by Tristan Mabee
Howard Phillips Lovecraft found little fame in life, but his creations were nevertheless destined to become pop culture icons. It seems today one can barely escape a reference to one of his tales. From a Black Sabbath song, to the Doctor Who episode “The Snowmen,” the world H.P. Lovecraft created continues to live on today. The man is dead, yet his work and his contributions are still alive and well nearly a century later.
There is reason for his popularity: reading his fiction is a unique experience I highly recommend. The detail and background behind the beings and Elder Gods he creates within his texts, while still leaving the true nature and existence of such things vague, is done expertly by Lovecraft. As far as I have read, no one has surpassed him in this discipline either. His horror feels unique, due partly to the way the majority of horror today is presented. Horror today generally has become dulled by repetitive tropes and techniques, where Lovecraft’s old style of slow and unbeatable cycles beyond human control or influence helps create a kind of fear many modern creators seem to have forgotten or ignore. Certainly, there is a downside to this style: many times it’s not really scary, at least not when reading the text itself. Where going to a movie theater today may result in an edge-of-one’s-seat experience, Lovecraft's horror works to scar and twist the mind of its readers, making them distrust not only the world around them, but even their own senses.
However, this effect only happens after reading a good deal of his work; in all honesty the first few tales were somewhat difficult to become invested in. The overarching themes of hopelessness and inescapable terror, often brought on by things out of human control, take time to permeate into the reader’s mind. Unnamable gods beyond understanding or sympathizing become fleshed out over time, and the reader slowly learns the horrid motives and shapes of these beings.
Despite only being roughly set in the same universe, the overall theme of hopelessness and inescapable fates touches the reader deeply. Due to the weirdness and slowness of his horror, few people are willing to sink their time into the endeavor of reading his horror. Being one of those people, I understand why he still has a large cult following even today because his work is really enjoyable and genuinely terrifying.
When considering H. P. Lovecraft, it is impossible to ignore the racism that populates much of his work. Many of the antagonists and evil cultists are of mixed race or foreigners, while in contrast his heroes were often described as being New Englanders. Outside of his fiction, Lovecraft’s essays and commentary are filled with bigoted ideas and his sympathy with Fascism. This is an important discussion modern readers are currently having with authors like Lovecraft. Is it possible to separate the author’s work and all the quality aspects of their stories from their bigoted views and the writing influenced by it?
In the case of Lovecraft, despite the racism of his stories, his genre of horror has inspired countless authors including those belonging to groups he despised. Authors like Silvia Moreno-Garcia and Victor LaValle have given their own take on Lovecraftian horror, often improving certain aspects of it. Despite Lovecraft’s views, there is value to his work and the genre that he helped define. With Lovecraft it seems that, despite his racist sentiments, his contributions to horror fiction and weird fiction are too important to ignore.