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H.P. Lovecraft and his Outsiders

Updated on August 13, 2018
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H.P. Lovecraft is widely regarded as the most influential writer in the modern horror sub-genre. His main influences were Poe and Dunsany.

Lovecraft's troubled life

The literature of H.P. Lovecraft does appeal to the outsider. It is neither by chance, nor solely due to choice; while Lovecraft did explain – in his many epistles to fellow-writers – that he aimed to covertly make his narrative have a partly hypnotic effect on the reader, by use of subtlety and suggestion, he is greatly successful in portraying characters who are loners perhaps not primarily due to style but more crucially due to his own experience as a recluse.

His solitary years – ending only with his marriage – have been well-documented, and any avid reader of his will certainly be aware of how he spent most of his life as a lonely figure; and even isolated himself fully from the outside world for the better part of a decade, only to slowly begin forming some relations when he started producing work as an amateur journalist.

And while many of his characters have both introverted and extroverted elements; we see the insulated misanthrope, who also shows the readiness of the man of the world; or a fusion of the scholar and the gentleman-adventurer; the most notably autobiographical depictions, accounts of his own years as a recluse, are to be found in the figures of cultists or other pariahs who, in his stories, are always associated with the dreaded Elder Gods...

H.P. Lovecraft
H.P. Lovecraft

While many of his characters have both introverted and extroverted elements [...] the most notably autobiographical depictions, accounts of his own years as a recluse, are to be found in the figures of cultists or other pariahs.

The Hybrids

Lovecraft's actual Bestiary is far more populous than the ranks of those characters of his who are part-human and part-monster... Yet it can be argued that it is in their group where we find the paradigmatic presentation of a loner. They often act as antagonists to the main character of the story, while at other times they are themselves the protagonist – a good example of the latter case is found in Lovecraft’s famous early story, The Outsider, while a notable character belonging to the former category is Wilbur Whately, in The Dunwich Horror.

It is their very nature of a hybrid, that distances those characters from the realm of humanity... They literally cannot be part of it, and are forever banished to the shadowy world between actual society and the unspeakable places where their dark origins lie. They can only dwell in the (either literal, or metaphorical; and at times both) catacombs and labyrinths of that intermediate location which belongs neither to the human domain nor to the actual primordial reign of the beings which influence and inspire them, and which can be largely argued to represent the unknown depths of the human psyche. And that origin of theirs isn't by chance tied to madness; let us recall that H.P. Lovecraft had reason to form a very intense theory about what “madness” is, given that his own father died in a mental asylum.

They can only dwell in the (either literal, or metaphorical; and at times both) catacombs and labyrinths of that intermediate location which belongs neither to the human domain nor to the actual primordial reign of the beings which influence and inspire them, and which can be largely argued to represent the unknown depths of the human psyche.

The Outsider

The Outsider is one of Lovecraft’s most characteristic works. The protagonist tries, with all his powers – both mental and physical – to reach out to society. He is trapped in a dark castle, yet manages in the end to find his way out. Sadly his reward for all his troubles shall be the revelation that he never could hope to become part of human society; because his form – something he wasn’t at all aware of up to the moment it became painfully evident – is that of a monster, despised by all humans! Therefore his journey is both one of self-understanding, but also of actual defeat in the goal he set for himself, and which had been to become accepted by others, and to be like those others.

The story concludes with the nameless being, the Outsider, coming to terms with his nature, and sinking back to the worlds where his own kind still has affairs to pursue; leading a life entirely different from that of a human.

A drawing of "The Outsider", in Lovecraft's tale.
A drawing of "The Outsider", in Lovecraft's tale.

The protagonist tries, with all his powers – both mental and physical – to reach out to society. He is trapped in a dark castle, yet manages in the end to find his way out. Sadly his reward for all his troubles shall be the revelation that he never could hope to become part of human society.

Wilbur Whately

Wilbur begins his life in a somewhat better position than the Outsider; or at least he is aware of being different from humans, and moreover seems to not aspire to become part of their society. He is also a hybrid, but one that retains mostly the human form; and therefore he can pass for a human – although he is regarded as a hideously ugly-looking young man. He isn’t just an ugly human, though: a part of his body, almost always covered by clothing, is full of alien protrusions and organs of repugnant form.

Despite these dreadful elements, and his consequently diminished ability to live like others, Wilbur has managed to educate himself, and expresses his thoughts with eloquence. His thoughts, of course, are focused on the world of horror that his father reigns over. And his father is the fearful Yog-Sothoth: an ancient demonic being and one of the main deities in Lovecraft’s Pantheon.

Wilbur acts as a scholar, is careful with what he says when talking to people, speaks softly and keeps to himself, trying to be as polite as possible. But he still causes alarm, and rises suspicion. People don’t want to be around him. Dogs hate him. His end is terrible; attacked and killed by dogs, the scholar is doomed by beings of even lesser intellect than their masters…

A drawing of Wilbur Whately.
A drawing of Wilbur Whately. | Source

The way of the misanthrope

One has to assume that, much like Lovecraft had done for so many years, Wilbur would also already identify those other humans, those "masters", as intellectually inferior to himself, and therefore be acutely misanthropic – but still would need to fear them and keep his distance, because he had in his immediate family a being tainted by madness, and such a freakish existence could never quite allow for anything resembling even a partly normal way of life for this unhappy loner...

© 2018 Kyriakos Chalkopoulos

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