The Forgotten Writer: A Tribute To Howard Phillips Lovecraft
By Jave Harron
The Master cannot be seen. His children, however, are all over the place. If you were to ask someone who Howard Phillips Lovecraft was, chances are they would not know him or his works. They would, however, probably be familiar with people he influenced. This list includes several modern writers, such as Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child, as well as Stephen King. Chances are, the random person on the street would be familiar with Stephen King, but know next to nothing about Lovecraft.
This is partially due to time. Lovecraft lived and wrote in the early twentieth century, mainly from the Roaring Twenties to the Thirties. Lovecraft was crippled and bedridden for most of his life, so he was constantly in agony. Some of his psychological conditions allowed him to create his most famous creation: the Cthulhu Mythos.
The Cthulhu Mythos was a bit 'ahead of its time' for the period in the twenties. The Mythos was mainly about all-powerful alien deities plotting to destroy the world, but are often foiled by weak willed and weak hearted protagonists that often die or go insane as a result. The most famous of such deities was Cthulhu, a huge humanoid god with tentacles for a mouth that laid sleeping under the Pacific Ocean. Cthulhu had secret cults of worshippers around the world, and all would try to awaken him with unholy spells.
Lovecraft himself often made his protagonists physically weak. This was deliberate, probably to reflect the fact he was bedridden for most of his life. It was not just his protagonists that were weak, however. Cthulhu, the monstrous deity described above, was also a reflection of Lovecraft's desires. Cthulhu was imprisoned in a dead city on the bottom of the Pacific, awaiting for when 'the stars were right' to arise and conquer the world. Cthulhu's powers transcended time and space, making him an imaginative version of the Nietzschean Overman. Despite Cthulhu's power, he, like Lovecraft, we stuck in a place of sleep.
Many of Lovecraft's monsters are based on oceanic life, and possess fins, tentacles, and scales. This, however, is merely Lovecraft's dislike of seafood manifesting itself. He wanted to make his creatures horrific in appearance, so he gave them features he found revolting, namely fins and tentacles.
Lovecraft also had another theme constant. His universe was indifferent to humankind. Humanity was little more than a cosmic speak of dust to the deities of the Cthulhu Mythos. The best a human could expect from Cthulhu and friends was indifference.
Lovecraft was often called 'ugly' and 'hideous' because of being bedridden his entire life. His deities reflect this, and a mere gaze of one such deity can cause insanity. Lovecraft did not like being human. He was a tragic figure in many regards: immensely talent, but emotionally unfulfilled and physically traumatized. His wish, mentioned often times to a friend, was to 'transcend time and space.' With his writing, he could indeed write of beings that transcended time and space.
Lovecraft died around World War II, but he left an immense legacy behind. His writings influenced several people today, second only to Edgar Rice Boroughs. His works are alluded to and often borrowed from by well known authors. For example, in Stephen King's Gunslinger series, it is hinted at that there's a spell book bound in human flesh written by a mad Arab. This is an allusion to the Necronomicon. In Lovecraft's world, the Necronomicon was a flesh-bound spell book written by an Arabian worshipper of Cthulhu. The infamous tome also appears in the movie series of the Evil Dead.
There are much more literally references. For example, Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child, two of my favorite authors, borrow a similar concept in their novel Relic. The monster in Relic is not only described in a Lovecraftian manner, but it is also a mutated human. In one of Lovecraft's stories, a feral monster was also a mutated human. While this is a fairly common concept, I do find a few more takes on Lovecraftian ideas. In Relic, the tribe that mutates the man into a brain eating monster does so to protect their isolation. In Lovecraft, there's a tribe that practices cannibalism to protect their isolation. In Thunderhead, there is an expedition to find a lost city. When they get there, they find only transforming monsters, the part-human, part-wolf skin-walkers. In Lovecraft's Beyond The Mountains of Madness, there is an expedition that finds a lost city of transforming monsters, in this case, the blob-like shoggoths. Both have different conclusions, and I recommend each.
Even if Preston and Child did not borrow from Lovecraft, at least one of them was certainly exposed. On Lincoln Child's website, his profile proclaims the year 1971 as a highlight of his life, when he discovered H. P. Lovecraft. ()
In addition to literature, there are some other legacies of Lovecraft. His Cthulhu deity is made into a line of plush toys. () His entire mythos has been converted into a pen and paper tabletop role-playing game, Call of Cthulhu, manufactured by Chaosium. () While these may seem trivial, and indeed they are, Lovecraft has still left quite a legacy behind. His desire was to 'transcend space and time,' but it seems there is no need for that. As long as horror is written, it is safe to assume Lovecraft has made his undeniable mark on writing.