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|H(oward) P(hillips) Lovecraft (1890-1937)|
American poet and author of macabre short novels, who was virtually unknown most of his career. Lovecraft's posthumous fame, particularly in America and France, rests on his 'Cthulhu Mythos' stories, referring to a "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." H.P. Lovecraft has become a cult figure in the genre of horror stories; he is considered a true successor of Edgar Allan Poe. The imaginary town of his tales, Arkham, was based on his home town of Providence.
"For after all, the victim was a writer and painter wholly devoted to the field of myth, dream, terror, and superstition, and avid in his quest for scenes and effects of a bizarre, spectral sort. His earlier stay in the city - a visit to a strange old man as deeply given to occult and forbidden lore as he - had ended amidst death and flame, and it must have been some morbid instinct which drew him back from his home in Milwaukee. He may have known of the old stories despite his statements to the contrary in the diary, and his death may have nipped in the bud some stupendous hoax destined to have a literary reflection." (from 'The Haunter Of the Dark', 1951)
Howard Phillips Lovecraft was born in Providence, Rhode Island, the son of Winfield Scott Lovecraft and Sarah Susan Phillips Lovecraft. He was of predominantly of British stock on both sides of his family, consumed by eccentricity. His mother keep his son from contact with the outside world, treated him like a girl, and made him wear his hair long until the age of six. Lovecraft's father, named after the hero Winfield Scott, was a traveling salesman, who went mad, probably from syphilis, was institutionalized; he died when his son was five.
From his childhood on, Lovecraft suffered from terrifying nightly disturbances and nightmares which lasted until his death. This deeply personal material also clinged to his stories, such as The Case of Charles Dexter Ward (1928), which also utilized real figures from history. "From a private hospital for the insane near Providence, Rhode Island, there recently disappeared an exceedingly singular person. He bore the name of Charles Dexter Ward, and was placed under restraint most reluctantly by the grieving father who had watched his aberration grow from a eccentricity to a dark mania involving both a possibility of murderous tendencies and a peculiar change in the apparent contents of his mind."
Lovecraft grew up as a fringe member of the conservative New England aristocracy. He was educated at local schools, although often he was kept away from classes by his overprotective mother. Lovecraft's poor health as a young boy led him to read voluminously from his grandfather's old library. During this time he found the works of Edgar Allan Poe, who had visited several times the library in Province; Poe became the model for his literary compositions. He also read works by Ambrose Bierce, Arthur Machen, Algernon Blackwood, M.R. James, and Lord Dunsany (1878-1957), who inspired him to write the short novel The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath (1926-27). "The most poignant sensations of my existence are those of 1896, when I discovered the Hellenic world, and of 1902, when I discovered the myriad suns and worlds of infinite space," Lovecraft once said to his friend.
In his early career Lovecraft struggled to assimilate all these literary influences he encountered, finding his own voice after years of writing. At the New York Public Library he spent three days reading E.T.A. Hoffmann, but found him dull. Blackwood's 'The Willows' he regarded as the single greatest weird story ever written, followed by Machen's 'The White People.' According to Lovecraft, in a true weird tale, "a certain atmosphere of breathless and unexplainable dread of outer, unknown forces must be present; and there must be a hint, expressed with a seriousness and portentousness becoming its subject, of that most terrible conception of the human brain - a malign and particular suspension or defeat of those fixed laws of Nature which are our only safeguard against the assaults of chaos and the daemons of unplumbed space."
After two and half years of high school, Lovecraft had a "nervous collapse" and his formal education ended, without a diploma. However, he was fascinated by science and by the age of 16 he wrote on astronomy for local newspapers. In 1917, he made an attempt to enlist in Rhode Island National Guard and later in the U.S. Army, but he was rejected through his mother's influence. By 27, Lovecraft still lived at home, writing gloomy tales for amateur journals. The publisher of Weid Tales magazine, Clark Henneberger, become interested in the work of the Rhode Island hermit, a character not far from his stories, and published 'Dragon' in the Octobor 1923 issue. Henneberger bought everything he wrote. For Harry Houdini, the famous magician who "contributed" to the magazine, Lovecraft ghostwrote 'Imprisoned with the Pharaohs' (1924). Eventually Lovecraft was offered the job of editor at Weird Tales, but he turned the offer down.
Lovecraft's mother died in 1921 at Butler Hospital - at the same insane asylum as his father. Lovecraft then continued to live with his two aunts. His marriage in 1924 with Sonia Greene, who was seven years his senior, lasted only until 1926. Sonia was a Jew and she has recalled that her husband hated Jewish immigrants and other minority groups, but he was an "adequately excellent lover." Married life did not suit to Lovecfraft, who was devoted to books and had an unusually low sex drive. To Sonia, who never managed to "cure" Lovecraft of his racism, he raged at the foreign elements in the streets of New York City. When Sonia was not willing to carry on a marriage by correspondance and pressed for a divorce, Lovecraft argued that a gentleman does not divorce his wife without cause. Eventually in his testimony Lovecraft said that his wife had deserted him. Sonia subsequently married Dr Nathaniel Davis of Los Angeles.
After two miserable year in New York, a city which provided him an example of the disintegration of society, "a babel of sound and filth," Lovecraft moved back to Providence, where he spent the rest of his life with his aunts. From 1926 to 1933 his home was at 10 Barnes Street on a house built around 1880.
Social contacts Lovecraft maintained mainly by mail - his letters to Clark Ashton Smith (1893-1961) alone averaged about 40,000 words a year. While still in his thirties, he began referring to himself as an "old gentleman" and signing his letters as "Grandpa". L. Sprague de Camp has claimed in Lovecraft: A Biography (1975) that the author wrote over 1000,000 letters. Lovecraft's circle of correspondents included also the writer Robert Bloch, perhaps best known for the novel Psycho (film version by Alfred Hitchcock). In the apartment of Samuel Loveman in New York he met briefly Hart Crane, who had just published The Bridge, noticing that "yet at the very crest of his fame he is on the verge of psychological, physical, & financial disintegration, & with no certainty of ever having the inspiration to write a major work of literature again."
"Nyarlathotep is a nightmare - an actual phantasm of my own, with the first paragraph written before I fully awakened. I had been feeling execrably of late - whole weeks have passed without relief from head-ache..." (from Lovecraft by Lin Carter, 1972)
After gaining some success as a writer, Lovecraft started to travel. His later tales show that he was beginning to outgrow from the genre of horror in the direction of science fiction - such pieces as 'The Color Out of Space' and 'The Shadow Out of Time' were first published in science fiction magazines. Lovecraft died from a combination of intestinal cancer and Bright's disease on March 15, 1937. He was buried in the family plot in the Swan Point Cemetary. Lovecraft's friends August Derleth and Donald Wandrei set up in 1939 a publishing house for his work, Arkham House, and the author's books have remained in print ever since. The Outsider and Others (1939), which was the first publication from Arkham House, contains his most memorable stories.
Most of Lovecraft's short fiction appeared in the magazine Weird Tales, beginning in 1923. His works from the early phase include 'The Tomb,' 'The Statement of Randolph Carter,' 'The Outsider,' 'The Rats in the Walls,' 'The Shunned House,' 'From Beyond,' and 'Cool Air,' all written with more or less conventional scenarios. Often there is a first-person narrator, who is a scientist or scholar and who witnesses events that contradict his beliefs and completely change his view of the world. "Trouble with memory. I see things I never knew before. Other worlds and other galaxies... Dark... The lightning seems dark and the darkness seems light..." (from 'The Haunter of the Dark') Going gradually insane, Lovecfaft's characters must face ultimatre horrors, prepared or not: "The end is near. I hear a noise at the door, as of some immense slippery body lumbering against it. It shall not find me. God, that hand! The window! The window!" (from 'Dragon,' 1919)
After returning to his native Providence, Lovecraft became interested in his own New England heritage, evoking its topography, history, and society. This period produced such stories as 'The Colour out of Space,' 'The Dunwich Horror,' 'The Shadow over Innsmouth,' 'The Thing on the Doorstep,' 'The Dreams in the Witch House.' Many tales utilize a pseudo-mythical framework, termed the 'Cthulhu Mythos.' The first installment in the series, 'The Call of Cthulhu,' a narrative-within-anarrative, appeared in the February 1928 issue of Weird Tales. In this complex story he created his basic myth of the Old Ones and Elder Race, which wandered on earth long before the appearance of Homo Sapiens. They are not "real" gods by nature, but extraterrestials. Cthulhu was a being that had come from the depths space and was buried in the sunken city of R'lyeh.
'The Dunwich Horror' was partly inspired by Lovecraft's trip to western Massachusetts in the area of Athol. He tranformed it into the home of decadent Wheateleys. In the story cycle, humans are hapless victims, not important for the incomprehensible cosmic forces. The view was based on his philosophical idea of "cosmicism", the insignificance of all human affairs in the vastness of the universe. Religion Lovecraft had rejected early; he was an atheist, who used Christian and other myths and images, among others the scene of the crucifixion. "He hated modern civilization, particularly in its confident belief in progress and science," wrote Colin Wilson in The Strength to Dream, 1962.
For further reading: Lovecraft: A Look Behind the Cthulhu Mythos by Lin Carter (1972); Lovecraft: A Biography by L. Sprague De Camp (1975; H.P. Lovecraft: An Annotated Bibliography by S.T. Joshi (1981); H.P. Lovecraft: A Critical Study by Donald R. Burleson (1983); Howard Phillips Lovecraft: The Books, Addenda and Auxiliary by Joseph Bell (1983); Lovecraft: A Study in the Fantastic by Maurice Lévy (1988); Lovecraft: A Life by S.T. Joshi (1996); The Encyclopedia of Fantasy, eds. John Clute and John Grant (1997); Clive Baker's A-Z of Horror (1997); Horror, Ghost & Gothic Writers, ed. David Pringle (1998); A Cthulhu Mythos Bibliography & Concordance by Chris Jarocha-Ernst (1999); The Philosophy of H.P. Lovecraft by Timo Airaksinen (1999); The Lurker in the Lobby: A Guide to the Cinema of H. P. Lovecraft by John Strysik (2000); An H P Lovecraft Encyclopedia by S. T. Joshi, David E. Schultz (2001); I Am Providence: The Life and Times of H. P. Lovecraft 1-2 by S.T. Joshi (2010). - H.P. LOVECRAFT IN THE MOVIES 1963-2013: THE HAUNTED PALACE, dir. Roger Corman (1963); DIE, MONSTER, DIE! / MONSTER OF TERROR, dir. Daniel Haller (1965); THE SHUTTERED ROOM, dir. David Greene (1966); CURSE OF THE CRIMSON ALTAR, dir. Vernon Sewell (1968); THE DUNWICH HORROR, dir. Daniel Haller (1969); EQUINOX, dir. Mark McGee and Jack Woods (1969); THE BEYOND, dir. Lucio Fulci (1981); RE-ANIMATOR, dir. Stuart Gordon (1985); FROM BEYOND, dir. Stuart Gordon (1986); THE CURSE, dir. David Keith (1987); PULSE POUNDERS, dir. Charles Band (1988); THE UNNAMABLE, dir. Jean-Paul Oulette (1988); BRIDE OF RE-ANIMATOR, dir. Brian Yazna (1989); TRANSYLVANIA TWIST, dir. Jim Wynorski (1989); CAST A DREADLY SPELL, dir. Martin Campbell (1991); THE RESURRECTED, dir. Dan O'Bannion (1991); CTHULHU MANSION, dir. J.P. Simon (1992); THE UNNAMABLE RETURNS, dir. Jean-Paul Oulette (1992); BEYOND THE WALL OF SLEEP, dir. Hervé Hachuel (1993); NECRONOMICON, dir. Brian Yuzna, Christopher Gans, and Shu Kaneko (1993); IN THE MOUTH OF MADNESS, dir. John Carpenter (1994); LURKING FEAR, dir. Courtney Joyner (1994); CASTLE FREAK, dir. Stuart Gordon (1995); BLEEDERS, dir. Peter Svatek (1997); COOL AIR, dir. Bryan Moore (1999); CHILEAN GOTHIC, dir. Ricardo Harrington (2000); DAGON, dir. Stuart Gordon (2001); THE MUSIC OF ERICA ZANN, dir. Jeremy Hechler (2002); THE DREAM-QUEST OF UNKNOWN KADATH, dir. Edward Martin III (2003); LA CASA SFUGGITA, dir. Ivan Zuccon(2003); STRANGE AEONS: THE THING ON THE DOORSTEP, dir. Eric Morgret (2005); BEYOND THE WALL OF SLEEP, dir. Barrett J. Leigh, Thom Maurer (2006); COOL AIR, dir. Albert Pyun (2006); CHILL, dir. Serge Rodnunsky (2007); CTHULHU, dir. Dan Gildark (2007); THE TOMB, dir. Ulli Lommel (2007); THE WHISPER IN DARKNESS, dir. Matt Hundley (2007); BEYOND THE DUNWICH HORROR, dir. Richard Griffin (2008); COLOUR FROM THE DARK, dir. Ivan Zuccon (2008); PICKMAN'S MUSE, dir. Robert Cappelletto (2010); THE WHISPER IN DARKNESS, dir. Sean Branney (2011); THE CURSE OF YIG, dir. Paul von Stoetzel (2011); AT THE MOUNTAINS OF MADNESS, dir. Guillermo del Toro (2013)
Principal Cthulhu Mythos stories:
August Derleth wrote many stories based on fragmentary texts by Lovecraft, including novels: