Ali B and the Forty Spaceships— Part the Thirteenth [Apr 2016]
“Seer. A Talented old man or young woman able to see into the future (see PROPHECY and TALENT). They are either blind with white eyes or tend to wear a symbolic blindfold. Young female Seers are usually morbid and neurotic.”
—The Tough Guide to Fantasyland, Diana Wynne Jones
ANYONE THAT KNOWS the slightest thing about me would also know I have a tendency to go off-kilter at times, a habit of going against the norm shall we say? So… with the theme for this issue being ‘erotica’, I am of course planning to turn things on their head once more, dear readers, because this issue I’m looking at Love Craft, or rather the author, Howard Phillips Lovecraft (1890-1937) aka H P Lovecraft, HPL, or just Lovecraft…
The popularity of Lovecraft’s work continues to be the source of much debate and conjecture even now, because his writing failed to ignite that much interest or popularity during his own lifetime, and yet his enduring legacy has continued to influence the works of some of the world’s most popular writers of today, including Stephen King, Neil Gaiman and Joss Whedon among others. Lovecraft, in turn, was inspired by several writers of his own time, most notably Edgar Allan Poe, Algernon Blackwood, Arthur Machen, M R James, Clark Ashton Smith and Lord Dunsany are all names frequently mentioned in connection with his writing and discussions on the subject of ‘weird fiction’.
Unfortunately, Lovecraft was also xenophobic, racist, anti-Semitic, misogynistic, and prejudiced. And while it’s nigh impossible to shy away from this aspect of both the man himself and his writing, his work continues to attract new devotees and rampant skeptics in equal measure. Lovecraft was also epistolarian: he wrote an incredible amount of letters (some estimates put the figure as high as 100,000, although only 15-20,000 still survive), many of which have been published in numerous volumes and are celebrated almost as much as his fiction.
After his death, it was his so-called “Cthulhu Mythos” stories that became popularised in a series of publications originally championed by August Derleth. In 1981, a games company, Chaosium, released the Call of Cthulhu role-playing game, introducing a whole generation (including me) to Lovecraft and his work. Modern Lovecraft scholars like S. T. Joshi have derided Derleth’s work on the subject, whilst still accepting how influential it was in keeping so-called Lovecraftian fiction alive and well, and it continues to thrive even today.
Assuming you’re interested in finding out more, an easy (and visual) introduction to some of his tales can be found in a gorgeous pair of graphic novels: The Lovecraft Anthology Vols I and II (SelfMadeHero, 2011 and 2012 respectively) both edited by Dan Lockwood. Volume II also includes a Foreword by Robert M. Price. Some of Lovecraft’s most popular stories (incl. Call of Cthulhu, The Dunwich Horror, The Shadow Over Innsmouth, The Colour Out of Space, Pickman’s Model, and The Statement of Randolph Carter) have been lovingly turned into stunning graphic comic strips by a variety of talented artists, so you can instantly swot up on their base plot and storylines, whilst also enjoying a visual feast of amazing artwork.
For a more thorough look at Lovecraft’s stories, I’d heartily recommend The New Annotated H. P. Lovecraft (Liveright, 2014), edited by Leslie S. Klinger. As well as an introduction by comics maestro/guru Alan Moore, Klinger’s extensive Foreword (60+ pages of it) covers every aspect of the man and his work, the majority of Lovecraft’s fiction is also included (all with copious Notes), and there’s an extensive series of Appendices at the back as well. It’s an 850-page giant of a book, but serves as an excellent introduction to the subject. An incredible achievement, and what I’d consider a rather cool coffee table book, frankly.
For fiction in the same vein as Lovecraft, there are many sources, but one of the most popular is the Black Wings of Cthulhu anthologies edited by S. T. Joshi. Volume 4 in the series has just been published (Titan Books, March 2016), the first volume was published back in 2011 and the series as a whole has featured work from a lot of very talented authors: Caitlín R. Kiernan, John Shirley, Jason V. Brock, Nick Mamatas, W. H. Pugmire, Richard Gavin, Laird Barron, Nicholas Royle, Brian Stableford, Chet Williamson, Michael Marshall Smith and many more.
And finally, if you’d rather separate fact from fiction, you could do worse than seek out Lovecraft and a World in Transition: Collected Essays on H. P. Lovecraft by S. T. Joshi (Hippocampus Press, 2014) – a comprehensive look at everything Lovecraftian, neatly separated into six distinct sections: “Biographical Studies”, “Philosophical Studies”, “Thematic and Textual Studies”, “Studies of Individual Works”, “On Lovecraft’s Essays, Poetry, and Letters”, and “On Lovecraft’s Legacy and Influence”. A comprehensive Index and further Notes round off another bumper package of Lovecraftian history (650pp).
If you’d like to explore further, I’d suggest you start at www.hplovecraft.com although a simple Google Search for ‘Lovecraft Letters’ could start you on an exciting journey of discovery through extensive historical, documented evidence about the man and his critical opinion of all manner of aspects related to writing.
It is man’s relation to the cosmos
—to the unknown— which alone arouses
in me the spark of creative imagination…
—H. P. LOVECRAFT
* This column originally appeared in the
May/June 2016 issue of BTS Book Reviews