Everybody here is wrong.
Lovecraft is Star Wars. Lovecraft is Middle Earth. Lovecraft is the Alien franchise.
Lovecraft’s current popularity is because of gaming.
His individual stories are disposable, but their appeal lies in the worldbuilding aspect. Lovecraftian mythos is ideally suited for role playing games, video games, and other forms of interactive media where you explore the setting. Plus all of his descriptions are vague, which leaves lots of opportunity for fan art, fan fiction, cosplay, and all kinds of derivative works.
The reason his stories aren’t scary is because it’s 2015 and there is no such thing as a scary novel unless you’re 8 years old. When HPL was writing, you could still show someone footage of an oncoming train and they’d try to dive out of the way.
He’s not overrated because he’s not scary. He’s overrated because everyone loves him but nobody reads him.
But he’s still cool! Frog people running around under the streets of Boston are cool, and there’s nothing you nay-Sayers can do about it. Lost cities (which are also giant wind instruments) built by ancient sea-cucumbers in Antarctica are cool! You can try to get me to not like it by telling me that the frogs actually represent Jews, or whatever, but I’m not going to fall for it!
8 year old me was reading him, and I have to say I wasn’t so much scared as I was fascinated. I used to draw pictures of the various monsters, so my old books were full of little sketches on paper I’d stick in as bookmarks.
I do agree that gaming is a good thing to bring up. Games did, indeed, use a lot of his work as inspiration creating a familiarity with it that is kind of separate.
So yeah, I get your point.
And yeah, you’re right about him leaving a lot of room for you to fill in the blanks. I didn’t think about that until you said that and it made me remember how much I enjoyed trying to draw his beings.
I love Lovecraftian horror, that slow moving but certain muggy desperation and it has given me something to hang my experience on growing up in the 70s and 80s near a decommissioning nuclear tipped ABM site(we knew we were a nuke target) and a traumatized grandmother going on and on about the family we lost(Jewish) in the war and how in every generation this was not an unexpected thing going back thousands of years.
In high school and college I escaped through survivalist fantasy until I got married and had kids, I realized that perhaps we should actually try to solve the big problems.
I actually love that (dead)Lovecraft was or at least wrote as a racist and antisemite as it jives with that damp foggy indifferent dread I like to feel when reading his stuff and the genera. Not so unlike the slow moving genocidal horror novel The Turner Diaries, a horror which works unintentionally both for Aryans and Jews/minorities, or the more fun but sometimes creepy Charles Stross who is not afraid to let the nuclear holocaust or an Old One off the leash.
(Edit)BTW Stross not a racist, but he has access to a bit of the old fears of madness and utter loss.
(edit2)I should mention that most Jewish grandmothers, including all of my known holocaust survivors, were not Lovecraftian fear story factories, my bubbie was just off her rocker.
If read for its horror value the creep factor is high, it moves slowly but it is a Voyeuristic peek into a festering mind of hate, especially a genocidal hate who would wipe out everything I know in the world. The mediocre writing actually feels in character for the diary of an electrical engineer bent on genocide.
AFAIK it is in the public domain so you can DL it to read and give no $ to hate.
I might have to give a read at some point, then (I imagine I can ILL it from my Uni library). It might actually be an interesting book to assign in a history class, pairing it with some anti-racist work from the same time, maybe Octavia Butler’s Kindred.
Poe was no doubt an influence, but I think more indirectly through later Victorian Gothic and Decadent literature, such as the works of Machen, Blackwood, and Dunsany. Borges took this influence in (IMO) more cerebral directions, and I have wondered how lyrically his work might parse in his native language.
Another factor which might not be apparent to contemporary readers of Lovecraft is that his sentence craft tends to be deliberately affected, as he was trying to recreate what he thought were older vernaculars of English. Most of his straight-up horror stories were recollections which were supposed to be from the elderly, or long-lost diaries. His more fantasy-oriented work tended to be phrased in far less jarring ways, as I recall.
It worked quite well for me! About two years ago I went on a Lovecraft binge, re-reading my three main Arkham House editions. I found very soon in that it was rhythmical, oratory, and entirely meant to be read (and often ranted) aloud. This decants the eccentricity and allows it to more fully manifest. My neighbors probably found it to be a weird week!
It is a title which even downloading feels like having a trunk filled with glass bottles, strips of cloth, and a can of gasoline, all legal but all very incriminating. Being naturally paranoid this probably added to the fearful thrill in reading this work of fiction.
Yet since about college age I can no longer stand to consume WW-II Holocaust focused media, it is just too much for me.
(edit)I had to be in a weird place to read Turner Diaries, but for me it was believable, like a belivable fear that we are nothing in an uncaring universe of greater predators and eaters, that what we suffer for is all for naught, or perhaps we are just a simulation running on some great machine until we are rebooted, or perhaps some horror we could not yet imagine described in a math we could never begin to compute in our limited dimensions.
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.
I remember reading At the Mountains of Madness in middle school and thinking he liked to use 10 words when 2 would suffice. It was difficult to get through the story because there are just so. many. words.
@BoundegarThe Color Out of Space is the one story of his that’s fully stuck with me in the 20+ years since first reading it.
That’s a great point. It had never occurred to me that Lovecraft might have meant his work to be read aloud, but I’ve noticed that my delight at rereading his prose is maximized by doing so aloud (if softly to myself, in my best Michael Gambon accent). As repellent as his racism is, I love his writing for pretty much the same reason I absolutely adore this couch.
I can’t give nearly enough Likes to your post, Humbabella. Very well said all 'round.
OT, but I just thought I’d mention that Ms Butler went to high school across the street from my house. But then, so did Sirhan Sirhan. And David Lee Roth.
“Laws against homosexual behavior should remain on the books, not to
be indiscriminately enforced against anyone who happens to be caught
violating them, but to be used when necessary to send a clear message
that those who flagrantly violate society’s regulation of sexual
behavior cannot be permitted to remain as acceptable, equal citizens
within that society.”
“… Obama will put a thin veneer of training and military structure
on urban gangs, and send them out to channel their violence against
Obama’s enemies. Instead of doing drive-by shootings in their own
neighborhoods, these young thugs will do beatings and murders of people
‘trying to escape’ – people who all seem to be leaders and members of
groups that oppose Obama.”
Well, the best you can say is that he evolved a bit. Still pretty racist, at least by later standards. He married a Jewish woman and had Jewish (and gay) friends, something that would have been unthinkable for him even a few years earlier - but still made some pretty anti-Semitic comments at the same time.
Yep. The fear of the Other is certainly in Lovecraft’s work, but it’s in a lot of modern horror as well, without being all about that. And it was complicated in Lovecraft’s work, too - as in the sympathy you point out for the elder beings in Mountains of Madness, but in other ways, too - in a number of his stories, the monster is also the narrator (or the narrator is also monstrous). In “The Outsider,” the confused narrator is seemingly haunted by a grotesque corpse-like creature that causes panic and terror, only to discover that he’s simply looking in mirrors, catching glimpses of himself, and inspiring the terror himself. In stories like “The Rats in the Walls” and “The Shadow Over Innsmouth,” the narrator can’t overcome his inherited nature of madness and monstrousness - which could be read as coded racism, but they’re also highly autobiographical stories. That is, there was a definite fear of being the other in his stories as well.
But absolutely, Lovecraft was all about the fear generated by the idea of humanity’s total inconsequentiality in a vast and uncaring universe and the possibility of imminent and total destruction by forces of which we’re not even aware. You can really see the influence of what was then new scientific thought - things like relativity, evidence for the vast age and size of the universe, etc. - in reinforcing those fears. And that makes him pretty contemporary, given humans have spent more than half-a-century inventing and discovering all manner of existential threats from nuclear annihilation to some nearby star whose name most of us don’t know going supernova and bathing the Earth in sterilizing gamma rays.