Dark Dreams
H.P. Lovecraft: The Father of Modern Horror

Devan Sagliani | 6 Mar 2015 15:00
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Financial difficulties and health issues caused his wife to relocate to Cleveland while Lovecraft remained in Red Hook, a city with a large immigrant population. During one of her work trips Lovecraft's one bedroom apartment was broken into and robbed. They left him with only the clothes on his back. Afterward he wrote "The Horror at Red Hook" and "He," in which the narrator bemoans "my coming to New York had been a mistake; for whereas I had looked for poignant wonder and inspiration ... I had found instead only a sense of horror and oppression which threatened to master, paralyze, and annihilate me." He also wrote the original outline for "The Call of Cthulhu" while in Red Hook. Its dour theme was the insignificance of all humanity in the face of the Old Gods. Unable to procure gainful employment, Lovecraft used his weekly allowance his wife sent him to move first to a tiny apartment in a working class area of Brooklyn Heights and then later back to Providence. It was the last decade of his life and also the most prolific, with Lovecraft pumping out some of his most celebrated works including "The Case of Charles Dexter Ward" and "At the Mountains of Madness." When he wasn't writing for himself he was helping other authors revise their work or ghost writing for clients like Harry Houdini, who attempted to help Lovecraft by introducing him to the head of a newspaper syndicate before his untimely death.

Despite his growing popularity, Lovecraft remained a cult figure in his life and rarely saw pay for his work. He pretended to be indifferent, but was in reality overly sensitive to criticism and often gave up on a story on the first try if it was rejected by a publisher. He also wrote stories he never sold, including "The Case of Charles Dexter Ward," which although completed was never typed up. Lovecraft even ignored interested publishers when they contacted him asking for work and offered to pay him for whatever he had laying around. Imposing his own austerity measures he survived on a small inheritance sometimes going without food so he could afford postage to communicate with his friends. In early 1937, purportedly as a result of malnutrition, Lovecraft was diagnosed with cancer of the small intestine. Ever fascinated by science and the macabre he kept a diary of his illness almost up and until the moment of his death.

The loss of his father to insanity and then death, the loss of his mother, the crippling insecurity and resulting isolation, all show up in Lovecraft's work, right alongside his fascination with science, astronomy, and chemistry. Many of his characters are driven mad by the incomprehensible and alien truths they unearth in their quest for dark, forbidden knowledge. There is also the concept of inherited guilt in his works, the descendants of a blood line being passed along the sins of their predecessors, a fatalistic view that clearly points to his own recurring childhood fears. The inherent racism in many of his stories and letters reflects his New England upbringing along with his misadventures in New York. His protagonists tend to be educated men, who use science and reason to support their lack of faith. Cosmic indifference, doomsday cults worshipping destructive Gods who are actively hostile to humanity, and the positing of new creation myths for mankind revolving around ancient aliens spawning the human race all underscore his avowed atheism, a stance he adopted early in life.

H.P. Lovecraft dreamed up a grand vision of the cosmos, filled with beings much older and more powerful than humans who gazed upon us with indifference and cruelty. These otherworldly creatures had come into contact with Earth long before we evolved, according to Lovecraft, in the incomprehensible vastness of existence where human passions and desires are utterly meaningless. They fought with one another, enslaved other alien races, and even created new species to do their bidding or be their food.

Cthulhu, Azathoth, and Yog-Sothoth are the unspeakable names of the Old Gods that make up the heart of Lovecraft's Cthulhu mythos - a loosely connected cannon which Lovecraft encouraged other writers to explore and develop with him, that has gone on to be one of literature's most influential and successful creations. In my next column, I'll tackle the intimidating cephalopod-esque deity's inception, history, and influence on pop culture.

Until then... Stay scared.

Devan Sagliani is the author of the Zombie Attack! series, The Rising Dead, A Thirst For Fire, and the UNDEAD L.A. series. Devan also wrote the original screenplay for the movie HVZ: Humans Versus Zombies. Visit his website to learn more.

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