Today marks the birthday of HP Lovecraft, one of the most influential horror writers of the 20th Century. Lovecraft wrote hundreds of short stories and novellas from 1917 right up until his death in 1937. Stephen King proclaimed him one of the greatest practitioners of the classic horror tale, and yet some readers find his work intimidating, needlessly wordy, and in some cases, controversial. So why should everyone read at least one Lovecraft story in their life? You’re about to find out.
Haunted Houses, Sinister Cults and Ancient Aliens
In any piece of work from Lovecraft you are guaranteed to be chilled to the bone. He didn’t invent the haunted house story; he made it his own, and stories like ‘The Shunned House’, ‘The Unnamable’, and ‘Rats In The Walls’, all feature places where evil has been committed and, subsequently, remains. Then there are the cults. Everyone loves a creepy cult; the world of horror literature and film is infused with tales of crazy worshippers and secret societies willing to sacrifice for either the good of man, or the invocation of a higher being. These cults are predominantly religious, but Lovecraft’s nefarious sects were different. Some of the members were people with good intentions, and in humanising them, Lovecraft made them somewhat tragic. And finally, Lovecraft created an entire mythos based around his cosmic entities. Cthulhu, The Deep Ones, Mi-Go, Night Gaunts, Lovecraft crafted intricate stories featuring these creatures and countless others. And, let’s face it, we all like things that are hard to pronounce. Cthu . . . Kathulu . . . Tulu. . .
You’re probably already familiar with his work (even if you didn’t know it)
Whether you know it or not, you’ve probably rubbed proverbial shoulders with Lovecraft. His work has been referenced in everything from Babylon 5 to Army Of Darkness. If you recently watched Prometheus, then I urge you to read ‘At The Mountains Of Madness’. The similarities are remarkable. HR Giger was hugely influenced by Lovecraft, and it’s not too hard to see where his inspiration came from for his Xenomorph designs. If you ever watched The Real Ghostbusters as a child, then you might have caught an episode entitled ‘Collect Call Of Cathulhu’ in which the Necronomicon is stolen by a large, tentacled beast and the Ghostbusters are assisted by Dr. Alice Derleth from Arkham on a mission to reclaim it. The Leviathan episodes of Dark Shadows were said to have been inspired by the Cthulhu Mythos, and in Babylon 5 there are a race of aliens called the Pak’ma’ra, which resemble a certain tentacle-faced Old One. The whole premise of the Evil Dead was based around The Necronomicon, an ancient, mystical tome from Lovecraft’s novella ‘The Dunwich Horror’. So even if you haven’t read any of his work, you will already be familiar with some of his characters and plot devices, which just goes to show how influential Lovecraft was.
He was influenced by the best
Lovecraft has influenced hundreds of writers, artists and directors, yet he himself drew upon the influence of great writers, notably, Edgar Allen Poe and Robert E. Howard. The latter was a dear friend and fellow contributor to the pulp magazine, Weird Tales. Another of Lovecraft’s literary heroes was the Irish fantasist, Lord Dunsany, and the poetic style of Dunsany is evident in some of Lovecraft’s own work. With heroes and friends like these, it is easy to see why Lovecraft became one of the greatest writers of the twentieth century.
He was ahead of his time
Racist and anti-semitic views aside, HP Lovecraft was a visionary. His creation of various forms of alien archaeology would go on to inspire thousands of artists and science-fiction fanatics. He was writing about aliens (and not the kind that looked like humans in spacesuits, as they were so often depicted at the time) before most of his contemporaries – with the exception of HG Wells. The way in which he cross-referenced his novellas and short stories to create a much larger universe was also revolutionary, and only further proved his genius and deserved reputation as one of the greatest writers to have ever picked up a quill.
Because Neil Gaiman says so
Hey, if it’s good enough for Neil Gaiman, it’s good enough for us. Despite stating that Lovecraft was a downright amateurish writer for the large part, Gaiman is hugely influenced by the man. It was not the writing, however, that made the American Gods author such a huge fan. It was his ideas, his vision of an inherently weak human-species being bullied by an all-powerful cosmic force. You don’t have to be a fan of Lovecraft’s prose to get his messages, as Gaiman will testify. You just have to be willing to accept our insignificance, and the notion that a malevolent evil is no doubt out to get you.
And so, with those five points in mind, why not celebrate the birthday of the great man himself by reading one of his stories? You never know; he might wrap his great, slimy tentacles around you the way he did me.
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