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March 27, 2011 7:30 AM   Subscribe

6 ways to turn Cthulhu into an emoticon. How to pronounce "Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn" via The Lovecraftsman A contemporary blog about HP Lovecraft, Cthulhu, the Necronomicon, Miskatonic University, Arkham, R'lyeh, The Book of Eibon, Yog-Sothoth, De Vermis Mysteriis, & other unspeakable things...
posted by fearfulsymmetry (105 comments total) 38 users marked this as a favorite

 
A good friend of mine had a good one years ago:

;E

The squinty eye makes it, I think. Though the Euro symbol adds something over the capital E.

;€
posted by middleclasstool at 7:37 AM on March 27, 2011 [5 favorites]


I know too much, and the cult still lives.
posted by Fizz at 7:37 AM on March 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


I have always wanted to declaim, "And now, as our Savior has taught us, we are bold to say: Ia! Ia! Cthulhu fhtagn! Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn!" But I couldn't. The above video helps, but I still don't have the gill structure and extra larynges to really make it work.
posted by Countess Elena at 7:38 AM on March 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


(̞͍̻͎͍͍̱ͪ̂͠;̸͇͍̫̮̗̎̋,̸̳̘̬̰̟ͧͭ̊ͥ̍͌ͬ;̹̒ͫ̃ͧͣ)͍͓̠͓
posted by azarbayejani at 7:46 AM on March 27, 2011 [8 favorites]


How would one do a Shoggoth?
posted by drezdn at 7:50 AM on March 27, 2011


Wait, how can you pronounce Cthulhu if he's unspeakable?
posted by cog_nate at 7:58 AM on March 27, 2011


Gh'll n'thyleii yr gnh'gua? Mglw'nafh gharne! G'yll-gnaii ygg yr shub niggurath...
posted by Artw at 8:30 AM on March 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


Z҉A҉L҉G҉O
posted by yeoz at 8:40 AM on March 27, 2011 [3 favorites]


How would one do a Shoggoth?

You don't do a shoggoth; the shoggoth does you....
posted by GenjiandProust at 8:42 AM on March 27, 2011 [3 favorites]


How would one do a Shoggoth?

%%%%
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 8:44 AM on March 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


Eldritch situations, kid. You get into five or six of 'em a day, it don't mean shit anymore. I mean, I've seen men engulfed by shoggoths, didn't mean shit to me. I've seen nightgaunts too, they don't mean shit. But that's when you gotta watch yourself.
posted by Artw at 8:58 AM on March 27, 2011 [5 favorites]


If someone could explain the appeal of Lovecraft that would great. I have my suspicions, but they're snobby, so I'd like a better answer.
posted by tigrefacile at 9:14 AM on March 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


...be great.
posted by tigrefacile at 9:15 AM on March 27, 2011


If someone could explain the appeal of Lovecraft that would great.

Is it even possible to justify taste?

But if you're really being serious about your question and not just making a snarky comment which is the literary equivalent of "your favorite band sucks", I can only suggest that you take the time (yes it will take time) to watch this excellent documentary, which was linked in this previous FPP.
posted by hippybear at 9:20 AM on March 27, 2011 [16 favorites]


If someone could explain the appeal of Lovecraft that would great. I have my suspicions, but they're snobby, so I'd like a better answer.

Mostly, it's a nerd shibboleth. HPL was the first writer to create a shared world which he let other writers play in. As such, he is pretty much the grandfather of fan-fiction and 'fictional universes', role playing games, and even cosplay to some extent, which are the dominant modes of nerd creativity.

Everything from Star Wars to Dungeons and Dragons is influenced by his work to some extent.

Also, his best stuff really is quite good.
posted by empath at 9:23 AM on March 27, 2011 [7 favorites]


If someone could explain the appeal of Lovecraft that would great. I have my suspicions, but they're snobby, so I'd like a better answer.

If you have to ask, you'll never understand.

Also. you'll be eaten last.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 9:29 AM on March 27, 2011 [7 favorites]


Iata! Ftagn!
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 9:29 AM on March 27, 2011


If someone could explain the appeal of Lovecraft that would great.

When I was about 11 years old, I sat by the woodstove in the living room and read "The Colour Out of Space" in one of those big Groff Conklin anthologies. Then my mom called me for dinner, and I sat at the table staring at my plate without eating anything or hearing the conversation, just filled with this sick and indescribable dread.

I didn't sleep at all that night. I don't think I slept much for a couple of weeks. All I could think about was the trees outside my window... Moving.

This isn't really the kind of thing I can explain, any more than I can really explain the literally hundreds of times I must have listened to Led Zeppelin IV my senior year of highschool...
posted by brennen at 9:33 AM on March 27, 2011 [8 favorites]


Is it even possible to justify taste?

Not what I asked. I think that many of Lovecraft's proponents admit that he is often a demonstrably bad writer. The repeated references to 'eldritch' and 'unnatural angles' here and in the blog are a kind of concession to this. I wrote half a paper on this, and abandoned it because I couldn't conjure a thesis out of it. Why has his version of weird sustained? And while we're at it, what makes it a liminal / nerdy taste?
posted by tigrefacile at 9:36 AM on March 27, 2011


Again, I point you to that documentary. If you watch that, and still don't understand the appeal, then you can walk away knowing that you've explored it and know it's not something you care about.
posted by hippybear at 9:38 AM on March 27, 2011


If someone could explain the appeal of Lovecraft that would great.

For me it's always been about the other. The unknown that lurks just beneath, something that most people choose not to see because ignorance is bliss, easier to live with. That to me is a terrifying thought.

As to why this particular mythos pervades throughout geek culture, pretty easy to figure out. Cult, the weird, squids, monsters, death. Kind of self-explanatory, all of those things are just AWESOME!
posted by Fizz at 9:44 AM on March 27, 2011


What about baby cthulhu?

:f
posted by braksandwich at 9:45 AM on March 27, 2011 [6 favorites]


Not what I asked. I think that many of Lovecraft's proponents admit that he is often a demonstrably bad writer.

A lot of good storytellers and good visionaries have been lousy writers or otherwise lacked the sort of aesthetic polish that moves work in a medium from craft to art. Lovecraft was a florid writer who never met an adjective he didn't like, totally, and as writing qua writing his stuff is pretty uneven and easy to get turned off by.

But the ideas! He built a weird, alien world, something that if you're the right sort can get to knocking around in your head for a good long while. If that happens and you like it, it's great. if it doesn't or you don't, I don't see that there would be a whole lot of appeal to the whole thing.

I've always felt like Asimov was a horribly clumsy writer in a lot of ways, but he was also Asimov and, man, the ideas. Lovecraft feels the same way to me, but fifty years earlier and a different genre bent.
posted by cortex at 9:45 AM on March 27, 2011 [10 favorites]


If someone could explain the appeal of Lovecraft that would great.

"You fool, Warren is DEAD!"
posted by dragonsi55 at 9:46 AM on March 27, 2011 [10 favorites]


Lovecraft was probably the first and arguably the best to capture the sense of Other in his creations. Most traditional monsters are really just distorted and enhanced reflections of ourselves but HPL managed to "describe" somethings that felt truly alien. that part of it I think.

On top of that he had a real strong sense of describing something without describing it, sort of painting negative space with words. Though his unnameable undescribable unwhaerverable can be a bit annoying of you read to many of his stories to close together.

The conflict between his extreme longing for meaning in the universe on the one hand and his fear that in the end it is all just empty meaningless void makes his stories really powerful, I think.
posted by Greald at 9:47 AM on March 27, 2011 [8 favorites]


If someone could explain the appeal of Lovecraft that would great.

You might wanna take that to askme
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 9:48 AM on March 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


If someone could explain the appeal of Lovecraft that would great.

Wgah'nagl. X'hul x'ghl'xae, fhtagn Azathoth ia, yr tcho-tcho lloigor ia. Y'Golonac x'hul xhl'xe, ya ya ya chr'cht R'lyeh? Ia, Azathoth...ex gnh'gnhr shoggoth. Ia, ia! Cthulhu fhtagn R'lyeh. Fhtagn-e dho-na Dagon, Alhazred ghr'h'lll gnr'nrr Nyarlathotep ex x'hul x'he.

Grrr'nnn'tr, lloigor yi tekeli-la? Yrnthlai yr loi'ia'fhtag...ya? Ia. Ia, Nyarlathotep! Ia, Dagon! Ia, IA...heh. Fhtagn! Ia mugg'rh. Yyyk ghul'xhe jkk'll Glaaki. G'g'wzyai Y'Golonac. IA R'LYEH!! IA --

...ia, ia. ;€

T'chh-e, yvk Y'Golonac, exe'e gnh'gnhr Yog-Sothoth. Tekeli-li!
posted by kittens for breakfast at 9:58 AM on March 27, 2011 [20 favorites]


Yeah - what Greald, cortex, and Fizz said. I think Lovecraft came along at a pretty good time to attempt an articulation of the vast, sometimes terrifying inhumanity of the universe, and he nailed it. All the better that he did it in the idiom of florid, cornball pulp fiction.
posted by brennen at 9:59 AM on March 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


Greald, I think Arthur Machen did the 'other' before Lovecraft, and is a more restrained writer. Lovecraft may have acknowledged him as an influence. 'The Great God Pan' does the veiled world as a kind of psychodrama. Lovecraft is squelchy by comparison, and probably racist. I don't see why he's embraced, unless it's the tentacles.
posted by tigrefacile at 10:05 AM on March 27, 2011


Z̛̀O̕̕Ì͢D̶̛BER͘G҉
posted by Sys Rq at 10:05 AM on March 27, 2011 [4 favorites]


See the afterword to Ken Hite's Tour de Lovecraft.
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.
posted by zamboni at 10:06 AM on March 27, 2011 [13 favorites]


Just to be clear, I think it's fun to read, but I imagine there were other writers published in 'Weird Tales' who were fun too, and have disappeared.
posted by tigrefacile at 10:07 AM on March 27, 2011


   /(.C
   \(|_
  :E   (|
   /(|-(|
   \(`C

posted by aubilenon at 10:15 AM on March 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


Extra bounus points for Lovecraft; it makes Jack Chick (more) nuts:
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.
This choice quote is buried in a Chick website rant about D&D (read down to footnote 29)
posted by warbaby at 10:22 AM on March 27, 2011 [5 favorites]


I'm not really that familiar with his contemporaries in pulp, so you might very well be right that he wasn't the first (or the best).

And you probably could make a very good case that his popularity is a fluke of history: But by now his works have already had such a profound influence on pop/genre culture that its almost impossible to read and compare him fairly to any lesser known writers of the same era.

But I'm a sucker for purple prose anyway. When i was 15 and was reading The Case of Charles Dexter Ward, late at night, mostly to fall asleep, cause I actually found it kind of boring.

Until the sentence "To call it a dull wail, a doom-dragged whine, or a hopeless howl of chorused anguish and stricken flesh without mind would be to miss its quintessential loathsomeness and soul-sickening overtones.". For some reason i love that sentence, pretty much my favorite sentence of all time.

And from then on the story descends pretty much into madness, in a good way. Didn't sleep much after that though.

And yeah dude was a racist, but its arguably one of the few times where racism had a positive outcome since it probably why he can evoke such a strong sense of Other in his readers.
posted by Greald at 10:34 AM on March 27, 2011


Lovecraft was. Lovecraft is. And Lovecraft will be again!
posted by SPrintF at 10:52 AM on March 27, 2011


Lovecraft was. Lovecraft is. And Lovecraft will be again!

Fool! You talk too much!
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 10:59 AM on March 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


If someone could explain the appeal of Lovecraft that would great.

One of the early lectures from this Tate seminar on David Lynch (probably #153) explores the role of weird in popular fiction of the last century, including HPL.

To paraphrase as well as I can recall, it (his writing) effectively illuminates and sustains an existentialist tension between canny and uncanny, ala Kafka, as I guess everyone else has already suggested. And more Critical Theorizing ensues. The purple prose is arguably fun and articulates runaway emotions quite well, The Other as habituated projection.

If you are sincerely interested, I would recommend it with the above-linked documentary.
posted by methinks at 11:12 AM on March 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


Lovecraft may have acknowledged [Arthur Machen] as an influence.

Actually, he raves about him at length in his essay, "Supernatural Horror in Literature":

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. Mr. Machen, a general man of letters and master of an exquisitely lyrical and expressive prose style, has perhaps put more conscious effort into his picaresque Chronicle of Clemendy, his refreshing essays, his vivid autobiographical volumes, his fresh and spirited translations, and above all his memorable epic of the sensitive aesthetic mind, The Hill of Dreams...the fact remains that his powerful horror-material of the ’nineties and earlier nineteen-hundreds stands alone in its class, and marks a distinct epoch in the history of this literary form.

He even praises Machen's restraint at one point, as you do. If you haven't read that essay, tigrefacile, it's a fascinating survey of the field from a serious reader in 1927. For what it's worth, I'm with you in wondering about other now-forgotten "weird fiction" writers who might have been as good if not better, but if you're looking for reasons as to why Lovecraft alone seems to have been cemented in literary consciousness, I'd argue it's mostly because August Derleth and Donald Wandrei loved his stuff and made sure to keep his work alive after his death. And they loved his stuff, I think, because it was different in the enormous scope and bizarre description of its very particular brand of horror. It resonated in ways other horror of the time had to catch up to.

I think it's fun to read

There you go then.
posted by mediareport at 1:02 PM on March 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


Lovecraft is a better writer than people represent him as being. Style is an accessory to purpose. The adjectives work because of the kind of story they're in. Sure it doesn't work in all his stories, but a lot of great writers produce a lot of hard-to-read stuff; the more canny ones learn to destroy their worse work, but Lovecraft spread it around, which is one of the reasons we have such a clear picture of the man.

One thing I like a lot about Lovecraft is that he does a good job of bridging the gap between the known and the unknowable. The truly weird, that has no connection to our experience at all, is impossible to comprehend; you need something to relate it to your experience. This is why we can't go from nothing to understanding strange phenomena like relativity or quantum mechanics; we have to work our ways up to those concepts, piling idea atop idea to reach them.

It's easy to just call the monster indescribable and forget about it; it's very difficult to do justice to an alien creature while communicating its alienness to the reader. A plain description arguably doesn't work in communicating its horrors, so a bit of cheating, with adjectives, is required IMO.

Cthulhu is a fairly early creation of Lovecraft, and thus he's represented, for all his alien otherness, in fairly anthropocentric (or at least earth-life-centered) terms. He's got claws, wings, face feelers, eyes, etc., all things that Earth creatures have. In later stories, the cosmic things get a lot stranger. Wilbur Whately doesn't resemble much of earth life beneath his suit, yet he's half human. (I won't even get into the Dunwich Horror itself.) Yoggie itself is a congeries of iridescent globes; don't try to imagine that mating with Lavinia please. We never get a good image of Azathoth, which is probably for the best.

The best descriptions of "monsters" in Lovecraft are the ones where he's successful at describing a totally alien creature: the Elder Things and the bodies of the Great Race of Yith. That kind of creation is hard to do, and is awesome.
posted by JHarris at 1:43 PM on March 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


Oooh, that poster for Reanimator: The Musical. Worth following link for that alone, thanks!
posted by JHarris at 1:45 PM on March 27, 2011


Cthulhu fhtagn!
Imagine Jerry Lewis saying that in one of his frequent bursts of double-talk... AND LOSE YOUR MIND.
posted by oneswellfoop at 2:16 PM on March 27, 2011 [3 favorites]


If you're in Sydney, the Night of Horror Film Fest is showing Lovecraft shorts and films from 4pm at the Dendy Newtown on Sunday.
Despite my name, my childhood in New England, and my love of all things weird I've never been the biggest Lovecraft fan. I've read a bunch of his stories and yeah the prose tends to drag and I can get existential terror just be stopping to think for a minute.
When I gave my Lovecraft book to my little bro, though - BAM! It was like a switch being pulled. Kid went from a Warhammer nerd to someone who spends all his time making stop motion Lovecraft movies. He's a happy guy but something about that book I found in a strange Masssachussets used bookstore has turned him into a cultist, one animated by a furious energy...
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 2:26 PM on March 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


Machen is interesting, but sometimes a chore to read. The White People is basically a cast of characters waffling on pseudo-philosophically in a way that makes the worst of Lovecrafts academics and antiquarians seem pretty animated, then they read from an interesting and cryptic notebook for a huge long undiferentiated paragraph break free stretch of text (full of awesome, but hard work) and then we're back to the wafflers to finish it off. And that's one of his more accessable works.

On the other hand, Algernon Blackwood's The Willows is a great peice of pre-Lovecraftian cosmic horror I would thoroughly recommend.
posted by Artw at 2:27 PM on March 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


Bookmarked! Thanks, Artw.
posted by brundlefly at 2:29 PM on March 27, 2011


I think that many of Lovecraft's proponents admit that he is often a demonstrably bad writer.

Most of Lovecraft's honest proponents will admit that he wrote some things that are pretty bad, which is not the same thing. By the time he was really hitting his stride (around 1927 and the Case of Charles Dexter Ward, which is pretty awesome for what is essentially an unfinished draft), his "misses" were pretty rare (leaving out some of the write for hire" stories, and many of them are better than they ought to be) -- of his last 11 stories written under his name, only "Through the Gates of the Silver Key" and "The Thing on the Doorstep" aren't winners (and some people will debate both of those, I am sure). By that point, his youthful obsession with Poe was pretty much gone, his language was more spare (although still kind of florid for 21st C tastes), and his vision even more bleak. It's a huge pity that he died as he was really coming into his own as a writer.

Lovecraft was one of the early articulators of the primary crisis of the 20th C -- when you get rid of God, and you realize that most of what you cling to in society is arbitrary and uncertain, what do you do? And, at the end of his life, Lovecraft's answers were varied and nuances -- you have reliance on blind chance ("The Colour Out of Space" and "The Dunwich Horror," you have surrender "The Shadow over Innsmouth," you have defiance "At the Mountains of Madness," and you have the sneaking feeling that, no matter what tactic you take, the Universe will not care at all.
posted by GenjiandProust at 2:46 PM on March 27, 2011 [6 favorites]


Wanted to pop in and say hi and thank everybody for all the Lovecraft love ^(;,;)^
posted by TheLovecraftsman.com at 2:59 PM on March 27, 2011 [11 favorites]


I think that one with the little caret bat wings is my favorite.
posted by brennen at 3:14 PM on March 27, 2011


Lovecraft has persisted among nerd culture because of the shibboleth thing. He's quotable and he's nerdy and there you go. It's a lot like the "hail eris" crowd: in some circles it seems like repeating a joke is equally as funny (sometimes more) as making one. Am I stereotyping unfairly? I am! I also see this shit all the time. Now, as to why that is, I really don't know. It's impossible to get into without painting wide swathes of people with an impossibly huge brush and that is not how I prefer to spend my Sundays.

Is he a good writer? Well, he's not a great writer and anything beyond that is accounting for taste. Try this: He was a pulp writer whose presentation was different enough from that of his contemporaries to get him noticed. Love or hate him, I think most folks can agree with that.

So what's so great about him? Well. Everyone's going to get something different out of the guy's work, and some folks won't get much at all. For some it's the sense of shared mental space that comes from knowing what someone's CTHULHU FOR PRESIDENT bumper sticker means. For others it's a love of pulpy scary fare. Different for everyone. If you don't get anything out of him, don't force yourself.

What I -- and this is really just one MONSTER's opinion -- what I get out of his stuff is...well, it ain't much. But I personally think that what made him such a big deal and kept his stories known over the years was that on some level he understood that nothing is scarier than what you don't know. Even got a famous quote to that end. And there's enough of a spark of that in his writing to resonate with a lot of people.

The problem -- okay, one of the problems -- was that while he paid lip service to the whole idea, all his attempts at actually making anything scary were doomed from the start thanks to his tendency to spell out everything explicitly. The guy was not at home when "show, don't tell" came calling. So the idea of a group of otherwordly intelligences, older and more powerful than we could ever imagine, became an explicitly spelled-out hierarchy where they all have names and most have been described in terms of appearance and so on. He couldn't resist saying what the actual latitude and longitude of the monster's home was. So he'd start with a wonderful setup playing on one's fear of the massive and terrifying unknown, and then start spelling shit out.

And if you're the kind of person who enjoys imagining the Monster Manual entry of every mythological creature you read about, that's great. But if you're into horror, not so much. So at least in my case, I'd start reading a horror story and it would sooner or later become a fantasy story with uncomfortable undertones (or sometimes just plain old tones) and he'd lose me. Which brings me to the racism: The guy was a horrible, horrible racist and that showed up in his work a lot. I don't think it'd be out of line to imagine that was one of the things which kept him from being as much a household name as other writers, but I have no way of saying for certain.

So, I don't know. Some thoughts. His popularity exploded among people who like fantasy literature because that's what he was writing. Or, whatever.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 3:29 PM on March 27, 2011


(\/)(;,;)(\/)

wub wub wub wub wub
posted by palbo at 3:48 PM on March 27, 2011


while he paid lip service to the whole idea, all his attempts at actually making anything scary were doomed from the start thanks to his tendency to spell out everything explicitly.

I have to disagree. Especially toward the end of his career, what comes across is the attempt, in the face of the totally alien, to make sense of what has been seen -- so you get a litany of words and images that you really can't assemble into a whole. This is the reason why Lovecraft doesn't work all that well on film -- because you have to show something there, and you lose the incoherent attempt to "correlate the contents."
posted by GenjiandProust at 4:20 PM on March 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


My best ^(;,;)^ memory comes from Gen Con 1996 (IIRC). There was a Cthulhu '96 Presidential Rally. During the nomination most people backed Cthulhu and then promptly went insane. At one point though, two guys brought up a stuffed trout and presented a moving argument that Fur-Bearing Trout should be our party's nominee for president. And the dark horse candidate trout beat the elder god but lost to Clinton.
posted by drezdn at 4:33 PM on March 27, 2011 [1 favorite]



Well said, Gerjiand Proust. I think the key to Lovecraft is understanding the quote that both you and FAMOUS MONSTER mentioned above as not just the introduction to a classic story (The Call of Cthulhu) but as a statement of HPL's personal philosophy. Here's the full quote:

The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far. The sciences, each straining in its own direction, have hitherto harmed us little; but some day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the deadly light into the peace and safety of a new dark age.

It's not that Yog-Sothoth, Cthulhu, etc are horrible in and of themselves, but that they are horrible because we cannot hope to understand them in any meaningful way. I am constantly reminded of Edmund Burke's On The Sublime when reading Lovecraft. Sometimes our brains just aren't equipped to deal with something that large on a physical perceptual level. For example, the closest thing that I've experienced to that recently was the subject of this post, where for the first time I was able to perceive just how big Jupiter really is in relation to me. If you look at the comment thread, several other people felt the same way.

Also, if you can find a copy of it somehow (I had no idea it was out of print already), Michel Houellebecq's H.P. Lovecraft: Against the World, Against Life is probably of one of the better modern "HPL: Why He Matters" works out there, though that Ken Hite quote zamboni posted ranks right up there as well.
posted by KingEdRa at 5:18 PM on March 27, 2011 [3 favorites]


Wait, how can you pronounce Cthulhu if he's unspeakable?
Badly.
posted by willhopkins at 5:19 PM on March 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think this line from The Call of Cthulhu sums up a good deal of Lovecraft's appeal:

"The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents."
posted by BigHeartedGuy at 5:20 PM on March 27, 2011


I've always done the Cthulhu emoticon like this: ^/|||\^
posted by Stove at 5:45 PM on March 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


°/|||\° works too I guess, but it isn't as cute.
posted by Stove at 5:46 PM on March 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


What emotion does the cthulhu emoticon represent, anyway?

Nameless dread?
Unending fear?
Excessive correlation of contents?
Madness?
Or is it shorthand for "No, they are clawing at the door! It is breaking open! The tomb horde engulfs me! They are dragging me outside...."? Because that is hard to type quickly.
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:58 PM on March 27, 2011 [5 favorites]


For a modern talke on Lovecraft that really nails the whole cosmic dread thing you can;t beat the Charles Stross short story A Colder War.

Yes, I have linked to it many times, and yes there are probably only about five of you who haven't read it by now but really is very, very good.
posted by Artw at 6:24 PM on March 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


The power of Lovecraft is that he makes us all cultists. We don't fear Cthulhu, we adore him. What is terrifying in Lovecraft is the joy with which we embrace the alien horror. The Old Ones aren't frightening, we are.

"Together we shall go to marvel-shadowed Innsmouth"
posted by howfar at 6:31 PM on March 27, 2011 [4 favorites]


That cult will never die till the stars came right again, and the secret nerd priests will take great Cthulhu from His tomb to revive His subjects and resume His rule of earth. The time will be easy to know, for then nerdkind will have become as the Great Old Ones; free and wild and beyond good and evil, with laws and morals thrown aside and all men shouting and killing and revelling in joy. Then the liberated Old Ones will teach them new ways to shout and kill and revel and enjoy themselves, and all the earth will flame with a holocaust of ecstasy and freedom! Ia! Ia! NERD APOCALYPSE!
posted by Artw at 6:37 PM on March 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


(Man I love that Old Castro speach in Call of Cthulhu.)
posted by Artw at 6:55 PM on March 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


No jokes yet? Well!

“Waiter! Waiter! There’s a dead squid in my soup!”

“It’s not dead, Sir. It’s just dreaming.”
posted by New England Cultist at 7:01 PM on March 27, 2011 [10 favorites]


As another Lovecraft nerd, I feel obliged to mention that the modern author who I think has done the most to perpetuate Lovecraft's vision of unfathomable cosmic Otherness is... Stephen King.

Not all the time. But try 1408 or From a Buick 8 or N. I'm not sure anyone else I've read -- not even those, like Ramsey Campbell, who have done direct homage -- have been able to replicate the sense of horrified awe that Lovecraft was after the way King has with these stories.
posted by eugenen at 7:11 PM on March 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


The Mist is rather excellently Lovecraftian, and of course inspired Half Life.
posted by Artw at 7:18 PM on March 27, 2011


the modern author who I think has done the most to perpetuate Lovecraft's vision of unfathomable cosmic Otherness is... Stephen King.

I'm not sure how I feel about that. I'm a fan of King's early work. I haven't read him in a long time (I tried Bag of Bones but couldn't finish it), but The Other in King for me have always come across as recognisably supernatural as opposed to weird and unknowable. Is the supernatural cosmic? No. Not for me, at least.
posted by New England Cultist at 7:19 PM on March 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


Depends what he's writing, bjut it;s pretty strong here and there in his short stories. Less so the novels.
posted by Artw at 7:20 PM on March 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


Artw, I've noted this passage on AskMe before. It's from Stephen King's short story "The Breathing Method":

"I felt momentarilty sure that the front door would blow open, revealing not Thirty-fifth Street but an insane Clark Ashton Smith landscape where the bitter shapes of twisted trees stood silhouetted on a sterile horizon below which double suns were setting in a gruesome red glare.

"... I remember with perfect clarity the stab of fear that went through me when Stevens swung the oaken door wide -- the cold certainty that I would see that alien landscape, cracked and hellish in the bloody light of those double suns, which might set and bring on an unspeakable darkness of an hour's duration, or ten hours, or ten thousand years. ... I thought that for one timeless second that the door would open and Stevens would thrust me out into that world and that I would then hear that door slam shut behind me...forever."

Out of everything I've read by King, those are the few sentences that continue to scare the willies out of me.
posted by MonkeyToes at 7:41 PM on March 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


A big part of Lovecraft's current influence is due to the central place he had among his contemporary weird fiction writers. He corresponded frequently with many of them, and they were all free with ideas, opinions, encouragement, and critiques. He was widely respected and influential because of that. He liked to see himself as the elder advisor of this informal group (even though he wasn't actually their elder). For instance, look at his influence on Robert E Howard of Conan fame, who produced such amazing horror and adventure stories in his sadly short career. He and HPL were mutually supportive, and Lovecraft was one of Howard's biggest cheerleaders.

HPL was also very open about his own influences. In addition to riffing on his correspondence circles' ideas, he frequently mentioned the impact that Machen, Robert W. Chambers, and Lord Dunsany, in particular, had on his writing and worldview. It's a wonderfully entertaining lineage, with many connecting ideas but also very distinct styles.

So it was on top of all this that Derleth added his heavy promotion of HPL, and, by association, his contemporaries and his influences, who might otherwise have been forgotten -- not for lack of merit but lack of publicity. Lovecraft had already made his mark as a unique and influential voice in weird fiction, so it's not surprising that he's so important today. In other words, admiring HPL is not an affectation, it's an appreciation of his era and his niche.

And damn, the man can tell a hell of a story!
posted by HarshLanguage at 7:45 PM on March 27, 2011 [5 favorites]


Out of everything I've read by King, those are the few sentences that continue to scare the willies out of me.

King claims in some intro or another that the one story he's too scared to write is one where he buys Lovecraft's pillow and has Lovecraft's dreams.

Like King, Lovecraft sometimes makes me homesick. But on a few nights at Simon's Rock College of Bard in Great Barrington I swear I saw stands of trees that were wrong, that belonged to the Elder Gods and were part of another realm.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 7:57 PM on March 27, 2011 [3 favorites]


What emotion does the cthulhu emoticon represent, anyway?

Cthulhu is yet sleeping.

It's like ;) with forboding.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 9:12 PM on March 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


Threads like this one threaten to push me close to the daily favorites limit.
posted by JHarris at 9:43 PM on March 27, 2011


For some silly reason, the FPP was read in my mind as "6 ways to turn Cthulu into a hipster."
posted by Mister Fabulous at 10:15 PM on March 27, 2011


You hear a lot about cosmic horror, but what about cosmic humor? I'm thinking, Bill Murray, a whorl in the vortex of time, him all endlessly reliving the last day of all human existence as we understand it as the jaws of the Beyond close hilariously around the planet again and again and again.

Groundhog R'lyeh.
posted by cortex at 10:21 PM on March 27, 2011 [7 favorites]


MetaFilter: Excessive correlation of contents

Did I do that right?
posted by brennen at 10:24 PM on March 27, 2011


I think that many of Lovecraft's proponents admit that he is often a demonstrably bad writer.

If you're referring to his purple prose style, well, I didn't find it glaringly worse than Arundhati Roi, and she wins Booker Prizes.

Lovecraft is squelchy by comparison, and probably racist.

I'm not sure why racism gets hung on Lovecraft pretty much every time his name crops up. You can talk about Shakespeare or Hemingway or Dahl, but mention Lovecraft and suddenly it's all AND DID YOU KNOW HE'S RACIST YES HE IS WHY ARE YOU READING THAT RACIST MAN'S WRITING.

Lovecraft was one of the early articulators of the primary crisis of the 20th C -- when you get rid of God, and you realize that most of what you cling to in society is arbitrary and uncertain, what do you do? And, at the end of his life, Lovecraft's answers were varied and nuances -- you have reliance on blind chance ("The Colour Out of Space" and "The Dunwich Horror," you have surrender "The Shadow over Innsmouth," you have defiance "At the Mountains of Madness," and you have the sneaking feeling that, no matter what tactic you take, the Universe will not care at all.

This pretty much sums it up for me. And while I agree that King does a very, very good Lovecraft, he's prone to falling back into his religious roots, which can't but help undermine it a little. I can't recall if it was King or Barker that noted the number of lapsed Catholics that drive a lot of mainstream horror writing, but it informs a lot of horror-as-supernatural, I think, and Lovecraft (and some sci-fi horror, like Alien) are the rare exceptions that dare to tackle the challenge of horror without a classically religious framework.
posted by rodgerd at 1:37 AM on March 28, 2011 [3 favorites]


So Neonomicon... slightly peeved that the internet hive mind predicted the ending (just about) but it left me wanting more, which is a good thing. Have to re-read soon (with The Courtyard). It's not that I've read everything the beared-one puts out, but damn I'll miss it when it's gone.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 2:49 AM on March 28, 2011


fearfulsymmetry, I just read them both together for the first time and loved The Courtyard - elegant, spare, horrific - but was kind of 'meh' about Neonomicon. Without the ridiculously graphic fishman rape scenes (admittedly new to Lovecraft comics, I'm sure), I don't see why there would be much buzz about it; the whole thing felt predictable and sort of shallow. Can you point me to some good discussions online so I can see what folks might think I'm missing?
posted by mediareport at 6:12 AM on March 28, 2011


Talking about two Alan Moore Lovecraft comics, one from 2003 and a sequel miniseries that just finished...
posted by mediareport at 6:16 AM on March 28, 2011


And if you ever get a chance to sit down and read some of HPL's letters, please do so. They're full of weird juxtapositions. One of my favorites is when he's writing about a trip to Salem MA and stops to imagine a colonial house as some sort of eldritch gate way, but then stops when a cute cat wanders by that he just has to pet.

Then he goes to get ice cream.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 6:18 AM on March 28, 2011 [5 favorites]


Can you point me to some good discussions online so I can see what folks might think I'm missing?

This page... This page is fucking terrifying
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 6:30 AM on March 28, 2011


I'm not sure why racism gets hung on Lovecraft pretty much every time his name crops up.

To be fair, Lovecraft was excessively racist, even for his time (several of his regular correspondents seem to have been shocked at one time or another by his vehemence). About the best that can be said of his racial opinions is that he used them to fuel his sense of horror rather than, say, getting into politics or radio broadcasting. It's not the only thing going on in his writing, but it is a thing, and ignoring it is just as wrong-headed as pretending that it's the only thing going on there.

(Although, I sometimes wonder if Lovecraft's racism (which was broad and all-inclusive; we are talking about Anglo or nothing) wasn't largely a manifestation of his besieged sense of class, his "performance as gentleman" which was the only thing that remained from the social strata in which he was born. Sort of a fear that, if he fell any further, he would stop being Anglo all together.)

What the emoticon for that would be, I have no idea.
posted by GenjiandProust at 7:06 AM on March 28, 2011


GenjiandProust, you left out two usual bits of the Standard Riff On Lovecraft's Shitty Racism: He married a Jewish woman and the racism mellowed considerably during the last part of his life. Not an excuse, but certainly part of the story.
posted by mediareport at 9:26 AM on March 28, 2011


If someone could explain the appeal of Lovecraft that would great.

I think part of it (and only part, some of the other suggestions above are undoubtedly part of the appeal too) is that he came along at the right time for a type of horror in which the humans are largely insignificant to the greater forces at work.

For most of human history, humans believed they were special in some way. And other forms of horror capture that: terrible things happen, but at least the evil forces at work take notice of humans. Whereas Lovecraft came along just about the right time when humanity was realizing how totally insignificant it was, given the size and time scale of the universe. And that's reflected in Lovecraftian horror.

There was once a sentence on TV Tropes (which I can't find now, or perhaps gone via Wiki editing) that said something along the lines of, "Satan may be evil, but at least he values every human soul. Cthulhu could devour humanity without every really noticing it."
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 10:05 AM on March 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


He married a Jewish woman and the racism mellowed considerably during the last part of his life.

Yes, and I left them out because I need to go back and do more research before I assert them again. Yes, Lovecraft married a Jewish woman, but their marriage wasn't what one would call successful, and her memoirs describe Lovecraft's racism in pretty frank terms. Another Jewish friend, Samuel Loveman, may have burned Lovecraft's letters when he heard from a mutual friend about some of Lovecraft's views, so I am a little -- hesitant -- to push this until I have a better sense of what I am saying. My sense is that Lovecraft's racism ebbed somewhat as he actually experienced real life, but I want to be more secure in my conviction before presenting it as fact.

Do I think his racism (and sexism, although I think there he was more of a piece of his age) and classism (you think his non-white portrayals are excessive, try some of his depictions of the rural poor...) invalidate the enjoyment I get from reading his work or the intellectual pleasure I get from studying it with a more critical eye? No. He was a fallible person, and, while I think I would have found him pretty insufferable in person, I am reasonably sure that he was a generally decent man who expressed his views (repugnant and otherwise) mostly in private -- he did little, if anything, to incite hatred. Racism is a subtext in his work, but it's hardly the only theme or even a dominant one. While Lovecraft was undoubtedly racist, he was a lot more than that, too.
posted by GenjiandProust at 10:07 AM on March 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


China Mieville has noted that Lovecraft brought the tentacle into horror... as others have said he went away from the traditional horror rooted in Christian tropes where, for the most part, Evil is Evil but it is at least knowable has a least a chance of being defeated to a more expansive cosmic existentialist areas where the horror comes from the indifference of a vast, inexplicable Universe. It's worth pointing out that Lovecraft would have been an astronomer if he'd been better at maths.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 10:42 AM on March 28, 2011


Putting Lovecraft's racism together with his cosmic outlook further confuses the matter... even his high-class, well-bred, educated white protagonists could do nothing against the Elder Gods or any of their minions. Nothing except faint or run, anyway.
posted by HarshLanguage at 7:55 PM on March 28, 2011


Putting Lovecraft's racism together with his cosmic outlook further confuses the matter

Actually, I think the opposite is true: his racism was one of the main dynamos that fueled his fiction. That's what's so fascinating about his work -- he took a pathological fear of the other and then turned that fear into the Cthulhu Mythos. In most of his stories, the fears of monsters and of people with different skin colors are conflated, and the people with different skin colors or different socioeconomic statuses are usually in league with the monsters. This is one of the things I find most compelling about Lovecraft: the way that his stories are so personal. He took the concerns of his everyday life -- an obsession with antiquity, a fear of the other, an atheistic streak and a bent towards science -- and turned them into brilliant fiction. It's perverse, but somehow appropriate, that he turned his racism into magnificent works of art.
posted by Frobenius Twist at 7:44 AM on March 29, 2011 [5 favorites]


I like the idea of lovecraft much more than I've liked Lovecraft's actual work. Stuff people say about him often sounds wonderful (e.g. "On top of that he had a real strong sense of describing something without describing it, sort of painting negative space with words" is one of the most inspiring descriptions of someone's writing in my recent memory, and it makes me want to go do just that).

But Lovecraftiana has always felt like an in-joke for an in-crowd to me (which goes along with the idea that his popularity stems in part at least from his personal connections with other writers). One of these days I ought to overcome it and read more, but my inner non-joiner resists.
posted by lodurr at 1:07 PM on March 29, 2011


Well, that;s an aspect of it's appeal, obviously. And for some dropping a "Ftagn" here and there and My Little Cthulhu and plush Cthulhu toys and all of that is all of it, but for others that's a fun but secondary aspect. And of course there's always folks that the Cutethulhu aspect drivwes crazy, though they're mostly humourless dicks.
posted by Artw at 1:35 PM on March 29, 2011


I like the idea of lovecraft much more than I've liked Lovecraft's actual work.

I have to sheepishly agree. I have a hard time with HPL himself, but once you take him as a given there's a lot of wonderful derivative works out there.

In fact, his inviting others to play in his sandbox is probably the most important thing about him.

And of course there's always folks that the Cutethulhu aspect drivwes crazy, though they're mostly humourless dicks.

Mostly?
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 4:36 PM on March 29, 2011


My friend said something about the Drive-By Truckers recently that seems relevant: "People like liking the Drive-By Truckers as much as they actually like the Drive-By Truckers". Something similar may be going on with Lovecraft fans. Its as fun to be as Lovecraft fan as it is to actually like Lovecraft.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 5:30 PM on March 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


Just ponied up $7 for the Nookbook of a new edition of At the Mountains of Madness, with a nice introductory essay by China Miéville that covers much of the exegetic territory that's been touched on here; he discusses (and seems to share) the view noted up thread that Lovecraft's racism is really the driving energy of his horror.

Who knows, maybe I'll like the forward better than the book itself. That's certainly been true of a number of classics. (Charles Brockton Brown's Wieland srpings to mind, but to be fair Lovecraft would have to be seriously bad to beat that.)
posted by lodurr at 9:33 AM on March 30, 2011


$7 for the Nookbook of a new edition of At the Mountains of Madness

lodurr, that edition's been available in print since 2005. But I agree; Miéville's introduction is really neat (and not least for the polite spoiler warning at the beginning).
posted by mediareport at 7:26 PM on March 30, 2011


yes, but in print i'd have to carry around the actual book. (I'm kind of getting into this whole no-printed-material thing. true, for a short book like @ the mountains of madness it's not a big deal, but what about les Miserables?)
posted by lodurr at 6:46 AM on March 31, 2011


so far it's not bad, btw. you have to have a tolerance for 19th century style (he was writing in an archaic style even for 1930s), and for the near-superhuman abilities of protagonists to things like drill three or four test bores in a single morning in freezing temperatures, but otherwise it's not bad. Haven't gotten to anything eldritch yet, though.
posted by lodurr at 6:49 AM on March 31, 2011


You've never read it before? You're in for a treat.
posted by Artw at 6:56 AM on March 31, 2011


If someone could explain the appeal of Lovecraft that would great. I have my suspicions, but they're snobby, so I'd like a better answer.

With a lead-in like that, I have to wonder what answer other than that Lovecraft fans are sadly damaged human beings and also our taste in bands suck would satisfy.

I've been reading and rereading my way through the Lovecraft corpus, and, again and again, I find myself impressed with how good and effective a writer he is. His prose style is out of fashion, of course. Hell, it was never in fashion, being the affectation of a 20th century man who longed to be an 18th century man, and whose greatest influences were 19th century writers.

This isn't to suggest it's all great; some stories are bad; several others have clunky bits. But I find that if I'm willing to surrender to the rhythms of the baroque prose, it carries me away, and even some of the lines that seem turgid when quoted out of context serve their stories well.
posted by Zed at 9:46 AM on April 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


I would concede that Medusa's Coils, the collaboration that HPLLP just covered, is one of the most stupid and pointlessly racist things I have ever read. It doesn't even need to be racist to make the stupid story work, it just plops it in at the end like a cherry on top.
posted by Artw at 10:41 AM on April 8, 2011


'a fascinating fever dream of prejudice' - China Mieville on The Horror Of Red Hook
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 11:39 AM on April 8, 2011


'a fascinating fever dream of prejudice' - China Mieville on The Horror Of Red Hook


That's an odd one. Maybe you'd be better off picking another story rather than bitching about your "favorite" China.

Just sayin'.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 12:03 PM on April 8, 2011


Or he's not carrying out literary criticism on a block headedly reductionist level...
posted by Artw at 1:02 PM on April 8, 2011




Hey, the otherwise ludicrously priced Joshi-edited anthology of original Lovecraftian fiction, Black Wings, is available as a £4 apparently-DRM-free ebook.
posted by Zed at 4:40 PM on April 19, 2011 [2 favorites]


Ooooh.
posted by Artw at 5:52 PM on April 19, 2011


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