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"Hands up if you've never heard of H.P. Lovecraft" Topic

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Action Log

20 Aug 2013 6:36 a.m. PST
by Editor in Chief Bill

  • Changed title from "Hands up if you've never heard of H.P. Loveraft" to "Hands up if you've never heard of H.P. Lovecraft"

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1,096 hits since 20 Aug 2013
©1994-2019 Bill Armintrout
Comments or corrections?

Personal logo 20thmaine Supporting Member of TMP20 Aug 2013 5:41 a.m. PST

Really, words…they fail me…"you may never have heard of influential horror writer H.P. Lovecraft" says the mail.


Personal logo 20thmaine Supporting Member of TMP20 Aug 2013 5:42 a.m. PST


GarrisonMiniatures20 Aug 2013 5:56 a.m. PST

I can quite understand that many people haven't heard of him. Sadly, we live in an age where knowledge is freely available, but rarely sought after.

Personal logo Patrick R Supporting Member of TMP20 Aug 2013 5:56 a.m. PST

I never heard of Loveraft, was he into romance novels ?

Personal logo 20thmaine Supporting Member of TMP20 Aug 2013 5:57 a.m. PST

That was ironic, I admit, but I was also the first to point it out.

Personal logo 20thmaine Supporting Member of TMP20 Aug 2013 6:54 a.m. PST

And The Editor (may he live forever) has now covered up my embaressment.

jpattern220 Aug 2013 7:18 a.m. PST

That's why it's our responsibility to pass on our love of these authors to the younger generation, and not just our own kids. I always give Dr. Seuss books as gifts at baby showers and little kids' birthday parties. As they get older I start giving classic sci-fi and fantasy for juveniles. Then, depending on their interests, I give older teens and adults (if they're readers) Lovecraft, Bradbury, Leiber, Howard, Thieves' World, and other classics.

Personal logo Extra Crispy Sponsoring Member of TMP20 Aug 2013 7:44 a.m. PST

It's always funny to me that people inside a little world like our are always amazed people outside of it don't "know what we know." I was probably 35 when I first heard of Lovecraft and I really only know the name and that he invented Cthulhu. I don't know who Leiber is or what Thieves World is. On TMP there are lots of cultural references I don't get.

But that's okay because most people I know don't recognize Stevens or Hughes, let alone Rorty or Parfit. Don't get me started on Boll, Saramago or Kawabata.

And many more are recognized but just that – read under duress in high school but not since: Melville, Faulkner, Austen, Chekhov, Flaubert, James.

I think there is a saying that John Milton was the last man who knew everything there was to know. Today there is simply too much out there for anyone to do more than scratch the very outer membrane of the surface.

So let's face it – if SciFi/fantasy never grabbed you, why on earth would you have ever heard of Lovecraft or Zelazny or Herbert?

John the OFM20 Aug 2013 7:49 a.m. PST

90% of US have heard of him.
He is a very niche writer, even among geeks.

John the OFM20 Aug 2013 7:51 a.m. PST

That's why it's our responsibility to pass on our love of these authors to the younger generation,

I don't see why. Things rise or fall on their own merits.
For the same reason I feel no need to "reach out" to the youngsters to teach them the joys of miniature gaming.

Doug em4miniatures20 Aug 2013 8:01 a.m. PST

I like the games based on his work but the books themselves – for me, almost unreadable. So I won't be proselytizing on his behalf. As has been said, he's a very niche writer and not a particularly good one in my opinion. His imagination is exceptional, I just wish he'd got someone else to write the books.

So, no surprise that his work isn't well known generally.


Jakar Nilson20 Aug 2013 8:42 a.m. PST

To be fair, in the past twenty years, it has been hard to find his work in bookstores, as well as E.E. "Doc" Smith, Robert E. Howard, and a slew of others. Or, it happens that the works that we know them for are rare and often out of stock.

I've spent ten to fifteen years tracking down all these books that people talk about, because they're so damn hard to find. Thankfully, the situation is getting better.

Personal logo 20thmaine Supporting Member of TMP20 Aug 2013 8:48 a.m. PST

He is a very niche writer, even among geeks.

Now, not to disagree, well, truthfully – to disagree totally. I recall thinking "wow, he's really gone mainstream" when they did an episode of the cartoon The Real Ghostbusters called "Collect-call of Kthulhu". That would have been ~1983.

There are also many films based on his works back to the 1960s (Die monster Die [The colour out of Space], The Shuttered Room as a couple of examples – and the Herbert West Re-animator series of course).

There's Batman (think Arkham Asylum first appeared early 1980's as well). Cthulhu appeared as a Spider God in the Conan comic, Dagon also had many "guest appearances".

There's the RPGs. And the boardgames. And all the figures (even GW had a CoC range !).

Radio plays on the BBC.

Naxos (the classical music giant) have several EchPiEl titles in their audio books series.

The books are now issued as classics by Penguin and others, they get shelved under horror AND under Classics in Waterstones and other large booksellers.

I'm going to take some convincing that he's just a niche of geekdom. In Europe anyway. Can't speak for North America.

John the OFM20 Aug 2013 9:59 a.m. PST

Hee is an exercise. First, find a bookstore willing to accommodate you. grin
I specify a bookstore, tather than a WalMart, just to give you an edge.
Two surveys.
1) Ask everyone coming in the store if they ever heard of him.
2) Ask everyone in the "fantasy horror science fiction" aisles. Pigeonhole the Stephen King readers.

Get back to me on that.

Seriously, I bought every book of his on the shelves way back then, because I had heard how influential he was. Then I tried to read them. I tried, mot once but several times.

I really think that Lovecraft is a writer for other writers, and not for the public.

Personal logo 20thmaine Supporting Member of TMP20 Aug 2013 11:21 a.m. PST

One of my favourite authors – re-read The Dunwich Horror recently, it's gruesome (in a good way !). Also "At the mountains of madness" – really like the slow drip-drip of the impending doom. And yet again Charles Dexter Ward – fine story, one of his best.

Space Monkey20 Aug 2013 11:30 a.m. PST

I first heard of him as a kid in some 'underground comix', then again when my highschool English Lit teacher suggested I might like him (I did!).
Then again in RPGs and movies… and nowadays all over the place (in a very diluted form I'd say).
He's never seemed all that obscure to me, certainly not to folks who read fantasy & horror… or are interested in the occult (though he wasn't an occultist), or existentialism (where he seems to get a lot of call-outs).
He's certainly been a sizeable influence on modern horror fiction.
His ideas, as a distillation of Machen's and others who came before, are the main draw… but I, for one, do enjoy his writing. It's an odd mix of Victorian/antiquarian language and modernistic abstraction… and creates a strange aura that I don't find much elsewhere. A friction between old dark spooky Victorian ghost stories and newfangled theories of science.
I think a lot of folks lately get all PC-nervous and concentrate on the xenophobic (OMG RACISM!) elements in some of his stories, and miss the cosmic horror that underlies so much of it and which is the main draw for me.

Personal logo 20thmaine Supporting Member of TMP20 Aug 2013 2:38 p.m. PST

I was "between paperback reissues" – only incredible porice Arkham House hardback editions available. So I had to search out the stories one by one in tatty second hand ghost story collections – which was just perfect, felt very obscure and also meant I came across a lot of other pulp writers. What an education.

Then they (Sphere books I think) did a "complete Lovecraft in 3 volumes" and you could pick it up in any W H Smiths (UK chain newsagent/bookseller – every small town upwards had a branch).

Didn't break the spell, but didn't feel "obscure" anymore.

Ron W DuBray20 Aug 2013 4:36 p.m. PST

Ha! I live in Rhode Island the man is like a book writing god around here. Mostly because he lived down the road a bit.

I also think there are 6 movies based on his stories.

jpattern220 Aug 2013 4:52 p.m. PST

I'd say at least 6 directly based on his stories, and dozens more at least partially.

John the OFM20 Aug 2013 5:43 p.m. PST

There was also a story arc on Dark Shadows based on the Dunwich Horror.

Space Monkey20 Aug 2013 9:59 p.m. PST

Let's see… movies based directly… off the top of my head:

The Haunted Palace (Despite the name it's H.P.L.'s The Case Of Charles Dexter Ward rather than the poem from Poe's The Fall Of The House Of Usher)
The Resurrected (Charles Dexter Ward again)
The Shuttered Room (in name only?)
The Colour Out Of Space
Die, Monster, Die! (The Colour Out Of Space, again)
The Curse (another shot at The Colour Out Of Space)
Call of Cthulhu
The Lurking Fear
The Whisperer In Darkness
The Dunwich Horror
The Tomb (in name only?)
Dagon (which is closer to The Shadow Out Of Innsmouth)
The Dream Quest Of Unknown Kadath (animated, kind of. Not good.)
From Beyond

(Not to suggest that all of them are good, or even that much like the stories they're based on)

Not to mention loads of short films (Cool Air, The Music Of Eric Zahn) and segments on TV horror anthology shows like Night Gallery (Cool Air, Pickman's Model).

I've always wanted to see that story arc of Dark Shadows that mixed in elements of The Dunwich Horror. I'll have to go have a look for it.

Bowman21 Aug 2013 8:26 a.m. PST

Poor HPL, now they're blaming him for "Prometheus"?

Personal logo Parzival Supporting Member of TMP21 Aug 2013 12:45 p.m. PST

To be fair, in the past twenty years, it has been hard to find his work in bookstores, as well as E.E. "Doc" Smith, Robert E. Howard, and a slew of others. Or, it happens that the works that we know them for are rare and often out of stock.

I think this reflects changing tastes and the rather limited "writing" ability of these authors. Smith and Howard in particular wrote rather turgid stuff, all other factors aside. Smith's prose is more hyperbolic than the trajectories of his spacecraft, and no one could over-modify a noun like REH. Yes, good story tellers who offered fresh approaches in their genres, even creating whole genres, and who created highly imaginative settings, but as writers they're among the most egregious over-writers of their eras. To today's readers their works can seem overdone, bloated, and even silly (is there any more absurdly übercompetent hero than Smith's Kim Kinnison? Barring maybe Superman? Even he at least had Kryptonite as a flaw!). And I say this as someone who also seeks these stories and finds value in them.

As for Lovecraft, he has similar flaws, compounded by the fact that, in the end, some of his "terrifying" creatures are almost ludicrous. His "great evil" creation is nothing but a giant octopus stuck on top of a man's body with a pair of batwings. Yes, such a creature would be frightening were it to really exist, but the idea that it even could exist is, frankly, dumb, and the image itself really doesn't seem to offer the threat of insanity if viewed. Even in his day, I can imagine some editors reading that description and all but falling out of their armchairs laughing. When it comes down to what he is Cthulhu just isn't all that impressive as an evil god. (A kaiju, maybe, but not a god.) As a result, on a certain level, even as horror, Lovecraft's work
becomes more than a little absurd. But his level of imagination is great, and he has skill as a storyteller, which gives him a longevity beyond the flat analysis of his notions.

I think also, in all these cases, to some extent our culture has moved passed the ideas these authors expressed. Smith's version of science and technology are extremely dated, even to the casual reader, and even more so to anyone exposed to any more recent science fiction (or just Star Trek). REH suffers from a strong misogynist streak as well as heavy fatalism and nihilism, and Lovecraft's mythos is these days more of a joke than a frightening possibility. And if these writers were trying to say anything more in their works, their themes and views have long since either fallen out of public interest or been rejected outright. (Smith, for example, seems to be somewhat enamored of fascist concepts and imagery, and not a little bit of "selective breeding," none of which gains much traction among today's reading public). But mostly these authors really didn't put forth any resonating themes at all, and this to, leaves them falling to the wayside except as pieces of interest to genre fans.

But it is the latter which are restoring them to the public view, if only as nostalgia pieces to examine what has gone before, and on what our current memes are built. The barbarian, the space cop, the evil cult of an insane god, all are memes that pervade our culture today— and those memes were largely created by Howard, Smith and Lovecraft. For these reasons alone they are indeed worth the remembering. And just maybe one can read through the dross and get to the core of story they were telling, and find a treasure there.

GarrisonMiniatures23 Aug 2013 7:44 a.m. PST

Re movies:


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