Thursday, August 20, 2015

In Memory of H.P. Lovecraft Who Today Would Be 125 If He Were Still Alive

When interviewing writers and artists I am often interested in a person's influences. What we respond to, what resonates with us, can be useful for understanding or revealing who we are, or who we aspire to be.

I've often shared how Hemingway's stories so moved me that I studied them with the aim of learning how to write with greater force. When it came to the subject matter, Argentine Jorge Luis Borges became the writer whose stories most enthralled me.

But when I reflect on my earliest efforts at writing stories while in high school, it was Edgar Allen Poe who first stimulated my imagination. The Tell-Tale Heart, The Pit and the Pendulum, The Mask of the Red Death -- these were the stories that thrilled me. And as it turns out, these were also the stories that thrilled the now venerated writer of horror fiction, H.P. Lovecraft who would be celebrating his 125th birthday were he still alive today.

Of Lovecraft, Wikipedia writes:
Howard Phillips Lovecraft (August 20, 1890 – March 15, 1937) was an American author who achieved posthumous fame through his influential works of horror fiction. Virtually unknown and only published in pulp magazines before he died in poverty, he is now regarded as one of the most significant 20th-century authors in his genre.

As influential as he has been, he didn't make the cut to be included in Barron's 501 Great Writers.

The themes in Lovecraft's stories included forbidden knowledge, non-human influences on humanity, fate, inherited guilt, threats to civilization and risks in a scientific era. Stephen King called him "the twentieth century's greatest practitioner of the classic horror tale" and cites Lovecraft as his single largest influence as a writer of horror fiction.*

To some extent I suspect the fascination with this genre of writing is similar to my early fascination with Hieronymus Bosch's painting of hell. We don't want to look, yet we feel compelled to. And later when I discovered Borges' labyrinths I felt I'd found a kindred spirit from a previous time.

In 1975 Borges wrote a story titled "There Are More Things" which was published in his short story collection The Book of Sand. The superbly crafted story tells of the encounter the narrator has with a monstrous extraterrestrial inhabiting an equally monstrous house. It's not written that way, though. It's about a man who has to go back to deal with an estate and discovers it has been changed in ways that frighten the builders who were hired to do the work. It's very creepy and written in that classic manner in which the narrator's curiosity gets the better of him, leading him to take unnecessary risks while the reader keeps saying, "No, don't do that. No, get out of there, go back!"

The story,, which begins with the dedication "In Memory of H. P. Lovecraft," holds many parallels with Lovecraft's stories, including descriptions of things that the mind can't quite grasp which hint at other things more fearfully alarming. The title is an allusion to Hamlet's lines "There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy" (Hamlet I.5:159–167).

Lovecraft's writing brought him neither fame nor fortune in his lifetime. Like many other writers before and since, he died poor but not forgotten.

*Wikipedia on Lovecraft

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