Howard Phillips Lovecraft (August 20, 1890 – March 15, 1937),
of Providence, Rhode Island, was an American author of horror,
fantasy, and science fiction.
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 fictions 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 Christianity. Lovecraft's
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, exerting widespread and indirect influence, and frequently
compared to Edgar Allan Poe.
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. This was
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.
He was brought back to
Providence and placed in Butler Hospital where he remained until his
death in 1898. Lovecraft maintained throughout his life that his
father died in a condition of paralysis brought on by "nervous
exhaustion" due to over-work, but it is now almost certain that
Winfield Scott Lovecraft died from general paresis of the insane.
It is unknown whether
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", which left her with an unusually pallid complexion in
Lovecraft at approximately age nine. Lovecraft thereafter was raised
by his mother, his two aunts (Lillian Delora Phillips and Annie
Emeline Phillips), and his grandfather, Whipple Van Buren Phillips.
All resided together in the family home. Lovecraft was a child
prodigy, reciting poetry at age two 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 young Howard'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 psychological in nature 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 completely ruled out. Due to his sickly
condition and his undisciplined, argumentative nature he barely
attended school until he was eight and then was withdrawn after a
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
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 he contemplated suicide for a time. In 1908, prior to his
high school graduation, he claimed to have himself suffered a
"nervous breakdown", not further described, 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 that he wrote while living a hermit's
existence and 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 UAPA, who invited Lovecraft to join 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 Weird Tales in 1923.
Around this 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
In 1919, after suffering from hysteria and depression for a long
period of time, Lovecraft's mother had a nervous breakdown and was
committed to Butler Hospital 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.
Marriage and New York
A few weeks after the death of his mother, Lovecraft attended an
amateur journalist convention in Boston 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 the borough of Brooklyn in New York City.
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
Lovecraft lived by
himself in the Red Hook neighborhood of Brooklyn and came to
intensely dislike New York life. 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 he and Greene, 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.
Due to the unhappiness
of their marriage, some biographers have speculated that Lovecraft
could have been homosexual, though Greene is often quoted as
referring to him as "an adequately excellent lover".
Return to Providence
Back in Providence, Lovecraft lived in a "spacious brown Victorian
wooden house" at 10 Barnes Street (the address given as the home of
Dr. Willett in The Case of Charles Dexter Ward) until 1933. The
period after his return to Providence—the last decade of his
life—was Lovecraft's most prolific.
During this time period
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 like 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," "Imprisoned with the Pharaohs," and "The Diary of
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 he 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, 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.
Lovecraft's grave in
Swan Point Cemetery in Providence is occasionally marked with
graffiti quoting his famous phrase from "The Call of Cthulhu"
(originally from "The Nameless City"):
"That is not
dead which can eternal lie,
And with strange aeons even death may die."
On October 13, 1997,
unknown individual(s) attempted to dig up Lovecraft's body from his
grave, not knowing that his body is not under the new headstone.
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.
For example, the insane
villains of Gotham City in the Batman stories are said to be
incarcerated at Arkham Asylum - Arkham being an invention of
Lovecraft’s. Many modern horror writers, including Stephen King,
Bentley Little, Joe R. Lansdale, 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 might have made it into 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 if 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
(with Lovecraft’s blessing and encouragement).
It’s been suggested that
it was the efforts of the Lovecraft Circle — particularly August
Derleth — that prevented Lovecraft’s name and fiction from
disappearing completely into obscurity.
After Lovecraft’s death, the Lovecraft Circle carried on. August
Derleth was probably the most prolific of these writers, and 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
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
stories (approximately 1920–1927)
Mythos/Lovecraft Mythos stories (approximately 1925–1935)
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, much of the
supernatural elements in the Dream Cycle takes 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
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
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
His works also featured
British English (he was an admitted Anglophile), and he sometimes
made use of anachronistic spellings, such as "compleat" (for
"complete") "lanthorn" ("lantern"), and "phantasy" ("fantasy"; also
appearing as "phantastic" and "phantabulous").
Lovecraft was a prolific letter writer. During his lifetime he wrote
thousands of these letters, however the exact number of letters he
wrote is still hotly debated. An estimate of 100,000 seems to be the
most likely figure, arrived at by L. Sprague de Camp.
multiple pages to his group of correspondents in small longhand. 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 that 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.
Several themes recur in Lovecraft's stories:
In "The Call of Cthulhu"
(1926), Lovecraft wrote:
merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of
the human mind to correlate all its contents... 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 light into the peace and safety of a new Dark
protagonists are nevertheless always driven to this "piecing
together," which makes up most Lovecraft stories.
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.
Those characters who attempt to make use of such knowledge are
almost invariably doomed. Sometimes their work attracts the
attention of malevolent beings; sometimes, in the spirit of
Frankenstein, they are destroyed by monsters of their own
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
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 temporary victories.
Lovecraft, like his
contemporaries, envisioned "savages" as closer to the Earth,
only in Lovecraft's case, this meant, so to speak, closer to
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
Descendants may be
very far removed, both in place and in time (and, indeed, in
culpability), from the act itself, and yet blood will tell ("The
Rats in the Walls," "The Lurking Fear," "Arthur Jermyn," "The
Alchemist," "The Shadow Over Innsmouth," and The Case of Charles
An example of a
crime that Lovecraft apparently considered heinous enough for
this consequence is cannibalism ("The Picture in the House,"
and, again "The Rats in the Walls").
Inability to escape
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, as in The
Color Out of Space.
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 deeply
influenced by the German conservative-revolutionary theorist
Oswald Spengler (another German proponent of aristocratic
elitism, Friedrich Nietzsche, also influenced Lovecraft).
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
In fact, S. T. Joshi
places Spengler at the center of his discussion of Lovecraft's
political and philosophical ideas - his book on the topic is
entitled, H.P. Lovecraft: The Decline of the West. 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".
Mieville's excellent introduction to "At the Mountains of
Madness", Modern Library Classics, 2005).
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 evil
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.
A common dramatic device in Lovecraft's work is to associate
virtue, intellect, elevated class position, civilization, and
rationality with white Anglo-Saxons, often posing it in contrast
to the corrupt, intellectually inferior, uncivilized and
irrational, which he associated with people he characterized as
being of lower class, impure racial "stock" and/or non European
ethnicity and dark skin complexion who were often the villains
in his writings.
In his poem "On the Creation of Niggers", Lovecraft says:
“When, long ago,
the gods created Earth; In Jove's fair image Man was shaped
at birth. The beasts for lesser parts were designed; Yet
were too remote from humankind. To fill the gap, and join
the rest of Man, Th'Olympian host conceiv'd a clever plan. A
beast they wrought, in semi-human figure, Filled it with
vice, and called the thing a Nigger.”
In "The Call of
Cthulhu" he writes of a captured group of mixed race worshipers
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 coloring 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
“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
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,
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
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:
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".
“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,
However, it should
be noted that the cat in the story is a courageous and helpful
creature; the favorite feline of the story's narrator, so it is
difficult to attribute the animal's name to simple bigotry.
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.
He 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.
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."
Lovecraft was an
avowed Anglophile, and 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 (see, for example, his poem "An American
to Mother England"). His love for English history and culture is
often repeated in his work (such as King Kuranes' nostalgia for
England in "The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath").
The narrator of "Cool Air" speaks disparagingly of the poor
Hispanics of his neighborhood, but respects the wealthy and
aristocratic Spaniard Dr. Muñoz, for his Celtiberian origins,
and because he is "a man of birth, cultivation, and
discrimination." The degenerate descendants of Dutch immigrants
in the Catskill Mountains, "who correspond exactly to the
decadent element of white trash in the South" ("Beyond the Wall
of Sleep", 1919), are common targets.
In "The Temple,"
Lovecraft's highly unsympathetic narrator is a 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.
One of the foremost Lovecraft scholars, S. T. Joshi,
"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
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
According to L. Sprague de Camp's biography, Lovecraft
moderated his views a lot toward the end of his life. Sprague de
Camp says Lovecraft was horrified by reports of anti-Jewish
violence in Germany (prior to World War II, which Lovecraft did
not live to see), which he regarded as irrational.
Lovecraft racist antagonism is a corollary of his nihilistic
notion of biological determinism: At the Mountains of Madness,
in which explorers discover evidence of a completely alien race
(the Elder Things) who are credited with the accidental
introduction of life to earth, through bioengineering but who
were eventually destroyed by their brutish shoggoth slaves.
Even after several
members of the party are killed by revived Elder Things,
Lovecraft's narrator expresses sympathy for them:
"They were the
men of another age and another order of being... what had
they done that we would not have done in their place? God,
what intelligence and persistence! What a facing of the
incredible... Radiates, vegetables, monstrosities, star
spawn — whatever they had been, they were men!"
These lines of
thought in Lovecraft's worldview — racism and romantic
reactionary defense of cultural order in the face of the
degenerative modern world — have led some scholars to see a
special affinity to the aristocratic, anti-modernism of
Traditionalist Julius Evola:
“ Certainly "The
Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath" with its grandiose portrayal
of the onyx city respires the cool and elegant spirit of
Tradition, arraigned against which in several stories is the
sink of decadence, Innsmouth, an inbred population made up
of the offspring of lustful mariners and sea monsters, the
negative force of counter-Tradition. The eternal struggle
between the Uranian power of light and the telluric forces
of chaos is reflected in Lovecraft's work"
Women in Lovecraft's fiction are rare, and sympathetic women
virtually non-existent; the few leading female characters in his
stories — like Asenath Waite (though actually an evil male
wizard who has taken over an innocent girl's body) in "The Thing
on the Doorstep" and Lavinia Whateley in "The Dunwich Horror" —
are invariably servants of sinister forces.
Romance is likewise
almost absent from his stories; where he touches on love, it is
usually a platonic love (e.g. "The Tree"). His characters live
in a world where sexuality is negatively connotated — if it is
productive at all, it gives birth to less-than-human beings
("The Dunwich Horror"). In this context, it might be helpful to
draw attention to the scale of Lovecraft's horror, which has
often been described by critics as "cosmic horror." Operating on
a grand, cosmic scale as his stories are, they assign humanity a
minor, insignificant role.
Consequently, it is
not female sexuality to which the stories categorically deny a
vital and positive role — rather, it is human sexuality in
general. Also, Lovecraft states in a private letter (to one of
the several female intellectuals he befriended) that
discrimination against women is an "oriental" superstition from
which "Aryans" ought to free themselves: evident racism aside,
the letter seems to preclude at least conscious misogyny (as
does, indeed, his private life otherwise).
Keeping in mind, the earliest contact Lovecraft had with women,
first, was his mentally ill mother, and later on, a life spent
living with two elderly aunts.
misogynistic elements are evident in his fiction.
Risks of a
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
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.
Lovecraft was influenced by such authors as 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
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.
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 and Robert Bloch.
Many later figures were
influenced by Lovecraft, including author and artist Clive Barker,
prolific horror writer Stephen King, film directors John Carpenter
and Stuart Gordon, game designers Sandy Petersen and Keichiro
Toyama, horror manga artist Junji Ito, and artist H. R. Giger. H. P.
Lovecraft’s name is virtually synonymous with horror fiction; his
writing, particularly his so-called “Cthulhu Mythos”, has influenced
fiction authors worldwide, and Lovecraftian elements can be seen in
novels, movies, comic books, even cartoons.
Many modern horror
writers — such as Stephen King, Neil Gaiman, F. Paul Wilson, Thomas
Ligotti, T.E.D. Klein, Caitlín R. Kiernan, Ramsey Campbell, and
Brian Lumley, to name just a few — have cited Lovecraft as one of
their primary influences.
Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges dedicated his short story
"There Are More Things" to the 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.
Other authors have written stories that are explicitly set in the
same reality as Lovecraft's original stories. Lovecraft pastiches
are common. Lovecraft's characteristic devices — like the object
that drives one insane upon seeing it — are now eponymous.
There have also been detailed references to the Cthulhu mythos in
current and near current science fiction (for example, Babylon 5:
Thirdspace and the Doctor Who new adventures novels). Lovecraft
appears as himself in the television tie-in novel Stargate SG-1:
He has also been held responsible for the invention of the
philosophy "Cosmicism" which was reflected in many works beyond his
own, including the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy series and
movies like The Day the Earth Stood Still.