What does H.P. Lovecraft's comeback say about us?


#1

[Read the post]


#2

Or if you happen to be afraid of adjectives. Endless, insipid, seething slumbering unspeakable myraids of adjectives on any and all words deemed necessary of eldritch overdescription.


#3

For. The. Win.


#4

Lovecraft, as a writer, is very overrated; his actual stories are awkward and read like penny dreadfuls. But his ideas – the creatures he created, the concepts he originated – are incredibly fresh and original for when he invented them.

I loathe the kitch-ification of Lovecraft and his monsters. When folks go back to the source ideas and pull from that, some genuinely creepy stuff can come out of it.

Of course, I say all of this as a guy who’s run multiple Lovecraft-inspired survival horror LARPs, so I guess I’m a bit biased.


#5

Came to say the same thing: his writing is on the Ayn Rand level of bad. But the Color Out of Space is still creepy.


#6

Yeah the writing is pretty pulp standard for the time and I will read it cause 20’s and 30’s pulp writing is a guilty pleasure for me but I don’t ever call it literature. But yeah the stories themselves, great ancient beings who regard humans as little more than ants to be toyed with, the human brain going mad after having glimpsed the vast chasm of space and time, those are pretty cool things to make a horror story over and that still holds up even if the writing itself is a bit trashy.


#7

“Lovecraft’s only scary if you’re scared of the same things he is.”
No, that’s fucking stupid. That’s like saying “Spiders are only scary if you’re scared of the same things as someone who is scared of spiders.”


#8

Hah. I was going to come on here to say something about casual racism, but I think most of us can agree that we like Lovecraft despite the racism. Between it and the bad writing, it’s a guilty pleasure.


#9

Which is precisely what I like about them. I prefer the stilted.


#10

He was undoubtably racist (this is man whose pet cat was named Niggerman) but later in life, he apologized for his comments and repented, from what I understand.


#11

I’ve heard a lot of his writing was searching for a new type of horror since the monsters of folk lore, the gothic era, and pulp magazines were more silly than scary.

Writing in the early 20th century, perhaps the increasing globalization led to a growing sense of complex systems moving beyond the scale of any human - perhaps an inspiration for the cosmic evils beside which single humans are insignificant.

Over the decades, the complexity and illegibility of our world has only increased; that might be a driver of the continued popularity.


#12

Borges was on the nose when he called him, “a accidental parodist of Poe” (he says, in the most loving way possible). Not many talk about sentence structure as a conscious choice in his writing, but it was. He admired the way Poe built an aural cadence which would pull the reader in an sort of roll them along in a “lyrical phantasy [of] almost narcotic in essence—an opium pageant of dream in the language of dream” to quote Supernatural Horror in Literature.

Lovecraft attempts a lot of the same, in that it’s meant to be read aloud, or with the sort of deliberate attention that’s no longer en vogue. Not to belittle other styles of writing and reading, just pointing out that the difference of style does exist. Some stories work better than others in this respect (as in any respect).


#13

I remember they said that about Yeats and Synge. I wonder how that works.


#14

Lovecraftian horror is terror in the face of the fantastic. A big fish-man worshipping a giant idol on an island - weird, yes, but only terrifying if you’re afraid of something because it is weird and different. The big, tentacled eggplants of Mountains of Madness, as described, are interesting, and not really all that threatening, on their own.

Which is why I think you can’t ignore the racism in his work - it’s baked in. It’s fear of the Other writ large (or, cyclopean if you prefer).

So, completely offhand theory - the rise of Lovecraft coincides with society coming to terms with diversity and dismantling Otherness. As we confront racism, sexism and other forms of oppression, and face the idea of a larger “us”, the concept of either finding a newer, stranger Other to fear, or confronting a giant space eggplant with curiosity rather than fear seems more relevant.


#15

When I was a child I loved his stories because I liked his use of bizarre words I had to look up. I had a pretty good vocabulary, and I could get my English teacher’s “new words” quota filled pretty quickly with just one night of reading.

Not that I dislike reading, but I dislike filling out flashcards and writing dictionary definitions next to them with examples and citations for the place I came across the word.

It was hard for me to find words I didn’t know, and I wasn’t going to go in and pretend I didn’t know something because that’s boring and I don’t mind work so long as it isn’t boring work.

Anyway, I think he was probably perfect for that age and a breath of fresh air for those who are tired of the standard fare. C’mon “Cool Air” is a really good story.

Now, does he have problems? Yeah… he’s racist and it shows. That’s the biggest one for me as it made me feel weird at times.

I don’t think the writing is “terrible” per se, but it’s awkward and overly convoluted. Whether this was unintentional because he is bad at writing or a part of what makes the experience interesting is up for debate much like whether Nico’s voice made the Velvet Underground better or worse.

Opinions will vary.

One thing though to consider is how poorly it adapts to film, and that generally makes me think the writing style is somehow part of the general feel and without it something is lost. If that’s the case it’s effective, and therefore it’s hard to say it’s categorically “bad” if it works.

As to what it means for us?

Honestly, I think it’s that “scary” doesn’t mean the same thing to everyone. I find live humans the scariest things on the Earth, especially ones that are very self assured and carry firearms.

But a lot of horror is trite, and while Lovecraft has become its own cliche, he at least tried to bring something different to the table. So I think maybe what it means is that some people are REALLY bored with zombies, vampires, and werewolves.

I’m now sadly also bored with pale women with long black hair in corners.

Not so bored that a really good story couldn’t interest me, but the sheer appearance of these standard beings is boring.

His monsters are now a bit camp and cliche, but at least they kind of had a different style.

Oh and… and of killer cats… that was my childhood favorite.

In short, I’d encourage children who are fairly adept at reading to check out his books for the vocabulary and odd sentence structures, but I’d talk to them a bit about racism first.


#16

Borges was a true genius with a unique ability to damn with faint praise as well as compliment with acerbic wit.

I think this is probably the best description I’ve heard.


#17

I’m largely in agreement, but Lovecraft’s work isn’t really about a substitute Other so much as a symbolic form for the Other he saw every day.

My reading of the situation is that Lovecraft grew up believing and being taught that the world worked a certain way and that history was following a known trajectory. And then he grows up and find out that those notions were completely wrong. Not even the sort of gentle lies you tell children about the workings of the world, either: full-blown, perfectly sincere worldviews that just do not pan out. He was suspicious of technological progress – and in fairness, some group of people always are. He lived to see WWI perched like a tombstone on world history, which everyone up until then considered largely synonymous with European history. He was aware of Einstein and pointed to it as an example of how we clearly knew nothing about how the world really worked. This is the sort of revelatory, existential horror that he aims for in all his stories.

But on a more personal level, there was changing New England. Lovecraft loved his home. His tombstone reads, “I AM PROVIDENCE”, and I don’t doubt that he meant it. But New England was changing. It wasn’t like it is now, where a block of Rhode Island seems empty without an Italian bakery on the corner. These people were still capital-I Immigrants, clinging to the comfort of ghettos and carving out little pieces of the town as their own. They would eventually all meld a make America into the America we know now, but that was far down the road. At the same time, the cities itself were changing. When he wrote Pickman’s model, he actually has a specific building in mind for his studio. By the time it was published, he had learned that the entire neighborhood had been razed for new construction. I think he felt that he had nothing lasting to cling to amid a tide of change.

His vision of cosmic horror and his xenophobia are both symptoms of his personal, existential horror


#18

I’d never say you can ignore the racism in Lovecraft - some stories are like being hit in the face with a 2-by-4 that says “RACISM” on it. But I’ve seen this point before and I just disagree with it. The basic driver of Lovecraft’s horror is fear of insignificance, not fear of the Other.

I actually think Mountains of Madness is a great examples of this. The narrator does confront those space eggplants with curiosity as fellow people:

Radiates, vegetables, monstrosities, star-spawn—whatever they had been, they were men!

Fear is instead reserved for the immediate threat to life from the slime subway:

But we were not on a station platform. We were on the track ahead as the nightmare plastic column of foetid black iridescence oozed tightly onward through its fifteen-foot sinus;

Which is just run-of-the-mill going-to-die fear.

But the thing that makes the narrator’s companion Danforth go mad is a glimpse of something else. It is knowing that makes Danforth lose his mind. Not fear of the unknown, but fear of knowledge that we won’t be able to unlearn. In the end, the universe doesn’t care about us and we are nothing.

I think ultimately Lovecraft’s horror is about Douglas Adams’ total perspective vortex. This is why, I think, Thomas Ligotti is able to write Lovecraftian-esque horror without invoking any Mythos things and without appealing to racism to try to generate contempt. He builds on the central idea that the universe does care about us, or that it actually actively hates us.

Yeah, I don’t like the “obviously Lovecraft was a bad writer” refrain. He was doing something with his writing that worked sometimes better than others, and that many people seem to not enjoy even when he was doing it well. But it strikes me a little like saying that obviously Picasso was a bad painter because he couldn’t paint a face right. He wasn’t trying to do what you think he was trying to do.


#19

I don’t tend to blacklist a whole author due to racism or sexism. I tend to just address it as it exists, where and why.

If anything we need to remember and see the prevalence of racism through history. Too many people think it’s all over and was never that bad.

I’m not saying “Oh it’s fine that he was a racist and wrote racist things.” I’m just saying one should go in informed that he did, and then if willing, look at and address those things.

It’s how I deal with Miller, after all. I mean, you read that and it’s like “Oh wow! Racism and Sexism party!”

Or “Heart of Darkness” for instance. It’s both great and horrible. It’s both about racism and is racist. There’s something to be analyzed in that then, for those willing to do so.

So you kind of have to approach it knowing that and deciding how you will think about it.

How you will think about it is going to be entirely a personal thing, so I’m not going to tell anyone else what to think.

I guess basically I’m all for a general CN: Racism for most of Lovecraft, but that doesn’t necessarily make him not worth reading by default. Whether or not some one wants to read the stories is really up to them.


#20

Huh.

I think you’re right.

Taken from that perspective, perhaps the relevance to the modern era is that these days we all feel pretty insignificant. Never have so many mattered so little to such wealthy few?

The return of the Great Old Ones as a metaphor for the collapse of the middle class and the death of the American dream?

(Some days I really writing miss first year university essays…)