Tumblr (had no cause to) I thought I’d bring this one back for another run. And seeing as Halloween has just passed us, this seemed a little appropriate – sorta like a “post-Halloween” blog.
It also is pretty cool to bring this back as it’s about an author that I was hugely inspired by, but never really talked about much. So, for today’s blog, I’d like to take a quick retrospective on one of my favourite authors. The Master of the Macabre, H.P. Lovecraft.
Chances are, many of you will know who H.P. Lovecraft is, given that a number of his works have been translated into films (although not always for the better), but some of you may not know so I’ll give you the gist. Lovecraft was a writer that wrote a series of short stories and novellas around the 1920’s era and a little beyond. His work was often printed in pulp magazines and “weird fiction” papers. A majority of his stories usually revolved around outer space beings that, in a frightening way, were responsible for the creation of humanity and their existence. Perhaps his most famous creations were The Great Old Ones, who were a race of alien entities that had existed since long before time.
Lovecraft created what was known to be called the “Cthullu Mythos”, a selection of stories that, whilst standalone in their own right, were all based around a shared universe where human beings would come into contact with cults dedicated to these beasts – or even, as in some cases, the beasts themselves. It’s named after the monster Cthullu, who was first introduced in the novella The Call of Cthullu, and he is arguably the most iconic of all his creations. He also created the now infamous Necromonicon, a fictionalised grimore containing all manner of strange magical rites (which was also the inspiration behind the Necromonicon in the Evil Dead series).
Whilst his work wasn’t really noticed much during his life, H.P. Lovecraft has inspired a number of legendary horror writers. Stephen King has repeatedly quoted Lovecraft as his favourite author, Clive Barker followed a similar theme in his books and Neil Gaiman has stated that ‘H.P. Lovercraft built the stage on which most of the last century’s horror fiction was performed.’ (taken from the insert of Eldritch Tales). There is even a role play game series based on his works and you can see a lot of his influences, not just in horror, but in fantasy and science fiction as well. One example of this is the Forgotten Ones in the Warcraft series. Cthullu (his most famous creation) has appeared in a number of works – Metallica have done two songs based on Cthullu called Call of Ktulu and The Thing That Should Not Be (on Ride the Lighting and Master of Puppets respectably). There’s even an episode of The Real Ghostbusters where they go up against Lovercraft's creations and have to fight Cthullu. That is awesome beyond belief!
I actually first got into Lovecraft after playing a video game called Prisoner of Ice, which was (loosely) based on the story At The Mountatins of Madness. One of the interesting things about Lovecraft’s writing that I find is the way he tells his stories. Most of the time, his works are told from the perspective of a narrator (who are usually explorers or those with an interest in history), who are caught up in the horror through circumstances – or sometimes even through their own sheer morbid curiosity. We see the stories through their eyes and experience their horror as, what usually starts out innocent enough, soon degenerates into a terrible struggle for survival where they are at the mercy of forces they cannot comprehend. As we are only seeing these events through the eyes of the narrator, we are never given a full and detailed explanation of what is happening. Given that the author is usually driven mad by the events, a lot of what they describe is often brought into question. It forces us to make up our own minds as to what they saw and what happened – which is what good Horror should be. Horror should let the reader use their imagination to create terror and not outright explain everything that’s going on. Because the best kind of fear comes from what we don’t understand.
And that is the major theme in Lovecraft’s work – fear of the unknown. Or more specifically, the unknowable. As I mentioned previously, many of the cosmic entities that Lovecraft created (be they Great Old One or some other race), are said to have come to Earth many millions of years ago, shaping the planet and creating life as part of some weird experiment. In fact, some of them still exist in the world, living deep beneath the surface. Lovecraft not just plays on our most basic fears, but also questions our existence. What if we, the human race, are just the by product of some weird experiment by a force greater than us? A lot of people like to question the meaning to life, but what if there is there is no meaning to our life? What if we are just insects waiting to be crushed by some crazed alien monster?
Speaking of monsters, H.P Lovecraft has to commended for creating some of the most frightening entities in Horror fiction. For example, the shuggoth is a shape changing blob that crushes everything in its path. The Deep Ones are a race of fish like monsters that mate with humans and turn them into deformed monsters. And then there are The Great Race of Yith – an alien species that have the power to switch bodies with other races and it’s hinted that they are responsible for granting humans much of the knowledge that they possess. And that’s just SOME of the creatures he created. And all of them defy explanation and appearance, utterly alien in their design and appearance. I’ll spare trying to explain them to you as I doubt I’d know where to start – but check out this link for a more detailed description of them by an amazing artist.
Some of you may have heard the term “Lovecraftian Horror” and a lot of other writers have attempted this style of horror over the years. Usually in a horror story, the protagonist is placed in an inescapable situation; much like in Jamie Lee Curtis’s character in Halloween and the teenagers in Nightmare on Elm Street. However, whereas the protagonist eventually finds a way of defeating and/or escaping the horror, in Lovecraft’s work there is usually NO escape. Even if they do manage to overcome or survive an attack by a monster or enemy, the horror and the knowledge that they have accrued still stays with them. Sometimes they discover that their family bloodline is directly related to the cult or monster they were fighting, meaning that they can never be free of the terror that they encountered. In the most extreme of cases, there are some tales whereby the protagonist discovers something that will eventually affect the whole of humanity – thus meaning that humanity, as a race, will never be able to escape its fate and will eventually be obliterated by the very beings that created them.
Lovecraft’s stories tend to have a bleak and extremely depressing viewpoint that often has a twist that completely makes the main character snap and lose their sanity. Yes, there are one or two stories where the protagonist does find a way of stopping the monster – but it’s usually a Pyrrhic victory that requires a heavy cost. It could be argued that that these stories reflected Lovecraft’s rather bleak outlook on life in general, given that a lot of his characters are often punished for their own desire for knowledge. It’s almost like Lovecraft is trying to punish humanity for being naturally curious, thinking that they might discover something that will lead to their undoing – or, to put it another way, ‘curiosity killed the cat.’ Sometimes it feels like Lovecraft is questioning our very existence as a race and whether humans actually have any real point to them being here.
Of course, there are loads more themes to his books and what I touched on here is just a small part of that. If I was to touch on every single theme this would take too long and I really want you guys to experience his work yourself. If you’re willing to put conventional thought aside and lose yourself in the elaborate and macabre, then I strongly recommend checking his work out. The stories I’d recommend for beginners would be The Ousider, The Shadow over Innsmouth, At the Mountains of Madness, and of course, The Call of Cthullu. Once you read these, you’ll be able to see the influence he had on other writers of today.