Join 3,552 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


The Lurking Fear
October 31, 2009 12:13 AM   Subscribe

Lovecraft 101: Get To Know The Master of Scifi-Horror. For more detailed insights into each of Lovecraft's tales in publication order you might want to follow the H.P.Lovecraft Literary Podcast. For another story-by-story guide to Lovecraft you might want to check out Kenneth Hite's Tour De Lovecraft (also available in expanded form as a book). China Mieville on Lovecraft and racism and a lecture at Treadwells by Archaeologist James Holloway which delves deep into Lovecraft and identity. The making of the Call of Cthulhu RPG. The making of Cthulhu (Hipsters! Ego! Madness!). Happy Halloween with H.P. Lovecraft!
posted by Artw (54 comments total) 75 users marked this as a favorite

 
And if you get into the Elder Gods, you may be interested in Cthalloween - an interactive fiction event on twitter. It's in the same mode as last year's War of the Worlds 2.0 on Twitter
posted by artlung at 12:21 AM on October 31, 2009


Actually looking now I think the H.P.Lovecraft Literary Podcast are actually covering him in Chronological order, rather than order of writing. They really are rather great - many thanks to Parasite Unseen for introducing me to them.
posted by Artw at 12:30 AM on October 31, 2009


This is the same link that was deleted a week ago due to an inadvertent self-link on the part of one of the podcast guys. And yet, the site is awesome enough that I vote we welcome it back with open arms.

(Pope Guilty and I were considering posting it ourselves, but were planning on giving it another couple of weeks of cooldown time. Considering the day however, I think Artw couldn't have picked a more perfect time.)
posted by JHarris at 1:04 AM on October 31, 2009


By "this link," I mean the Literary Podcast one.
posted by JHarris at 1:05 AM on October 31, 2009


Excellent, thank you! Recently I've been pondering the enjoyment I might be missing in SF by not having delved into some of the great influencers, and thus the question of "what Lovecraft to read first?" was in my head just the other day.

Between this and Jack Vance I think I have a deal of grey winter Sundays to be pleasantly whiled away . . .
posted by protorp at 1:14 AM on October 31, 2009 [1 favorite]


Also be sure to check out Michel Houellebecq's Against the World, Against Life.
posted by benzenedream at 1:39 AM on October 31, 2009 [1 favorite]


Is this something I'd have to be eldritch and rugose to understand?
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 1:54 AM on October 31, 2009 [7 favorites]


This is a cyclopean post
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 2:38 AM on October 31, 2009 [1 favorite]


These discussions of Lovecraft's xenophobia are interesting, but it makes his work a lot harder to enjoy when you realize that "Ia Ia Cthulhu Fhtagn" could very easily be translated as "Ah! Ah! Jews and blacks!"
posted by Astro Zombie at 4:42 AM on October 31, 2009 [3 favorites]


One byproduct of Lovecraft's pervasive influence is the body of contributions to the "Cthulhu Mythos" by subsequent generations of horror writers, from Robert Bloch ("Notebook Found in a Deserted House") to Stephen King ("Jerusalem's Lot"), which forms its own kind of commentary. Much of it is the professional equivalent of fan-fic, but it's become practically a rite of passage to pen some kind of HPL pastiche.

Recently Alan Moore and Neil Gaiman have come up with their own takes on this subgenre, such as the former's densely allusive The Courtyard (and Wodehouse parody "What Ho, Gods of the Abyss") and the latter's Holmes-Lovecraft mash-up, "A Study in Emerald" (and tongue-in-cheek "I, Cthulhu"). One of the best of these is Metafilter's own Charles Stross's "A Colder War", which transposes 80s Cold War paranoia and Spenglerian decline of the west, classified documents and eldrich texts, clandestine intelligence agencies and unspeakable cults, and the end of the world and ...

But what is that hideously unspeakable shape I see rising up behind me in my monitor's reflection? I can write no more ... Iä... ngai... ygg...
posted by Doktor Zed at 5:49 AM on October 31, 2009 [12 favorites]


Recently Alan Moore and Neil Gaiman have come up with their own takes on this subgenre

Alan Moore's got his Neonomicon coming soon (presumably when the stars are right or something)
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 6:43 AM on October 31, 2009


I've been listening to the H.P. Podcraft stuff and it starts off nice and it quickly goes downhill. The guys spend far too much time chuckling at their own jokes to do any real discussion of the stories.

It's alot of this:

guy1: I like the fact that it says there were an untold number of sauces at the dinner.

guy2: I know right!

guy1: Yeah. Like, we get a description of everything else, BUT THOSE SAUCES!"

guy2: *LOL*

guy1: *EPICLULAZ*
posted by tylerfulltilt at 7:18 AM on October 31, 2009 [2 favorites]


I am tremendously pleased to see this back on the blue. Ia!
posted by Pope Guilty at 7:25 AM on October 31, 2009


I'm trying to figure out for myself if that sort of thing is a bug or a feature. Normally I'd say bug, but it's not overwhelming*, they clearly know the material in depth and are pretty respectful of it, and sometimes they are actually funny (which sounds like something all podcast interhost jokery should be, but it isn't)

* Okay, yeah, it's more frequent on the dreamlandsy stuff (which has always been a bit airbrush-painting-on-side-of-van, even before the invention of vans or airbrushes) or the more blatantly silly stories like The Street.
posted by Artw at 7:29 AM on October 31, 2009


And then there's Lovecraft: Fear of the Unknown, which I swear is actually out in stores now.

not a self-link—I know the director but didn't work on the project at all
posted by infinitewindow at 7:41 AM on October 31, 2009


Worse than Red Hook is Lovecraft's On the Creation of Niggers.
posted by yeloson at 8:05 AM on October 31, 2009 [1 favorite]


The Onion AV Club also had a 'Gateways to Geekery' column on HP Lovecraft recently.
posted by jedicus at 8:45 AM on October 31, 2009 [1 favorite]


Lovecraft as a Chick tract
posted by COBRA! at 9:01 AM on October 31, 2009 [2 favorites]


Lovecraft as a Chick tract

Thanks, I've been looking for a new mantra:

Admit that you are a semi-evolved ape-thing mercifully ignorant of the sanity-blasting truths of the greater cosmos. Die. Rot.

A little unwieldy but it kind of says it all.
posted by philip-random at 9:29 AM on October 31, 2009 [2 favorites]


Here's a link to Alan Moore's The Courtyard mentioned above. With the story's Brooklyn slum setting paralleling that of "The Horror at Red Hook", Moore's treatment of language and drugs forms his own critique of Lovecraftian horror - plus his narrator's contemporary racism and xenophobia mirrors HPL's original protagonists'. When it comes to the anxiety of influence, Lovecraft's epigones have to deal with a lot of thematic baggage to get to what works in the stories. Some, like Stephen King, just go directly for the unspeakable-horrors-that-man-was-not-meant-to-know, but Moore is one of the few to address them head on.

Lovecraft as a Chick tract
Another writer remixed actual Chick art with "Evangelical Cthulhuism" to make "Who Will Be Eaten First?" (which promptly got a copyright takedown notice).
posted by Doktor Zed at 9:42 AM on October 31, 2009


"Race prejudice is a gift of nature, intended to preserve in purity the various divisions of mankind which the ages have evolved. Now the trickiest catch in the Negro problem is the fact that it is really twofold. The Black is vastly inferior. There can be no question of this among contemporary and unsentimental biologists... But, it is also a fact that there would be a very grave and very legitimate problem even if the Negro were the White man's equal. In general, America has made a fine mess of its population, and will pay for it in tears amidst a premature rottenness unless something is done extremely soon... In excluding the swarms of Mediterranean and Asiatic virmin (sic) that now ooze and creep over all the landscape we could have avoided most of that very sense of intolerable repulsion which a foreign name now creates in us... In nations, as in society, congeniality is the all-important principle.

"Of course they can't let Niggers use the beach at a Southern resort – can you imagine sensitive persons bathing near a pack of greasy chimpanzees? The only thing that makes life endurable where Blacks abound is the Jim Crow principle, and I wish they'd apply it in New York both to Niggers and to the more Asiatic types of puffy, rat-faced Jews!"

- H. P. Lovecraft. Not the most racist author of all time, just the one who is the most forgiven. Can you think of anyone else who has said similar yet enjoys HLP's intellectual hipster reputation? Why are some racists forgiven and others not? What does that say about accusations of racism?
posted by eccnineten at 9:49 AM on October 31, 2009 [5 favorites]


Can you think of anyone else who has said similar yet enjoys HLP's intellectual hipster reputation? Why are some racists forgiven and others not? What does that say about accusations of racism?

I'm not by any means a HUGE Lovecraft fan. I've read exactly one of his novels ("Mountains of the Moon") and a few short stories way back when, before I was conscious of his name, just a teenager digging for scary stuff, and yeah, his delivered.

My guess as to why we we're still ALLOWED to discuss him as an artist (as opposed to a demon) is that his stuff is just so darned effective. It gets under your skin. It speaks to deep fears and uneasiness you didn't even know you had. It's infectious, and virulently so at that. So, even if you want to discredit him utterly for his fucked up rantings, you can't, because he's already inside you.

Brings to mind the question: who is the Mad Arab of the Necronomicon? Why Lovecraft himself, of course, (the first victim of that particularly baleful oblivion) and the problem with mad men is, well, they're just not rational, are they?

Good thread. Haunted and uncanny in all the right ways.
posted by philip-random at 10:06 AM on October 31, 2009


Study in Emerald is such a joy! Not to be missed though is Gaiman's own reading of the piece, available for as a free mp3 from Harper Collins. I don't know how many times I have listened to it, but I never tire of it!!
posted by pdxjmorris at 10:28 AM on October 31, 2009


- H. P. Lovecraft. Not the most racist author of all time, just the one who is the most forgiven. Can you think of anyone else who has said similar yet enjoys HLP's intellectual hipster reputation? Why are some racists forgiven and others not? What does that say about accusations of racism?

The Treadwells lecture, in conjuction with some of the HPLLP podcasts (I'm thinking of the Arthur Jermyn, makes interesting reading on this subject.

Lovecraft had a constructed identity as an "anglo saxon" which he took very serious, and part of that he had this kind of weird 19th century old man persona. Part of that persona was being a horrendous snob and crapping on absolutely everyone who wasn't an anglo saxon pseudo 19th century snob - Check out Beyond The Wall of Sleep and how he basically describes rural poor folk as semi-evoled inbreeders.

(How serious was the bigotry? The guys wife was jewish and his best freind was gay. On the other hand: That horrible poem, the quotes above. )

All in all it seems incredibly insecure and defencive - the constructed identity must be defended at all costs.

So in his stories Lovecraft basically uses the same voice. His characters are almost all basically stand-ins for Lovecraft, and have the same insecurities and snobberies and affected 19th century crap.

But heres where it gets interesting: Many of those stories are about the destruction of that identity . The horror, as much as it comes from weird sweeping cosmic vistas, comes from the characters (who are stand ins for lovecraft) having everything they beleive they are dropped out from beneath them - their identity, which is really Lovecrafts identity, proving to be a total fraud.

And so it's racist characters, written by a racist author, in stories that manage to undermine that racism completely, with Lovecrafts bigotry being a big part of why the story works.

Which is pretty interesting, no?
posted by Artw at 10:30 AM on October 31, 2009 [28 favorites]


...also: Cool monsters.

The Adventures of Lil Cthulhu
posted by Artw at 10:35 AM on October 31, 2009 [3 favorites]


I think another part of it is that Lovecraft wasn't anywhere near in a position of power in his life, and in fact had a kind of depressing life. He never had the chance to do any serious oppressing of minorities, and as you said, his wife was Jewish, so there is the sense that he wasn't as serious about it as one might think. (Don't know about his best friend being gay. Would that be Howard?)

Plus, the guy was genuinely affable. I found a book in a library once that was a collection of letters in which Lovecraft corresponded with a 12-year-old boy who was writing a weird fiction 'zine. At first Lovecraft didn't know the kids age and treated him as a potential outlet, but as he discovered he was a kid, instead of breaking it off he and the kid became friends, and their correspondence continued until HPL's death. It is hard to hate a guy like that.
posted by JHarris at 11:47 AM on October 31, 2009


Lovecraft's racism is extremely interesting. First, because of the contradictions between his stated views and his personal life (See Artw, above). Second, because, as the man experienced the world as a real thing, rather than something out of his imagination, his views changed a bit (The Great Race of Yith, one of his later creations, is presented very differently than, say, the Deep Ones). Who knows how Lovecraft's views would have evolved if he had lived another 40 years? (Lovecraft wrote some positive things about Hitler late in his life, but, he would have been horrified by the Holocaust; I expect this would have driven him away from the "genteel racism" of "people should keep to their own" that he expressed through much of his life). Thirdly, ignoring his racism is not an option -- a lot of the frisson of Lovecraft's writing comes from that sense of impurity that underlies so much racism. Attempts to absolve Lovecraft fall pretty flat.

I was on a panel on Lovecraft at a Science Fiction Convention years ago, and one of the panelists (a moderately well-known Lovecraftian at the time) denied Lovecraft's racism. I hauled out some quotes from Lovecraft's letters, and the guy responded "oh, Lovecraft was just writing what his correspondents wanted to hear." Another panelist commented "I don't think it's all that great to try and get Lovecraft off the hook for racism by making him a vicious hypocrite."
posted by GenjiandProust at 11:59 AM on October 31, 2009 [4 favorites]


Samuel Loveman, who according to the podcast was the basis of Harley Warren in The Statement of Randolph Carter Actually according to this Lovecraft had a whole bunch of gay mates.
posted by Artw at 12:00 PM on October 31, 2009


(Responding to JHarris there)
posted by Artw at 12:01 PM on October 31, 2009


"I don't think it's all that great to try and get Lovecraft off the hook for racism by making him a vicious hypocrite."

Heh.

Also I'd ask people not to think my talk of personas above as some kind of excuse for his racism or attempt to get him off the hook. I'm reminded of this post on race and steampunk and how acting an offensive dick as part of some kind of character doesn't make you not an offensive dick.

Actually, come to think of it: Lovecraft used to pretend hew was from the 19th century, was he a Steampunk? The horror! And what the hell am I doing reading about Steampunk anyway? THE HORROR! THE HORROR!
posted by Artw at 12:11 PM on October 31, 2009


Lovecraft died (of bowel cancer) in late 1937.

I think this may be one of the great tragedies of literature: it would have been fascinating to see what Lovecraft made of Belsen.

(Of course he might simply have had a nervous breakdown or stopped writing ... but I suspect it might instead have flushed some of his personal demons out, and shown us something very interesting along the way.)
posted by cstross at 12:13 PM on October 31, 2009 [4 favorites]


What, you're saying that what Lovecraft might have written wouldn't have been exactly like what August Derleth wrote for him? :-)

BTW, it's been mentioned many times on the various Lovecraft threads, but I'd just like to say directly to cstross that A Colder War is bloody excellent.
posted by Artw at 12:23 PM on October 31, 2009


Tangentally related: And interview with Greg Stafford, who co-developed the Glorantha mythos and related Runequest game that the Call of Cthulhu cribbed for mechanics.
posted by rodgerd at 12:39 PM on October 31, 2009


Lovecraft had the bad taste to be racist after 1900; his racism would be viewed as unremarkable had he been a contemporary of, say, Twain.
posted by Pope Guilty at 12:57 PM on October 31, 2009


Pope Guilty: racism wasn't held to be in bad taste by most bien-pensants until after 1945 -- quite a long time after, if you're considering white southern USAnians.

And it's still acceptable in some circles. As a friend of mine commented (on an anti-war demo back in 2002, discussing foreign -- American -- news coverage of Iraq and the middle east, post-9/11), "muslims are the new niggers".
posted by cstross at 1:33 PM on October 31, 2009


> And so it's racist characters, written by a racist author, in stories that manage to undermine that racism completely, with Lovecrafts bigotry being a big part of why the story works.
> Which is pretty interesting, no?


> I think another part of it is that Lovecraft wasn't anywhere near in a position of power in his life

When you're twelve years old, Lovecraft's interesting because his all-pervasive, transparently neurotic and blatantly sexual cosmic horror seems like a way of getting a handle of all the world's unknowns-- in particular, all those sticky, slimy, shadowy unknowns that seem to have something to do with, um, girls. Infinite horror is a stand-in for pure possibility.

After you're twelve, Lovecraft's more interesting as a freak-show-- in a sense, his extremity as an individual permits the extremity of his work. As Artw suggests, his stuff can be read as a depiction of the Self-- the haughty, intellectual Self, the Ego-- in sudden shame and sudden collapse. His climaxes are epiphanies of self-destruction: My thinking has brought me to insanity.

Hey! You don't have to be an asexual child prodigy racist schizoid who conflates fear of the Other with fear of the universe-- Lovecraft's already done it for you!
posted by darth_tedious at 2:03 PM on October 31, 2009


After you're twelve, Lovecraft's more interesting as a freak-show-- in a sense, his extremity as an individual permits the extremity of his work.

Hmm, no, I wouldn't say that at all. Again I would suggest listening to the Treadwells lecture - the terror of crumbling identity is by no means something restricted to Lovecraft.
posted by Artw at 2:21 PM on October 31, 2009


> I would suggest listening to the Treadwells lecture - the terror of crumbling identity is by no means something restricted to Lovecraft.

Interesting-- a 1:22 lecture seems a bit long, though. Can you summarize his point? Certainly Lovecraft is not the only figure to tackle the topic, or (more accurately) to be tackled by the topic, of crumbling identity; if anything, Lovecraft's interest in architecture seems, to me, to strengthen the correspondence in his work between the physical universe and the self. What could be a more obvious emblem for Lovecraft's identity, and its sense of doomed, ruined grandeur, than a vast and broken building?
posted by darth_tedious at 2:50 PM on October 31, 2009


No love for the H.P Lovecraft Historical Society? Or did I miss a link? I love their musical work - I've both "A Shoggoth On The Roof" and "A Very Scary Solstice."
posted by FormlessOne at 5:58 PM on October 31, 2009


The Harper Collins link for the Gaiman mp3 appears to be down, but you can get it for free from Audible.com.
posted by rifflesby at 6:30 PM on October 31, 2009


Can you think of anyone else who has said similar yet enjoys HLP's intellectual hipster reputation?

From the top of my head:

Plato, Hegel, Churchill (Nobel), Ezra Pound, Gabriele d'Annunzio, Heidegger, Knut Hamsun (Nobel)

Intellectual history ain't pretty ...
posted by RabbitRun at 7:13 PM on October 31, 2009


Ok, this is not entirely on-topic, but it's been gnawing at me for years. The first time my wife and I were on vacation together, we went to Helsinki. On a nearly random walk through the city's core (I believe we were trying to get to the park with the big tubey Sibelius monument) we took a break in a pub. The pub had what was clearly a very large, texty brass plaque commemorating the life of HP Lovecraft. Well, this is true to the best of our knowledge - the plaque was written in Finnish.

If anybody knows the name or location of this pub, or could elaborate on why such a thing might be there, we would really appreciate it. It was a weirdly synchronistic experience for us, as we were living in Providence, Rhode Island at the time, and HPL is buried there, not far from where we were staying. Every year they have a kind of celebratory ceremony on his birthday, at graveside.

Thanks for any info at all -
posted by newdaddy at 8:34 PM on October 31, 2009


That sounds like exactly the kind of question that you'd put on AskMe and someone would swoop in out of nowhere and answer it in the first reply as if it were the most obvious thing in the world.

darth_tedious - There's notes on the lecture here, though they are pretty far from a full transcript. I'd scroll down to just above the pictures of Kennewick Man (aka Patrick Stewart). Don't be too daunted by the running time though - about half of that is Q & A.
posted by Artw at 6:07 AM on November 1, 2009


Interesting fact related to Lovecraft's racism, the best known editor/scholar of Lovecraft's work, S.T. Joshi, is also the editor of Documents of American Prejudice: An Anthology of Writings on Race from Thomas Jefferson to David Duke. Joshi says:
"There is no denying the reality of Lovecraft's racism, nor can it merely be passed off as 'typical of his time', for it appears that Lovecraft expressed his views more pronouncedly (although usually not for publication) than many others of his era. It is also foolish to deny that racism enters into his fiction."
posted by electroboy at 1:20 PM on November 1, 2009


Lovecraft is Missing is a weekly comic that I've been enjoying lately. This week's is a little gimmicky and not that great, but if you start from the beginning it's pretty good.
posted by electroboy at 1:22 PM on November 1, 2009


Another plug for A Colder War which is pitch-perfect. I suspect it doesn't have nearly the same frisson for people under about 25, though.

I understand the transition in the Laundry novels to more of a dark-humor-horror hybrid since the incredibly bleak, nihilistic tone of A Colder War wouldn't be sustainable at length, but I still have a special place in my heart for the original. That place is a pit of gibbering madness, admittedly, but still.

I believe Case Nightmare Green begins any day now.
posted by Justinian at 3:50 PM on November 1, 2009


I like to think that the source material for the Call of Cthulhu spin off Delta Green has some of the flavour of A Colder War. Some of the flavour of the Laundry too, come to think of it.

Of course, saying that means that I have admit reading RPG materials for fun without much hope of ever playing them.
posted by Artw at 7:21 PM on November 1, 2009


Come to think of it, I think I heard rumours of a Strossian RPG sourcebook in production a while back. I wonder what happened to that?
posted by Artw at 7:22 PM on November 1, 2009


Well, since Charlie was the guy who created the Githyanki and Githzerai, his stuff has been in RPG sourcebooks for quite a while now.
posted by Justinian at 9:06 PM on November 1, 2009


And the Slaadi, who, come to think of it, I'm not entrely sure the WH40K Slann aren't based on them... And the Deathwing anthology of Warhammer 40000 short stories has a Slann story in it... not sure whether it's Charlies one.

WH40k short stories... man, what a hack...

Of ocurse, if anyone out ther is wondering "but Artw, haven't you written some kind of pastiche of Shadow over Innsmouth set in the Judge Dredd universe" then I'd have to say, "Yes! - I have indeed! And pretty pround of it I was too!". Megazine 289 available inthe back issue bins of your local UK comicbook store, available as a print back issue from the 2000ad website or as PDF from clickwheel.net /plug

So anyway, about hackery...
posted by Artw at 9:36 PM on November 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


That's amazing, Artw, 'cause I WAS just wondering if you'd written a pastiche of Shadow over Innsmouth set in the Judge Dredd universe!!! Serendipity!
posted by Justinian at 9:50 AM on November 2, 2009


Soemtimes I say something, and my wife is all like "wow, I was just thinking that!" - I'm like a mindreader! It's awesome.
posted by Artw at 10:01 AM on November 2, 2009


Worth checking out is the annual event HP Lovecraft Film Festival (& Cthulhucon) in Portland, OR. An enjoyable weekend of creepy short films, some feature flicks, author readings and discussion panels.
posted by asfuller at 11:51 AM on November 2, 2009


And, possibly unsuprisingly, the Treadwells lecture gets referenced in this weeks HP Podcraft. Recursive!
posted by Artw at 9:56 AM on November 14, 2009


« Older Why Yankee Stadium sucks: "Its design is profoundl...  |  Widely regarded as the greates... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments