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Make Lovecraft, Not War

G D Penman By G D Penman Published on November 23, 2015

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This article was updated on December 3, 2015

H P Lovecraft was hailed as one of the grandfather’s of the American horror tradition for many years alongside other luminaries like Edgar Allan Poe and Ambrose Bierce. More recently the tide has somewhat turned against him for fairly obvious reasons. Within geek culture slapping the word “Cthulhu” on a product was as viable a means to make it marketable as slapping the word “Zombie” on it. Oversaturation made people grow tired with references to his work without ever having laid eyes on one of his stories. Assumptions were made about giant monsters with tentacles, bypassing the actual meaning of the stories entirely. Then came the character assassination.

Howard Phillips Lovecraft wrote in an archaic style that was difficult to read even to his contemporaries, he used that style to evoke a feeling of the arcane and historic in his work. Trying to read it now is even more difficult. For much of his career he was trying to mimic the writers that he had loved in his youth, Lord Dunsany and Robert W Chambers. Who had in turn hearkened back to older styles of writing to frame their writing in a more mythic light. Lovecraft’s writing style was eccentric but it fulfilled its purpose, the archaic views that he held were another matter. His fiction contains many clear references to his racism, which even for the twenties was considered extreme. It is impossible to completely separate the writer from his work and as such many people are put off even trying to read Lovecraft, with good reason.

Those who read Lovecraft’s work, both the earlier periods where he was clearly emulating Poe and Lord Dunsany and the later period where he established his own voice and world, will find an undercurrent of existential fear which had never existed in horror literature until that time. People were afraid of a ghost, a monster or a man with a knife. Lovecraft was afraid of everything. In his work mankind is not the centre of the universe, nor is the entire universe actively hostile as it was in many adventure stories of the time. In Lovecraft’s work, the universe is vast and strange beyond our understanding and it does not care about us. There is no god protecting us and no devil trying to harm us. Nobody cares about us one way or the other. Atheist dread countered only by the presence of gods too alien for human minds to even comprehend. The monsters only existed to show just how strange the things beyond our understanding were. Holding no particular malice but destroying us almost accidentally by their nature.

His work has had such a significant impact on the landscape of horror and fantasy fiction that it is a shame to see him being pushed aside, despite the entirely valid reasons he is being overlooked. H P Lovecraft was a man full of fear. It was at the root of all of his xenophobia and personal failings but he did what all great artists are meant to do. He took every part of himself, good and bad, fused style with substance and produced a legacy of lurking dread that persists to this day.

He took his fear and made it the world's fear. Fear appearing in an entire sub-genre devoted to expanding on his work and a existing as a spectral influence over so many of future generations' best known authors.

G.D. Penman writes about queer monsters for a living. He is the author of Call Your Steel, The Year of the Knife, Heart of Winter, Apocrypha and many other books. He is also a full-time freelance ... Show More

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