Today would have been the 123rd birthday of one of my very favorite writers, H.P. Lovecraft. The Gentleman From Providence is probably the most influential writer of the 20th century that most people have never heard of.
Lovecraft was the foremost practitioner of “weird fiction” in the early part of the last century. His stories specialized in atmosphere — atmosphere that would suck the oxygen right out of your lungs. Atmosphere that was truly terrifying and really could send chills through your bloodstream. (Read “Cool Air” for a truly chilling tale of… air-conditioning?)
Without Lovecraft, horror movies, books, games and comics would look very different. Perhaps someone eventually would develop the idea of beings from other planets worshipped as gods by primordial humans, and lurid tales of Piscean species interbreeding with centuries of townsfolk and ancient ruined civilizations in Antarctica and leaping, chittering things trapped in crypts — but in our universe, H.P. did that. His was the imagination that gave us an artist who painted ghouls from live models.
“That is not dead which can eternal lie,
And with strange aeons, even death may die.”
Howard Phillips Lovecraft would have been 122 years old today, had he not died of intestinal cancer on March 15, 1937.
Long neglected by the public, but appreciated by a cabal of aficionados and most writers who came after him, Lovecraft was easily one of the most influential writers of the 20th century. His moody, atmospheric stories set the standard for the extreme mind-bending terror that many subsequent authors would essay, but few would approach and none have ever matched. Lovecraft’s field was known as weird fiction, and that description could not be more fitting. He wasn’t about the scare — although there are plenty of those — it was about creating unease in the reader. He worked hard to generate the feeling that if you were reading one of his stories at night, you mustn’t — no, DON’T! — don’t look behind you!
There were plenty of awful, hideous deaths in Lovecraft’s tales, but his terror was all in the language, and the horror in your mind. If you really imagine a doglike ghoul, isn’t it much more scary than a clear description in Pickman’s Model would be?