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H. P. Lovecraft:
an Unforgotten Master of Horror

by Zack Figueroa

Usually one gets a simple “no” or an effortless head-shake when they are asked if they have ever heard of H.P. Lovecraft. Especially the common reader, which makes it even more sad when they are seen with the latest Stephen King, or Anne Rice novel. Lovecraft came before any of them.

Unfortunately, fame, in his case, was not meant to be. He passed away without a dime to his name. His stories were limited to the pulp magazines of his day and saved by friends whose faces he had never seen.

His literary works have stood the test of time; tales that at times defy description and added fuel to cults of true believers who thought that the events had actually taken place. His posthumous recognition lit another flame, one that spread through the minds of those who are well-known authors of today. In retrospect, Lovecraft established his own firm little corner of the literary wold all his own.

Howard Phillips Lovecraft was born August 20, 1890 in Providence, Rhode Island. He was an only child. Both of his parents died insane, and he went on to live with his two maternal aunts. By that time he was already a constant reader in his uncle's private library and which he discovered when he was just a boy.

Never having any friends that were his age, he took upon himself to create worlds of his own mostly based after the Arabian Nights. He portrayed an imaginary character, which it is rumored he himself created at the age of five, named Abdul Alhazred. It was the same name he would later use as the author of the Necronomicon, a fictional book that became one of the cornerstones of his success after his death.

During those early years, he took up to writing short tales, most of which he tore up. But it wasn’t until he was around thirty years of age that he had the courage, along with the prodding of his friends though the mail, that he submitted his first works for publication. All were accepted.

Lovecraft’s stories didn’t take too long for them to develop a sort of cult following. People clamored for more once they plucked the latest issue of Weird Tales and Amazing Stories off the stands.

It was his way of pushing the envelope as he decided to take his stories in a macabre direction, in settings that would keep the reader from sitting still. Fear of the unknown was his bread and butter, and he was influenced by Edgar Allan Poe, and Lord Dunsany.

The result was the Cthulhu Mythos; a group of stories that made up the main bulk of his work spearheaded by the “unholy trinity” comprised of The Call of Cthulhu, The Dunwich Horror, and The Colour Out of Space. The latter he considered the best of all. The tales had no boundary, they ranged from a bizarre expedition to the Antarctic, to the haunting streets of fictitious Arkham. They were mostly narrative, as if he were a historian, recording the words by dictation, only to break in dialog for roughly seven percent of the time as the rest were written down in, petrifying, horrid calculation.

Although Lovecraft had formed a fan base, fame itself would allude him to the last of his days. Mired in poverty, only tragedy followed him. Along with a failed marriage, which yielded no children, and the death of his favorite aunt, things went from bad to worse. In June 11 of 1936, Robert E. Howard, who was the creator of Conan and Lovecraft’s closest pen pal, committed suicide, leaving Lovecraft saddened and confused.

Death would claim him only nine months later, in the form of an intestinal cancer so advanced that nothing could be done. Under morphine treatment for the pain, he had five days left to ponder all that he had accomplished. Chances were that he considered himself a failure, thinking that his works would slip into oblivion. When he passed away on March 15, 1937 in his home town of Providence, he was only forty-six years old.

It was after his death, two others friends in the form of August Derleth and Donald Wandrei, with whom he had made acquaintances by mail, formed Arkham House, named after the town that is so well known in his tales. The purpose was to distribute Lovcraft’s words in hardcover, a format that was never done in his lifetime.

Arkham House’s first book, The Outsider and Others, has become a much sought-after collector’s item. The publishing house eventually printed books from other authors later on.

As a result, H.P. Lovecraft’s stories have been exposed to an entirely new reading public, at least for those who either know where to look or who stumble across the books by accident. Other media have also taken an interest over the decades: movies, board games, merchandising... And the greatest honor of all: every year the literary prize from the World Fantasy Awards is a statuette formed in a bust of his likeness, called the Howard.

Posthumous “collaborations” with Derleth had helped bring other unfinished works to light such as The Lurker at the Threshold; still, purists insist on hanging on to his original stories, the ones he wrote from beginning to end, including The Case of Charles Dexter Ward, the only novella that is sold separately rather than being included in an anthology.

Along with his stories, every other word that he took to paper can also be found in print. Collections of his poetry, stories that he revised or ghost written for others, including escape artist Harry Houdini, and even the letters that he had written to all those who knew him can be found in print.

With all of this done, it is hard to believe that H.P. Lovecraft is generally an unknown, even to fellow New Englanders, but not to those important ones that maintain his fire constantly burning. He was a humble man, with giant worlds stirring from within, and his typewriter struck them down onto paper and into immortality.

He was self-taught and had ranges that spanned from the coldest regions of our planet, to the smallest of towns, to the stars themselves, and to that which is unseen by the naked eye.

His death came prematurely, but his recognition eventually came around to inspire those who are well renowned like Clive Barker, Joyce Carol Oats, and Brian Lumley; the list goes on and on.

Who will be the next one to come across these tales? Will it be the curious, or the die-hard Horror fan? It alone takes the effort of opening a book and to read what is inside, albeit, while looking over one’s shoulder now and again.

Copyright © 2006 by Zack Figueroa

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