“That is not dead which can eternal lie and with strange eons even death may die”
I had fully intended on doing this piece on Lovecraft’s actual birthday. August 20th, 1890. However, once I realized that his birthday was the day before the big eclipse…well, how could I resist? The timing just seemed so right. So who knows what may happen. Perhaps R’lyeh will rise again.
There’s probably not much that hasn’t been said about Lovecraft by now. There have been many books, blogs, and readers talking about him. I don’t always agree with their analyses (*cough* Joshi *cough*) but they are mainly varied and interesting.
So, this will not be an in-depth analysis of him and his work. It will be my view on it, Why I like it and which are my favorite stories. His influence on horror in general. Any books, movies and games I mention will be listed and linked at the bottom.
I first read Lovecraft at my friend’s house. She didn’t want it and thought it was boring so she gave it to me. I read it and liked it very much. But at the time they were just good, creepy stories and I filed them away and moved on. I bought another book later and realized I liked it even more. It wasn’t until the advent of digital reading that I was able to read all of his stories. Or at least as many of them as are available.
Like so many other artists his work wasn’t recognized as much when he was alive. It was only after his death that August Derleth founded Arkham House which quickly became the prime producer of Lovecraft’s tales and other authors who started out in the Weird Tales crowd. I have my own issues with Derleth and his ‘expansion’ of Lovecraft’s Mythos. I think he was pretty high-handed about being the ‘saviour’ of Lovecraft. That Lovecraft would never have been known if it weren’t for him. Maybe, maybe not. He went as far as to tell Lovecraft’s ex (but not really) wife that she could not publish any stories she had done with Lovecraft or else he would lay the copyright smackdown on her. He expanded the Mythos beyond the original Elder Gods created by Lovecraft. All well and good. Lovecraft himself encouraged that and there was a lot of intermingling between the Weird Tales writers. Fun little fact: After Robert Bloch killed off a thinly disguised Lovecraft in one of his stories Lovecraft returned the favor. ‘Robert Blake’ in ‘The Haunter in the Dark’ is a thinly veiled Robert Bloch. It’s pretty divided on whether his ideas and additions actually add to the Mythos or detracts from it. In my personal opinion they detract from it. Admittedly I haven’t read many of them as they just aren’t the same quality but his division of the ‘good’ and ‘bad’ deities takes away from the main thrust of Lovecraft’s cosmic stories.
And that is that the cosmos and universe in general Does. Not. Care.
There are people who prefer the Dream-Cycle Mythos (I’m not sure if these are the ‘correct’ terms but they fit) which I really don’t find all that exciting. Some people prefer the Cthulhu Mythos. In Joshi’s ‘I Am Providence’ he slams a lot of the shorter stories that don’t involve true cosmic horror and refers to them as inferior and pretty much calls anyone who enjoys them tasteless.
I love a lot of the shorter stories. Some are just little short stories with a twist at the end. Sometimes there’s no twist, just pain, misery and insanity for the characters. Pickman’s Model and The Outsider were the first two that caught my interest. I also love The Picture in the House, The Cats of Ulthar, The Festival and The Nameless City. Many, many more. Even though many of these stories are linked, even if obliquely, to his central themes. But they’re very often seen as inferior and I don’t understand why. They may not have the looming, lurking dread that the cosmic horror invokes but they have a creepiness all their own. If you’ve stuck mainly to the more well known stories I urge you to give the shorter stories a chance. They’re well worth it.
One thing that I find very interesting about Lovecraft is how far reaching his influence has been. In fact, in recent years his popularity has boomed. From movies, to books, to games his touch can be felt everywhere. Most times the Lovecraft influence isn’t even direct. In fact, there are very few movies literally based on his novellas and stories. In this day of CGI I am waiting (quite impatiently) to see Cthulhu in all of his glorious hideousness. ‘Re-Animator’ is one of the few (I know I’ll probably make some people mad about this) but it doesn’t thrill me any. I honestly can’t think of anything farther from his themes than a naked woman being molested by a decapitated head. A few good ones that can be classed as Lovecraftian horror are Event Horizon, Hellraiser, Alien, Leviathan, In the Mouth of Madness and The Thing. The books are way too numerous to mention them all so I’ll keep it short. Joshi’s Black Wings of Cthulhu short story book series usually has high quality stories, Rites of Azathoth, The Lovecraft Squad: All Hallows Horror, many anthologies by Ellen Datlow and many, many more.
Video games, also, have dipped their toes into the murky Innsmouth waters as well. One of my favorite game series – Silent Hill – fully invokes the Lovecraftian atmosphere. The movie for Silent Hill also adeptly re-creates it. We won’t talk about the second movie – Silent Hill: Revelations. Ever. Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem is a great game that uses the feel and parts of the Mythos very successfully. It also uses a unique Sanity Meter to enhance the experience of dwelling in Lovecraft’s head. If you decide to play it, do yourself a favour and don’t look up anything about it or else the Sanity Effects will not have the same punch. There are also quite a few games based on the Mythos itself. With the boom of indie gaming there’s probably more games based on the actual books than movies based on them. One of the more well-known ones is Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth. While it’s gameplay is a bit uneven it’s atmosphere and story is pretty good. Lately it’s the indie games bringing new life to horror gaming in general and the Cthulhu Mythos in particular. There’s a free game that’s fun to play which is a literal playing out of The Terrible Old Man. There’s another game called Cthulhu Saves the World that is an absolutely hilarious RPG. It can be found on Steam, Google Play and the Amazon App Store. Be warned, though, Cthulhu Saves the World does not work on the Kindle Fire HD 6. The Darkness Within: In Pursuit of Loath Nolder encapsulates the Lovecraft realm but also stands on it’s own feet. There is also a new game coming out called Call of Cthulhu. I am very excited about it. It will be one of the first AAA horror titles that I’ve been excited about in a long time.
Chaosium has a tabletop role-laying game called The Call of Cthulhu that we have begun. We muddled our way through one game and had a lot of fun. A fuller review of it will be forthcoming.
This may look like an article length ad for these particular media products but I mainly want to show what a wide influence he has. There are even music groups whose songs reference Lovecraft or are named after different aspects of his stories.
There’s hardly a horror author that does not name Lovecraft as an influence. Strangely (and a little suspiciously) Lovecraft is hardly mentioned in Stephen King’s ‘Danse Macabre’ at all. In fact, Weird Tales gets only a very slight mention. Which is strange, considering how many influential authors have launched from there.
I also encourage you guys to search out some Cthulhu art because there are some awesome artists out there. And some amazingly funny memes.
Have a happy Lovecraft birthday and try to maintain your sanity as the world unnaturally darkens around us. Dagon and Cthulhu may be getting restless.
I hope this has been entertaining and maybe a little informative. Knowledge will help once the Great Old Ones rise!
Mentioned in this Post
The Darkness Within: In Pursuit of Loath Nolder
Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth
Cthulhu Saves the World
The Terrible Old Man
Call of Cthulhu
Call of Cthulhu (tabletop RPG)