Friday, October 9, 2009

Our Lovecraftian World: Is The Kingdom Opening? Pt.3

Howard Phillips Lovecraft (20 August 1890-15 March 1937), was an American author of horror, fantasy, and science fiction-back then known simply as weird fiction. Lovecraft's major inspiration and invention was cosmic horror, the idea that life is incomprehensible to human minds and that the universe if fundamentally alien. Those who genuinely reason-like his protagonists, gamble with insanity. Lovecraft has developed a cult following for his "Cthulu Mythos," a series of loosely interconnected fiction featuring a pantheon of human nullifying entities, as well as the Necronomicon, a fictional grimoire of magical rites and forbidden lore. His works were deeply pessimistic and cynical, challenging the values of the Enlightenment, Romanticism and Christian humanism.

Lovecraft's protagonists usually achieve the mirror-opposite of traditional gnosis and mysticism by momentarily glimpsing the horror of ultimate reality. Although Lovecraft's readership was limited during his life, his reputation has grown over the decades, and he is now commonly regarded as one of the most influential horror writers of the 20th century, who together with Poe has exerted an incalculable influence on succeeding generations of writers of horror fiction. Stephen King has called Lovecraft "the twentieth century's greatest practitioner of the classic horror tale."

Lovecraft was born in his family home at 194 (later 454) Angell Street (kind of a cool name considering the type of fiction he wrote!) in Providence Rhode Island. The house was torn down in 1961. He was the only child of Winfield Scott Lovecraft and Sarah Susan Phillips Lovecraft who could trace her ancestry in America back to the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1630. His parents' marriage was the first for both when they were in their 30s-unusually late in life given the time period. In 1893, when Lovecraft was 3, his father became acutely psychotic in a Chicago hotel room while on a business trip. The elder Lovecraft was taken to Providence and placed in Butler Hospital, where he remained until his death in 1898. Lovecraft maintained throughout his life that his father had died in a condition of paralysis brought on by "nervous exhaustion" due to over-work, but it is now almost certain that the actual cause was general paresis of the insane-a neuropsychiatric disorder brought on by an infection from the syphilis virus.

It is unknown whether the younger Lovecraft was ever aware of the actual nature of his fathers illness and its true cause, although his mother likely was, possibly haven been given a tincture of arsenic was "preventative medication." After his father's hospitalization Lovecraft was raised by his mother, his two aunts (Lillian Delora Phillips and Annie Emeline Phillips), and his maternal grandfather, Whipple Van Buren Phillips, an American businessman. All five resided in the family home. Lovecraft was a prodigy, reciting poetry at the age of three and writing complete poems by the age of six. His grandfather encouraged his reading, providing classics such as the Arabian Nights, Bulfinch's Age of Fable, and children's versions of the Iliad and The Odyssey. His grandfather also got the boy interested in the weird by telling him his own original tales of Gothic horror.

His mother, on the other hand, worried that these stories would upset him. Lovecraft was frequently ill as a child-some of which was certainly psychosomatic, although he attributed his various ailments to physical causes only. Early speculation that he may have been congenitally disabled by syphilis passed on from father to mother has been ruled out. Due to his sickly condition, and his undisciplined argumentative nature, he barely attended school until he was eight years old. And then was withdrawn after a year. He read voraciously during this period and became especially enamored of chemistry and astronomy. He produced several hectographed ( a printing process that dupicates by using gelatin dyes) publications with a limited circulation beginning in 1899 with the Scientific Gazette. Four years later, he returned to public school at Hope Street High School. Beginning in his early life, Lovecraft is believed to have suffered from night terrors, a rare parasomnia disorder. Much of his later work is thought to have been directly inspired by these terrors.

His grandfather's death in 1904 greatly affected Lovecraft's life. Mismanagement of his grandfather's estate left his family in such a poor financial state they were forced to move into much smaller accomodations at 598 (now a duplex at 598-600) Angell Street. Lovecraft was so deeply affected by the loss of his home and birthplace that he contemplated suicide for a time. In 1908, prior to his high school graduation, he himself claimed to have suffered what he later described as a "nervous breakdown," and consequently never received his high school diploma (although he maintained for most of his life that he did graduate). S.T. Joshi suggests in his biography of Lovecraft that a primary cause for this breakdown was his difficulty in higher mathematics, a subject he needed to master to become a professional astronomer. This failure to complete his education (he wished to study at Brown University) was a source of great disappointment and shame even late into his life.

Lovecraft wrote some fiction from 1908 to 1913, his ouput was primarily poetry. During this time, he lived a hermit's existence, having almost no contact with anyone but his mother. This changed when he wrote a letter to The Argosy, a pulp magazine, complaining about the insipidness of the love stories of one of the publication's popular writers

The ensuing debate in the magazine's letters column caught the eye of Edward F. Daas, President of the United Amateur Press Association (UAPA), who incited him to contribute many poems and essays. In 1917, at the prodding of correspondents, he returned to fiction with more published stories, such as "The Tomb" and "Dagon." The latter was his first professionally published work, appearing in W. Paul Cook's, The Vagrant (November 1919) and Weird Tales in 1923. Around that time he began to build up a huge network of correspondents. His lengthy and frequent letters would make him one of the great letter writers of the century. Among his correspondents were Robert Bloch (Psycho), Clark Ashton Smith, and Robert E. Howard (Conan the Barbarian series).

In 1919 after suffering from hysteria and depression for a long time, Lovecraft's mother was committed to Butler Hospital just like her husband before her. Nevertheless, she wrote frequent letters to Lovecraft, and they remained very close until her death on 21 May 1921, the result of complications from gall bladder surgery. Lovecraft was devastated by the loss. The first image is a photo of H.P. Lovecraft taken in 1934 and the second image is a poster of a documentary about him. I am going to start working on the next article about Lovecraft and his life right now and hope to have it here soon. Peace and be well to anyone stopping by!


Alex Robinson said...

Hi Devin
Sorry it has taken me so long to get here - I see you have turned into the bionic blogger - better, stronger & faster (than me anyway :)

I've heard Lovecraft's name mentioned often but was pretty much in the dark, so this is a great clarification!

All the very best to you my Friend :)

Devin said...

Hey alex -gno me haha-never a hurry to rush here for anything-actually after tonights hopeful post that was already saved to drafts except for a link (CERN) i dont have anything unless i want to post more of my writing-but i will absolutely not do that unless there is a story with a beginning and an end!! but maybe -trying to do a short short story haha
all the best in the world to you and yours my friend -gonna try to post and add link now -all the best!!

X. Dell said...

I don't really know much about Lovecraft, although I have read a couple of his stories (even quoted him in one of my novels).

Getting back to your opening for the first post, I see the Cethulhuian influence in this series. I can understand, for example, how the discovery of atomic energy led to the formation of atomic weaponry, and how we might interpret this to mean that we have a tendency to learn secrets that might ultimately destroy us. But I'm of the view that we develop unevenly, and that's the real cause of the problem.

After all, Lise Meitner and Albert Einstein had misgivings about their scientific contributions, not because of the potential benefits to mankind (which are obvious), but because of the tendency to use that technology in order to produce a weapon of mass destruction--thus plunging us into a Cold War, from which we might not recover very soon, despite the fall of the Berlin Wall and the Soviet Union.

But that's the thing with all knowledge. It yields power. But with power comes responsibility. And there are a lot of people who just don't get that concept.

Devin said...

Xdell-I think the most important thing I can say in response to this comment in not necessarily about Lovecraft-that is cool you quoted him in one of your novels btw!! apparently G Vidal has even heard of him haha!
but that I think right here-right now humanity is in by far dire straights (except for a series of accidents that could have led to an exchange of weapons in 1983-the first year I predicted apocalypse haha) than at any time since the cold war-as awful as that was we are faced with some horrendous problems now that I am not sure-there are not only any easy answers to-but maybe no answers at all!! just looking at one subject of many in the "apocalypse" octofecta haha- russia-u.s. relations-i think they are at a lower ebb and a higher level of mistrust than perhaps since KAL 007 was brought down-and thats just one aspect -india is aligning against the US-China and others are probably sick of holding debt of ours they know will never be repaid-and what of rising diseases? food shortages? climate change-altho I think its global cooling not warming-haha never feels like it in phoenix tho:-)best to you as always -and I do think we are in a "heap big trouble" !!