I am providence the life.., p.158

I Am Providence: The Life and Times of H. P. Lovecraft (2 VOLUMES), page 158


I Am Providence: The Life and Times of H. P. Lovecraft (2 VOLUMES)

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  Foreign publications have been even more impressive. A meticulously edited four-volume edition of Lovecraft’s Tutti i racconti (1989–92), prepared by Giuseppe Lippi, is only one of several competing “collected” editions of Lovecraft’s work. In Germany, a ten-volume Gesammelte Werke (1999–2004) has appeared. A four-volume Greek collected edition (1990) has also appeared. There have been dozens of editions in Spain and Latin America, as well as in such languages as Bengali, Turkish, Hungarian, Estonian, Catalan, Portuguese, Russian, and Polish. There is no question that Lovecraft is now a figure in world literature, and is likely to remain there for some time.

  Lovecraft is remarkable in continuing to appeal on both a scholarly and a popular level. One sign of the latter is the widespread distribution of a role-playing game, The Call of Cthulhu, first issued by Chaosium, Inc. in 1981 and continuing to the present day with many additions and modifications. While it is somewhat incongruous to adapt Lovecraft’s sophisticated, atmospheric tales to the somewhat mechanical action format of a role-playing game, this venture has at least brought Lovecraft to the attention of many young people who might not otherwise have been exposed to his work. More recently, Chaosium published a number of anthologies of “Cthulhu Mythos” tales edited by Robert M. Price; Price also compiled other anthologies for another small press, Fedogan & Bremer, which also issued two volumes of pastiches of Lovecraft’s “The Shadow over Innsmouth” edited by Stephen Jones. It cannot be said that much of the material in these volumes is of towering literary value, but it at least keeps Lovecraft’s name alive. Another volume, Lovecraft’s Legacy (1990), edited by Robert E. Weinberg and Martin H. Greenberg, contains a few stories of merit. Arkham House’s James Turner produced a revised version of Derleth’s Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos (1990), following up Ramsey Campbell’s innovative New Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos (1980), and then edited the innovative anthology Cthulhu 2000 (1995). Two of the most striking recent works of Lovecraftian fiction are William Browning Spencer’s Résumé with Monsters (1995) and Donald Tyson’s enormous Alhazred (2006); the former is a complex novel of Lovecraftian obsession, and the latter is a compulsively readable biographical fantasy about the author of the Necronomicon.

  Indeed, Mythos writing has proliferated to such an extent—chiefly through such venues as Mythos Books (which has issued sound work by such writers as Stanley C. Sargent, Gary Myers, Michael Cisco, and others), Hippocampus Press (see the work of W. H. Pugmire, perhaps the leading Lovecraftian author writing today), and others—that even the otherwise censorious S. T. Joshi, whose The Rise and Fall of the Cthulhu Mythos (2008) was in part intended to inhume the more unworthy pastiches of Lovecraft’s work, was tempted to assemble Black Wings: New Tales of Lovecraftian Horror (PS Publishing, 2010). My purpose in compiling this volume—whose most notable contributions include stories by such leading contemporary writers as Caitlín R. Kiernan, Jonathan Thomas, Nicholas Royle, Laird Barron, and Michael Shea—is to present less obvious and more searching imitations or adaptations of Lovecraft’s ideas. Whether I have succeeded is for readers to determine.

  Rather less reputably, occultists of various stripes have embraced Lovecraft in the belief—already evinced by Lovecraft’s strange colleague William Lumley—that he either literally believed in the reality of Cthulhu, Yog-Sothoth, etc., or, while consciously denying such things, was tapping various mystical sources of knowledge through his subconscious. Much of this work is pathetically inaccurate and fails to take cognisance of Lovecraft’s materialist philosophy—or, rather, while taking outward cognisance of it, has a ready-made excuse for ignoring it (Lovecraft saw the truth but couldn’t admit it even to himself!). Such work begins as early as Lovecraft’s French enthusiast Jacques Bergier, who discusses Lovecraft in a work written with Louis Pauwels entitled Le Matin des magicians (1959; translated as The Morning of the Magicians). Kenneth Grant and others have traced fanciful relationships between Lovecraft and Aleister Crowley.

  The occultists have been unusually fascinated with the Necronomicon, which they refuse to believe is mythical. As if to fulfil their expectations, a man going by the name of Simon has actually written a book entitled The Necronomicon: The Book of Dead Names (1977), using one of the several false derivations of the Greek word. This book, first published in an oversize hardcover format that makes it look uncannily like a high-school yearbook, has also appeared in paperback. Not to be outdone, other individuals have issued books bearing the name Necronomicon, although most of these are conscious hoaxes. One such volume, published by Owlswick Press in 1976, purports to be the original Arabic text of the hideous tome; but in fact it consists of about three pages of Aramaic script repeated over and over again. The artist H. R. Giger has produced a spectacular collection of his art under the title Necronomicon (1977). His set designs for the science fiction film Alien (1979) are markedly Lovecraftian. The best of the fake Necronomicons is one produced under the editorship of George Hay (1978), with a long, exquisitely tongue-in-cheek introduction by Colin Wilson. This volume has been translated into French and Italian.

  One of the most interesting developments in recent years is the emergence of Lovecraft as a character in fiction. By far the best works of this kind are two by the leading Lovecraft scholar Peter Cannon. The first, Pulptime (1984), is a delightful novella in which Lovecraft, Frank Long, and the Kalems become involved with the aged Sherlock Holmes. The second, The Lovecraft Chronicles (2004), is a richly evocative work that imagines the transformation of Lovecraft’s life and career if he had actually issued a volume with Knopf in 1933. Richard A. Lupoff’s Lovecraft’s Book (1985) is substantially less interesting, being marred by a poor understanding of the details of Lovecraft’s life. Many short stories using Lovecraft as a character have also been written. The volume was presented in a radically abridged version upon first publication, and Lupoff has recently printed his unabridged text under its original title, Marblehead (2007).

  In the arcane realm of Lovecraftian humour Peter Cannon has also excelled. Scream for Jeeves (1994) is a series of three stories exquisitely mingling the styles and themes of Lovecraft and (of all people) P. G. Wodehouse. Cannon’s other works of Lovecraftian humour are collected in Forever Azathoth and Other Horrors (1999).

  Another noteworthy phenomenon is the persistent interest in Lovecraft exhibited by a select group of mainstream writers, especially those whose work is on the borderline of the fantastic. The chief figure here is Jorge Luis Borges. In his slim monograph, An Introduction to American Literature, first published in Spanish in 1967 and translated into English in 1971, Borges devoted as much space to Lovecraft as he does to Poe, Hawthorne, or Faulkner. His remarks were at times curious: “He studiously imitated the style of Poe with its sonorities and pathos, and he wrote co[s]mic nightmares [orig: “pesadillas cosmicas”].”[57] Borges then wrote a story, “There Are More Things,” subtitled “To the Memory of H. P. Lovecraft.” This appeared in the Atlantic Monthly for July 1975 and was reprinted in The Book of Sand (1977), in the afterword to which he somewhat uncharitably calls Lovecraft “an unconscious parodist of Poe.”[58] An interesting case has been made that Thomas Pynchon’s Crying of Lot 49 (1966) was in part influenced by “The Call of Cthulhu.”[59] John Updike mentions a Mr and Mrs Lovecraft in The Witches of Eastwick (1984), set in Rhode Island, and Lovecraft comes in for mention in various of Paul Theroux’s travel writings. Umberto Eco dropped a reference to Cthulhu into Foucault’s Pendulum (Italian edition 1988; English translation 1989), and includes a few more references in his Charles Eliot Norton lectures, Six Walks in the Fictional Woods (1994). Woody Allen made a joking reference to Lovecraft in a humorous piece in the New Republic for April 23, 1977 (“The Lunatic’s Tale”), while S. J. Perelman made a mention in “Is There a Writer in the House?” (New Yorker, March 20, 1978). A little more ambiguously, Gore Vidal claimed that Norman Mailer’s novel Ancient Evenings was a cross between Lovecraft and James Michener.[60] It is not clear that this remark was meant to praise any of the write
rs in question. In a sense these references seem to be made precisely because Lovecraft retains a kind of “famous obscurity”: while many readers now know his name, they know little about him; and the very citation of his name—which many, from Lovecraft’s own day to the present, have considered so piquant as to be a pseudonym—can help create an ambiance of strangeness or sardonic humour.

  Media adaptations have picked up in recent years, although their quality is very variable. After “Pickman’s Model” and “Cool Air” appeared on successive weeks in Rod Serling’s “Night Gallery” television series (December 1 and 8, 1971), little work was done for over a decade. Then, spectacularly, Stuart Gordon and Brian Yuzna released a gaudy film entitled H. P. Lovecraft’s Re-Animator (1985). Let it pass that one of Lovecraft’s worst stories was chosen for adaptation: it was only as a springboard for an entertaining, if insubstantial, display of reanimated corpses performing the most surprising activities. The film contained a considerable amount of good humour, something unfortunately lacking in its loose sequel, H. P. Lovecraft’s From Beyond (1986). But the series returned to form with Bride of Re-Animator (1990; directed by Yuzna alone), an outrageously hilarious venture that is more faithful to the original story than the first film. Gordon has gone on to adapt several other Lovecraft stories, including the oddly titled Dagon (2002), in reality an adaptation of “The Shadow over Innsmouth.” The Curse (1987), an adaptation of “The Colour out of Space” directed by David Keith, is surprisingly effective in spite of the fact that the setting has been transferred to the South. But such potboilers as The Unnamable (1988) and its several spinoffs and The Lurking Fear (1994) had best be passed over in merciful silence. Somewhat better is The Resurrected (1992), a tolerably faithful adaptation of The Case of Charles Dexter Ward.

  One striking performance is Cast a Deadly Spell, an HBO television special aired in 1991; it was initially going to be called Lovecraft. In this highly effective two-hour film, Fred Ward plays a tough private eye, H. Phil Lovecraft, who in an alternate-world Los Angeles is on the hunt for the Old Ones. Although not explicitly based on any single Lovecraft story, this program—in spite of its occasional lapses into self-parody—comes surprisingly close to capturing the essence of Lovecraft. A sequel to this telecast had very little Lovecraftian content.

  Some of the most effective “Lovecraftian” films are those that are only inspired by Lovecraft rather than based on a specific work. John Carpenter has frequently acknowledged his admiration for Lovecraft, and this is very evident in such of his films as The Fog (Rank/Avco Embassy, 1979) and The Thing (Universal, 1982). The latter draws heavily upon At the Mountains of Madness, as is fitting given that it is an adaptation of John W. Campbell’s “Who Goes There?” Carpenter’s In the Mouth of Madness (1995) is laced with Lovecraftian motifs and conceptions. The Italian directors Dario Argento and Lucio Fulci also make frequent nods to Lovecraft in their films.

  Lovecraft is now the focal point of such interest in the film community that an H. P. Lovecraft Film Festival is held annually in October in Portland, Oregon. Its organiser, Andrew Migliore, and John Strysik have compiled the splendid volume, The Lurker in the Lobby (1999; rev. ed. 2005), a comprehensive guide to Lovecraft-related films. Lurker Films has also issued a number of effective DVDs of Lovecraftian films and television segments.

  There have also been a fair number of comic book adaptations in recent years, some passable, some quite otherwise. One of the best is a fine rendering of “The Call of Cthulhu” by the British artist John Coulthart, included in the otherwise very uneven Lovecraft tribute volume, The Starry Wisdom (1994), edited by D. M. Mitchell.

  An entirely different issue of immense complexity is that of Lovecraft’s influence upon subsequent weird and science fiction. I now do not refer to actual pastiches or “Cthulhu Mythos” tales; it should be evident by now that these do not amount to much. It was Lovecraft’s bad luck to have attracted, by and large, self-styled disciples whose actual literary talents were pretty slim. And yet, although Lovecraft is now recognised as the dominant voice in American weird fiction during the first half of the century, his influence is perhaps less than one might think it to be; but the explanation for this lies not with his own work as with the tendencies in fantastic fiction since his death.

  For a variety of reasons, the pulp magazines suffered a slow death following the end of World War II. The paperback book took off at this time, and such fields as mystery fiction and science fiction did well in this new venue; for some reason, weird fiction did not. Of course, weird fiction had never been written in any great quantity, and for most of its long run Weird Tales remained the only magazine devoted solely to horror. But after the war writers largely abandoned the weird and went into the neighouring fields of mystery and science fiction instead. This is typified by Lovecraft’s two leading protégés, Robert Bloch and Fritz Leiber.

  Bloch’s stories of the 1940s continued to draw upon Lovecraft sporadically, but gradually he turned his attention to the crime or suspense story. The Scarf (1947), Psycho (1959), and The Dead Beat (1960) are what give Bloch his deservedly high place in this field, and they exhibit little if any Lovecraft influence. Later on, of course, Bloch did write an affectionate homage to Lovecraft in the short novel Strange Eons (1977), but this is an avowed pastiche and, although more substantial than some other works of its kind, does not rank high in literary merit. Bloch continued to write about Lovecraft throughout his career, but his fictional work is in many ways quite consciously un-Lovecraftian except in his absorption of Lovecraft’s strictures (expressed in his early letters) toward restraint and suggestion rather than flamboyance and excess.

  Leiber’s case is still more interesting. Although he too wrote a fine Lovecraft pastiche late in his career, “The Terror from the Depths” (1976), the Lovecraft influence manifests itself much more subtly in the rest of his work. Several stories in his first collection, Night’s Black Agents (1947), utilise Lovecraftian themes, but in such a way that they remain Leiber’s own work. “The Sunken Land” is influenced by several Lovecraft stories, but chiefly “The Call of Cthulhu”; “Diary in the Snow” reflects some conceptions from “The Shadow out of Time” and “The Whisperer in Darkness”; even Leiber’s famous “Smoke Ghost” may be drawn in part from Lovecraft’s conception of Nyarlathotep. The novel Conjure Wife (1953) might perhaps be thought to reflect “The Dreams in the Witch House” in its “updating” of the witchcraft theme, but the relation is quite tenuous. In effect, Leiber has learnt much by Lovecraft’s example, and in his early career he was perhaps so saturated with Lovecraft’s work that some elements emerged subconsciously. None of these tales can by any stretch of the imagination be called pastiches; they are emphatically original, but with key elements borrowed or adapted from Lovecraft.

  But beyond this, there is little concrete influence of Lovecraft upon later work in the field. This is largely because weird writers chose to go into a very different direction from the visionary cosmicism of Lovecraft, Machen, and Blackwood. The emphasis became focused upon the mundane, and the incursion of the weird into an ordinary scenario. In some cases this resulted in utter flatness and lack of imagination; but in the best writers it produced work that was very close to the better mainstream work. Perhaps the leading American writer of weird fiction of the 1940s and 1950s—although she was never considered a “horror writer”—was Shirley Jackson (1916–1965), but neither her short stories nor her novels (notably The Haunting of Hill House, 1959) exhibit the least trace of Lovecraftian influence. Both Charles Beaumont or Richard Matheson, two other significant figures of this period, surely read Lovecraft (Beaumont wrote the screenplay to The Haunted Palace), but their work too reveals few traces of Lovecraft. In England, Robert Aickman’s superb “strange stories” of the 1960s and 1970s owe almost nothing to Lovecraft, but are in the tradition of the British ghost story of M. R. James and the psychological ghost story of Walter de la Mare and L. P. Hartley.

  When the “horror boom” bega
n in the 1970s, its most popular practitioner, Stephen King, brought Lovecraft back to the forefront with such stories as “Jerusalem’s Lot” (in Night Shift, 1978), an avowed pastiche. King’s other novels and tales drop references to Lovecraft from time to time, and he has spoken of him with tolerable kindness in his informal critical survey of the field, Danse Macabre (1981); but the whole tenor of King’s work—with its emphasis on family relationships, very conventional supernaturalism (much of it derived from previous works in the field, movies, and comic books), and psychological aberrations—is antipodal to Lovecraft. The other bestselling writers—Clive Barker, Peter Straub, Anne Rice—similarly owe little to Lovecraft, although Rice’s The Tale of the Body Thief (1992) explicitly cites “The Thing on the Doorstep” and may have been partly inspired by it. Straub wrote an avowed take-off of “The Dunwich Horror” in the novel Mr. X (1999), but it is at best an indifferent success.

  Ramsey Campbell’s later work shows traces of Lovecraft, especially such novels as The Hungry Moon (1986), Midnight Sun (1990), and The Darkest Part of the Woods (2002). But Campbell’s vision, too, is generally lacking in cosmicism, and his dominant work is emphatically oriented toward the anomalies inherent in neurosis (in this sense the chilling non-supernatural novel The Face That Must Die [1979] is his most characteristic work, and one of his best) or in the complexities of human relationships, which Campbell treats with a deftness and sensitivity far superior to the maudlin sentimentalism of King. And yet, Campbell has recently assembled all the Lovecraft-inspired tales written over his entire career in Cold Print (1993);[61] it is a surprisingly large volume.

  One of the most interesting cases is T. E. D. Klein. As a senior at Brown University he wrote a penetrating if discursive honours thesis on Lovecraft and Lord Dunsany, then went on to write some of the most distinguished weird fiction of his generation. Such works as “The Events at Poroth Farm” (1972) and its novel-length expansion, The Ceremonies (1984), have a pervasive but very attenuated Lovecraft influence while remaining emphatically Klein’s own work. Klein retains an admiration for Lovecraft, but his only avowed “Cthulhu Mythos” tale is “Black Man with a Horn” (in Campbell’s New Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos), a powerful piece of work that is much more Klein than Lovecraft. His lack of productivity in recent years is one of the tragedies of modern weird fiction. Another writer who has sadly fallen silent is Thomas Ligotti, whose “The Last Feast of Harlequin” (published in 1990 but written many years earlier) is a striking evocation of Lovecraft; other of Ligotti’s works also feature a persistent if nebulous Lovecraftian undercurrent, but this most distinctive of contemporary horror writers incorporates Lovecraft as one of many influences in his work, which nonetheless remains profoundly and hallucinatingly original.

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