Horror Fiends: H.P. Lovecraft

Originally published in Shadows of Centralis Monthly Magazine: Issue #1 (April 2022).

Taking inspiration from the likes of Edgar Allan Poe, Lord Dunsany, Arthur Machen, and Algernon Blackwood, amongst others, while developing his own style of writing and shaping further his ideas, H.P. Lovecraft fashioned his own mythos of which many of his stories were born. Later referred to as an author of ‘weird fiction’, a cornerstone of Lovecraft’s writing is the theme of cosmicism. Linking alien and supernatural aspects, it is this theme, the idea of human life serving as no more than a superficial layer atop a vast, monstrous, and seemingly unfathomable reality, which sees Lovecraft prompt the reader to contemplate human existence on galactic and cosmic levels. Further emphasis on man’s insignificance and inability to prosper beyond the most material nature is evidenced in Lovecraft’s descriptions of declining human civilisations. Transcending physical, as well as typical mental, restrictions, dreams and their transportive paths to other realms play an important part of the writer’s work, too.

Using insular landscapes and often exploiting one’s fear of the unknown, in addition to pointing to the relative fragility of mankind both physically and mentally, Lovecraft’s writings tend to be viscerally textured and cultivate feelings of dread. To read Lovecraft is to enter a world in which horror is far more nuanced and blended with a growing sense of menace.

Primarily using pulp magazines such as Argosy, Weird Tales and Astounding Stories, and their respective editor’s associated circles as a vehicle for publishing his own short stories, aside from the cult following this garnered him, writer H.P. Lovecraft was generally underappreciated as an author of horror and teller of fantastical tales during his lifetime. Indeed, within many literary circles, pulp publications and stories falling into fantasy or science fiction genres were snobbishly considered with much derision. However, some decades following his premature death in 1937 (a victim of intestinal cancer, he died aged forty-six) a wider appreciation of Lovecraft began to unfold, and the American author is now widely considered one of the 20th century’s most important writers of horror fiction.

‘Pickman’s Model’ by H.P. Lovecraft, taken from ‘Weird Tales’, October 1927. Illustration by Hugh Rankin.

Born into a family of comfortable wealth in Providence, Rhode Island on August 20, 1890, Lovecraft’s early life was one of wealth and material abundance. Such a luxurious life was not to last, though, as his father was deemed mentally unbalanced and institutionalised when Lovecraft was still an infant. Committed to Butler Hospital, his father never returned to the family home, and died five years later. Throughout his life, Lovecraft played down the reasons behind his father’s mental struggles, typically pointing towards sleeping issues and exhaustion from overworking, and avoiding mention of more probable neuropsychological issues, which possibly held syphilitic roots.

‘The Curse of Yig’ by Zealia Bishop and H.P. Lovecraft, taken from ‘Weird Tales’, November 1929. Illustration by Hugh Rankin.

During his teenage years, a time in which he began to focus in earnest his efforts in writing (some of his essays were used by the United Amateur Press Association), Lovecraft began to suffer bouts of crippling headaches and insomnia, as well as various nervous conditions which punctuated his time at school. There have been reports that some of his behaviours resembled symptoms of the neurological disorder St Vitus’ dance, a condition of which artist Andy Warhol suffered as a youth. Much conjecture can be applied to the true cause of Lovecraft’s mental struggles, though it would be fair to attribute some level of depression.

Social awkwardness coupled with a struggle to find common ground with his peers, Lovecraft found himself more and more settled in his own company. Reclusive and introverted, Lovecraft often sealed himself in his bedroom. With heavy curtains drawn, and the outside world excluded, he spent his hours writing or reading. In addition to his literary zeal, other interests for a young Lovecraft included astronomy, biology, and chemistry. Such was his enthusiasm for astronomy, Lovecraft was a regular visitor to the nearby Ladd Observatory, and he penned a number of articles for local newspapers.

Meanwhile, the affluent lifestyle Lovecraft had once enjoyed was now fast eroding, in no small part due to the death of his grandfather some years earlier, and the family’s subsequent inability to turn the financial tide. Though practical difficulties weighed on his mind, Lovecraft continued with his writing. Notable Lovecraft works of this time include the short stories The Beast in the Cave, The Alchemist, The Tomb, Dagon, and Beyond the Wall of Sleep.

Pencil drawing of Pickman’s Model by H.P. Lovecraft, 1934.
‘The Colour of Space’ by H.P. Lovecraft, taken from ‘Amazing Stories’, September 1927.
‘Weird Tales’, December 1936. Cover artwork by J. Allen St. John.
‘Weird Tales’, January 1942.

First published in the November 1916 issue of United Amateur, one of Lovecraft’s first stories, The Alchemist, served as inspiration for the rock group Blue Oyster Cult’s 2020 song of the same title. It was not the first time the band had looked to the works of Lovecraft. Music producer, poet, songwriter, and long-time Blue Oyster Cult collaborator, Sandy Pearlman’s appreciation for Lovecraft was a key component in the band’s 1988 album Imaginos.

Among the many other musicians Lovecraft inspired, notable mentions include founding member of The Cramps, Beast, and The Dials, guitarist Bryan Gregory. Others creatively fuelled by Lovecraft’s works include Black Sabbath (evident in their 1970’s song Beyond the Wall of Sleep), as well as the 1960’s band H.P. Lovecraft, who named themselves after the American writer.

Soon after his mother followed his father, and was also institutionalised, entering into a stay at the same Butler Hospital, in the early-1920’s Lovecraft met Sonia Greene. A  business-savvy milliner, Sonia was also a keen amateur writer of fiction, as well as an active supporter of pulp magazine production. Sharing an interest in supernatural fiction and horror stories, the two soon struck up a friendship which developed into a romantic relationship, and the couple married in 1924. During this time, Lovecraft wrote what is widely considered to be the first story of the Cthulhu Mythos (a term created by writer and friend of Lovecraft, August Derleth, following Lovecraft’s death), The Nameless City, inspired by Lord Dunsany.

First published as ‘The Invisible Monster’ in the November 1923 issue of Weird Tales, ‘The Horror at Martin’s Beach’ is a short story penned by H.P. Lovecraft and Sonia Greene.

Now married, Lovecraft resided in New York, as he moved into his wife’s Brooklyn home. As Greene’s business affairs began to suffer, resulting in her closing her hat store, with Lovecraft unable to secure regular employment, she worked a demanding schedule to support them both. Often away from Lovecraft for prolonged periods of time, travelling for her work, Greene later become ill. With the relationship having been under strain for some time, Lovecraft and Greene parted. With no ill feelings on either side, the couple later agreed to divorce.

Lovecraft returned to Providence, Rhode Island, first living with his aunts at their home in Barnes Street, before setting up home on his own at an address on Prospect Street. It was during this time, which would turn out to be his final years, that Lovecraft penned what would later be considered some of his most significant works, including The Call of Cthulhu, The Case of Charles Dexter Ward, and The Shadow Over Innsmouth.

“I am essentially a recluse who will have very little to do with people wherever he may be. I think that most people only make me nervous – that only by accident, and in extremely small quantities, would I ever be likely to come across people who wouldn’t.”

H.P. Lovecraft, 1926.

Having an aversion to doctors, Lovecraft avoided seeking medical advice during a time of sustained illness, as a result by the time he sought professional treatment his cancer was at an advanced stage. He was hospitalised, and died soon afterwards. Published in the December 1936 issue of Weird Tales, The Haunter of the Dark is believed to be Lovecraft’s final work.

Though during his lifetime Lovecraft failed to gain recognition  beyond a cult following, the legacy he left behind has inspired many notable writers of horror and supernatural fiction, including Stephen King and Alan Moore. Further to this, Lovecraft’s writings have served as key inspiration for a range of tabletop and video games, including the Shadows of Centralis character R’lyeh, Acolyte of Rooth. His influence has also served as a fundamental component in both the world of music and television.

‘The Call of Cthulhu’ by H.P. Lovecraft, taken from ‘Weird Tales’, February 1928. Illustration by Hugh Rankin.

In addition to his hundreds of fantastical stories and poems, Lovecraft also penned a number of scientific and philosophical papers, as well as many and much varied miscellaneous articles. A voracious writer of letters, who wrote such messages with a fluid conversational pace to the likes of Robert E. Howard, Robert Bloch, Samuel Loveman, Henry Kuttner, and August Derleth, it is believed Lovecraft wrote up to one hundred thousand pieces of correspondence during his lifetime. Such is the extent of his works, we look forward to featuring Lovecraft again in future issues of Shadows of Centralis Monthly Magazine.

‘Beyond the Wall of Sleep’ by H.P. Lovecraft, taken from ‘Weird Tales’, March 1938. Illustration by Virgil Finlay.

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