Fans of H.P. Lovecraft May Not Want To Read This

This week I was thinking of something I read somewhere, that much of what we think of as “Lovecraftian” doesn’t really come from the works of Lovecraft. It’s true. Most of his work is not horror fiction as we think of it; his style has that ring to it, but the plots tend to be be of different genres.

Most of his major work is really more science fiction. The rest is a mix of weird Gothic, some is dark fantasy, and, sure, some is just horror. But he jumps around, blends genres, and covers his main body of work under the very broad umbrella of speculative fiction.

Basically, he’s Dean Koontz.

There, I said it. Let the rioting begin.

 

 

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Elric the Existential Emperor

Elric_of_MelniboneThe Elric saga is a masterpiece of dark fantasy, a sword and sorcery epic that aches in existential angst, more indebted to Lovecraft than to Tolkien.

The first volume in the cycle, Elric of Melniboné, introduces us to the melancholy emperor Elric, a skeletal albino whose keen mind makes him a poor fit for the ancient kingdom of superhuman savages he rules.

We follow him on a quest to thwart a usurpation of his throne and rescue a blood-relative damsel in distress (an influence on George R.R. Martin, perhaps), while growing in power so much that an expanding epic is practically demanded by the denouement.

Even more audacious than the stark story itself is the pervasively dour prose, an exercise in contorted anguish, a French philosopher scribbling in the gloom after watching Reservoir Dogs:

And Elric stepped into a shadow and found himself in a world of shadows.  He turned, but the shadow through which he had entered now faded and was gone.  Old Aubec’s sword was in Elric’s hand, the black helm and the black armour were upon his body and only these were familiar, for the land was dark and gloomy as if contained in a vast cave whose walls, though invisible, were oppressive and tangible.  And Elric regretted the hysteria, the weariness of brain, which had given him the impulse to obey his patron demon Arioch and plunge through the Shade Gate.  But regret was useless now, so he forgot it.

A Game of Thrones

During Spring Break, I was reading A Game of Thrones while standing in line with my family for a ride at Disneyland.  A young couple stood next to me, as the line wound back and forth.  They smiled at each other and then at me.

“Is this your first time?” the woman asked me.  I looked up. 

“First time what?”

“Reading Game of Thrones.” 

“Oh.  Yes,” I replied. 

“You’re lucky.  You’ve got an awesome story ahead of you.”  The man with her nodded in agreement, and continued to smile. 

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Let Us Now Praise H.P. Lovecraft

One more recommendation for Halloween reading.  I first heard of Lovecraft in high school when Stephen King put out a collection of short stories called Nightmares and Dreamscapes.  One story in particular was especially effective, a bone-chilling number called “Crouch End.”  In it, a young couple get lost in a weird suburb of London and encounter some malevolent, mysterious beings that are clearly evil and alien, but never fully revealed, only darkly hinted at.

The best part was a scene where one of the heroes, who knew astronomy reasonably well, tried to get oriented by looking at the sky, only to get nauseatingly dizzy(along with the reader) at seeing a totally foreign arrangement of stars.  What a classy, elegant, and supremely unnerving method of showing the reader that we’re not in Kansas anymore.  

This great detail wasn’t of King’s own making, though.  He borrowed it–as well as the atmosphere, theme, and even names in the story–from H.P. Lovecraft, whom King has often said was one of his major influences.

Lovecraft is popular, just not enough so.  He deserves a far wider reading than he gets.  He writes with the same breathless straining for evocative, psychological superlatives that we identify with Poe, but updates Poe’s interest in realistic fantasy to his early 20th century Progressive era: stories usually involve dispassionate researchers scrutinizing documents and offering detached observations to the reader. 

A sample of Lovecraft, from his novella “The Shadow Out Of Time“:

There was a hideous fall through incalculable leagues of viscous, sentient darkness, and a babel of noises utterly alien to all that we know of the Earth and its organic life.  Dormant, rudimentary senses seemed to start into vitality within me, telling of pits and voids peopled by floating horrors and leading to sunless crags and oceans and teeming cities of windowless, basalt towers upon which no light ever shone.

Dude.  Sweet.  Continue reading