Howard Phillips Lovecraft was born August 20, 1890, in Providence, Rhode Island. His father died when Lovecraft was eight years old. He was raised by his mother, two aunts and his maternal grandfather. His grandfather, who invented many Gothic horror tales and shared them with young Lovecraft, may have helped shape him into a pioneer of American short horror fiction.
Lovecraft was a brilliant child, reportedly reading by age three and writing a poetic children’s version of the Odyssey by age eight. His grandfather’s influence led him to interest in horror, and it was in that genre the young man began to make his mark.
He was first discovered by the publishing world after writing a letter to the editor of the pulp magazine The Argosy. The letter was a complaint against one of the magazine’s authors, Fred Jackson, who wrote romances. Lovecraft’s note, which criticized Jackson’s work as insipid, caught the eye of Edward F. Daas. Daas, then President of the United Amateur Press Association, urged Lovecraft to join the UAPA. Shortly afterward Lovecraft’s story Dagon was published in other pulp magazines, including Weird Tales.
Lovecraft moved to the Red Hook region of Brooklyn in 1924 after marrying Sonia Haft Greene. The couple struggled there financially. Sonia moved to Ohio to find work and their relationship suffered. Divorce proceedings began in 1929. The short story The Horror at Red Hook may have been inspired by his dissatisfaction with his life there.
Lovecraft’s short stories are examples of weird fiction, meaning they draw on the supernatural, ideas of unknown science, forbidden lore, and a sense of dread. They frequently include an implied threat that the reader could become the victim of whatever evil lurks within the stories.
His protagonists are usually educated men who are confronted with unusual situations. They try to apply reason to the unreasonable and knowledge to the unknowable. When the horrific truth of their circumstances is finally and dreadfully revealed to them, the protagonists typically suffer total mental collapse. The overarching theme of his work is that the universe is a much more terrifying place than most of mankind will ever realize, and that learning the truth is a sanity-shattering experience.
His best known work, The Call of Cthulhu, is the story of a man who finds information in his father’s research papers about a cult that worships an ancient, godlike being called Cthulhu. Cthulhu is the name of a giant, tentacled horror that rests beneath the sea waiting for the chance to return and enslave or devour the world. As the protagonist researches the cult he becomes aware that the cult actively searches for outsiders who learn of it. The more he learns, the greater the peril to his life becomes. As in many of his works, discovery of truth leads to terror.
Lovecraft helped shape the future of short horror. His work was unashamedly racist and classist. While those are not particularly noble sentiments for an author, his perception of differences in class and race led him to use those differences symbolically. His work frequently featured villains that could be known by their differences from the protagonist even before other clues were presented.
He was also an atheist, and his ability to see the deific as horrifying gave birth to many stories of dark gods with malevolent intention toward mankind.
Lovecraft’s work inspired authors and filmmakers who came after him. Stephen King has cited him as having had influence upon his work. He is also known to have influenced Robert Bloch, author of the Conan the Barbarian stories.
Arkham, Massachusetts, a fictional location from Lovecraft’s work, is the inspiration for Arkham Asylum from the Batman comics. A web comic called Shadowgirls is set in his mythical town of Innsmouth, Massachusetts.
Lovecraft died on March 15, 1937, leaving behind a treasure trove of inspiration and a mythology. His works have reached out from beyond his lifetime like the tentacled horrors of his stories to ensnare readers of his chosen genre.
S.T. Joshi, Howard Phillips Lovecraft: The Life of a Gentleman of Providence, HPLovecraft.com
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Curt Wohleber, The Man Who Can Scare Stephen King, AmericanHeritage.com
David A. Rodriguez and David Reynolds, Shadowgirls, ShadowGirlsComic.com
Staff Writers, H. P. Lovecraft, IMDB.com
H.P. Lovecraft, The Call of Cthulhu, HPLovecraft.com
Staff Writers, The Call of Cthulhu, Chaosium.com