The twentieth century is not notoriously an age of beliefs, and its approach to myth has tended rather to autopsy and analysis than to mythic creation. The Dream Quest of H. The Borgo Press, There are a few specimens of Lovecraft's juvenilia extant, none of it of any real importance. Howard Phillips Lovecraft — , the Rhode Island fantaisiste whose cosmic mythos of primordial gods has moved some critics to proclaim him a unique figure among creators of supernatural horror, came to admire Nathaniel Hawthorne greatly but did not seem to consider him a major influence on his own work.
Lovecraft perceived his primary sources as residing in Poe and Lord Dunsany, and indeed the Dunsany has influenced me more than anyone except Poe—his rich language, his cosmic point of view, his remote dream-world, and his exquisite sense of the fantastic, all appeal to me more than anything else in literature. My first encounter with him—in the autumn of —gave an immense Beginnings and Foreshadowings — A Critical Study, pp.
However, in the period from to Lovecraft's stories is to know fear, but not literature. Which would be no problem if his devotees didn't insist on trying to promote him to some kind of dignified literary status. In this handsome new edition of the 16 short stories that are Lovecraft's claim to fame [ The Dunwich Horror and Others ], he gets the Grand Master treatment: Lovecraft, edited by Darrell Schweitzer, pp. One of the commonplace stereotypes about H.
Lovecraft is that he had very little interest in women. His marriage itself, to Sonia Greene, is dismissed as some sort of aberration. Lovecraft did not write to entertain, nor did he tailor his impressive fiction with the paying market in mind. Instead, he relied on his work as a revisionist or ghost-writer, and on the meager proceedings of the rapidly vanishing Philips estate, for the small but regular One of the strongest points in the Cthulhu stories by H.
Lovecraft is the skillful blending of the unreal and the real. True and false are juggled together until one is undistinguishable from the other. Probably the most mentioned example of this work is Lovecraft's invention of a number of fictitious books complete with quotes, mysterious authors and Lovecraft, edited by David E. Associated University Presses, Over the two decades of his career in fiction writing, H. Lovecraft progressed from relatively modest beginnings to final creations of high artistic power and employed a number of fictional themes repeatedly reworked at increasing levels of The Uses of Isolation in Lovecraft's Fiction.
There was thunder in the air on the night I went to the deserted mansion atop Tempest Mountain to find the lurking fear. I was not alone, for foolhardiness was not then mixed with that love of the grotesque and the terrible which has made my career a Lovecraft and The Annotated H.
Fear lurks in the shadows of American letters, its pleasures plebeian and guilty. He frequently revised work for other authors and did a large amount of ghost-writing , including " The Mound ", "Winged Death", and "The Diary of Alonzo Typer".
Client Harry Houdini was laudatory, and attempted to help Lovecraft by introducing him to the head of a newspaper syndicate. Plans for a further project were ended by Houdini's death. Although he was able to combine his distinctive style allusive and amorphous description by horrified though passive narrators with the kind of stock content and action that the editor of Weird Tales wanted—Wright paid handsomely to snap up " The Dunwich Horror " which proved very popular with readers—Lovecraft increasingly produced work that brought him no remuneration.
Affecting a calm indifference to the reception of his works, Lovecraft was in reality extremely sensitive to criticism and easily precipitated into withdrawal. He was known to give up trying to sell a story after it had been once rejected. Sometimes, as with The Shadow over Innsmouth which included a rousing chase that supplied action he wrote a story that might have been commercially viable, but did not try to sell it.
Lovecraft even ignored interested publishers. He failed to reply when one inquired about any novel Lovecraft might have ready: A few years after Lovecraft had moved to Providence, he and his wife Sonia Greene, having lived separately for so long, agreed to an amicable divorce. Greene moved to California in and remarried in , unaware that Lovecraft, despite his assurances to the contrary, had never officially signed the final decree.
Lovecraft was never able to provide for even basic expenses by selling stories and doing paid literary work for others. He lived frugally, subsisting on an inheritance that was nearly depleted by the time he died. He sometimes went without food to be able to pay the cost of mailing letters.
He was also deeply affected by the suicide of his correspondent Robert E. In early , he was diagnosed with cancer of the small intestine  and suffered from malnutrition as a result. He lived in constant pain until his death on March 15, in Providence. In accordance with his lifelong scientific curiosity, he kept a diary of his illness until close to the moment of his death.
Groups of enthusiasts annually observe the anniversaries of Lovecraft's death at Ladd Observatory and of his birth at his grave site. Lovecraft Memorial Square" and installed a commemorative sign at the intersection of Angell and Prospect streets, near the author's former residences. By Floyd C. Gale of Galaxy Science Fiction said that "like R.
Howard , Lovecraft seemingly goes on forever; the two decades since their death are as nothing. In any event, they appear more prolific than ever. What with de Camp, Nyberg and Derleth avidly rooting out every scrap of their writings and expanding them into novels, there may never be an end to their posthumous careers".
Early efforts to revise an established literary view of Lovecraft as an author of 'pulp' were resisted by some eminent critics; in Edmund Wilson expressed the opinion that "the only real horror in most of these fictions is the horror of bad taste and bad art".
But "Mystery and Adventure" columnist Will Cuppy of the New York Herald Tribune recommended to readers a volume of Lovecraft's stories, asserting that "the literature of horror and macabre fantasy belongs with mystery in its broader sense. Wells , Aldous Huxley , Tolkien and others as one of the builders of mythicised realities over against the failing project of literary realism.
Subsequently, Lovecraft began to acquire the status of a cult writer in the counterculture of the s, and reprints of his work proliferated. In the status of classic American writer conferred by a Library of America edition was accorded to Lovecraft with the publication of Tales , a collection of his weird fiction stories. Philosopher Graham Harman , seeing Lovecraft as having a unique—though implicit—anti-reductionalist ontology , writes: According to scholar S.
Forbidden, dark, esoterically veiled knowledge is a central theme in many of Lovecraft's works. Some critics argue that this theme is a reflection of Lovecraft's contempt of the world around him, causing him to search inwardly for knowledge and inspiration. The beings of Lovecraft's mythos often have human servants; Cthulhu , for instance, is worshiped under various names by cults  among both the Greenlandic Inuit and voodoo circles of Louisiana , and in many other parts of the world.
These worshippers served a useful narrative purpose for Lovecraft. Many beings of the Mythos were too powerful to be defeated by human opponents, and so horrific that direct knowledge of them meant insanity for the victim.
When dealing with such beings, Lovecraft needed a way to provide exposition and build tension without bringing the story to a premature end. Human followers gave him a way to reveal information about their "gods" in a diluted form, and also made it possible for his protagonists to win paltry victories.
Lovecraft, like his contemporaries, envisioned "savages" as closer to supernatural knowledge unknown to civilized man. Another recurring theme in Lovecraft's stories is the idea that descendants in a bloodline can never escape the stain of crimes committed by their forebears, at least if the crimes are atrocious enough.
Descendants may be very far removed, both in place and in time and, indeed, in culpability , from the act itself, and yet, they may be haunted by the revenant past, e. Often in Lovecraft's works the protagonist is not in control of his own actions, or finds it impossible to change course. Many of his characters would be free from danger if they simply managed to run away; however, this possibility either never arises or is somehow curtailed by some outside force, such as in " The Colour Out of Space " and " The Dreams in the Witch House ".
Often his characters are subject to a compulsive influence from powerful malevolent or indifferent beings. As with the inevitability of one's ancestry, eventually even running away, or death itself, provides no safety " The Thing on the Doorstep ", " The Outsider ", The Case of Charles Dexter Ward , etc. In some cases, this doom is manifest in the entirety of humanity, and no escape is possible The Shadow Out of Time.
Lovecraft was familiar with the work of the German conservative-revolutionary theorist Oswald Spengler , whose pessimistic thesis of the decadence of the modern West formed a crucial element in Lovecraft's overall anti-modern worldview. Spenglerian imagery of cyclical decay is present in particular in At the Mountains of Madness.
The Decline of the West , places Spengler at the center of his discussion of Lovecraft's political and philosophical ideas. Lovecraft wrote to Clark Ashton Smith in Lovecraft frequently dealt with the idea of civilization struggling against dark, primitive barbarism. In some stories this struggle is at an individual level; many of his protagonists are cultured, highly educated men who are gradually corrupted by some obscure and feared influence. In such stories, the curse is often a hereditary one, either because of interbreeding with non-humans e.
Physical and mental degradation often come together; this theme of 'tainted blood' may represent concerns relating to Lovecraft's own family history, particularly the death of his father due to what Lovecraft must have suspected to be a syphilitic disorder. In other tales, an entire society is threatened by barbarism. Sometimes the barbarism comes as an external threat, with a civilized race destroyed in war e. Sometimes, an isolated pocket of humanity falls into decadence and atavism of its own accord e.
But most often, such stories involve a civilized culture being gradually undermined by a malevolent underclass influenced by inhuman forces. It is likely that the " Roaring Twenties " left Lovecraft disillusioned as he was still obscure and struggling with the basic necessities of daily life, combined with seeing non-Western European immigrants in New York City.
Race is the most controversial aspect of Lovecraft's legacy, expressed in many disparaging remarks against the various non-Anglo-Saxon races and cultures in his work. As he grew older, his original Anglo-Saxon racial worldview softened into a classism or elitism which regarded the superior race to include all those self-ennobled through high culture. From the start, Lovecraft did not hold all white people in uniform high regard, but rather esteemed the English people and those of English descent.
In his early published essays, private letters and personal utterances, he argued for a strong color line to preserve race and culture. Lovecraft showed sympathy to those who adopted Western culture, even to the extent of marrying a Jewish woman whom he viewed as "well assimilated".
At the turn of the 20th century, humanity's increased reliance upon science was both opening new worlds and solidifying understanding of ours.
Lovecraft portrays this potential for a growing gap of man's understanding of the universe as a potential for horror, most notably in "The Colour Out of Space", where the inability of science to comprehend a contaminated meteorite leads to horror. In a letter to James F. Morton in , Lovecraft specifically pointed to Einstein 's theory on relativity as throwing the world into chaos and making the cosmos a jest; in a letter to Woodburn Harris in , he speculated that technological comforts risk the collapse of science.
Indeed, at a time when men viewed science as limitless and powerful, Lovecraft imagined alternative potential and fearful outcomes. In "The Call of Cthulhu", Lovecraft's characters encounter architecture which is "abnormal, non-Euclidean, and loathsomely redolent of spheres and dimensions apart from ours".
Lovecraft's works are ruled by several distinct pantheons of deities actually aliens worshiped as such by humans who are either indifferent or actively hostile to humanity. Lovecraft's actual philosophy has been termed "cosmic indifference" and this is expressed in his fiction. For instance, in Lovecraft's At the Mountains of Madness it is proposed that humankind was actually created as a slave race by the Old Ones, and that life on Earth as we know it evolved from scientific experiments abandoned by the Elder Things.
Protagonist characters in Lovecraft are usually educated men, citing scientific and rational evidence to support their non-faith. Herbert West—Reanimator reflects on the atheism common in academic circles. In " The Silver Key ", the character Randolph Carter loses the ability to dream and seeks solace in religion, specifically Congregationalism , but does not find it and ultimately loses faith.
Lovecraft himself adopted the stance of atheism early in life. In , he wrote in a letter to Robert E. All I say is that I think it is damned unlikely that anything like a central cosmic will, a spirit world, or an eternal survival of personality exist. They are the most preposterous and unjustified of all the guesses which can be made about the universe, and I am not enough of a hairsplitter to pretend that I don't regard them as arrant and negligible moonshine.
In theory, I am an agnostic , but pending the appearance of radical evidence I must be classed, practically and provisionally, as an atheist. In , famed magician and escapist Harry Houdini asked Lovecraft to ghostwrite a treatise exploring the topic of superstition. Houdini's unexpected death later that year halted the project, but The Cancer of Superstition was partially completed by Lovecraft along with collaborator C.
A previously unknown manuscript of the work was discovered in in a collection owned by a magic shop. The book states "all superstitious beliefs are relics of a common 'prehistoric ignorance' in humans," and goes on to explore various superstitious beliefs in different cultures and times.
Some of Lovecraft's work was inspired by his own nightmares. Lovecraft's most significant literary influence was Edgar Allan Poe. He had a British writing style due to his love of British literature. Like Lovecraft, Poe's work was out of step with the prevailing literary trends of his era. Both authors created distinctive, singular worlds of fantasy and employed archaisms in their writings.
This influence can be found in such works as his novella The Shadow over Innsmouth  where Lovecraft references Poe's story " The Imp of the Perverse " by name in Chapter 3, and in his poem "Nemesis", where the " He was influenced by Arthur Machen 's  carefully constructed tales concerning the survival of ancient evil into modern times in an otherwise realistic world and his beliefs in hidden mysteries which lay behind reality.
Lovecraft was also influenced by authors such as Oswald Spengler and Robert W. Lovecraft's discovery of the stories of Lord Dunsany ,  with their pantheon of mighty gods existing in dreamlike outer realms, moved his writing in a new direction, resulting in a series of imitative fantasies in a "Dreamlands" setting.
He declared Blackwood's story " The Willows " to be the single best piece of weird fiction ever written. Another inspiration came from a completely different source: His astronomical telescope is now housed in the rooms of the August Derleth Society.
Lovecraft's materialist views led him to espouse his philosophical views through his fiction; these philosophical views came to be called cosmicism. Cosmicism took on a dark tone with his creation of what is today often called the Cthulhu Mythos, a pantheon of alien extra-dimensional deities and horrors which predate humanity, and which are hinted at in eons-old myths and legends.
The term "Cthulhu Mythos" was coined by Lovecraft's correspondent and fellow author, August Derleth, after Lovecraft's death; Lovecraft jocularly referred to his artificial mythology as "Yog-Sothothery". Lovecraft considered himself a man best suited to the early 18th century. His writing style, especially in his many letters, owes much to Augustan British writers of the Enlightenment like Joseph Addison and Jonathan Swift. Among the books found in his library as evidenced in Lovecraft's Library by S.
Lovecraft's style has often been subject to criticism,  yet scholars such as S. Joshi have shown that Lovecraft consciously utilized a variety of literary devices to form a unique style of his own — these include conscious archaism , prose-poetic techniques combined with essay-form techniques, alliteration , anaphora , crescendo , transferred epithet , metaphor , symbolism , and colloquialism.
Lovecraft was relatively unknown during his own time. He did, however, correspond regularly with other contemporary writers such as Clark Ashton Smith and August Derleth,  who became good friends of his, even though they never met in person. This group of writers became known as the "Lovecraft Circle", since their writing freely borrowed elements of Lovecraft's stories, with his encouragement: After Lovecraft's death, the Lovecraft Circle carried on. August Derleth in particular added to and expanded on Lovecraft's vision, not without controversy.
While Lovecraft considered his pantheon of alien gods a mere plot device, Derleth created an entire cosmology, complete with a war between the good Elder Gods and the evil Outer Gods , such as Cthulhu and his ilk. The forces of good were supposed to have won, locking Cthulhu and others up beneath the earth, in the ocean, and so forth. Derleth's Cthulhu Mythos stories went on to associate different gods with the traditional four elements of fire, air, earth and water — an artificial constraint which required rationalizations on Derleth's part as Lovecraft himself never envisioned such a scheme.
Lovecraft's fiction has been grouped into three categories by some critics. While Lovecraft did not refer to these categories himself, he did once write: Lovecraft's writing, particularly the so-called Cthulhu Mythos, has influenced fiction authors including modern horror and fantasy writers. Kiernan , William S. Burroughs , and Neil Gaiman , have cited Lovecraft as one of their primary influences. Beyond direct adaptation, Lovecraft and his stories have had a profound impact on popular culture.
Some influence was direct, as he was a friend, inspiration, and correspondent to many of his contemporaries, such as August Derleth, Robert E. Howard, Robert Bloch and Fritz Leiber. Konaka is an acknowledged disciple and has participated in Cthulhu Mythos, expanding several Japanese versions. Against the World, Against Life. Prolific American writer Joyce Carol Oates wrote an introduction for a collection of Lovecraft stories.
The Library of America published a volume of Lovecraft's work in , a reversal of traditional judgment that "has been nothing so far from the accepted canon as Lovecraft".
Lovecraft has also influenced gaming, despite having hated games during his lifetime. Novel to the game was the Lovecraft-inspired insanity mechanic, which allowed for player characters to go insane from contact with cosmic horrors.
This mechanic would go on to make appearance in subsequent table top and video games. Though few subsequent Lovecraftian board games were released annually between and , the years after saw a surge in the number of Lovecraftian board games, possibly because of the entry of Lovecraft's work into the public domain combined with a revival of interest in board games. Few video games are direct adaptations of Lovecraft's works, but many video games have been inspired or heavily influenced by Lovecraft.
Besides employing Cthulthean antagonists, games that invoke Lovecraftian horror have used mechanics such as insanity effects, or even fourth wall breaking effects that suggest to players that something has gone wrong with their game consoles. Aside from his thinly veiled appearance in Robert Bloch's "The Shambler from the Stars", Lovecraft continues to be used as a character in supernatural fiction. An early version of Ray Bradbury 's "The Exiles"  uses Lovecraft as a character, who makes a brief, word appearance eating ice cream in front of a fire and complaining about how cold he is.
Lovecraft makes an appearance as a rotting corpse in The Chinatown Death Cloud Peril by Paul Malmont , a novel with fictionalized versions of a number of period writers. German writer Wolfgang Hohlbein used H. Lovecraft as a main character in his pulp fiction series Der Hexer The Wizard , which is mainly based on the Cthulhu Mythos, even though the plot takes place before Lovecraft was born. Necronomicon , Witch Hunt , Out of Mind: The Stories of H.
Lovecraft , Stargate SG Roswell , and Alan Moore 's comic Providence — A satirical version of Lovecraft named "H. Hatecraft" appeared as a recurring character on the Cartoon Network television series Scooby-Doo!
A character based on Lovecraft also appears in the visual novel Shikkoku no Sharnoth: Howard" to most of the main characters. Another character based on Lovecraft appears in Afterlife with Archie.
He is eventually killed when his body becomes host to an extradimensional being infecting the timestream. Even his power, "The Great Old Ones" pays homage to his classic book, " The Call of Cthulhu ", which grants him the ability of transforming himself into an octopus-like monster resembling Cthulhu.
The short story "The Invention of H. Azoulay suggests that Lovecraft was a fictional creation invented by Jorge Luis Borges.
For most of the 20th century, the definitive editions specifically At the Mountains of Madness and Other Novels , Dagon and Other Macabre Tales , The Dunwich Horror and Others , and The Horror in the Museum and Other Revisions of his prose fiction were published by Arkham House , a publisher originally started with the intent of publishing the work of Lovecraft, but which has since published a considerable amount of other literature as well.
Penguin Classics has at present issued three volumes of Lovecraft's works: They collect the standard texts as edited by S. Joshi, most of which were available in the Arkham House editions, with the exception of the restored text of "The Shadow Out of Time" from The Dreams in the Witch House , which had been previously released by small-press publisher Hippocampus Press.
In the prestigious Library of America canonized Lovecraft with a volume of his stories edited by Peter Straub , and Random House's Modern Library line have issued the "definitive edition" of Lovecraft's At the Mountains of Madness also including " Supernatural Horror in Literature ".
Lovecraft's poetry is collected in The Ancient Track: Later the strange cat watches intently outside that same window in the night and on the next day, for—something. It is clearly the psychopomp of primeval myth, fitted and adapted with infinite deftness to its latter-day setting. But Hawthorne left no well-defined literary posterity. His mood and attitude belonged to the age which closed with him, and it is the spirit of Poe—who so clearly and realistically understood the natural basis of the horror-appeal and the correct mechanics of its achievement—which survived and blossomed.
Closer to real greatness was the eccentric and saturnine journalist Ambrose Bierce, born in ; who likewise entered the Civil War, but survived to write some immortal tales and to disappear in in as great a cloud of mystery as any he ever evoked from his nightmare fancy. Bierce was a satirist and pamphleteer of note, but the bulk of his artistic reputation must rest upon his grim and savage short stories; a large number of which deal with the Civil War and form the most vivid and realistic expression which that conflict has yet received in fiction.
Samuel Loveman, a living poet and critic who was personally acquainted with Bierce, thus sums up the genius of the great shadow-maker in the preface to some of his letters: Words, so simple that one would be prone to ascribe them to the limitations of a literary hack, take on an unholy horror, a new and unguessed transformation.
In Poe one finds it a tour de force, in Maupassant a nervous engagement of the flagellated climax. To Bierce, simply and sincerely, diabolism held in its tormented depth, a legitimate and reliant means to the end. Yet a tacit confirmation with Nature is in every instance insisted upon.
Yet, curiously, inhumanity is not altogether absent. Loveman finds vent in a rare strain of sardonic comedy and graveyard humour, and a kind of delight in images of cruelty and tantalising disappointment.
Many of the stories are obviously mechanical, and marred by a jaunty and commonplacely artificial style derived from journalistic models; but the grim malevolence stalking through all of them is unmistakable, and several stand out as permanent mountain-peaks of American weird writing.
I have a manuscript in my pocket that would kill you! A man named Manton has horribly killed his two children and his wife, the latter of whom lacked the middle toe of the right foot. Ten years later he returns much altered to the neighbourhood; and, being secretly recognised, is provoked into a bowie-knife duel in the dark, to be held in the now abandoned house where his crime was committed.
When the moment of the duel arrives a trick is played upon him; and he is left without an antagonist, shut in a night-black ground floor room of the reputedly haunted edifice, with the thick dust of a decade on every hand.
No knife is drawn against him, for only a thorough scare is intended; but on the next day he is found crouched in a corner with distorted face, dead of sheer fright at something he has seen. The only clue visible to the discoverers is one having terrible implications: From the point at which they ended they did not return; they pointed all one way. In an entire family of seven persons disappears suddenly and unaccountably from a plantation house in eastern Kentucky, leaving all its possessions untouched—furniture, clothing, food supplies, horses, cattle, and slaves.
About a year later two men of high standing are forced by a storm to take shelter in the deserted dwelling, and in so doing stumble into a strange subterranean room lit by an unaccountable greenish light and having an iron door which cannot be opened from within. In this room lie the decayed corpses of all the missing family; and as one of the discoverers rushes forward to embrace a body he seems to recognise, the other is so overpowered by a strange foetor that he accidentally shuts his companion in the vault and loses consciousness.
Recovering his senses six weeks later, the survivor is unable to find the hidden room; and the house is burned during the Civil War. The imprisoned discoverer is never seen or heard of again.
Nevertheless the genuineness and artistry of his dark intimations are always unmistakable, so that his greatness is in no danger of eclipse. The former, indeed, is almost wholly given over to the supernatural.
Much of the best in American horror-literature has come from pens not mainly devoted to that medium. In The Turn of the Screw Henry James triumphs over his inevitable pomposity and prolixity sufficiently well to create a truly potent air of sinister menace; depicting the hideous influence of two dead and evil servants, Peter Quint and the governess Miss Jessel, over a small boy and girl who had been under their care.
James is perhaps too diffuse, too unctuously urbane, and too much addicted to subtleties of speech to realise fully all the wild and devastating horror in his situations; but for all that there is a rare and mounting tide of fright, culminating in the death of the little boy, which gives the novelette a permanent place in its special class. Marion Crawford produced several weird tales of varying quality, now collected in a volume entitled Wandering Ghosts.
In this tale of a suicide-haunted stateroom such things as the spectral salt-water dampness, the strangely open porthole, and the nightmare struggle with the nameless object are handled with incomparable dexterity.
Very genuine, though not without the typical mannered extravagance of the eighteen-nineties, is the strain of horror in the early work of Robert W. Chambers, since renowned for products of a very different quality. A boy, describing a tussle he has had with this creature, shivers and sickens as he relates a certain detail. The fellow emits a muttering sound that fills the head like thick oily smoke from a fat-rendering vat or an odour of noisome decay. What he mumbles is merely this: Soon they hear the rumbling of the black-plumed hearse driven by the flabby and corpse-faced watchman.
He enters the night-shrouded house in quest of the Yellow Sign, all bolts and bars rotting at his touch. And when the people rush in, drawn by a scream that no human throat could utter, they find three forms on the floor—two dead and one dying. One of the dead shapes is far gone in decay. Other early works of Mr. One cannot help regretting that he did not further develop a vein in which he could so easily have become a recognised master.
Horror material of authentic force may be found in the work of the New England realist Mary E. Wilkins; whose volume of short tales, The Wind in the Rose-Bush, contains a number of noteworthy achievements. Still further carrying on our spectral tradition is the gifted and versatile humourist Irvin S.
Cobb, whose work both early and recent contains some finely weird specimens. Later work of Mr. Cobb introduces an element of possible science, as in the tale of hereditary memory where a modern man with a negroid strain utters words in African jungle speech when run down by a train under visual and aural circumstances recalling the maiming of his black ancestor by a rhinoceros a century before.
This is the tale of a man who—with the characteristic ambition of the Gothic or Byronic hero-villain—seeks to defy Nature and recapture every moment of his past life through the abnormal stimulation of memory.
To this end he employs endless notes, records, mnemonic objects, and pictures—and finally odours, music, and exotic drugs. At last his ambition goes beyond his personal life and reaches toward the black abysses of hereditary memory—even back to pre-human days amidst the steaming swamps of the Carboniferous age, and to still more unimaginable deeps of primal time and entity. He calls for madder music and takes stronger drugs, and finally his great dog grows oddly afraid of him.
A noxious animal stench encompasses him, and he grows vacant-faced and sub-human. In the end he takes to the woods, howling at night beneath windows. He is finally found in a thicket, mangled to death. Beside him is the mangled corpse of his dog. They have killed each other. A less subtle and well-balanced but nevertheless highly effective creation is Herbert S.
Sinister House, by Leland Hall, has touches of magnificent atmosphere but is marred by a somewhat mediocre romanticism. Very notable in their way are some of the weird conceptions of the novelist and short-story writer Edward Lucas White, most of whose themes arise from actual dreams. White imparts a very peculiar quality to his tales—an oblique sort of glamour which has its own distinctive type of convincingness.
Of younger Americans, none strikes the note of cosmic terror so well as the California poet, artist, and fictionist Clark Ashton Smith, whose bizarre writings, drawings, paintings, and stories are the delight of a sensitive few.
His longest and most ambitious poem, The Hashish-Eater, is in pentameter blank verse; and opens up chaotic and incredible vistas of kaleidoscopic nightmare in the spaces between the stars. In sheer daemonic strangeness and fertility of conception, Mr.
Smith is perhaps unexcelled by any other writer dead or living. Who else has seen such gorgeous, luxuriant, and feverishly distorted visions of infinite spheres and multiple dimensions and lived to tell the tale? His short stories deal powerfully with other galaxies, worlds, and dimensions, as well as with strange regions and aeons on the earth. He tells of primal Hyperborea and its black amorphous god Tsathoggua; of the lost continent Zothique, and of the fabulous, vampire-curst land of Averoigne in mediaeval France.
The Weird Tradition in the British Isles Recent British literature, besides including the three or four greatest fantaisistes of the present age, has been gratifyingly fertile in the element of the weird. This latter is of particular poignancy; the pictures of the naked leper-priest who mewed like an otter, of the spots which appeared on the chest of the man that priest cursed, of the growing carnivorousness of the victim and of the fear which horses began to display toward him, and of the eventually half-accomplished transformation of that victim into a leopard, being things which no reader is ever likely to forget.
The final defeat of the malignant sorcery does not impair the force of the tale or the validity of its mystery. Lafcadio Hearn, strange, wandering, and exotic, departs still farther from the realm of the real; and with the supreme artistry of a sensitive poet weaves phantasies impossible to an author of the solid roast-beef type. His Fantastics, written in America, contains some of the most impressive ghoulishness in all literature; whilst his Kwaidan, written in Japan, crystallises with matchless skill and delicacy the eerie lore and whispered legends of that richly colourful nation.
Anthony is a classic of fevered and riotous imagery clad in the magic of singing words. Oscar Wilde may likewise be given a place amongst weird writers, both for certain of his exquisite fairy tales, and for his vivid Picture of Dorian Gray, in which a marvellous portrait for years assumes the duty of ageing and coarsening instead of its original, who meanwhile plunges into every excess of vice and crime without the outward loss of youth, beauty, and freshness.
There is a sudden and potent climax when Dorian Gray, at last become a murderer, seeks to destroy the painting whose changes testify to his moral degeneracy. He stabs it with a knife, and a hideous cry and crash are heard; but when the servants enter they find it in all its pristine loveliness. He was withered, wrinkled, and loathsome of visage. It was not till they had examined the rings that they recognised who it was.
This story, in final form, deserves a place among the foremost things of its kind. It tells of a creeping horror and menace trickling down the centuries on a sub-arctic island off the coast of Norway; where, amidst the sweep of daemon winds and the ceaseless din of hellish waves and cataracts, a vengeful dead man built a brazen tower of terror.
In the novel The Purple Cloud Mr. Shiel describes with tremendous power a curse which came out of the arctic to destroy mankind, and which for a time appears to have left but a single inhabitant on our planet. The sensations of this lone survivor as he realises his position, and roams through the corpse-littered and treasure-strown cities of the world as their absolute master, are delivered with a skill and artistry falling little short of actual majesty.
Better known than Shiel is the ingenious Bram Stoker, who created many starkly horrific conceptions in a series of novels whose poor technique sadly impairs their net effect.
The Lair of the White Worm, dealing with a gigantic primitive entity that lurks in a vault beneath an ancient castle, utterly ruins a magnificent idea by a development almost infantile. The Jewel of Seven Stars, touching on a strange Egyptian resurrection, is less crudely written.
But best of all is the famous Dracula, which has become almost the standard modern exploitation of the frightful vampire myth. Count Dracula, a vampire, dwells in a horrible castle in the Carpathians; but finally migrates to England with the design of populating the country with fellow vampires. The latter handles quite dexterously the standard werewolf superstition.
Much subtler and more artistic, and told with singular skill through the juxtaposed narratives of the several characters, is the novel Cold Harbour, by Francis Brett Young, in which an ancient house of strange malignancy is powerfully delineated. Only the slight diffuseness of explanation at the close, and the somewhat too free use of divination as a plot factor, keep this tale from approaching absolute perfection.
In the novel Witch Wood John Buchan depicts with tremendous force a survival of the evil Sabbat in a lonely district of Scotland. The description of the black forest with the evil stone, and of the terrible cosmic adumbrations when the horror is finally extirpated, will repay one for wading through the very gradual action and plethora of Scottish dialect.
Deserving of distinguished notice as a forceful craftsman to whom an unseen mystic world is ever a close and vital reality is the poet Walter de la Mare, whose haunting verse and exquisite prose alike bear consistent traces of a strange vision reaching deeply into veiled spheres of beauty and terrible and forbidden dimensions of being.
In the novel The Return we see the soul of a dead man reach out of its grave of two centuries and fasten itself upon the flesh of the living, so that even the face of the victim becomes that which had long ago returned to dust.
De la Mare does not make fear the sole or even the dominant element of most of his tales, being apparently more interested in the subtleties of character involved. Occasionally he sinks to sheer whimsical phantasy of the Barrie order. Still, he is among the very few to whom unreality is a vivid, living presence; and as such he is able to put into his occasional fear-studies a keen potency which only a rare master can achieve.
The weird short story has fared well of late, an important contributor being the versatile E. Wakefield, in his collections They Return at Evening and Others Who Return, manages now and then to achieve great heights of horror despite a vitiating air of sophistication.
Mention has been made of the weird work of H. More whimsical and inclined toward the amiable and innocuous phantasy of Sir J. Barrie are the short tales of E. Forster, grouped under the title of The Celestial Omnibus. Of these only one, dealing with a glimpse of Pan and his aura of fright, may be said to hold the true element of cosmic horror. Everett, though adhering to very old and conventional models, occasionally reaches singular heights of spiritual terror in her collection of short stories.
It may be well to remark here that occult believers are probably less effective than materialists in delineating the spectral and the fantastic, since to them the phantom world is so commonplace a reality that they tend to refer to it with less awe, remoteness, and impressiveness than do those who see in it an absolute and stupendous violation of the natural order.
Of rather uneven stylistic quality, but vast occasional power in its suggestion of lurking worlds and beings behind the ordinary surface of life, is the work of William Hope Hodgson, known today far less than it deserves to be. Hodgson is perhaps second only to Algernon Blackwood in his serious treatment of unreality. Few can equal him in adumbrating the nearness of nameless forces and monstrous besieging entities through casual hints and insignificant details, or in conveying feelings of the spectral and the abnormal in connexion with regions or buildings.
The brooding menace in the earlier parts of the book is impossible to surpass, though a letdown in the direction of ordinary romance and adventure occurs toward the end.
An inaccurate and pseudo-romantic attempt to reproduce eighteenth-century prose detracts from the general effect, but the really profound nautical erudition everywhere displayed is a compensating factor. The House on the Borderland —perhaps the greatest of all Mr. But for a few touches of commonplace sentimentality this book would be a classic of the first water.
The Ghost Pirates , regarded by Mr. Hodgson as rounding out a trilogy with the two previously mentioned works, is a powerful account of a doomed and haunted ship on its last voyage, and of the terrible sea-devils of quasi-human aspect, and perhaps the spirits of bygone buccaneers that besiege it and finally drag it down to an unknown fate. With its command of maritime knowledge, and its clever selection of hints and incidents suggestive of latent horrors in Nature, this book at times reaches enviable peaks of power.
The Night Land is a long-extended pp. Allowing for all its faults, it is yet one of the most potent pieces of macabre imagination ever written. The picture of a night-black, dead planet, with the remains of the human race concentrated in a stupendously vast metal pyramid and besieged by monstrous, hybrid, and altogether unknown forces of the darkness, is something that no reader can ever forget. Midway in the book the central figure ventures outside the pyramid on a quest through death-haunted realms untrod by man for millions of years—and in his slow, minutely described, day-by-day progress over unthinkable leagues of immemorial blackness there is a sense of cosmic alienage, breathless mystery, and terrified expectancy unrivalled in the whole range of literature.
The last quarter of the book drags woefully, but fails to spoil the tremendous power of the whole. In quality it falls conspicuously below the level of the other books. A few of the episodes, however, are of undeniable power; and afford glimpses of the peculiar genius characteristic of the author. Naturally it is impossible in a brief sketch to trace out all the classic modern uses of the terror element. Its trail is one of infinite ramifications; but we must here confine ourselves to its appearance in a relatively unmixed state, where it determines and dominates the work of art containing it.
Somewhat separate from the main British stream is that current of weirdness in Irish literature which came to the fore in the Celtic Renaissance of the later nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
Ghost and fairy lore have always been of great prominence in Ireland, and for over an hundred years have been recorded by a line of such faithful transcribers and translators as William Carleton, T. Brought to notice by the modern movement, this body of myth has been carefully collected and studied; and its salient features reproduced in the work of later figures like Yeats, J.
Whilst on the whole more whimsically fantastic than terrible, such folklore and its consciously artistic counterparts contain much that falls truly within the domain of cosmic horror. Yeats, undoubtedly the greatest figure of the Irish revival if not the greatest of all living poets, has accomplished notable things both in original work and in the codification of old legends. The Modern Masters The best horror-tales of today, profiting by the long evolution of the type, possess a naturalness, convincingness, artistic smoothness, and skilful intensity of appeal quite beyond comparison with anything in the Gothic work of a century or more ago.
Technique, craftsmanship, experience, and psychological knowledge have advanced tremendously with the passing years, so that much of the older work seems naive and artificial; redeemed, when redeemed at all, only by a genius which conquers heavy limitations. The tone of jaunty and inflated romance, full of false motivation and investing every conceivable event with a counterfeit significance and carelessly inclusive glamour, is now confined to lighter and more whimsical phases of supernatural writing.
Serious weird stories are either made realistically intense by close consistency and perfect fidelity to Nature except in the one supernatural direction which the author allows himself, or else cast altogether in the realm of phantasy, with atmosphere cunningly adapted to the visualisation of a delicately exotic world of unreality beyond space and time, in which almost anything may happen if it but happen in true accord with certain types of imagination and illusion normal to the sensitive human brain.
Of living creators of cosmic fear raised to its most artistic pitch, few if any can hope to equal the versatile Arthur Machen; author of some dozen tales long and short, in which the elements of hidden horror and brooding fright attain an almost incomparable substance and realistic acuteness.
Machen, with an impressionable Celtic heritage linked to keen youthful memories of the wild domed hills, archaic forests, and cryptical Roman ruins of the Gwent countryside, has developed an imaginative life of rare beauty, intensity, and historic background. He has absorbed the mediaeval mystery of dark woods and ancient customs, and is a champion of the Middle Ages in all things—including the Catholic faith.
He has yielded, likewise, to the spell of the Britanno-Roman life which once surged over his native region; and finds strange magic in the fortified camps, tessellated pavements, fragments of statues, and kindred things which tell of the day when classicism reigned and Latin was the language of the country. There is a glamour in the autumn sky; The reddened clouds are writhing in the glow Of some great fire, and there are glints below Of tawny yellow where the embers die.
I wait, for I would share with him again The ancient wisdom, and the ancient pain. A young woman, through surgery of the brain-cells, is made to see the vast and monstrous deity of Nature, and becomes an idiot in consequence, dying less than a year later.
Years afterward a strange, ominous, and foreign-looking child named Helen Vaughan is placed to board with a family in rural Wales, and haunts the woods in unaccountable fashion.
A little boy is thrown out of his mind at sight of someone or something he spies with her, and a young girl comes to a terrible end in similar fashion. All this mystery is strangely interwoven with the Roman rural deities of the place, as sculptured in antique fragments. Through the clever comparing of notes on the part of those who have had word of her at various stages of her career, this woman is discovered to be the girl Helen Vaughan; who is the child—by no mortal father—of the young woman on whom the brain experiment was made.
She is a daughter of hideous Pan himself, and at the last is put to death amidst horrible transmutations of form involving changes of sex and a descent to the most primal manifestations of the life-principle. But the charm of the tale is in the telling. No one could begin to describe the cumulative suspense and ultimate horror with which every paragraph abounds without following fully the precise order in which Mr. Machen unfolds his gradual hints and revelations.
Melodrama is undeniably present, and coincidence is stretched to a length which appears absurd upon analysis; but in the malign witchery of the tale as a whole these trifles are forgotten, and the sensitive reader reaches the end with only an appreciative shudder and a tendency to repeat the words of one of the characters: Why, man, if such a case were possible, our earth would be a nightmare. The rites learned by the nurse from her witch grandmother are taught to the child by the time she is three years old, and her artless accounts of the dangerous secret revelations possess a lurking terror generously mixed with pathos.
The details of this journey are given with marvellous vividness, and form to the keen critic a masterpiece of fantastic writing, with almost unlimited power in the intimation of potent hideousness and cosmic aberration. At length the child—whose age is then thirteen—comes upon a cryptic and banefully beautiful thing in the midst of a dark and inaccessible wood.
She flees in awe, but is permanently altered and repeatedly revisits the wood. In the end horror overtakes her in a manner deftly prefigured by an anecdote in the prologue, but she poisons herself in time. She is discovered dead in the dark wood beside the cryptic thing she found; and that thing—a whitely luminous statue of Roman workmanship about which dire mediaeval rumours had clustered—is affrightedly hammered into dust by the searchers. A queer passage in the ancient geographer Solinus, a series of mysterious disappearances in the lonely reaches of Wales, a strange idiot son born to a rural mother after a fright in which her inmost faculties were shaken; all these things suggest to the professor a hideous connexion and a condition revolting to any friend and respecter of the human race.
He hires the idiot boy, who jabbers strangely at times in a repulsive hissing voice, and is subject to odd epileptic seizures. He never returns, but beside a fantastic stone in the wild country are found his watch, money, and ring, done up with catgut in a parchment bearing the same terrible characters as those on the black Babylonish seal and the rock in the Welsh mountains. The bulky document explains enough to bring up the most hideous vistas.
Professor Gregg, from the massed evidence presented by the Welsh disappearances, the rock inscription, the accounts of ancient geographers, and the black seal, has decided that a frightful race of dark primal beings of immemorial antiquity and wide former diffusion still dwells beneath the hills of unfrequented Wales.
Further research has unriddled the message of the black seal, and proved that the idiot boy, a son of some father more terrible than mankind, is the heir of monstrous memories and possibilities.
He knew the abysmal gulfs of abnormality that he had opened, and went forth into the wild hills prepared and resigned. Francis Leicester, a young law student nervously worn out by seclusion and overwork, has a prescription filled by an old apothecary none too careful about the state of his drugs. Innocently enough, the youth regularly imbibes the powder in a glass of water after meals; and at first seems substantially benefited.
Gradually, however, his improved spirits take the form of dissipation; he is absent from home a great deal, and appears to have undergone a repellent psychological change. One day an odd livid spot appears on his right hand, and he afterward returns to his seclusion; finally keeping himself shut within his room and admitting none of the household.
The doctor calls for an interview, and departs in a palsy of horror, saying that he can do no more in that house. Summons at the door bring only a sound of shuffling and a demand in a thick gurgling voice to be let alone. At last an awful happening is reported by a shuddering housemaid. Burning points like eyes shine out of its midst, and before it is despatched it tries to lift what might have been an arm.
Soon afterward the physician, unable to endure the memory of what he has beheld, dies at sea while bound for a new life in America. Of utmost delicacy, and passing from mere horror into true mysticism, is The Great Return, a story of the Graal, also a product of the war period. Less intense than Mr. Machen in delineating the extremes of stark fear, yet infinitely more closely wedded to the idea of an unreal world constantly pressing upon ours, is the inspired and prolific Algernon Blackwood, amidst whose voluminous and uneven work may be found some of the finest spectral literature of this or any age.
'Supernatural Horror in Literature' by H. P. Lovecraft: Home: His Life: His Writings: His Creations has suffered horribly—and the descriptions of his experiences under torment and in the vaults through which he once essays escape are classic—but had the strength to resist Melmoth the Wanderer when approached at his darkest hour in.
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Racism, Hate and H.P. Lovecraft Essay Not only was the work of Howard Phillips Lovecraft uniformly bleak, but what he did write was sometimes execrable. Take this random passage from a HP Lovecraft omnibus: "But oddly enough, the worthy gentleman owned himself most impalpably disquieted by a mere minor detail. Essays and criticism on H. P. Lovecraft - Lovecraft, H. P.