Among the lovers of science fiction and, especially, of the horror stories, HP Lovecraft is a myth. Read and reread, his fans do not always know that behind the apocalyptic author hid a shy character, and a hopelessly insecure teenager.
Many writers’ ambitious works carried behind sedate lives in small towns. In the field of fantasy literature meekness seems to be standard, and a famous example is J. R. R. Tolkien, who created his extravagant and exciting fantasies in his abundant spare time of his teacher life.
Howard Phillips Lovecraft was a typical case. He was born and died in the same city (Providence, capital of the tiny U.S. state of Rhode Island), did not fight in any war, didn’t got involved in any political cause, did not undertake great tasks and in his life had a single (and mild) romantic interest. He didn’t even created an excessively large work. But this lean work left a deep impression, generated followers, fans and followers, and survived to reassert itself as one of the most unique literary legacies of the twentieth century.
Lovecraft was born on August 20, 1890. He had a traditionalist education that advocated a racist doctrine and harbored some distrust toward Jews. These features were characteristic in the thought of the talented novelist and something all his biographers’ remark.
At an early age he began writing horror stories, but these stories soon began to take its own characteristics that kept him away from the work of other authors, such as Edgar Allan Poe. Lovecraft’s world is well defined: he talks of a prehistoric Earth ruled by ancient gods known as the Old Ones, of vast knowledge and frightening appearance, which at one time were defeated by superior forces and condemned to live in another dimension. These Old Ones, from their place of detention, always try to return to our world with the help of some human acolytes. Their return will mean the destruction of our civilization. The interesting thing about Lovecraft is that he doesn’t only describes this bleak picture in his novels, but also has released what would be the “bible” of the Old Ones, the Necronomicon, which contains the rites to achieve dimensional open passages.
Repetitive, archaic, clumsy. That is what is most often said about Lovecraft’s prose. And it’s true. However, with all his technical flaws, this freak of Providence created a literary world that has fascinated people for generations. In life, Lovecraft had a cut of fans. This “Lovecraft Circle”, made among others by August Derleth, Donald Wandrei, Clark Ashton Smith, Robert E. Howard and Frank Belknap Long, was largely influenced by him. Despite the scarcity of Lovecraft’s work, all those who wanted to retake and expand them saw in his works, in many cases far superior technically to the model, darkened by the bleak and engaging stories of their teacher, who achieved a curious and unrepeatable alchemy.
Puritan, rabidly racist, reactionary and almost fascist, frugal, repressed and convinced to be an English gentleman of the eighteenth century, he was, as unanimously testified by those who knew him, a lovely person. His Puritanism was personal: never censured those around him. His racism was curiously literary; there is no evidence that he had expressed it against anyone in particular. He married a Jew girl, without feeling the slightest rejection. Saved by the testimony of those who knew him, his xenophobia should be taken as rejection and fear of the unknown, the different. Whenever Lovecraft made contact with what he said he despised and hated, he assimilated it smoothly. In his letters was an obnoxious racist, but in person was a friendly and retracted man that greatly enjoyed the company of like-minded people, not caring where they come from. Not that he was paradoxical or contradictory, but insecure. He was a complex man, and in the end of his life slowly ebbed his shell and accepted the world.
In life, the son of Providence had Robert Ervin Howard as close friend, a major writer of fantasy literature who created, among other characters, the renowned hero Conan the Cimmerian. Howard belonged to the so-called “Lovecraft Circle of Friends”, a select group of educated people who shared his fondness for mythical and legendary themes, and also participated in the rise of the esoteric groups in Europe, especially those close to Madame Blavatsky and such. It could be said that Lovecraft created a new universe and that Howard populated it with his warriors. Conan fights against the monstrous descendants of the Old Ones.
Lovecraft and Howard shared a common vision of the passing of time, taking a cyclical conception of history. Their friendship was so strong that they even switch characters in his novels. Without Lovecraft, Howard would not have carried out his literature.
It is interesting to think that Conan, who emerges from a branch of fantastic literature with undeniable horror gothic features, became a leading protagonist of the comic world, with such success that was made into a film in two films featuring Arnold Schwarzenegger. The first film in the series, “Conan the Barbarian”, has an extreme similarity to what political thinking members of the “Lovecraft Circle of Friends” advocated. Its director, John Milius, confessed after filming the final scene, where the Northern warrior removes the demonic leader of the sect of Seth, was inspired by the work of Leni Riefenstahl in “The Triumph of the Will”.
Another point where the influence of Lovecraft can be seen is in the work of the great film director John Carpenter, considered one of the best horror filmmakers of all time. Specifically, in two of his films: “They Live” 1988, and “In The Mouth of Madness” in 1995. In the first one, Carpenter makes an interesting and unforgettable fictional story about how our world is controlled by an alien species disguised as human, infiltrating all power positions, and whose true objective is the exploitation of the planet to its final destruction. A characteristic feature of HPL. The second film is a tribute to Lovecraft, perhaps one of the most remarkable psychological horror films ever made.
In 1926 Lovecraft wrote “The Call of Cthulhu”, which would be one of his most remembered tale. It’s about an archaeologist who slowly gets in touch with evidence of the existence of an ancient cult that worships a kind of evil deity who is in trance at the bottom of the sea, Cthulhu. From that moment, Lovecraft stories occurred in three areas. The first, classic horror stories, like “Pickman’s Model” or “cold air”. The second, that he had been carrying since adolescence, stories that are modelled on the author he most admired the Irish Lord Dunsany (one of his favorite authors whom he knew personally at a conference in 1919), with a poetic-dream characteristic. Finally the slope that gives posthumous fame and relevance within the genre is that of the “Cthulhu Mythos,” a series of stories which shows a universe in which the human race shares the Earth with other creatures, some survivors of ancient times, and with gods or super beings prisoners at sea, the Arctic or deep caves. These beings are the losers of unimaginable cosmic war, and the real owners of the planet. They will be free someday, and that day mankind will disappear. Meanwhile his followers and descendants await the resumption of war. Human beings, ignorant of the matter, are a minor accident in this story of the universe. Any contact, however remote it may be, with Cthulhu or his peers (with unpronounceable names such as Nyarlathotep and Azathoth Shubb-Niggurath) inevitably leads to immediate or inevitable destruction.
In the world of the Myths, everything is threatening, dangerous and the destruction of the human race is certain. The protagonists of these stories live reliable daily lives, and unexpectedly discover that reality is not what they live submerged but a titanic dimensions hidden plot where their only role is to be overrun and destroyed. The perfect terminal nightmare teenager who discovers the complexity of the world, the teenager Lovecraft was all his life.
The end of Lovecraft was cruel and premature. In 1936 he began to suffer painful intestinal disorders. A guy like he would rather die than submit to the indignity of a rectal exam, and that was what happened. For when he was diagnosed (by external observation) colon cancer, it was too late for any treatment. He died on March 15, 1937, and only four people attended his funeral. His grave has no headstone, but it has a column that says: “I am Providence”.
It’s not fair to leave HPL like this. It is likely that he preferred an ornate, gloomy description of his tomb, of the moonless dark nights and shadows that creep after his (nonexistent) tombstone. But his work was pleasant and sparked the imagination of many people over decades.
He was a lovely and curious person with a sad life, and every reader who has found pleasure in one of his pages sincerely hopes that in any of these activities previously mentioned he had found deep happiness.