[Originally published on 18.11.2008 on my old readthisyet.blogspot.com site]
“That is not dead which can eternal lie And with strange aeons even death may die”
So reads that much discussed couplet written in the mad arab, Abdul Alhazred’s most famous work, The Necronomicon.
HP Lovecrafts stories, were first published in the 1920’s, sent in to “Weird Tales” the pulp magazine of the day, given ridiculous names like “At the mountains of madness,” and went relatively unnoticed in their day.
So why 80 years on do many modern horror writers site them as a prime influence, why do metal bands turn to them for inspiration and why am i demanding that you go and read them?
I guess HP Lovecraft is one of those authors that people either love or hate. Some think his stories are a cheesy collection of occult tinged B-movie scripts, others think that they are masterpieces of atmosphere and give the prototype for all the psychological horror of the 20th century.To be honest i think both points are pretty valid, it just depends on whether that pulpy B-movie style is something you like or not.
A fantastic strength of Lovecraft is the way all the short stories within the Cthulu Mythos (by far his most famous and popular series) seem to grow stronger, more sinister and gather around them an even larger sense of impending doom for every story you read. Indeed you can begin to feel like one of Lovecrafts typical protagonists, piecing together scraps of information from various unreliable sources to build up a faint idea of a horrifying and vast conspiracy. For example, the first story i read was Dagon, and i can remember feeling bemused and disappointed after first reading it. It is short, surreal and builds to a complete anticlimax, but when viewed as a part of a much bigger picture it can bring whole new depths of detail to other stories such as The Call of Cthulu.
Throughout all of Lovecrafts work there is present the most fantastically dark tone, which brings a sense of brooding to the whole tale. One of the ways Lovecraft prefers to do this is to string out what are often quite simple plotlines, by having the narrative told by a third party, usually a professor from the fictional Miskatonic university, or a concerned detective, as they stumble upon some curiosity and struggle to find out its dark consequences. The result of this is that when Lovecraft reaches a climax the reader is already so terrified of whats coming that they totally accept the slightly silly descriptions of tentacled sea monsters and mad sorcerers summoning things called Shoggoths. Its even forgiveable when Lovecraft uses the ultimate cop-out technique where the narrator often exclaims that “its horrors would drive you to madness if i told you,” and so he doesnt.
So, why should you read HP Lovecraft?
Because of his massive and understated influence on pop-culture. Because he invented many of the classic themes of modern horror. Because of the almost unfathomably complex back story that lies behind the Cthulu Mythos. Because HP Lovecraft was an absolute master storyteller who knew perfectly how to create works of perfect, tone, tension and horror.