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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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    • Steve Lensman profile imageAUTHOR

      Steve Lensman 

      7 years ago from Manchester, England

      The guy loved to write, thanks again for the info Donovan I've amended the text on this hub to "up to 84,000 letters".

      Anyone interested in reading a lot more about H.P. Lovecraft should check out Donovans excellent award-winning website The H.P. Lovecraft Archive. It is packed with links and in-depth info.

    • profile image

      Donovan K. Loucks 

      7 years ago

      Remember that Lovecraft didn't have a normal job like the rest of us. Also note that many of his "letters" were actually postcards, though Lovecraft managed to write more on a postcard than most people would write in a normal letter. He even had postmen require that he pay double postage because he'd write in the address area or the front of the card, squeezing every last bit of space out of many cards.

      "L. Sprague de Camp (Lovecraft: A Biography [1975]) casually estimated a figure of 100,000, but this is probably too high. HPL stated in 1936 that he wrote 5 to 10 letters per day (SL 5.369); if we assume that he maintained this ratio over his literary career (1914-36), we arrive at 42,000 to 84,000 letters. Given that HPL was probably not considering the vast numbers of postcards he wrote during his travels, the total figure is probably closer to the higher than the lower amount." (An H.P. Lovecraft Encyclopedia, p. 144)

    • Steve Lensman profile imageAUTHOR

      Steve Lensman 

      7 years ago from Manchester, England

      Thaks for the corrections Donovan, much appreciated. The funny thing about the amount of letters is that I had first put it at 87,000 letters which seemed highly unlikely to me and I dropped it to 30,000 which is what some sources were printing, now you're saying it may be more than 100,000. Thinking about that for a moment he died aged 46 when could he have had the time to write over 100,000 letters and write stories too?

    • profile image

      Donovan K. Loucks 

      7 years ago

      Overall, a fairly good overview of Lovecraft's life. However, there are a few errors I'd like to point out. The opening quote from Lovecraft is abridged; it should say, "The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown."

      Lovecraft's father died when Lovecraft was seven years old, not eight. Lovecraft's estimated output of letters goes well beyond the stated 30,000 to 75,000 or even 100,000, though only about 20,000 survive. Although Lovecraft did die on 15 March 1937, he was 46, not 47 (a common error).

      But the most troubling error is the "black magic" quote which was debunked by David E. Schultz 25 years ago. Here's more information on that myth:

    • Steve Lensman profile imageAUTHOR

      Steve Lensman 

      7 years ago from Manchester, England

      Hi Bruce, what the date thing means is he would write down say 1731 instead of 1931, something like that. Either a joke or he wishes it was the past.

      I watched Reanimator many times in my video days, great gory fun. The British censors cut it to pieces but we managed to get hold of an uncut copy from the US later on.

      I should have mentioned that Lovecraft and Poe wrote hundreds of poems too. I'm so forgetful. ;)

      Thanks for commenting. I suppose I'll have to do one on Poe one of these days.

      Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,

      Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore,

      While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,

      As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.

      "'Tis some visitor," I muttered, "tapping at my chamber door -

      Only this, and nothing more."

    • Cogerson profile image


      7 years ago from Virginia

      Nice job Steve. I was not familiar with the term Cthulhu Mythos before but it sounds perfect when describing his work. When you wrote... "Some letters he would date 200 years earlier than the actual date." I do not understand what this means.

      As for his work, I have to admit I am only familiar with the movies that are based on his writings. But I love Re-Animator especially Jeffrey Combs. I will have to check out Die Monster Die! which stars one of your favorites Boris Karloff.

      Another winning hub for your collection...voted up and interesting. Nice collection of movie poster art.

    • Steve Lensman profile imageAUTHOR

      Steve Lensman 

      7 years ago from Manchester, England

      Breen, rabbit75, Philbert, Flora, thanks for visiting my unearthly hub of weirdness, your comments are appreciated.

      Reading about Lovecraft was fascinating, one article referred to the Lovecraft family as an Usher-like clan touched by madness. Lovecraft had similarities with Conan creator Robert E. Howard, they were both dreamers, oddballs and both were devoted mama's boys, except Lovecraft didn't blow his brains out when his mother died, he got married instead.

      Breen that bit with the 87,000 letters seems unlikely, who was counting? Did he have time to write any stories?

      rabbit75, I like that quote too, and so true, even today with all our science and technology, deep inside us we still fear the unknown.

      Flora, glad you mentioned The Haunted Palace, the poster gives the impression that it's based on Poe but it isn't it's based on one of Lovecrafts best stories The Case of Charles Dexter Ward. But since Roger Corman had success with his previous Poe movies he still used his name here. I think there is a quote from one of Poe's stories at the beginning or end of the film, to sort of justify using his name. :)

    • FloraBreenRobison profile image


      7 years ago

      Okay. I have a confession. I have never read any Lovecraft ever. I have only ever seen The Haunted Palace for Price.

    • Phillbert profile image

      Phillip Drayer Duncan 

      7 years ago from The Ozarks

      The artwork is awesome!

    • rabbit75 profile image


      7 years ago

      A great depiction inside the creative mind of a person. Wonderfully detailed hub...I love the artwork as well as hist quote about fear to kick off this article. Once again, a job well done Steve! Voted up and interesting!

    • profile image

      Breen Bergstrome 

      7 years ago

      Another fascinating and comprehensive article...I'm not too familiar with his work and was very interested to read about him.

      87,000 letters? if he died so young how many did he write a day..creative genius at full speed!


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