Influences: HP LOVECRAFT

It’s kind of predictable really, isn’t it, having HP Lovecraft as an influence? Seems like every horror writer cites the New England resident as having had a hand in shaping their work. Certainly Lovecraft has had a wider influence on horror since he died in 1937 than he ever did in his own lifetime, his work not only stamping its imprint on the generations of writers following him but also on film, comics and games.

I first came across him when I read The Illuminatus! Trilogy, back when I was a teenager (for details on that book, click here). Bearing in mind my somewhat hazy memory, it mentioned Yog-Sothoth and Great Cthulhu himself within its pages (along with references to Lovecraft, of course) and the very names intrigued me. However, it wasn’t until some years later, when I was in my early twenties, that I actually bought a collection of his stories and only because I came across a copy in my local bookshop (I was a supremely lazy boy). Grafton published three substantial paperback Omnibus volumes of his work – At the Mountains of Madness and Other Novels of Terror, Dagon and Other Macabre Tales and The Haunter of the Dark and Other Tales – in the mid-eighties, all of which were graced with beautiful Tim White covers. Sadly, and somewhat stupidly, I left them back at home in Wales when I moved to Plymouth and I don’t know what’s become of them since.

Suffice it to say, however, that from the very first word, I was hooked. Lovecraft’s vision of cosmic horror entranced me completely – the notion that, behind the everyday reality that you and I engage with, are beings, existences and dimensions far beyond our human comprehension. Beings, existence and dimensions that, if we were to confront them, would actually drive us insane. Also, that the TRUE creators of our world were star-spanning monstrosities and not the God of Abraham; beings who truly see us with the same regard as we see ants. We are nothing to them. Moreover, they want their world back.

It was the title story of that first volume, At the Mountains of Madness, that REALLY drew me into his world. Like many, at such a tender age I still knew relatively little about the world around me and I hadn’t yet been beset by the cynicism and ennui that inevitably comes with growing older. The idea that hidden and scientifically unknown civilisations existed, and that there were cities extending way back before the recorded history of mankind still out there waiting to be found, held an enormous appeal, as it still does to a certain extent today. It was that very element that sent the chills down my spine, that were ancient entities and intelligences of whose existence we were as yet unaware of. Additionally, that the universe, as beautiful and as gorgeous as it looks to us through the telescope, is in fact a cold, uncaring and dangerous place.

For the next few years I got into his whole vision quite heavily, even playing Chaosium’s Call of Cthulhu a few times and also buying Carl Ford’s Dagon ‘zine on a regular basis (look out for a special guest-blog from Mr. Ford, reminiscing about its heyday, appearing here very soon). I also harboured, if truth be told, a secret wish that, somehow, what Lovecraft wrote about was fact very cleverly disguised as fiction (and, in fact, there are some who actually do believe this…). His most famous creation, the dread tome called The Necronomicon, is often claimed to be real, and there have been more than a few fake attempts at bringing it to the masses… no-one has yet gone mad from reading them, though, as far as I am aware.

I recently bought, as some of you will know, the Wordsworth Edition of The Whisperer in Darkness from a second-hand bookstore. And I have to say that once again, as soon as I read the very first word of Dagon, it whisked me back down the years and gave me exactly the same species of dark thrills as they did when I read them initially. Yes, the language is archaic and some of the words he uses have long since fallen out of use, but still it brings the requisite air of abominable entities and ancient cults that the stories require. Yes, there are also those troublesome racist references in his work (such as in The Call of Cthulhu) that are very uncomfortable and difficult for our modern sensibilities to swallow. On that last point, though, let’s put this in context: early 20th century attitudes to race were very different to what they are now and racism was almost universally prevalent at all levels of US society at the time. This is NOT an excuse: this is just a fact, as unpalatable as it is. (Just to put it into context further: I have some mid-18th century copies of Scientific American here that carry shades of the same attitude, matter-of-factly talking about slave numbers in various states).

Generally-speaking, I do prefer the older ghost and horror stories – simply because, I think, much more is left to the imagination (that’s not to say, however, that I dislike modern horror – it’s just that it’s very different). Lovecraft, despite his faults, still pushes all the right buttons for me. The more I am reading, of whatever author (including Lovecraft), the more I see my own writing being infused with essences from these various individual writers, and that they, in turn, are helping me to create a literary voice that can be called Simon Marshall-Jones. Lovecraft will always feature heavily on my reading list and in a compilation of my favourite books. Moreover, it’s also inspired me to search out some of the other authors who contributed to the Cthulhu Mythos like Robert E. Howard, Clark Ashton-Smith, Frank Belknap Long and August Derleth, as well as modern masters like Ramsey Campbell and Brian Lumley. Whatever else I can say about him, his works (and those of his acquaintances) will provide some of those darkly delicious thrills that make the horror genre such a rewarding thing.

(By the way two things:

1) The picture accompanying this post isn’t the one I was looking for – I couldn’t find a good enough image of the cover of the first Grafton Omnibus volume – so if anyone has one please could they contact me? Thanks!

2) This is my 99th post here – I am looking for something interesting to upload for the next one, the 100th – so if anyone has anything special to send me, please do…!! Once again, thanks!)

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28 Responses to “Influences: HP LOVECRAFT”

  1. I have the set of those Grafton editions, including the two Derleth collections, and the old and New Tales… anthologies. If you succumb to nostalgia, you can get secondhand ones in good nick through Amazon for peanuts – I recently replaced my long-lost New Tales… for 1p plus postage (and got a spare Tales… for free, since they cocked up on the delievery)!

    I’d also recommend the Wordsworth edition of The Loved Dead, which includes several of his less well-known rewrites and only costs £2.99! (They also publish a good Robert E Howard compilation, The Haunter of the Ring And Other Stories.)

  2. Mick Curtis Says:

    Excellent stuff, Simon – I’m almost surprised you like Lovecraft as I always think the people who love his work (and I include myself in that group) usually come across his work around the age of fifteen or so. Folk I know who’ve tried his writings later than that usually seem to dislike his stuff.

    Mick

    • I feel that his work locks into a particular feeling that I have always been prone to experience, ever since I can remember. It isn’t anything that I can verbalise (a poor excuse for a writer, I know), but nevertheless there’s just something about his writings that exemplifies that feeling perfectly. I guess it’s best summed up in the phrase “there’s more to the heavens and the earth than even our most keenly developed arts can discern…” ie that there are factors, of which we’re not aware, that exist behind the scenes that are beyond our puny human understanding….

    • Count me in that camp, Mick. I came to Lovecraft, on the suggestions of a friend of mine, but I’d already seen “Re-animator” and was expecting that, not what I read.

      I’ve tried him on and off again over the years, but he’s never really caught my imagination.

    • I didn’t discover Lovecraft until I was nearly 30. I suspect quite a lot of people look down on whatever they were reading at 15 as ‘juvenile’!

      • Hmm… speaking of ‘juvenile’ reminds me of the games of Mythos I used to play about ten years ago, in which I encouraged players to provide a running commentary on the game’s developments. After a while a few catchphrases emerged, the best (or possibly worst) of which was “Enter Randolph Carter, fiddling with his clock…”

        Dishonourable mentions: “Nameless Cults (misprint)”, “The Three Mi-Gos!” and “Dirty Old Man Whately”.

        I’m sorry.

  3. I think the following will be perfect for you!

    ==========================

    Great 120th Birthday Presents to/from H. P. Lovecraft!

    Happy 120th. Birthday H.P.L.!

    Freebies released in celebration of H. P. Lovecraft’s 120th. birthday on 20-August-2010, and to stir up excitement for the possible making of the Universal Studios 3D version of “At the Mountains of Madness” by Guillermo del Toro and James Cameron; and as a celebration by Will Hart of the 20th. anniversary of his being at Lovecraft’s grave-side on his 100th. birthday.

    Released during the last few hours in MP3 Format on:
    http://cthulhuwho1.com
    (The audio companion to the CthulhuWho1 Flickr collections.)

    “Fungi from Yuggoth”
    H. P. Lovecraft’s complete 36 sonnet set; in an all-new recording by William (Will) Hart; in single file, and multiple file versions. A dark poetry reading if there ever was one…

    “What If H. P. Lovecraft Had Lived Into The 1960’s?”
    A 163 minute panel recording in six parts, of Professor Dirk W. Mosig, Professor Donald R. Burleson, J. Vernon Shea, Fritz Leiber, Jr., and S.T. Joshi at the 36th World Science Fiction Convention in Phoenix in 1978. A must-have for Lovecraftians!

    Plus, behind the scenes recordings including a live reading by Don Burleson of his darkly funny, “The Last Supper.”

    And more audio goodies too!

    And there are now over 1200 Lovecraft, Cthulhu, and Providence related images for the taking at the CthulhuWho1 Flickr page at:
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/cthulhuwho1/collections/
    (The image companion site to the http://cthulhuwho1.com audio site.)

    All of the above items (and more to come) were created in honor of H. P. Lovecraft; but since he’s not here with us, it’s up to you, and everyone you can share them with to enjoy them!

    Will Hart
    aka CthulhuWho1
    aka California Cthulhu
    willhart-at-roadrunner-dot-com

  4. Jeff VanderMeer Says:

    I have a complicated relationship with Lovecraft and don’t like most of his work. But I think I prefer China Mieville’s thoughts on Lovecraft in his introduction to the Mountains of Madness, Penguin edition, where he doesn’t excuse Lovecraft as being a product of his times. He puts him in a more complex context than that. Definitely worth reading. JeffV

    • Once again thanks for this Jeff – I will certainly be interested in what Mieville has to say about Lovecraft’s reactionary stance, as I firmly believe (without ever once condoning) that he WAS a product of his milieu and of his times… of course, Mieville may be able to shed some much needed light on the subject that may help me to reshape my thoughts…

      Thanks!

  5. Neil Williams Says:

    I think one of the things that made Lovecraft so influential was he actively encouraged others to build on his Cthulhu Mythos. I really can’t think of another writer doing this.

    • Yes, and that’s one of THE most exciting aspects of the whole vision for me – that other writers took his ideas and created ones of their own, which added and enhanced the cycle…. and like you point out Neil, I can’t think of any other author’s work being epanded in this way….

      Do you think, though, that it’s entirely BECAUSE of the fact that he had such a wide circle of correspondents, and of the era in which he wrote, that this is the case – I wonder if, with authors ferociously protective of their intellectual property, it would actiually happen so freely now?

  6. Neil Williams Says:

    I suspect it wouldn’t happen at all. Even then it seemed to be an unsual thing to do. Conan Doyle took legal action against Maurice Leblanc when he used Sherlock Holmes in some of his Arsene Lupin stories. Leblanc rather cheekily just renamed him Herlock Sholmes. Somewhere I have a book containing many of Lovecraft’s correspondences with other writers such as August Derleth. I must dig it out.

  7. I read Call of Cthulhu when I was in my early teens and it terrified me. Not so much the story or the writing, but the actual concept, and it’s never left me, and still has a massive influence on my work.

    For those who still believe that Lovecraft is a ‘phase’ that you grow out of, let’s leave the last word to Ramsey Campbell, in his introduction to Cold Print:

    “Some (Stephen King and Charles L Grant among them) would take that to prove that Lovecraft is an adolescent phase one goes through – certainly a writer best read when one is that age. I can only say that I find his best work more rewarding now than I did then.”

    I think Mr C speaks for us all!

  8. Mick Curtis Says:

    Indeed – I still love HPL’s stuff nowadays – and can clearly recall the frisson I felt when reading The Haunter of the Dark and The Horror in the Museum the first time.

  9. Ahhh I also read his stuff first in my early teens as as last weeks debate on FB would indicate some of his work has really left a mark. I think you hit on an interesting point in your peice… and its something to consider. When you read fantasy (horror is being pulled under that umbrella) as a child, youg adult… etc etc and have not lived long enough to have the world view, experience or cynism the pictured painted are very real. You get scared, you can imagine those marsh lights really are harbrings of death etc etc etc because at that age real horror really is fantasy. Most people won’t understnad war, rape, murder in the same way.. Its only with age that we become more cynical and can clearly understand real and tangible horrors… just switch on sky news of a morning.. and it means that these imagined horrors penned by your favourite authors while growing up are now only viewed with a fond nostalgia.

    • Yes, that’s it exactly Gillian. However, whilst I HAVE become a lot more cynical since I last read them, I am still getting that frisson of fear coursing through me as when I first read them. Maybe it’s because I am more worldly-wise or because I can appreciate them on a deeper level. Whichever of the two it is, I am glad that their power is still there to get to me…. 🙂

  10. Lovecraft’s horror fiction is unique and heralded a step forward in the genre by divorcing it from the Old World superstitions of religiously-inspired terrors like vampires and witches and ghosts and demons. His horror mythology is a parody of actual religion and invokes the new dreads of space, time, and their impact on the puny minds of man. The influence of Einstein, Darwin, and Freud factor in here.

    • Very good points Will….. science was, to all intents and purposes, the new frontier of the unknown at the time Lovecraft was writing – the old sureties were being questioned and, in most cases, being replaced by new ones along with new horrors – wirness, for example, the mechanisation of war between 1914 – 1918… it was an incredible period of intellectual turmoil… no wobder horror fiction blooked in that era…

  11. Hi Simon, have you ever read Michel Houellebecq’s essay on HPL, Against the World, Against Life? It’s an interesting book, if a bit pretentious.

    • Hi Mat – yes indeed I have, although I was put off by a review of it I d=found online which essetially said that it was a deeply flawed biography – however, I still might give it a go sometime….

  12. Flawed’s the word. He over-eggs the misanthropism. At time it sounds like he’s supporting, not reporting, HP’s racism.

    I only got properly round to Lovecraft in my twenties. My Grafton books are a bit tattered now. Mountains of Madness is the one that always rang bells for me. It’s that last vision, the mirage of whatever the Elder Things dreaded beyond the highest mountains, that spooks me.

  13. It’s up there. So are Witch House (don’t give your heart to Brown Jenkin!), Colour Out of Space, (which I wonder now if it influenced the Quatermass series) and Music of Erich Zann.

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