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HP Lovecraft and His Work

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  • HPL's complete contempt and lack of understanding of Joyce and other modernists says a lot about his limitations as a writer and as a person IMO. Don't get me wrong, not everyone needs to enjoy or understand Ulysses and even less-so Finnegan's Wake but for someone so obsessed with writing who claimed to be so smart and well read, he seemed quite stuck in the realms of romanticism and the comfortably familiar; seems he didn't like to challenge himself when it came to literature and rather than experiment with new forms he would just dredge up archaic terms and words that were all-but-forgotten even a hundred years ago. This fear of progression applies to many aspects of his work and character, coupled with his fear of ancient sea critters, it made his life a lot like that character frozen in terror on the stairs in The Colour Out Space, damned if he goes forward, damned if he goes back, stuck in one place.


    • Sometimes I feel Lovecraft called up some things he couldn't put down.

      Has anyone ever written a Lovecraftian take on Robert Johnson? I think that would be pretty cool.


      • Ford Madox Ford: as scary as HP Lovecraft?

        Article by Ned Beauman in today's(?) Guardian on whether Ford Madox Ford is "as scary as HP Lovecraft":
        Is there a connection between Ford’s The Good Soldier and the cosmic horror of Lovecraft’s Cthulhu stories? Ned Beauman peels back the skin of a genteel melodrama to reveal the beating existential dread at its heart

        Call of Cthulhu, a tabletop role-playing game based on the work of HP Lovecraft, includes in its rules a system called “sanity points”. In most other role-playing games, such as Dungeons and Dragons, you become more resilient with each adventure. But in Call of Cthulhu, you can be driven out of your wits by your experiences. According to the original rulebook, published in 1981, sanity points, once lost, can never be regained. Later editions permit you to try psychoanalysis.

        The sanity points system is an adaptation of one of the quintessential premises of Lovecraft’s fiction: that sanity is not a fixed personal attribute but rather a scarce resource that must be carefully guarded. “Life is a hideous thing,” he writes in one story, “and from the background behind what we know of it peer daemonical hints of truth which make it sometimes a thousandfold more hideous … Its reserve of unguessed horrors could never be borne by mortal brains.” Many of his protagonists end up in asylums. Danforth, one of the Antarctic explorers in At the Mountains of Madness, glimpses an ancient monstrosity out of an aeroplane window and suffers a breakdown in which “his shrieks were confined to the repetition of a single, mad word … ‘Tekeli-li! Tekeli-li!’”

        That, of course, is how mad people in books tend to behave. In Ford Madox Ford’s The Good Soldier – my favourite novel, celebrating its centenary this year – a character called Nancy Rufford meets a similar fate after she learns of a loved one’s suicide. “In a darkened room, my poor girl, sitting motionless, with her wonderful hair about her, looking at me with eyes that did not see me, and saying distinctly: ‘Credo in unum Deum omnipotentem.... Credo in unum Deum omnipotentem’ ... those are the only words, it appears, that she ever will utter.” Like Danforth, she has used up all her sanity points.

        In fact, all the characters in The Good Soldier seem to be playing by Call of Cthulhu’s system. “Unguessed horrors” are an ever-present threat. If they don’t drive you insane, they’ll give you a heart attack. The American narrator, John Dowell, is told by doctors that if his wife, Florence, “became excited over anything or if her emotions were really stirred her little heart might cease to beat. For 12 years I had to watch every word that any person uttered in any conversation and I had to head it off what the English call ‘things’ – off love, poverty, crime, religion and the rest of it.” Mere attention, mere sensation, is enough to end you. No violence is necessary. It is as if the world is full of basilisks and Medusas.

        Much like many of Lovecraft’s stories, The Good Soldier is narrated by a survivor – broken, faithless, sitting alone in a dark house, unable to comprehend what he has seen. “I know nothing – nothing in the world – of the hearts of men,” Dowell says. “I only know that I am alone – horribly alone. No hearthstone will ever again witness, for me, friendly intercourse. No smoking room will ever be other than peopled with incalculable simulacra amidst smoke wreaths.” Here, for comparison, is the narrator of Lovecraft’s original “The Call of Cthulhu”, published 11 years later: “I have looked upon all that the universe has to hold of horror, and even the skies of spring and the flowers of summer must ever afterward be poison to me.”

        Ford and Lovecraft are not often discussed in the same breath. But in fact they are very similar. The difference is that Lovecraft appears to be writing about cosmic horror but is really writing about sex, whereas Ford appears to be writing about sex but is really writing about cosmic horror. Another way of putting it is that they are writing about exactly the same thing: the feeling that if you peel back the skin of everyday reality, what you will see underneath is something so alien that it will burn away all your sanity points in an instant.

        What has driven Nancy Spufford to madness – and what has also driven Dowell, if not to madness, at least to distraction – is finding out what life is really like at the extremes. Nancy’s beloved guardian, Edward Ashburnham, has cut his throat out of despair. Dowell’s wife Florence has turned out to have been sleeping with Ashburnham, Dowell’s best and only friend, for nine years. Neither of our two innocents ever suspected that any such dreadfulness was possible. “If everything is so nebulous about a matter so elementary as the morals of sex,” says Dowell, baffled and despairing, “what is there to guide us in the more subtle morality of all other personal contacts, associations and activities? Or are we meant to act on impulse alone? It is all a darkness.”

        A darkness that a hundred years of sexual liberation has scarcely illuminated. One of the reasons why The Good Soldier is such a timeless book is that nearly all of us have Dowell’s experience at least once: when we first discover, probably by accident and in the most bathetic circumstances, that while we have been playing the game of sex, as it were, according to the original rulebook, some of those close to us seem to have been using a newer edition in which very different tactics are permitted – that we are all of a sudden in a world of realpolitik, krav maga, free-market economics, and our old assumptions are now very much out of date. We are righteously indignant and painfully envious at the same time. And we hurry to catch up. Because we still have time. Unlike the 46-year-old Dowell. For him, it’s too late ever to come to terms with sex.

        Actually Ford seems to have been pretty relaxed about what he once wryly called “the one unmentionable thing”. In terms of personality type, the better comparison is between Lovecraft, the real person, and Dowell, the fictional character. Stephen King has argued that Lovecraft’s stories “are about sex and little else, and when Cthulhu makes one of its appearances... we are witnessing a gigantic, tentacle-equipped, killer vagina from beyond space and time.”

        Alan Moore observed in an interview that “Lovecraft was sexually squeamish and would only talk of ‘certain nameless rituals’. Or he’d use some euphemism: ‘blasphemous rites’. It was pretty obvious, given that a lot of his stories detailed the inhuman offspring of these ‘blasphemous rituals’, that sex was probably involved somewhere along the line.” In 2011, Moore published a Lovecraftian comic called Neomonicon, in which an FBI agent investigating a serial killer is captured by a Dagonite cult. Trapped in the sewers of Salem, Massachusetts, she is forced to take part in a horrific sexual Walpurgis. This is precisely John Dowell’s nightmare: that beneath the genteel surface of the Protestant north-east, his friends and neighbours are having orgies day and night.

        And yet fear of sex, much as we may mock it, is in some respects an existentialist fear. Sex is a reminder that we are nothing but bodies, nothing but livestock, nothing but atoms in space. In The Good Soldier, one of the prodromes of Nancy’s madness is a revelation she has in front of a fireplace in Ashburnham’s estate that “the burning logs were just logs that were burning and not the comfortable symbols of an indestructible mode of life”. When Dowell is obliged for the first time in his life to imagine his intimates undressed and rutting, he is having a revelation of just the same kind. To quote Lovecraft’s poem “Nemesis”, he has “seen the dark universe yawning / Where the black planets roll without aim / Where they roll in their horror unheeded / Without knowledge or lustre or name”. Sex is a tiding of something much greater. Anarchy in sex, anarchy in the universe.

        I probably never would have read The Good Soldier if I hadn’t been given it as a birthday present. Glance at the Penguin Classics version and you expect a boring novel about Edwardian marriages. This could not be more misleading. It’s a gothic melodrama with a high body count. It’s a construction of weird geometry and deep shadow, like the extraterrestrial city of At the Mountains of Madness. Above all, it’s a work of shattering modernist nihilism that could fit on the shelf between Beckett and Céline, and should therefore be repackaged in an edition that intense young men will want to be seen reading in cafes. “Are all men’s lives like the lives of us good people,” Dowell asks, “like the lives of the Ashburnhams, of the Dowells, of the Ruffords – broken, tumultuous, agonied, and unromantic, lives, periods punctuated by screams, by imbecilities, by deaths, by agonies? Who the devil knows?”

        Halfway through the novel, we find Nancy’s monstrous father in conversation with “an Italian baron who had had much to do with the Belgian Congo. They must have been talking about the proper treatment of natives, for I heard him say: ‘Oh, hang humanity!’” Naturally, our minds go straight to Heart of Darkness, the 1899 novel by Ford’s great friend and collaborator Joseph Conrad. Marlow, the narrator of that book, admits to his relief when he is so preoccupied by his maritime duties that “the reality – the reality, I tell you – fades. The inner truth is hidden – luckily, luckily. But I felt it all the same; I felt often its mysterious stillness watching me.” Marlow may draw back his “hesitating foot” from this inner truth. But not the ivory trader Kurtz, who lies on his deathbed with a “stare, that could not see the flame of the candle, but was wide enough to embrace the whole universe, piercing enough to penetrate all the hearts that beat in the darkness. He had summed up – he had judged. ‘The horror!’”

        What Ford means by his Italian baron is that, with all due to respect to Conrad, you don’t need to go all the way to the jungle to find the heart of darkness. You only need to go as far as a spa in Hesse, or a country house in Hampshire – or indeed anywhere there are human beings. In fact, Conrad comes close to acknowledging this with Marlow’s famous observation that London, too, “has been one of the dark places of the earth”, because of course the reader is not so naive as to think that London has stopped being a dark place just because it’s on all the maps now. And then Ford quotes that line right back at Conrad in The Good Soldier, when Dowell suggests that his wife’s attempts to educate Ashburnham in high culture are “Florence clearing up one of the dark places of the earth”. The inner truth, the unguessed horrors, are inside every one of us. Dowell is Kurtz. By an agony of stammering and circumlocution The Good Soldier drags out to 200 pages that final croak: “The horror! The horror!” “Tekeli-li! Tekeli-li!” “Credo in unum Deum omnipotentem Credo in unum Deum omnipotentem.”
        Source: The Guardian
        _"For an eternity Allard was alone in an icy limbo where all the colours were bright and sharp and comfortless.
        _For another eternity Allard swam through seas without end, all green and cool and deep, where distorted creatures drifted, sometimes attacking him.
        _And then, at last, he had reached the real world – the world he had created, where he was God and could create or destroy whatever he wished.
        _He was supremely powerful. He told planets to destroy themselves, and they did. He created suns. Beautiful women flocked to be his. Of all men, he was the mightiest. Of all gods, he was the greatest."


        • Now, as much as I like Lovecraft, I have to say let's not make too much of his work.

          HPL was part of a new strange fiction movement-he always said he wrote sci-fi-that mixed science at the occult. He was rather adept at that-but remember, this was a long time ago, theories have been exploded, discoveries made and events have gone careening along.

          The isolated backwaters of his time are now connected to the world. When Lovecraft needed terra incognita, he had plenty to pick from, now the once obscure is well known.

          Chaos is exalted in the world of today. The Great Old Ones must be pleased.

          Let's not get all hidebound-this is all part of a tradition(perhaps a very large in-joke?) that requires a subtle touch. Witness some of the awful fiction that followed Lovecraft's death(Derleth was not the worst by a long chalk), and some very good work done along the way, as well.

          It takes more than apostrophes and silent letters to make a Mythos tale, but the Mythos can be adapted to almost any genre(including the Western!).

          Charles Stross has followed Tim Powers in blending the espionage story with the Mythos. I mixed it(with much less success)with the Sax Rohmer style adventure yarn. Others have used it in very creative ways, like "The Illuminatus Trilogy" and "Resume With Monsters".

          Right now, I'm binge watching 'Ancient Aliens', and really enjoying the Fortean vibe thereof.

          I feel a story coming on....


          • Originally posted by krakenten View Post
            Derleth was not the worst by a long chalk
            I agree. Derleth was actually a very competent writer. Not just as a contributor to the Cthulhu Mythos (there's a story of his taking place near a lake in remote woods which I think can easily be compared to Lovecraft's own stories), but also in other writings. He seems to have had a knack for entering an already existing fictional world and contribute to that. His "Solar Pons" stories remain in my mind as some of the better Sherlock Holmes pastiches I've read.
            "If the environment were a bank, we would already have saved it." -Graffitti.


            • There are scads of truly awful Lovecraft imitations.

              I'm trying to read the latest Laundry offering, and having a difficult time. Stross decided to put Mo, Bob Howard's wife, in the forefront, and it isn't working.

              Because the delightful Mo is coming off exactly like Bob! Now, considering that her married name is Mo Howard(no wonder she kept her single name!), we can see that there is some humor to be had....

              I love these stories-as a long time civil service victim, I'm au courant with some of the dilemmas faced by the Howards(too many rules add up to no rules, and the big shots do as they please) and I'll never forget the Necropolitan Railroad Line.

              However, I have discerned that Mythos tales have to be kept vague, until the Big Reveal-otherwise, all the faults will glare. The Great Old Ones exist just out of our ken, and them what ken 'em get badly hurt.

              Still, Stross can rescue a story.

              For those who hunger for Holmes, try the Mary Russell stories. Laurie King does a great job of invoking the Great Detective. Without having him on stage, most of the time.

              As I said, I'm fiddling about with the Fortean, just now, and Fort certainly influenced Lovecraft, as did the strange fiction of the Late 19th Century.

              The Pseudoscience of the time had more than a little to do with events in the XX Century, and indeed, still plays a part today. Bigfoot, Flying Saucers and assorted monsters are still pretty popular.

              There's certainly a book in THAT!

              (and be pleased to recall that the Giant Squid was a cryptid for many years!)


              • I have acquired a real-world copy of a few of HPL stories ( I will take pictures of it later ) and a digital compilation of his best stories ( Portuguese ) but I have not read them yet. The fact is that I like the mythos HPL created better than his works more properly saying but the last time I read HPL was a long time ago so I cannot judge it well. He has influenced so many great authors so there might be something I should like about his works.
                "From time to time I demonstrate the inconceivable, or mock the innocent, or give truth to liars, or shred the poses of virtue.(...) Now I am silent; this is my mood." From Sundrun's Garden, Jack Vance.
                "As the Greeks have created the Olympus based upon their own image and resemblance, we have created Gotham City and Metropolis and all these galaxies so similar to the corporate world, manipulative, ruthless and well paid, that conceived them." Braulio Tavares.


                • I love Lovecrafts storystructure and his atmosphere. I read all his Cthulu Mythos stories, which I like a lot. My favorites are: The Color Out Of Space, The Shadow Out Of Time, Dagon, The Music Of Erich Zann and The Nameless City. What I dislike about his stories are the bad dialog and the racism. The bad dialog he is aware of and in his best stories there ist almost no direct speech. The racism I attribute to his upbringing and the time he lived in, but from todays perspective it is not a good look. In that respect the worst are The Call Of Cthulu and The Shadow Over Innsmouth, which are probably the most famous of his stories, but because of the racism in them I don't like to read them as much. I also realy like The Dreamquest For Unknown Kaddath.


                  • I have to be in the right mood to read Lovecraft's books.
                    As you have to sometimes get past what feels like poor writing that gets a bit boring at times and enjoy the parts which are really good.
                    The dark, subdued mood can be very appealing to me. Then it builds up to some cataclysmic event, which really can be very well done.

                    I also play Tabletop RPGs, one of which is a horror RPG called "Call of Cthulhu". So I am extra motivated to read the novels.


                    • I posted this website here years ago, but I thought I would re-post the link. The H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society is a cool site for all things eldritch!

                      "He found a coin in his pocket, flipped it. She called: 'Incubus!'
                      'Succubus,' he said. 'Lucky old me.'" - Michael Moorcock The Final Programme


                      • Originally posted by Jack Of Shadows View Post
                        I posted this website here years ago, but I thought I would re-post the link. The H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society is a cool site for all things eldritch!

                        They've made some really good movies too.
                        The "Call of Cthulhu" old skool movie is their best work.


                        • Originally posted by danskmacabre View Post

                          They've made some really good movies too.
                          The "Call of Cthulhu" old skool movie is their best work.
                          Yes indeed! I really enjoyed "The Whisperer In Darkness" too.
                          "He found a coin in his pocket, flipped it. She called: 'Incubus!'
                          'Succubus,' he said. 'Lucky old me.'" - Michael Moorcock The Final Programme