Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Some Ruminations of H.P. Lovecraft on the Anniversary of His Birth

   The other day, Cliff and I were talking about ordering some new books about H.P. Lovecraft, and I mentioned that wasn't it amazing, that after all the years that the two of us had been reading, reading about, writing about, discussing, and just plain loving Lovecraft's work, that there were still new things to read and new things to learn about the writing and the writer.
   Today, on Lovecraft's Birthday, I wanted to reminisce a bit about HPL and me, because Lovecraft is an author who has brought innumerable hours of enjoyment to my life.
   I first discovered H.P. Lovecraft about 1982. I had heard the name before, mostly in articles I'd read about HPL's Weird Tales comrade, Robert E. Howard. I knew that Lovecraft wrote horror, and truthfully, in those days, I had little to no interest in horror fiction. I don't even recall what caused me to pick up the Del Rey book, The Best of H.P. Lovecraft. I bought it new, probably at a mall bookstore.  I had recently read Stephen King's non fiction book, Danse Macabre, where he discussed Lovecraft, and I suspect that might have been an influence. Maybe I liked the Michael Whelan cover. Or maybe I just decided it was time to find out why so many people were interested in this writer.
   For whatever reason, I bought the book and read all the stories in it and was very very taken with Lovecraft's fiction. Amazingly I can still recall some of the things I thought back then. I remember reading The Picture in the House and thinking, "This could be rural Georgia as easily as rural new England." I recall reading The Music of Erich Zann and being very taken with the idea of a window that should have shown the streets of the city below but instead showed something entirely different. I remember really liking the last part of The Shadow Over Innsmouth, where the Deep Ones are pursuing the narrator. I remember thinking that Stephen King's short story Jerusalem's Lot was very influenced by Lovecraft's The Rats in the Walls.
   Fortunately for me, this was around the same time that I met Cliff Biggers, who being a few years older than me, and a SF/Fantasy/Horror fan for a few years longer, had accumulated a mass quantity of Lovecraft books which he was happy to loan to me. Thus I was able to read pretty much all of Lovecraft's fiction in the famous Arkham House editions and all five volumes of the selected Letters of H.P. Lovecraft. My knowledge of HPL was growing like some gibbering slavering thing in an attic. Over the next several years I would collect many volumes of books by and about Lovecraft.
   More recently, by re-reading Lovecraft's letters, and by reading I Am Providence, the massive biography by S.T. Joshi, along with the Memoirs Lovecraft at Last and HPL: Dreamer on the Nightside, I feel that I've gotten a better picture of Lovecraft the man. I think I'd have liked him. I think we'd have gotten along. Just a few weeks back, wandering the streets of HPL's beloved Providence RI with my buddy Jim Moore, I got a better feel for the background that shaped Lovecraft's fiction. I want to return to providence when the weather is cooler, however. I think Halloween in Providence would be a real kick.
   So what is it that keeps pulling me back to the work of Howard Philips Lovecraft? Many things. I'm fascinated by his invented mythology. By those Great Old Ones Cthulhu, Yog-Sothoth and the rest. I like the brooding atmosphere of his stories and the sheer creep factor. I love that blasphemous book The Necronomicon, which has inspired so many other books from The Compendium of Srem to The Silent History. And I love the ideas, which were so different from anyone Else's horror at the time, and which have become such a huge influence on modern horror.
   Just a short list of the writers influenced by Lovecraft would include Robert Bloch, August Derleth, Neil Gaiman, Alan Moore, Brian Lumley, Lin Carter, Ramsey Campbell, Stephen King, Clive Barker, F. Paul Wilson, C.J. Henderson, Henry Kuttner, Karl Edward Wagner, Joe Lansdale, Robert E. Howard, Donald F. Glut, Manly Wade Wellman, Joseph Payne Brennan, Fritz Leiber, James A. Moore and well, me.
   We won't even get into the many games, comic books, movies, books, toys, TV series, and such that are mining the works of H.P. Lovecraft because the list would just be too long. And many of these are fourth or fifth generation works who don't even know exactly who they're paying homage to. Lovecraft is probably the most influential author who hasn't been read by the people imitating him.
   But those of us who have read him are legion. We have conventions. We have blogs and fanzines and Facebook groups. We read and re-read the stories and sometimes we write our own stories in Lovecraft's universe or use elements of his mythos. And I think he would like that, because while he was alive he encouraged many of his writers friends to add to the myths he was creating. To join in the fun.
   So anyway, I just wanted to say a few things about Lovecraft on his birthday. Thank you, Howard. Your friends call you Howard and I hope that I can be counted in that number.


Paul R. McNamee said...

I believe my first was seeing the Del Rey The Doom that Came to Sarnath at the bookstore during the late 1980s (while in college,) and then verifying it against the old Appendix N of the D&D Core rules - went back and bought it. Or maybe I bought it on a whim and then found it listed. I don't remember exactly.

I was lucky to hit them as they were being freshly reprinted.

Within a few years I had gobbled up every HPL release from Del Rey as they came out and read them all.

Charles R. Rutledge said...

I think those Del Rey editions brought in a lot of new Lovecraft fans, Paul.