H. P. Lovecraft is greatly known as an American horror fiction writer. Lovecraft started generating a trend in fantasy, science fiction (sci-fi) writing. He also coined the literary terms, “cosmicism” or “cosmic horror”. Lovecraft’s works revolve around characters and circumstances like forbidden knowledge, inner search, non-humanly influences on humans, horror, guilt in the family line, fate, threats to civilization, religion, universal horrors and risks and race, class and ethnicity. Being a keen observer and student of biology, astronomy, geology, and physics Lovecraft was greatly inspired by mysteries and his own reflections of his nightmares and experiences. Lovecraft’s writings have great impact on modern popular cultures and have also influenced and inspired many of his contemporaries, such as August Derleth, Robert E. Howard, Robert Bloch, Fritz Leiber, Clive Barker, Stephen King, Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman and Mike Mignola. Various filmmakers and creative persons have often referred to Lovecraft’s writings. A psychedelic rock band got their name as H. P. Lovecraft, several computer horror adventure games are influenced heavily by Lovecraft and there have been many other influences of the American writer on culture and people.
H. P. Lovecraft Childhood
H. P. Lovecraft was born on 20 August 1890 in Providence, Rhode Island, United States to father Winfield Scott Lovecraft, a travelling salesman of jewellery and precious metals and mother Sarah Susan Phillips Lovecraft. In 1893 Lovecraft was 3 years old when his father became acutely psychotic in a Chicago hotel room while on a business trip. Winfield Scott Lovecraft was shifted to his hometown Providence in Butler Hospital where he stayed till his death in 1898.
Young Lovecraft was brought up by his mother, two of his aunts, Lillian Delora Phillips and Annie Emeline Phillips and maternal grandfather, Whipple Van Buren Phillips, an American businessman. Lovecraft was an intelligent kid and a child prodigy who could read poetry at the age of 3. He could write complete poems at the age of 6. His grandfather greatly encouraged his reading habit by gifting Lovecraft classics like ‘The Arabian Nights’, ‘Bulfinch's Age of Fable’, and children's versions of ‘The Iliad’ and ‘The Odyssey’. His interest into thing things weird were instilled by his grandfather who told him original tales of Gothic horror which worried Lovecraft’s mother greatly. He often fell ill and most of his illness are said to be psychosomatic. By 1899 he produced several hectographed publications with a limited circulation with ‘The Scientific Gazette’. He went to at Hope High School (Rhode Island), a public school. He had always suffered from nightmares and horrific dreams and most of his work has been inspired by his night terrors.
In 1904 Lovecraft’s grandfather died leaving his life shattered and changing his family’s financial conditions. His grandfather’s finances and family estates were subjected to mismanagement thus his family became poor and moved to smaller accommodations at Angell Street.
Lovecraft wrote certain amount of fiction during his youth but most of his creative pursuit from 1908 until 1913 surrounded around poetry. He was a lonely young man having no contact with anyone except for his mother. However, he engaged himself in a debate when he posted a letter to ‘The Argosy’, a pulp magazine, complaining about the flat nature of the love stories written by one of the publication's popular writers. This debate was spotted by Edward F. Daas, President of the United Amateur Press Association (UAPA), who invited Lovecraft to join them in 1914. It was with UAPA’s insistence that Lovecraft wrote and submitted many poems and essays. In 1917 Lovecraft was urged by many of his correspondents to resume writing fiction to which he rightly obliged coming up with greatly polished stories like “The Tomb” and “Dagon”. Dagon was published as Lovecraft’s first professional work in November 1919 by The Vagrant publication. Lovecraft connected with many correspondents. He sought several notable correspondents like Robert Bloch, Clark Ashton Smith and Robert E. Howard.
In 1919 Lovecraft’s mother was admitted to Butler Hospital, much like her husband, after suffering from severe bouts of depression and hysteria. However, all this while she never stopped writing letters to Lovecraft. She died on 24 May 1921 (due to complications arising out of gall bladder surgery) leaving Lovecraft all alone (he was very close to his mother all his life) and devastated.
A few weeks passed after his mother’s death when Lovecraft went to attend an amateur journalist convention in Boston, Massachusetts where he came across Sonia Greene who was 7 years older to him and of Ukrainian-Jewish descent. In 1924 Lovecraft married Sonia before moving into Chris Tompkins' apartment in Brooklyn with her. Although Lovecraft was interested to stay in New York, he faced financial struggles. His family (aunts) was unhappy with his alliance with Greene as she was a business owner having a hat shop to her name. Lovecraft had no work to sustain his family and Greene moved to Cleveland for employment, also losing her hat shop and suffering from poor health. While living in the Red Hook neighbourhood of Brooklyn all by himself, Lovecraft started hating New York intensely. He could not come to terms with his life, neither could he get any work for himself and his sense of failure made him write the short story “The Horror at Red Hook” on 1 or 2nd August 1925 which was published in the January 1927 issue of Weird Tales. Lovecraft lived a life separated from his wife and after living separately for some more years the couple agreed to an amicable divorce which never got completed. He returned to Providence and started living with his aunts.
Work and Influences
Lovecraft is greatly known for his horror fiction writing, especially The “Cthulhu Mythos” which is also known as the “Lovecraft Mythos” was the concept of a shared fictional universe which also has fictional elements like places, names and entities. Popular cultures have referred and borrowed from Lovecraft’s works. Several notable writers like Stephen King, Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman and Mike Mignola and many of his contemporary authors like August Derleth, Robert E. Howard, Robert Bloch and Fritz Leiber have been inspired by Lovecraft’s works. Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges wrote his short story "There Are More Things" in memory of Lovecraft. Contemporary French writer Michel Houellebecq wrote a literary biography of Lovecraft called H. P. Lovecraft: Against the World, Against Life. Prolific American writer Joyce Carol Oates wrote an introduction for a collection of Lovecraft stories. The Library of America published a volume of Lovecraft's work in 2005, essentially declaring him a canonical American writer.
In the music world there are great many examples of Lovecraft’s influences. The psychedelic rock band H. P. Lovecraft (who shortened their name to Lovecraft and then Love Craft in the 1970s) released the H. P. Lovecraft and H. P. Lovecraft II albums in 1967 and 1968 respectively, Metal band Metallica recorded a song, “The Call of Cthulhu”, a song based on “The Shadow Over Innsmouth” titled “The Thing That Should Not Be”, and a song based on Frank Belknap Long's “The Hounds of Tindalos”, titled “All Nightmare Long”, Black Sabbath's "Behind the Wall of Sleep" which appeared on their 1970 debut album and is based on Lovecraft's short story “Beyond the Wall of Sleep” and The Darkest of the Hillside Thickets whose entire repertoire is Lovecraft-based.
The gaming world has also been influenced by Lovecraft. The role-playing game “Call of Cthulhu” has been in print for 30 years, computer horror adventure games like Alone in the Dark, Chzo Mythos, Eternal Darkness: Sanity's Requiem, Sherlock Holmes: The Awakened, Amnesia: The Dark Descent, Dead Space, "Splatterhouse" and the Penumbra series are heavily influenced by Lovecraft.
Themes in his Work
Lovecraft’s stories have various themes and concepts. One of the most central themes in most of his works is that of forbidden knowledge. His critics and biographers often refer to Lovecraft’s hatred and failure making way for the reflection of these themes in his works. In most of his works, the search for forbidden knowledge drives many of the main characters, either filling the seeker with regret from what they have learned, destroying them psychically, or completely destroying the person who holds the knowledge. Lovecraft refers to certain beings that have human servants like the ‘Cthulhu’ which is worshiped under various names by cults amongst both the Eskimos of Greenland and voodoo circles of Louisiana, and in many other parts of the world. Many of the mythos in his stories were too powerful to be defeated by human opponents, and so horrific that direct knowledge of them meant insanity for the victim. He also used ideas of guilt in his works like crimes in a bloodline that never escape the descendants. Fate is another important factor that has often found its place with the protagonists in Lovecraft’s works.
The most controversial theme used by Lovecraft is racism. He did not hold all White people in high regard, but rather he held English people and people of English descent above all others. In many of his writings he had argued on a strong colour line for the purpose of preserving race and culture. He had adjusted his views toward the end of his life as he began to travel more and contacted many people who were from diverse ethnic backgrounds.
Lovecraft’s fictional writing had Misotheism which repeatedly found its place in his works. He was an atheist in his early life. Most of his protagonists were educated men favouring the claims of the physical sciences over those of scripture.
Lovecraft also loved including the risk factors involved in a scientific era. He often portrayed the growing gap of man's understanding of the universe as a potential for horror. In March 1927 Lovecraft wrote ‘The Colour Out of Space’, a short story that spoke of the inability of science to comprehend a contaminated meteorite leads to horror.
Later Years and Death
Lovecraft stayed in Providence till the end of his days. He lived at 10 Barnes Street until 1933. He wrote ‘The Case of Charles Dexter Ward’ a short novel in early 1927. His stay in Providence in his later years turned out to be his most productive years in terms of creativity. He wrote a horror novella, ‘At the Mountains of Madness’ in February/March 1931. During this time Lovecraft worked on many publications as a ghost writer. “The Mound” is a novella H. P. Lovecraft had written as a ghost-writer from December 1929 to January 1930. “Under the Pyramids” also published as “Entombed with the Pharaohs” and “Imprisoned with the Pharaohs” was another short story (ghost written) created by author H. P. Lovecraft in February 1924.
Lovecraft often referred himself as a “New Deal Democrat”. He was a great supporter of Franklin Delano Roosevelt and he kept “moderately socialist” political views.
As a great writer Lovecraft never could se wealth and money in his life. He had to move to cheap lodgings. In 1936 he was diagnosed with cancer of the intestine and he also suffered from Bright's disease and malnutrition. He lived his final years in great pain. He died on 15 March 1937 in Providence.