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The Weird Worlds of H.P. Lovecraft

Updated on June 16, 2017
H.P. Lovecraft
H.P. Lovecraft

“The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear – and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown” H.P. Lovecraft.

One of the legends of weird fiction, Howard Phillips Lovecraft was born in 1890 in Providence, Rhode Island.

Lovecraft was a sickly child, his father Winfield Scott Lovecraft, a travelling salesman, died of paresis (paralysis and insanity caused by syphilis) when young Howard was just 7.

At school he was very interested in science particularly astronomy. Lovecraft’s first published work was a letter printed in The Providence Sunday Journal in 1906 about "astronomical matters".

Howard was very close to his mother, when she died in 1921 Howard was shattered but in a few weeks he had recovered enough to attend an amateur journalism convention where he met the woman who would be his wife.

H.P. Lovecraft married Sonia Greene in 1924, but it was not to last. After a few years of misfortune and failed business plans the couple divorced in 1929.

Lovecraft loved writing letters to publications, fans and other writers and is thought to have sent up to 84,000 letters during his lifetime. Some letters he would date 200 years earlier than the actual date.

Some of his literary friends included Robert E. Howard, August Derleth, Robert Bloch and Fritz Leiber. Robert Bloch killed off Lovecraft in his short story "Shambler from the Stars" and in return Lovecraft killed Bloch in his story "The Haunter of the Dark." a sequel to Bloch’s story.

Lovecraft's idol was Edgar Allan Poe, referring to Poe as his “God of fiction." While Poe was a great influence on Lovecraft, he in turn influenced many writers that came after him, including Clive Barker, Neil Gaiman and Stephen King, King called Lovecraft a major influence on his writing and "the twentieth century's greatest practitioner of classic horror."

In the last few years of Lovecraft’s life he wrote his greatest works of fiction, from The Call of Cthulhu in 1926 to The Shadow out of Time in 1935.

Lovecraft’s series of horror stories known as the Cthulhu Mythos, a term coined by August Derleth, have been hugely influential in horror fiction, and stories in the fictional universe are still being written.

Lovecraft himself never used the term “Cthulhu Mythos” preferring to call his series of interconnected stories the Arkham Cycle, he said that they were “based on the fundamental lore or legend that this world was inhabited at one time by another race who, in practicing black magic, lost their foothold and were expelled, yet live on outside ever ready to take possession of this earth again.”

“In his house at R'lyeh, dead Cthulhu waits dreaming”

Cthulhu – Lovecraft’s most famous fictional creation first appeared in the short story The Call of Cthulhu which was first published in Weird Tales magazine in 1928 Lovecraft described Cthulhu as “an octopus, a pulpy, tentacled head surmounted a grotesque scaly body with rudimentary wings.”

The Ancient Ones, with such names as Nyarlathotep and Yog- Sothoth, regularly returned to Earth with the assistance of evil or ignorant mortals. Their legends and the secrets of the Earth’s dread early history are contained in the mouldering pages of the mad Arab Abdul Alhazred’s ancient volume, The Necronomicon.

Lovecraft's fictional book The Necronomicon was later turned into a real book. No less than 4 versions of The Necronomicon have since been created.

The death of Robert E. Howard in 1936 aged only 30 deeply affected Lovecraft, he had corresponded regularly with the creator of Conan the Barbarian. REH killed himself after learning his mother was not going to recover from a serious illness.

By 1936 H.P. Lovecraft had developed cancer of the small intestine, and there was little that could be done to treat it, despite the unbearable pain Lovecraft continued to write, he died in March 1937 aged 46, and was buried at the Phillips family plot at Swan Point Cemetery.

Only one of his stories was published in book form during his lifetime, The Shadow over Innsmouth (1936) the rest of his work was scattered amongst various pulp magazines and amateur periodicals.

Lovecraft feared his fiction would never be widely read and that it would eventually disappear into oblivion. But thanks to his friendship with August Derleth and Donald Wandrei his life’s work would survive. After his death they were determined to save Lovecraft’s stories and give them the dignity they deserved by being published in hardback book form.

They formed Arkham House, a publishing house specialising at first in collecting the best work of H.P. Lovecraft. The first book published was The Outsider and Others (1939).

Arkham House later published stories from other writers of weird fiction including Robert E. Howard, Clark Ashton Smith, William Hope Hodgson, Robert Bloch and Ray Bradbury.

Saved from oblivion, H.P, Lovecraft would eventually be regarded as one of America’s greatest writers of horror fiction.

The World Fantasy Award statuette is a bust of H.P Lovecraft, in honour of his writing. The award is informally referred to as a Howard.

Selected Bibliography –

1917 – The Tomb
1917 – Dagon
1919 – Beyond the Wall of Sleep
1919 – The White Ship
1919 – The Doom That Came to Sarnath
1919 – The Statement of Randolph Carter
1920 – From Beyond
1921 – The Nameless City
1921 – The Other Gods
1921 – The Outsider
1922 – Herbert West – Reanimator
1922 – The Lurking Fear
1923 – The Rats in the Walls
1923 – The Unnameable
1926 – The Call of Cthulhu
1926 – Pickman’s Model
1926 – The Silver Key
1927 – The Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath
1927 – The Case of Charles Dexter Ward
1927 – The Colour Out of Space
1928 – The Dunwich Horror
1930 – The Whisperer in Darkness
1931 – At the Mountains of Madness
1931 – The Shadow Over Innsmouth
1932 – The Dreams in the Witch House
1933 – The Thing on the Doorstep
1935 – The Shadow Out of Time
1935 – The Haunter of the Dark

Movies Based on Lovecraft Stories

1963 – The Haunted Palace (The Case of Charles Dexter Ward)
1965 – Die Monster Die! (The Colour Out of Space)
1968 – Curse of the Crimson Altar (The Dreams in the Witch House)
1970 – The Dunwich Horror
1985 – Reanimator (Herbert West - Reanimator)
1986 – From Beyond
1988 – The Unnameable
1993 – Necronomicon – Book of the Dead (anthology)
1994 – The Lurking Fear
2001 – Dagon (Dagon & The Shadow Over Innsmouth)
2005 – The Call of Cthulhu
2009 – The Dunwich Horror (TV)


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