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H. P. Lovecraft: Father of Modern Horror
Howard Phillips Lovecraft has been a great influence on my writing since I was first introduced to his work writes Alex Teyen

I would like to take this chance to explore the mark Lovecraft left on horror fiction and introduce new readers into the Cthulhu Mythos.

Lovecraft, born August 20th 1890, unfortunately had little success during his life
as a writer. He never had any of his works published professionally, earned very
little money for his efforts and had to divorce his wife due to monetary issues.
However, after his death his reputation has grown over the decades, and he is now
regarded as one of the most influential horror writers of the 20th century. According
to Joyce Carol Oates, Lovecraft, as with Edgar Allan Poe in the 19th century, has
exerted "an incalculable influence on succeeding generations of writers of horror
fiction". The famous Stephen King, author of ‘IT’ and ‘Salem’s Lot’, wrote in his
semi-autobiographical book Danse Macarbre, Lovecraft "...opened the way for
me, as he had done for others before me, Robert Bloch, Clark Ashton Smith, Frank
Belknap Long, Fritz Leiber, and Ray Bradbury among them...The reader would do
well to remember that it is his shadow, so long and gaunt, and his eyes, so dark and
puritanical, which underlie almost all of the important horror fiction that has come
since."

Lovecraft's guiding literary principle was what he termed ‘cosmicism’ or ‘cosmic
horror’, the idea that life is incomprehensible to human minds and that the universe
is fundamentally alien. Those who genuinely reason, like his protagonists, gamble
with sanity. As early as the 1940s, Lovecraft's work had developed a cult following
for his Cthulhu Mythos, a series of loosely interconnected fiction featuring a pantheon
of humanity-nullifying entities. Lovecraft refined this style of story-telling into
his own mythos that involved a set of supernatural, pre-human, and extraterrestrial
elements. The hallmark of Lovecraft's work was the sense that ordinary life was a
thin shell over a reality which was so alien and abstract in comparison that merely
contemplating it would damage the sanity of the ordinary person.

For example, one of the most often mentioned of these unknowable entities is the
dreaded Cthulhu, after whom the Mythos is named. Cthulhu lies ‘dead but dreaming’
in the city of R’lyeh, a place of madness now sunken below the depths of the Pacific
Ocean. Cthulhu, in the Lovecraftian world, appears in various mythic forms from the
earliest days of the human race. Preserved by racial memory, he is humanity’s most
basic nightmare.

Furthermore, to add verisimilitude to his writing, Lovecraft frequently mentioned
ancient books that contained forbidden lore. Most of these were fictional; however,
some were legitimate medieval texts. The most famous of these manuscripts is the
Necronomicon (roughly translated as: The Book of Dead Names). Lovecraft provided
so much information about this text that it has lead some readers to believe it is an
existing tome.

For me the appeal of Lovecraft’s works is the knowledge that there is an enormous
and far-reaching history to the universe he created, however, he shrewdly dishes
out only small, tantalising details and stories that leave me only slightly wiser but
infinitely more curious. Lovecraft’s method of keeping the bigger picture obscured in
mystery makes him a master of suspense and horror.

A near-complete selection of his works are available to read for free on the Gutenberg
Project
.

Alex Teyen is a young writer based at York St John.




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