The name, H.P. Lovecraft, was introduced to me in a round about way during my adolescence. I had acquired a copy of the LSD fueled record album “H.P. Lovecraft II” from the bargain bin at a local record shop. It was certainly the most psychedelic music I have ever heard before or since. I wish I still owned the disc.
It wasn’t until much later that I discovered that the name of the “band” was inspired by a writer of the same name. A man who wrote “wierd fiction” in the first half of the 20th century. The writer was a great influence on the producers of the record.
“Wherefore do ye toil; is it not that ye may live and be happy? And if ye toil only that ye may toil more, when shall happiness find you? Ye toil to live, but is not life made of beauty and song? … Toil without song is like a weary journey without an end. Were not death more pleasing?”–H.P. Lovecraft
Some literary experts have called Lovecraft one of the most influential writers of horror of the century. I found out that author Stephen King listed Lovecraft as his greatest influence regarding his story writing.
As to Lovecraft’s influences, they are likely found in his early life. His father was a traveling salesman. He suffered an acute attack of psychosis during a business trip from which he never recovered. The boy was raised by his mother, his maternal grandfather, and two aunts. He was a sickly boy who only attended school sporadically.
The youngster was a prodigy, though. He could read poetry by age three and composed entire poems before his sixth birthday. The grandfather told him original stories of Gothic horror. Furthermore, Lovecraft experienced nightmares and night terror. The subjects of his dreams were demonic creatures without faces.
The boy’s ambition was to become an astronomer, but he was unable to do so because of his ineptness with higher mathematics. The inner conflict contributed to an emotional breakdown in his early teens. Lovecraft’s impoverished life influenced his less than happy attitude towards life and his fellow humans. He had a clear, though somewhat nihlistic view of humanity. He once wrote, “Gross stupidity, falsehood, and muddled thinking are not dreams; and form no escape from life to a mind trained above their own level.”
Most of Lovecraft’s major writing is centered around the theme of forbidden knowledge. Some readers think this theme was used because of his hatred of the world around him. The urge to discover forbidden knowledge is the driving force of most of Lovecraft’s main characters. The characters suffer psychic destruction or at the very least, strong regrets about learning the arcane knowledge.
He was of the personal opinion that while science could be beneficial to humanity, it would ultimately lead to our demise. “The sciences, each straining in its own direction, have hitherto harmed us little; but some day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the deadly light into the peace and safety of a new dark age.”–(Lovecraft’s ‘The Call of Cthulhu’)
I wonder what he would make of today’s nuclear age and our preoccupation with bionics, budding police state thinking, and neo-fascism with people trying to change the nature of other people. I don’t think he would cope well with today’s mass temptation for escape into theocratic political movements. He might take all of this as the validation of his own prophecies that civilization was under threat of superstition and anti-intellectualism.
Another sub-theme of Lovecraft’s works is that of supernatural voodoo-like myths. The deities being so powerful as to suck the stories’ characters into insanity. Even so, the ideas were told from the standpoint of followers and believers of the deities.
As I read some of Lovecraft’s stories, I was unhappy to find a subtext of racism present. His bigotry seemed to not be fearful of the biological basis of race, his was more concerned with a “dilution” of western culture. He thought of England as the epitome of civilization. This aspect is in direct conflict with many of his otherwise liberal and progressive views.
If you wish to explore H.P. Lovecraft’s themes you may want to read works of some of the authors he influenced. In addition to Stephen King, “The Exiles” by Ray Bradbury features Lovecraft as one of the characters. You may also enjoy Robert Anton Wilson, Robert Shea, Richard Lupoff, David Barbour, and Richard Raleigh. Stargate SG-1: Rosewell and The Lovecraft Chronicles by Peter Cannon are must reads.
Should you decide to dive into Lovecraft’s own writing, I suggest you start with The Call Of Cthulhu And Other Weird Stories. For Halloween, there’s Dreams In The Witch House And Other Weird Stories. His most famous work is At The Mountains Of Madness.
The Blue Jay of Happiness likes this Lovecraft quote, “I never ask a man what his business is, for it never interests me. What I ask him about are his thoughts and dreams.”