The Things That Would Not Be (if not for H.P. Lovecraft)
by Annie Riordan
When he died in March of 1937, Howard Phillips Lovecraft believed himself to be a complete and utter failure, both as a writer and as a person. His family, once wealthy and well respected, had descended into illness, madness and near poverty. He’d lived the life of a hermit, plagued by nightmares and chronic depression. The man who could trace his lineage back to British royalty died alone, destitute and in great pain at the age of 46, afflicted with cancer and suffering from borderline malnutrition. During his short life, Howard was paid a pittance for his stories of cosmic horror and insanity, which appeared primarily in the pulp magazines of the time and were not considered to be of any great literary value outside of his circle of friends. Lovecraft was indeed his own worst critic, disowning much of his writing as trash, written in haste for money.
Little could the boy who was born on August 20th, 1890 – 122 years ago today – know, but that he would be one of the reigning gods of horror literature, right up there with his idol Edgar Allan Poe. Even if you’ve never read one of his stories, you’ve heard of Lovecraft. Somehow, somewhere, he has infiltrated your life: subtly, sneakily, creeping in like a fungus. If you’re a Batman fan, thank Lovecraft in part for creating the world of the Dark Knight. If you’re a metalhead, you surely have heard at least once band perform one song that was inspired by Lovecraft. It seems a dubious honor that Lovecraft should be the most famous unknown author in the world of horror, but it’s also somehow fitting. Lovecraft himself avoided the world and was suspicious of most of its inhabitants. Perhaps it’s for the best that his writings waited until he was forty years in his grave before gaining a worldwide following. He was a writer out of time: mourning the past, uncomfortable in the present and reluctantly ruling the future.
Below is a brief collection of films, authors, music and other horror staples, all of which were created/influenced by H.P. Lovecraft. I don’t think I’ve even scratched the surface here, so feel free – on this, Howard’s birthday – to add to the list in the comments below.
Had it not been for H.P. Lovecraft, there might have been no…
Movies: Re-Animator, The Call of Cthulhu, The Whisperer In Darkness, Castle Freak, Dagon, Uzumaki, John Carpenter’s The Thing, The Evil Dead, The Dunwich Horror, The Resurrected, From Beyond, In the Mouth of Madness, Hellboy, The Haunted Palace, Die Monster Die!, and probably several hundred others, but you get the idea. You might not like ALL of them, but you’ve got to like at least ONE of them.
Authors: Stephen King (his short story “Crouch End” remains my personal favorite Lovecraft inspired work), Ray Bradbury, Clive Barker, Jorge Luis Borges, Joe R. Lansdale, Neil Gaiman, F. Paul Wilson, Caitlin Kiernan (who is as close to Lovecraft as you’ll get in this lifetime), Brian Lumley, Thomas Ligotti and the reclusive Alan Moore (who seems to hate everything BUT Lovecraft).
Artists: H. R. Giger, Michael Whelan, Bryan Moore, John Coulthart, Allen Koszowski, Francois Launet and – of course – Mike Mignola. I know there are others, and I hope you guys will let me know who they all are.
Music: Black Sabbath, Cradle Of Filth, Morbid Angel, Celtic Frost, Metallica, Mercyful Fate, Fields of the Nephilim, Gwar and probably a hundred other metal bands I’ve never even heard of. The most famous example of this eldritch influence is probably Metallica’s instrumental The Call of Ktulu which appeared on the band’s 1984 album Ride The Lightning. The idea for the song was apparently suggested by late bassist Cliff Burton, who was a Lovecraft fan. Doubtless, raging egomaniac and all around asswart Dave Mustaine will dispute this.
Arkham Asylum – That staple of Gotham City, where Batman imprisoned many a nemesis (including the Joker, the Riddler, Scarecrow and Bane), was created by Lovecraft, first appearing in the 1920 tale “The Picture in the House.” Arkham Asylum was in turn inspired by real life madhouse Danvers State Insane Asylum, which you can read about here.
The Necronomicon – The Book of the Dead, bound in human skin, inked in human blood and containing incantations so unspeakable that no one but the maddest Arab would dare touch it. You can find several “versions” of the “real” Necronomicon in just about any bookstore, collecting dust in the Metaphysical section. The truth is, there is no Necronomicon. It was a Lovecraftian invention, appearing first in his 1924 tale “The Hound” and based upon such legendary tomes as The Egyptian Book of the Dead and perhaps “The King In Yellow” – a play created by Robert W. Chambers, which is said to drive its readers mad. It too does not exist.
Miskatonic University – Need a sinister sounding school, where students emerge from the Halls of Academe forever altered by the knowledge gained within? Miskatonic University of Essex County, Massachusetts, was erected by Lovecraft in 1922 in his serial “Herbert West: Re-Animator.” Since then, it has appeared in numerous films, sometimes as an actual setting, sometimes just hinted at, but always recognized as an Ivy League school, gently rotting on its foundations, its walls leaking a steady flow of madness and decay.
And, say it with me…
“That is not dead, which can eternal lie. And with strange aeons, even death may die.”
Happy 122nd birthday, Howard.