Wednesday, April 8, 2015

H.P. Lovecraft, the King of Horor

H.P. Lovecraft 

     H.P. Lovecraft is one of my all-time favorite authors. Just the name Lovecraft is awesome. It sounds made up and pulp-fictiony, so whatever this guy writes you know it's going to be campy and over the top. For a quick overview, H.P. Lovecraft is an American horror and sci-fi writer who produced mostly short stories and is arguably the best scare-monger the world has ever known. 

     I got hooked on him as a young kid. My dad, like me, is a nut for scary stories and would read Lovecraft's collected works to me at night. In hindsight, my dad probably shouldn't have done that because those stories gave me nightmares like you wouldn't believe. BUT! I can appreciate his mistake because it made me the connoisseurs of terror I am today (it also gave me an anxiety problem and night terrors). 


    But back to Lovecraft. As a kid growing up in Rhode Island, he was kind of an odd-ball. He hardly played with other children, hated his parents, and had an anxiety disorder probably caused by his overbearing mother who kept him locked-up at home because of a bunch of made up illnesses she terrified him into believing he had. 

     Without any real social life to keep him busy, he grew up in subjective isolation and, as a young adult, became something of a night-owl who'd toil into the wee hours writing bone-chilling stories, which he'd later circulate in the infamous Weird Tales magazine, to pass the time.

     Like some kind of strange, anti-social orchid, Lovecraft blossomed in his solitude and went on to write such notable pieces as: The Call of Cthulhu, The Sound in the Darkness, and The Shadow out of Time. 

    Now, I'm not going to argue Lovecraft was some kind of literary master who deserves a Nobel Prize or anything. He was a pulp-fantasy writer by trade and that's exactly what he delivered. However, more important than the quality of his writing is the feel of his writing. Lovecraft's stories are hands down the scariest I have ever read, and possibly the most unique of the genre. 

     Most horror writers, like Stephen King for example, make you jump at kind of a gut level. Something messed up happens in the plot, you get freaked out, and then you get over it. There's not much else to it. However, Lovecraft's brand of terror is lingering. Beyond horror, there is a sense of doom in his work.

     Collectively, his stories create what fans call the "Cthulhu Mythos", which is basically a mythology, cosmology, and pantheon of terrible creatures that serve as the bedrock for his fiction. So while all of his stories stand up on their own, they're also pieces of a bigger puzzle. It's hard to put into words, but knowing all of his fiction is tied together at a religious and cosmic level makes them heavier, for lack of a better word. To elaborate, his writing almost always deals with a conflict of size - you'll have the tiny human who's going about his or her tiny life, then all of a sudden that iddy biddy human happens upon some colossal god or demon who could basically crush an entire city with its foot and not even notice the damage he/she/it left behind. In the end, the big scary monster always wins, because in Lovecraft's worldview, human beings are inconsequential in the bigger picture of the universe. 

     Lovecraft's work is scary on lots of different levels, but I think this "battle" of the sizes is really what makes Lovecraft a master. The aliens, creatures, and titans that populate his world aren't even necessarily interested in human beings, they might not even be aware of the human species' existence. The gods are simply going about their business and as consequence our entire race is threatened, but not because the gods have a vendetta against us, simply because our world happens to be directly under their heel. I think that we as a people are overly concerned with our importance and exaggerate our place in nature. Lovecraft scares us because he challenges our collective ego by putting us at the bottom of the food chain. 


     So if you're interested in checking out some of H.P. Lovecraft's work, a good place to start is The Call of Cthulhu which is about some explorers who happen upon a ruined city in the ocean that's home to a horrible, tentacled god that could essentially swallow the world for breakfast and be hungry again by lunch. It's hands down the most recognizable of Lovecraft's stories and is huge among his fans. It'll also give you a good sense of Lovecraft's aesthetic, which includes lots of goo, ancient ruins, and space aliens that for some reason look like sea creatures. 


     Once you get really into Lovecraft, you'll feel his presence everywhere in the world of horror. Countless film adaptions have spun out of his fiction and even horror flicks that at first seem to have nothing to do with him will make references to his mythos. For example, the plot of The Evil Dead is centered around Lovecraft's Necronomicon, a fictional grimoire that appears in much of his writing as a forbidden tome with secret recipes to call up the Old Gods. 

    Finally, answering the question of whether or not H.P. Lovecraft is really a big "C" Creative, I'd have to say that yes he is. However, my opinion is largely biased. I say he's creative because I'm a huge fan of his work, but I know there are lots of people out there who disagree. Some people like horror, others don't. 

     On a more objective level, he at least has the "trappings" of a creative mind. First of all, like the creatives coming before and after him, his work wasn't motivated by fame or glory (he was relatively poor and unknown throughout his life). Lovecraft wrote because it was what he loved doing, he was internally motivated. As stated in Collins and Ambile's article Motivation and Creativity, "creativity is motivated by the enjoyment and satisfaction that a person derives from engaging in [their] creative activity", and Lovecraft certainly enjoyed his work, perhaps because it was an escape from the lonely life he lead in the real world. Furthermore, if Lovecraft hadn't been internally motivated, his product would likely not have been nearly as unsettling and brilliant as it is. For his day, Lovecraft was really pushing the envelope. Back in the 20's and 30's horror was a lot tamer and writers got away with a lot less. If Lovecraft had really cared about what others thought of his writing, it probably wouldn't be nearly as upsetting as it is. Lovecraft also shares the label of "madness" that lots of creatives earn at some point in their lives. He definitely suffered from anxiety and social phobia, which may have contributed to his internal, rather than external motivation. 

      All in all, H.P. Lovecraft will go down in history as one of the scariest thinkers to grace the literary world. His masterful use of terror has immortalized his personality, and with time he will become as enigmatic and fearsome as the gods he dreamt up for our entertainment.

"The H.P. Lovecraft Archive." The H.P. Lovecraft Archive. N.p., n.d. Web. 08 Apr. 2015.
Lovecraft, H. P. The Complete Works of H.P. Lovecraft. 70 Horror Short Stories, Novels and Juvenilia. United States: Palmera, 2012. Print.

Collins & Amabile, (1999). Motivation and creativity. Handbook of Creativity. New York:

Cambridge University Press.

1 comment:

  1. Although I do not normally seek out the horror genre, I can always appreciate a good bone-chilling story. The creativity involved in crafting stories like these must be immense. Lovecraft's ability to create these monsters from nothing would definitely make him 'big C' creative. Therefore, I agree with your assessment that he is an important creative in the genre. I think what probably made his work even more creative was that he was internally motivated and did not do it for the money. Appreciating creatives who create purely for the love of creating is important because although he was unable to make a lot of money while he was alive, we are still able to appreciate his work. I also enjoyed your point that Lovecraft was ahead of his time in the horror genre because while scary movies are fairly frightening now, they did not used to be that way! Lovecraft should therefore be appreciated not only for his monsters, but also for the fact that he was ahead of time in his craft!


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