Friday, October 9, 2009

Our Lovecraftian World: Is The Kingdom Opening? Pt.4

A few weeks after his mother's death, Lovecraft attended an amateur journalist convention in Boston where he met Sonia Greene. Born in 1883, she was of Ukrainian-Jewish ancestry and 7 years older than Lovecraft. They married in 1924 and the couple moved to Brooklyn. Lovecraft's aunts may have been unhappy with this arrangement, as they didn't like him being married to a tradeswoman (Greene owned a hat shop). Initially Lovecraft was enthralled by New York, but soon the couple was having financial difficulties. Greene lost her hat shop and suffered poor health. Lovecraft could not find work to support them both, so his wife moved to Cleveland for employment. Lovecraft lived by himself in the Red Hook neighborhood of Brooklyn and came to dislike New York life intensely.

Indeed not having been able to find work among the large immigrant popuation-especially irreconciable with his opinion of himself as a privileged Anglo-Saxon, has been theorized as galvanizing his racism to the point of fear, a sentiment he sublimated in the short story "The Horror at Red Hook." A few years later, Lovecraft and his wife who were still living separately agreed to an amicable divorce, which was never fully completed. He returned to Providence to live with his aunts during their remaining years. Back in Providence he lived in a "spacious brown Victorian wooden house" at 10 Barnes Street until 1933. This is the same address given as the home of Dr. Willett in Lovecraft's "The Case of Charles Dexter Ward." The period after his return to Providence in the last decade of his life was Lovecraft's most prolific. During that time period he produced almost all of his best-known short stories for the leading pulp publications of the day (primarily Weird Tales), as well as longer efforts such as The Case of Charles Dexter Ward and At the Mountains of Madness.

Lovecraft's stories continue to inspire readers because of their convincing tying together fact and fantasy. His tales produce visions of extremely phantasmagoric realities that are somehow believable at the same time. Much of Lovecraft's work centers around varied tales of the "Old Ones"-creatures beyond human comprehension from other worlds and dimensions. The Old Ones include Cthulu, a winged octopus-squid like god who lives in a city beneath the Pacific Ocean, the mindless chaos Azathoth, and the Black Goat of the Woods, Shub-Niggurath. In the Earth's distant past, the Old Ones lived and ruled the planet. However, they eventually fell into an aeons-long sleep. Their worshippers include the fish-men known as the "deep ones," and the odd crustacean like fungi from the planet Yuggoth (Pluto). These beings are still awake and occasionally threaten humanity.

When Lovecraft introduced the Necronomicon into his writing he started a fascination that is still going to the present day. The Necronomicon was one of the most influential plot devices in all of horror. It is said to be a secret grimoire written by the mad Arab Abdul Alhazred, and contains spells and rituals to invoke the Old Ones. Many practitioners of magic and cults around the world work with a supposedly "real" Necronomicon that was produced many years after Lovecraft's death and I would like to talk about this famous-or-infamous book just a bit later in the series.

Due to the lasting power and influence of Lovecraft's vision over the years, many have wondered just how much he knew about the occult. Some occultists believe him to be a "natural adept" and claim that his fiction contains genuine traces of ancient knowledge and re-emerging archetypes from the depths of our collective unconscious. However, Lovecraft would have vehemently denied this. During his 46 years of life he wrote about 100,000 letters, perhaps making him the best documented author in literary history. It is very clear from these communications that Lovecraft himself had no belief at all in the occult -period. In his youth, he had come to doubt the Christian faith of his family. This led him to explore the beliefs of the Greeks, Muslims, Hindus, and Egyptians. Not one of these belief systems compelled him and he turned to atheism and scepticism as the only possible alternatives.

In 1925, he wrote to his friend Clark Ashton Smith: "I am, indeed, an absolute materialist so far as actual belief goes, with not a shred of credence in any form of supernaturalism-religion, spiritualism, transcendentalism, metempsychosis, or immortality". If a fan wrote a letter to him asking if the gods and occult books in his tales were real, they would receive a polite letter stating his disbelief in these things. In fact, Lovecraft was an active disbeliever in all of these occult and pseudo-scientific notions. He wrote many letters to local newspapers attacking everthing from astology to spiritualism to Hollow Earth theories. If he were alive in our time, Lovecraft would probably be a strong supporter of James Randi and CSICOP. To be continued...


Autumnforest said...

I always wondered what made him the way he was--the things he wrote--the fantasies in his mind. My son was really interested in Lovecraft for a while until he learned about the man and he said he wasn't able any longer to separate the man from the craft and everything he did seemed to be colored by prejudices. I find that's true even nowadays. When I love a song and find out the singer is screwed up in his personal life, I'll find the song to no longer be appealing. Sometimes, it's nice to really not know about who created it, since it's a work of fiction, but that something in it moves you. Of course, I tried to that with Michael Jackson and I just couldn't. He was so seriously disturbed, I just couldn't find the beauty in what he did. It's like Van Gogh, you see his work and just know he was really messed up. If you read "The Bell Jar" you can't help but see the illness more than the art. In the case of Lovecraft, however, it was truly original for its time and really timeless in is appeal. Thanks for the great post. I always feel like the student at the front of the class eagerly listening to your lectures. You sure know how to pass on the knowledge in the most interesting and informative way. Hope your weekend is a good one. I'll be doing heavy yardwork, so I'm gonna be sore, but thankful. It's long overdue!

Devin said...

Autumnforest thanks so much as always for your well thought out comments! I really appreciate them-and I agree with what your thinking is on the other artists-I remember The Bell Jar well-Van Gogh is my favorite painter altho it is always hard to pick faves in this area! Lovecraft was indeed prejudiced -just think of the name of one of his entities or maybe several and the names really strike you when you think about them something "Niggurath" was one of them-and it doesn't take a third eye to see where he was going with that name! For all his faults (really i suppose racism being the major one-although I would certainly hope that had he been born in our time he would have been different!) I have always been fascinated by the transhuman and transdimensional nature of Lovecraft's entities.and the very darkness and insanity of them reminds me so much of the unfortunate state of our world today unfortunately! Hey dont thank me for the information either even tho it is nice of you-haha a great deal of these first posts on him comes directly from wikipedia-I am going to do a re write from another source hopefully tonight on the rest of his bio that I hope to have here sunday! I hope you have a beautiful weekend and watch straining your back with the heavy yardwork!! best to you as always!!

Stephen Morrissey said...

Hey Devin,

I used to read Lovecraft, long ago, and enjoyed his work. Enjoyed reading your profile on him. Have you read Colin Wilson on Lovecraft, or any of Wilson's other books?

It's a big mistake, but a common one, to identify the artist with their work. Some critics say there is no connection and you shouldn't even try to make a connection, the art stands alone. I like some biography as it helps me understand the work better. Don't expect artists to be "nice" people, they're still peple, and obsessed with the work.

Michael Jackson was obviously exploited by any number of people, for money, fame, what have you. I don't see long lines of sexually molested boys lining up to sue the Jackson estate, as would be the case if he were actually guilty of anything he was accused of doing. Jackson was abused as a child and spent the rest of his life trying to heal himself, and the world! I think of him as a wounded healer, of which there is an archetypal tradition.

Devin, please send your street address to my email and I'll ship my book to you, Girouard Avenue (as a pre-Christmas Christmas present). Hope you are feeling better these days, or as best as can be expected.

Best wishes,

Stephen Morrissey

Middle Ditch said...

100.000 letters? Wow! Great read Devin

Devin said...

Stephen -thank you so very much-I can't tell you how much that would mean to me! I was interested not only in your Lovecraft comment, but also your Michael Jackson comment. My mom who has the best intuition of anyone I know of said something along the lines of that she didn't think MJ had exploited or abused any children. Her thoughts were that because of his family and his past -that he wanted to be an "eternal" child as he sure didn't have a childhood growing up! I hope I am not getting off topic-but the Jackson father really gives me the creeps. Thank you again so very much for eveything Stephen and your great comment. I hope people will enjoy this series. I am learning most of it as I am going along too-so it is nice to hear from someone who read a lot of Lovecraft's actual stories (I have only read about 2) and yes I have read Colin Wilson and not only find him a fantastic researcher -but a very interesting person in his own right! He might actually be a good subject for a series-he is also so prolific that I haven't read anywhere near all of his books-but I have enjoyed the ones I have read very much! best to you always Stephen and thanks so much for stopping by!!

Middle Ditch thank you so much for stopping by and I hope this series will interest at least some people -until it gets to the point where I talk about subjects I usually talk about on this blog in relation to Lovecraft-best to you and the whole crew at MD as always!!

X. Dell said...

I would guess he had a fair amount of knowledge in some aspects of the occult, especially within Western traditions. But there really seems to me a fundamental ignorance to the man's writings (perhaps what makes them so emotionally charged). In fact, in their way, they kinda celebrate ignorance as a virtue.

Devin said...

Yes indeedy Xdell-ignorance is a supreme virtue to many -i think one of my only good qualities as a person -well maybe 2 haha-is that i dont want to talk in ignorance about a subject-and if i am proven wrong in a belief i dont hang to it out of a false sense of pride -thanks again for stopping by my friend!!