HP031: H.P. Lovecraft

HP031: H.P. Lovecraft

This is a request from David Potesta from Chicago, IL. Howard Phillips Lovecraft was an American author of fantasy and horror fiction, noted for giving horror stories a science fiction framework. Lovecraft’s readership was limited during his life, but his works have become quite important and influential among writers and fans of horror fiction.


Further Reading:

USA Today; 02/10/2005

Stephen King, a modern-day master of horror writing, calls Howard Phillips Lovecraft “the 20th-century horror story’s dark and baroque prince.”

Indeed, most of Lovecraft’s stories (largely written in the ’20s and ’30s) are a spooky, guided tour back in time through fictional old New England towns where spirits, gods and demons lurk in shadows. His work inspired nearly every major writer who followed in the pulp horror genre.

Lovecraft died at 46, before his writing received acclaim, so he never knew the extent of his influence in literature and pop culture. Since his death in 1937, a huge fan base has evolved around what he called the “Cthulhu Cult” and is now known as the “Cthulhu Mythos.”

Lovecraft’s influence goes beyond literature. His creatures and characters turn up in the music of rock bands such as Metallica, Black Sabbath and the ’60s group H.P. Lovecraft, as well as in movies such as The Shining , Psycho and The Thing . Even the popular computer game Quake has numerous elements and characters taken from Lovecraft tales.

Source: Belanger, Craig
H.P. Lovecraft; 2005

H.P. Lovecraft was a writer of the early twentieth century whose work helped create the modern horror and fantasy genres. His complex fictional creations, such as the creatures and settings that came to be known as the Cthulhu Mythos, first appeared in the pulp magazines of the 1920s and 1930s, the forum for many of the most popular literary characters of the twentieth century, including Tarzan of the Apes and Conan the Barbarian. Lovecraft was never successful during his lifetime, but after his death he came to be known as one the most influential authors of all time.

Howard Phillips Lovecraft was born in Providence, Rhode Island, on August 20, 1890. His parents were Winfield Scott Lovecraft and Sarah Susan Phillips. He read widely in the classics as a child. Among the many items from his family’s vast library were classical literature and folk tales, including the works of Edgar Allan Poe. Lovecraft also developed into an amateur scientist, cultivating a broad general knowledge of astronomy and chemistry. He attended Slater Avenue School and Hope Street High School in Providence.

The Lovecraft family suffered a series of misfortunes early on in Lovecraft’s life. His father, a traveling salesman, was confined to a mental institution for five years, and died of paresis (complications from syphilis), when Lovecraft was only eight years old, in 1898. His maternal grandfather, Whipple Van Buren Phillips, the primary source for the family fortune, died when Lovecraft was 14 years old, in 1904. Whipple Phillips’ death was followed by a devastating financial loss for the family, and they were forced to leave their home in Providence to share a residence with another family. Because of a nervous breakdown in 1908, Lovecraft never finished high school, nor did he realize his dream of attending Brown University.

Lovecraft was a very prolific writer of fiction and non-fiction throughout his life. During his adolescence, Lovecraft published scientific articles in such periodicals as “The Scientific Gazette,” “The Rhode Island Journal of Astronomy” and the “Providence Tribune.” After his mental breakdown in 1908, he destroyed many of his earliest writings, and withdrew from public life.

Lovecraft first became widely known through his work for pulp magazines. The “pulps” were inexpensive periodicals which published adventure, detective and science fiction stories for a large readership. Among the many other authors who first appeared in the pulps were Dashiell Hammett, creator of the Continental Op and Sam Spade, and Robert E. Howard, creator of Conan the Barbarian.

In 1914, Lovecraft entered into a literary debate with a romance writer, Fred Jackson, whose works had appeared in “The Argosy,” a popular pulp magazine of the era. Lovecraft took exception to Jackson’s writings, and wrote a letter to the editor in protest. The editor was so impressed with Lovecraft that he decided to print the letter, and suggested that Lovecraft join a writer’s group, the United Amateur Press Association (UAPA). The UAPA was an association of self-publishing authors. During this period, Lovecraft became committed to the notion of amateur publishing. Lovecraft’s own magazine, “The Conservative,” was published between 1915 and 1923. He also contributed to many other small magazines managed by his UAPA peers.

Because of interest among other amateur authors in his earlier writings, Lovecraft was encouraged to begin writing fiction again. In 1917, he wrote two of his more important short stories, “Dagon” and “The Tomb.” After these first renewed attempts at fiction, Lovecraft continued writing fiction until his death. “Dagon” first appeared in the October 1923 issue of “Weird Tales” magazine; “The Tomb” was printed in the January 1926 issue.

Although Lovecraft would later be known primarily as a writer of fiction, he was also a very prolific letter-writer, poet and essayist. Several collections of his letters (estimated to be nearly 100,000 in number) have been published, as have his essays and poetry, most notably in a series of books edited by his biographer, S.T. Joshi.

In 1919, Lovecraft’s mother was admitted to a hospital following a nervous breakdown. Two years later, on May 24, 1921, she died of complications from gall bladder surgery. Shortly afterward, Lovecraft met Sonia Haft Greene, the owner of a successful hat shop in New York City. They were married in March 1924. Although they were initially happy and financially secure, partially as a result of the sale of Lovecraft’s stories to magazines, the marriage was troubled. Sonia became ill and was forced to recuperate in several sanitariums, forcing Lovecraft to hunt, unsuccessfully, for a job.

Sonia’s business suffered during her illness, and Lovecraft ultimately grew to resent New York City. He returned to Providence in April 1926, and they were divorced in 1929. Although the couple seem to have parted as friends, it has been speculated that two of Lovecraft’s aunts may have been instrumental in squashing a reconciliation because they feared the impact of Sonia, a Russian Jew, on their social standing in Providence.

Although Lovecraft’s work prior to the 1920s contained some fantasy and horror elements, it was during the last decade of his life that he created the works for which he was to become known as an innovator and an inspiration to generations of science fiction, fantasy and horror writers to follow. During this period, for instance, he wrote some of his important and recognizable works, including a six-part short story, “Herbert West: Reanimator,” another story, “The Rats in the Walls,” and an essay entitled “Supernatural Horror in Literature.” In this essay, considered one of the most concise essays about his craft ever written, Lovecraft outlined a history of the horror genre, and identified several key phases and works.

Although it is difficult to arrange Lovecraft’s career into a precise series of creative phases, there are three distinct types of fiction written by Lovecraft: his macabre stories of the 1910s, his tales based on his own dreams of the early 1920s, and his later works written between 1925 and the mid-1930s, many of which first appeared in the magazines “Weird Tales” and “Astounding Stories.” Many more of Lovecraft’s works were not published until after his death.

Despite his personal and professional difficulties of the mid-1920s, Lovecraft began writing what many consider to be his best works, including “The Call of Cthulhu” (1926), which provided the name for a series of stories based partially on Lovecraft’s own spiritual beliefs, known as the Cthulhu Mythos. The Cthulhu Mythos contained a rich history and literature of its own and was populated by many gods and other creatures whose interactions form the basis for a rich fantasy world.

These characters, plots and settings, as well as the unique philosophical basis for the stories, were later borrowed for many hundreds of imitations and continuations of Lovecraft’s Cthulhu creation. This formed the basis for a particular type of fantasy writing as well as a series of role-playing games devoted to the Cthulhu universe.

During the last decade of his life, Lovecraft began other important projects as well, but most led to disappointment, since publishers were either unwilling or unable to publish his writing. In 1928, “The Shunned House,” a haunted house tale written in 1924, was printed by W. Paul Cook of the Recluse Press, but it was never bound or distributed. The publisher G.P. Putnam’s Sons offered to review Lovecraft’s work, but rejected it for publication, as did many other important publishers of the era.

Lovecraft also attempted to generate excitement in his novella, “At the Mountains of Madness,” an important part of the Cthulhu works, but, that, too was rejected. Despite his frustration, Lovecraft continued to write more stories, and was becoming well known among other fantasy and horror writers, including August Derleth and Robert Bloch.

The last few years of his life were difficult ones. When one of his aunts died, in 1932, he moved in with another. He was unable to sell his original work, but found some work as a ghostwriter. In 1936 and early 1937, Lovecraft suffered from severe stomach pains brought about by intestinal cancer. Eventually, he was admitted to a Providence hospital and died five days later, on March 10, 1937.

Because of the dedication of his proteges, including Derleth and Bloch, many of Lovecraft’s writings eventually found their way into print and helped to develop the Lovecraft cult which is still growing at the beginning of the twenty-first century. Derleth and Bloch were instrumental in forming Arkham House, a publisher dedicated to publishing Lovecraft’s works. In 1939, they printed his book, “The Outsider and Others,” which was followed by many more editions of his writing. Over time, Arkham House became known as one of the premier outlets for the type of horror and fantasy writing Lovecraft helped create. In the years following the successful publication of Lovecraft’s works by Arkham House, many other publishers brought out editions of Lovecraft’s works. Aside from his fiction, Lovecraft’s non-fiction essays and letters were also published.

A direct result of the dedicated printing and reprinting of Lovecraft’s works was that Lovecraft came to be known widely as both a successor to and equal of Edgar Allan Poe, another American author whose popularity has only grown since his death. In an essay written by Bloch in 1973, he found many similarities between the two authors, but most notably, he argued that they both share a beloved place in American literature because of their ability to create unique worlds in their fiction, and their creative superiority to their imitators.

This is a request from David Potesta from Chicago, IL. Howard Phillips Lovecraft was an American author of fantasy and horror fiction, noted for giving horror stories a science fiction framework. Lovecraft’s readership was limited during his life, but his works have become quite important and influential among writers and fans of horror fiction.