It’s the Most Tentacled Time of the Year: Happy 120th Birthday, H.P. Lovecraft
Nobody would have been more surprised than Howard Phillips Lovecraft himself at his posthumous ascent to the twin positions of international entertainment culture icon and canonical American literary figure. Today is his 120th birthday. He was born on August 20, 1890 (only four days (plus 80 years) before my own birthday, I gleefully note). He died on March 15, 1937, at the too-young age of 46.
Oh, that our paths might have crossed, Howard, right here in three-dimensional space-time instead of just in the twilight zone of literary-imaginal space.
In honor of today’s festive occasion, here’s a short list of links, all of them heartily approved by me, that deal with matters Lovecraftian in some capacity or other. Some were posted today specifically to celebrate HPL’s birth. Others are just some recent and excellent writings about the Old Gent that I earnestly commend to your attention.
- For H.P. Lovecraft’s Birthday, Give the Old Man His Own Stamp — On the Mark, August 20, 2010 — “The United States Postal Service has a program, the Citizens’ Stamp Advisory Committee (CSAC), to take suggestions from the public regarding new postage stamps. I invite all H.P. Lovecraft fans to write a letter to the CSAC, suggesting that the U.S. Postal Service issue a postage stamp featuring H. P. Lovecraft, on the 125th anniversary of his birth, which occurs on August 20, 2015. (Yes, this assumes that neither the Mayan apocalypse nor the Return of the Old Ones occurs before that time. I do, however, try to be optimistic. Me, a Lovecraft fan? Go figure.) The Postal Service requires at least three years advance notice before a significant anniversary, so we really do need to start this movement soon.”
- Happy Birthday, H.P. Lovecraft: Authors and Editors on His Legacy — Matt Staggs, Suvudu, August 20, 2010 — [Staggs shares some comments, acquired specifically for this blog post, from Ellen Datlow, Kenneth Hite, Caitlin Kiernan, and Ann Vandermeer. Especially noteworthy is Kiernan’s final observation, which blew me away with its exquisite articulation of a provocative thought:] “Lovecraft’s ‘mythos’ is only a delivery device for his deeply subversive cosmicism, in which all of human history is, at best, a dust mote in an indifferent gulf of time and space.”
- On This Day in History, August 20: Brooklyn Meant Dread and Inspiration for Writer H.P. Lovecraft — Brad Lockwood, Brooklyn Daily Eagle, August 20, 2010 — “It is impossible to fully gauge Lovecraft’s legacy, from Borges to King, films and comics, translated in all languages and, at last count, no less than 20 different titles available. For a writer who never had a hardcover release in his lifetime, Lovecraft remains a foremost influence on the horror genre. And the part that Brooklyn played, frustration thus inspiration, cannot be underestimated either. W. Paul Cook, H.P. Lovecraft’s old friend and sometimes publisher, summed it best in memorial: ‘To the very end of his days he hated New York with a consuming passion. I mean the city itself, not the many good friends he had there. But it took the privations, trials and testing fires of New York to bring his best to the surface.'”
- Selections from H.P. Lovecraft’s Brief Tenure as a Whitman’s Sampler Copywriter — McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, August 15, 2008 — [Yes, this one’s two years old, having been first published in 2008 to recognize HPL’s upcoming birthday then. But it’s so choice that it bears being resurrected. Here’s a sample:] “Chocolate Cherry Cordial: You must not think me mad when I tell you what I found below the thin shell of chocolate used to disguise this bonbon’s true face. Yes! Hidden beneath its rich exterior is a hideously moist cherry cordial! What deranged architect could have engineered this non-Euclidean aberration? I dare not speculate.”
- Cults of an Unwitting Oracle: The (Unintended) Religious Legacy of H.P. Lovecraft — Dennis P. Quinn, PopMatters, August 20, 2010 — “If Lovecraft were alive today, he would be celebrating his 120th birthday on August 20, 2010. Of the various legacies to which he lays claim, one turned out to be a set of fascinating individuals and subcultures that find religious inspiration in this most creative, though irreligious parent. . . . Had Lovecraft lived to see the proliferation of religions based on his fictional creation, he may well have laughed at the irony and perhaps made them characters in one of his weird tales.
- Why I write: Laird Barron — Publishers Weekly, July 12, 2010 — “Ultimately, I discovered some Lovecraft stories in an anthology stuck near the bottom of a trunk. The Call of Cthulhu. At the Mountains of Madness. The Dunwich Horror. The Whisperer in the Darkness. The Shadow Out of Time. Dead and gone 50 years, the man from Providence put it into perspective. He’d tackled the biggest questions of them all while dying by inches in abject poverty that I recognized quite intimately. Nyarlathotep and Jesus. Cthulhu and God. The Bible and the Necronomicon were the greatest horror stories ever told. Against the illimitable blackness of the cosmic ocean, my puny hardships were as the travails of a flea. We all have our bad patches, even the supreme and inscrutable overlords who exist beyond known reality. For the first time in a long time, I felt a little better about everything.”
- Terror Eternal: The enduring popularity of H.P. Lovecraft — Stefan Dziemianowicz, Publishers Weekly, July 12, 2010 — “For nearly a century, a formidable presence has cast its shadow over horror publishing. As protean as it is pervasive, it has insinuated itself into virtually all aspects of the genre’s publishing platform: trade publishing, specialty press, comics and graphic novels, role-playing game scenarios, movie novelizations, audiobooks, Web zines, and now e-books. It’s the spirit — or, if you will, the shade — of H.P. Lovecraft, and every decade it looms larger and darker.”
And of course I’d be remiss if I didn’t direct you to some of my own words about Old Grandpa:
- Lovecraft, Christian Horror, and Weird Fiction — The Teeming Brain, August 17, 2010 — “While horror can definitely be found compatible with conventional Christianity in a purely moral allegorical sense — the seminal modern example being, of course, the already-mentioned case of William Peter Blatty and The Exorcist, since Blatty wrote that novel with explicitly Christian theological intent — there really is a (quasi- or pseudo-) religious or spiritual attitude to be found in horror fiction like Lovecraft’s that categorically eludes and/or subverts this connection. What Mike Duran has termed ‘atheist dread’ can actually be a bit more complex and nuanced than a mere Pascalian fear of the meaningless void of infinite, empty space, and can have direct implications for Christianity through its interaction with the worldview of Christian readers, whom it confronts with uncomfortable moral and metaphysical speculations and implications.”
- Interview with me: Dark Awakenings and Cosmic Horror — Lovecraft News Network, March 3, 2010 — “It wasn’t just fear of the unknown that drove Lovecraft’s authorial attempts. As Lovecraft made starkly and resonantly clear in his personal correspondence, and also in his ‘Notes on the Writing of Weird Fiction,’ he wrote horror fiction as a means of capturing and crystallizing his lifelong impressions of an infinite, transcendent reality that seemed to peer through the cracks of the world, which for him included skyscapes and vistas of architectural beauty. And his response to these transcendent intimations was deliciously paradoxical, for he was both enchanted and terrified by them. . . . So his career as a horror writer wasn’t motivated just by fear of the unknown but by a two-sided emotional coin that was fear on one side and exhilarated longing on the other.”
- Autumn Longing: H.P. Lovecraft — The Teeming Brain, October 30, 2006 — “Among the aspects of his character that were obscured by the false image of him that reigned during most of the 20th century, none was more central to his overall personality than his burning sense of sehnsucht (regarding which, see my first post in this series for an explanation). His deep longing for, and exquisite responsiveness to, scenes of natural and architectural beauty which would evoke a piercing sense of “adventurous expectancy,” as he often called it, mingled with a tantalizing sense of deja vu or lost memory, led him to produce many poems and a veritable ocean of letters in which he described and tracked this delicate mood.”
- Lovecraft’s Longing, Part 1 and Part 2 — North Shore Art Throb, October 22 and November 4, 2009 — “Lovecraft was about more than just the horrors of bodily corruption and cosmic monstrosity that cling so tenaciously to his reputation, and the failure of some critics to recognize, understand, and/or accept this fact may be injecting a falsely negative and one-sided view of him into the collective cultural conversation. Furthermore, one of the chief places where one can find the kinder, gentler Lovecraft on display is in the man’s emotional relationship to the natural and man-made landscape of Massachusetts (and more generally, New England) itself, which was for him not only a locus of Gothic darkness but a source of poetic longing.”
- The Master’s Eyes, Shining with Secrets: The Influence of H.P. Lovecraft on Thomas Ligotti — Lovecraft Annual No. 1, October 2007; also at Thomas Ligotti Online — “My reading of Lovecraft has given me the impression that while he was entirely serious about the cosmic despair and philosophical concerns that undergird his stories, he did not experience precisely the same kind of existential torture and cosmic-ontological nightmare that characterizes Ligotti’s fictional world and personal life. Lovecraft, it seems to me, was emotionally and intellectually focused on the horror of ‘cosmic outsideness,’ of vast outer spaces and the mind-shattering powers and principles that may hold sway there, and that may occasionally impinge upon human reality and reveal its pathetic fragility. Ligotti, by contrast, seems focused more upon the horror of deep insideness, of the dark, twisted, transcendent truths and mysteries that reside within consciousness itself and find their outward expression in scenes and situations of warped perceptions and diseased metaphysics.”
Happy Birthday, Grandpa Theobald! You’re sorely missed and roundly celebrated.