Wednesday, November 29, 2006

H. P. Lovecraft

I discovered the works of H. P. Lovecraft (1890-1937) around 1963 when I came across a paperback edition of The Colour Out Of Space. Lovecraft is regarded as the father of the modern horror novel, although his approach often tended to be in a Science Fiction vein rather than in the supernatural. His works often succeeded in creating an atmosphere that was truly eerie, although he did tend to be a bit generous in his use of adjectives.

Very few of Lovecraft's stories were published during his lifetime, usually in the pages of Weird Tales, the first magazine devoted to supernatural fiction. Many of HPL's works appeared in amateur publications; his primary income was derived from ghost writing works for others, or at least revising weak stories.

Lovecraft certainly attracted a large number of followers, young writers who wrote similar works. Robert Bloch was one of these, as was August Derleth, who eventually teamed up with Donald Wandrei to create Arkham House Publishers in order to keep Lovecraft's work in print. They have since published a large number of excellent works in the realm of Science Fiction and the supernatural.

A number of Lovecraft's works have been filmed; usually quite badly. The Colour Out Of Space was filmed as Die, Monster, Die with Boris Karloff. The Dunwich Horror looked more like a bad LSD trip, wasting a good cast. The Case Of Charles Dexter Ward was fairly faithfully filmed (try saying that three times fast), but was released as Edgar Allen Poe's The Haunted Palace. Vincent Price was very good as Ward, a man becoming possessed by an ancestor. The Shadow Over Innsmouth was adapted into Dagon and filmed in Spain. It did follow the story reasonably well but was pretty weak overall.

Currently Arkham House has all of Lovecraft's fiction in print in three volumes. They have also published five thick volumes of his letters (his output of letters was unbelievable), and, at one time, published a volume of his poetry. To see what is currently available, go tho their web site at

In the series of stories that make up the "Cthulhu Mythos" HPL wrote of two races, the Elder Gods and the Great Old Ones. These beings inhabited Earth long before the advent of Man, and await the opportunity to return. Lovecraft regarded them as neither good or evil, just so different as to be beyond mortal comprehension. When young writer August Derleth started writing his own stories for the Mythos he interpreted the cosmic struggle to be between the forces of good and evil. Derleth's influence held sway for many years until later writers started paying more attention to the original sources.

(I have usually found Derleth's Mythos stories to be generally inferior, but when creating original stories, either supernatural or mysteries, he was quite excellent. He needed to emerge from Lovecraft's shadow to show what he was capable of. Derleth also wrote pastiches of Sherlock Holmes featuring a detective named Solar Pons. While not up to Doyle, they are quite enjoyable to read.)

So as we near the 70th anniversary of Lovecraft's death he is still with us, kept alive by his writings and by the many authors he inspired; writers like Derleth, Frank Belknap Long, Robert Bloch and Brian Lumley, to name only a few.

In closing, back when I attended Farragut High School I was the first person to do a book report on Lovecraft, as well as Metropolis and The Phantom Of The Opera. Some of my teachers wondered about my tastes in literature. Happily, they haven't changed.


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