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Monday, August 20, 2012

Happy Birthday, H P Lovecraft. (I know you're out there)

H P Lovecraft
Can't you tell just to look at him
he writes creepy stories?
Today would've been the 122nd birthday of Howard Phillips (H P) Lovecraft, or, as his friends knew him, "Bunny."  (Okay, I made that last part up.)  Lovecraft wrote some conventional horror stories, but his big contribution was the notion that at a vast, multidimensional universe of malevolent beings lay outside our ability to perceive and conceive, and that while we couldn't grasp their nature, they could quite easily - and contemptuously - grasp ours, and sometimes, under the right conditions, they could break through.  The chief of these eldritch beings was Cthulu (Lovecraft loved the word "eldritch," he just about couldn't write a sentence without throwing it in somewhere.)  Lovecraft also came up with the Necronomicon, an unspeakable book of evil rites, translated by the mad Arab, Abdul Alhazzarad.  There has not been a horror writer since who would not acknowledge Lovecraft as a primary influence.
I first came across Lovecraft when my mother was going to school at UGA during the summer.  Del Ray Publishing (I believe it was) had re-released some of Lovecraft's book with lurid covers - green blobbish faces with shards of glass sticking through, and like that.  C S Lewis once wrote that there could be faces so terrible, of such anguish and horror, that one could look at them and never be the same afterward.  For me, the faces on those covers was what he was talking about.  I asked my mother Mur about them, and she said, yes, they were exactly the sort of thing I'd like.
I read "The Shuttered Room," first - technically by August Derleth, but very much in the Lovecraft mode - and I was hooked.  My only big exposure to horror fiction up until this time had been Edgar Allan Poe and Rod Serling.  (Books of Twilight Zone stories were regularly on newsstands.)  I'd read Masque of the Red Death and Other Stories by Poe.  Big disappointment for a twelve-year-old.  And Serling was fun, but jokey.  Besides which, too many of his stories were clearly intended to teach you something.  Lovecraft and his followers didn't teach you anything except the universe was incomprehensible and probably out to get you, and the less you knew about it, the better.
This is some of the actual cover art that drew my attention
back in Athens, Georgia all those years ago.
Lord, but I was a dumb kid.
I haven't re-read Lovecraft in a decade, but this is the time of year I loved to return to him, when the weather was getting cooler and leaves would fall from the trees.  Cool enough to read outside, and no mosquitoes.  Lovecraft isn't something I wanted to read in a cramped room when ultra-dimensional creatures with tentacles and wings might come poking through the walls.  I wrote my own imitation of Lovecraft once, a story about a coin that had the power to summon an eldritch monster from a nearby swamp, and another Lovecraft-inspired story about a fishing lure that brought up fish not only from the bottom of the river, but from both ends of time.
I'm pleased to say my daughter Catherine and son-in-law Drew are also Lovecraft fans.  Drew appears regularly in performances of Lovecraftian stories with the Atlanta Radio Company, and for my graduation, Catherine gave me a Cthulhu PhD plush toy.
Lovecraft's life was beset by ever-deepening poverty, accompanied by literary obscurity so thick it could've concealed a freight train.  His fame was assured by other writers; in spite of personal failure - I love this part - Lovecraft was an indefatigable correspondent and generous with his time and advice with others.  It was they who kept reminding the reading world of Lovecraft, Lovecraft, Lovecraft.
Thanks to them, and thanks to you, H P.  I'm sorry I said your name was Bunny.
Happy birthday.
My Cthulhu PhD Doll.
Catherine and I once made a Miskatonic Universtity T-Shirt
(Miskatonic was a Lovecraft creation, cool name, huh?)
The University motto was, "Semper Malis," Always evil.

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