As a final thought, I'd say this. Lovecraft combined an epochal imagination with a nearly nihilist philosophy -- the two ingredients that together make "cosmic horror." But more importantly, Lovecraft was a great writer. Of his solo adult works, 17 of 50 are great by almost any standard. (That's a career .340 average -- home run average, that is. And six of those were knocked clean out of the park.) By the time his style fully matured in the mid-1920s, he was almost incapable of turning out a bad story. He was a complex writer, who believed (correctly) that both verisimilitude and gothicism depended on intricate structures of both plot and language. A true Anglophone craftsman, HPL is not for the lazy, any more than Faulkner or Borges is -- or Hawthorne, his great unsung model. In his mature phase, he almost never wastes a word: if you can't figure out why it's there, that's your problem, not his. Not all of the mature stories work for all readers -- "The Thing on the Doorstep" is probably the weakest of them, and as I've intimated before, "The Silver Key" is perhaps best seen as mental attic-cleaning rather than as fiction in the technical sense. But even those two (clearly his weakest post-1925 tales) are structurally sound as drums, and make interesting reading to boot, two desiderata that far too many short stories fail at.
For all those who say that Lovecraft is all style (and bad style at that) and no substance, why is it that there are no successful pastiches of Lovecraft in his own style? Why aren't we drowning in stories at least as good as "The Shadow Out of Time" or "The Haunter of the Dark"? Why, if it's just a matter of piling up "eldritch unnameables," can't any journeyman hack with Robert M. Price's email address manage it? Why can't even very good craftsmen indeed do it? (August Derleth is no slouch on his own turf, and Robert Bloch and Ramsey Campbell, well, the defense rests.) Why, for that matter, are some of Lovecraft's stories better than others if all it takes to write like Lovecraft is a thesaurus and a lobster-shack menu? No, in the great works there's definitely something there, some "adventurous expectancy," some outside shape scratching "at the known universe's utmost rim."
For all his undoubted skill, knowledge, and perception, I disagree with S.T. Joshi, who sees Lovecraft's art (and by extension all art?) as ancillary to, or derivative upon, the author's philosophy. I disagree with Colin Wilson, who sees Lovecraft's art (and by extension all art?) as ancillary to, or derivative upon, the author's personality, his "madness," if you will. I disagree with attempts to understand Lovecraft's art as murkily sublimated autobiography. Obviously Lovecraft's beliefs, his mind, and his unhappy life played their role, just like any artist's do. But 1920s New England was full of autodidactic Nietzsche wannabes, many of them also neurasthenic, over-coddled, and bankrupt. It only produced one H.P. Lovecraft.
So I hold that Lovecraft's art -- like all great art -- is fundamentally of its own origin. It comes from where it comes, be it genius, or the Muses, or the Gates of Deeper Slumber. Lovecraft, like all artists, learned to transmit it, to shape it and tame it for our view, as best he could. The proof is in the pudding: Cthulhu (and all that he stands for) has become as Superman, or Sherlock Holmes, or Robinson Crusoe, or Hamlet, or Lancelot, or Jason and the Argonauts -- a timeless icon, a myth. Like all myths it can be endlessly interpreted, set on new pedestals or loudly flung away. Without HPL's craft -- and yes, without his "mechanist materialism" and his psychosomatic fish allergies -- he could not have revealed Cthulhu to us in just that form. And without his blindness and his lyre Homer couldn't have sung the words he did, either. But now, Troy burns eternally. And Cthulhu fhtagn.
Contrary to the ramblings of D&D defenders like Michael Stackpole, the Necronomicon and the Cthulhu mythos are quite real. We will talk more about Mr. Stackpole later.
Wait, how can you pronounce Cthulhu if he's unspeakable?
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