H.P. Lovecraft

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H.P. Lovecraft

Howard Phillips Lovecraft (August 20, 1890 – March 15, 1937) was an American author of fantasy and horror fiction, noted for giving horror stories a science fiction framework. Lovecraft's readership was limited during his life, but his works have become quite important and influential among writers and fans of horror fiction.


Lovecraft was born on 20 August 1890 in his family home at 454 (then 194) Angell Street in Providence, Rhode Island. His father was Winfield Scott Lovecraft, a traveling salesman of jewelry and precious metals. His mother was Sarah Susan Phillips Lovecraft, who could trace her ancestors in America back to their arrival in the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1630. Unusual for the time, both were in their 30s when they married, and it was the first marriage for both. Howard was their only child. When Lovecraft was three his father became acutely psychotic at a hotel in Chicago, Illinois, where he was on a business trip, and was brought back to Butler Hospital in Providence, where he remained for the rest of his life. His affliction was general paresis.

Lovecraft was thereafter raised by his mother, two aunts (Lillian Delora Phillips and Annie Emeline Phillips), and his grandfather, Whipple Van Buren Phillips, with whom they lived until his death. Lovecraft was a child prodigy, reciting poetry at age two and writing complete poems by six. His grandfather encouraged his reading, providing him with classics such as The Arabian Nights, Bulfinch's Age of Fable, and children's versions of The Iliad and The Odyssey. His grandfather also stirred young Howard's interest in the weird by telling him original tales of Gothic horror.


Lovecraft was frequently ill as a child and was said by his biographer (L. Sprague de Camp) to have suffered from a rare disease known as poikilothermism, the result of which made him always feel cold to the touch. He attended school only sporadically but he read much. He produced several hectographed publications with a limited circulation beginning in 1899 with The Scientific Gazette.

Whipple Van Buren Phillips died in 1904, and the family was subsequently impoverished by mismanagement of his property and money. The family was forced to move down the street to 598 Angell Street, accommodations which were much smaller and less comfortable. Lovecraft was deeply affected by the loss of his home and birthplace and even contemplated suicide for a time. He suffered a nervous breakdown in 1908, as a result of which he never received his high school diploma. This failure to complete his education — his hopes of ever entering Brown University dashed — nagged at him for the rest of his life, and he in fact maintained that he was a highschool graduate.

Lovecraft wrote fiction as a youth, but then set it aside for some time in favour of poetry and essays, before returning to fiction in 1917 with more polished stories such as The Tomb and Dagon. The latter was his first professionally published work, appearing in Weird Tales in 1923. Also around this time he began to build up his huge network of correspondents. His lengthy and frequent missives would make him one of the great letter writers of the century. Among his correspondents were the young Forrest J. Ackerman, Robert Bloch (Psycho) and Robert E. Howard (Conan the Barbarian series).

Lovecraft's mother also was committed to the Butler Hospital, where she died from surgical complications on May 21, 1921.

Shortly after, he attended an amateur journalist convention where he met Sonia Greene. She was Ukrainian, a Jew, and, having been born in 1883, seven years older than Lovecraft. They married in 1924, and the couple moved to the Borough of Brooklyn in New York City. Lovecraft's aunts may have been unhappy with this arrangement. Lovecraft himself rather disliked New York life. A few years later he and Greene agreed to an amicable divorce, and he returned to Providence to live with his aunts during their remaining years. Due to the unhappiness of their marriage, some biographers have speculated that Lovecraft could have been asexual.

Mock Classics Illustrated's cover to "At the Mountains of Madness"

Back in Providence Lovecraft lived in a "spacious brown Victorian wooden house" at 10 Barnes Street until 1933 (this is the address given as the home of Dr. Willett in The Case of Charles Dexter Ward (fiction)). The period after his return to Providence — the last decade of his life — was Lovecraft's most prolific. During this 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 like The Case of Charles Dexter Ward and At the Mountains of Madness. He frequently revised work for other authors and did a large amount of ghost-writing.

Despite his best writing efforts, however, he grew ever poorer. He was forced to move to smaller and meaner lodgings with his surviving aunt. He was also deeply affected by Robert E. Howard's suicide. In 1936 he was diagnosed with cancer of the intestine and he also suffered from malnutrition. He lived in constant pain until his death the following year (1937) in Providence, Rhode Island.

Lovecraft's grave in Swan Point Cemetery in Providence is occasionally marked with graffiti quoting his famous phrase from The Call of Cthulhu (fiction) (originally from The Nameless City):

"That is not dead which can eternal lie,
And with strange aeons even death may die."

Lovecraft was listed along with his parents on the Phillips family monument. That was not enough for his fans, so in 1977 a group of individuals pitched in to buy him a headstone of his own. They chose a plain block of granite, on which they had inscribed Lovecraft's name, the dates of his birth and death and the phrase, "I AM PROVIDENCE," a line from one of his personal letters.

Background of Lovecraft's work

Much of Lovecraft's work was directly inspired by his nightmares, and it is perhaps this direct insight into the subconscious and its symbolism that helps to account for their continuing resonance and popularity. All these interests naturally led to his deep affection for the works of Edgar Allan Poe, who heavily influenced his earliest macabre stories and writing style. Lovecraft's discovery of the stories of Lord Dunsany moved his writing in a new direction, resulting in a series of imitative fantasies in a "Dreamlands" setting. It was probably the influence of Arthur Machen, with his carefully constructed tales concerning the survival of ancient evil, and his mystic beliefs in hidden mysteries which lay behind reality, that finally helped inspire Lovecraft to find his own voice from 1923 onwards. This took on a dark tone with the creation of what is today often called the Cthulhu Mythos, a pantheon of alien extra-dimensional deities and horrors which predate mankind, and which are hinted at in aeon-old myths and legends. The strangeness of the mythos' style may have been influenced, and was certainly foreshadowed, by the paintings of Hieronymus Bosch. The term 'Cthulhu Mythos' was coined by Lovecraft's correspondent and fellow author, August Derleth, after Lovecraft's death; Lovecraft referred to his artificial mythology as "Yog-Sothothery"[1]. His stories created one of the most influential plot devices in all of horror: the Necronomicon, the secret grimoire written by the mad Arab Abdul Alhazred. The resonance and strength of the Mythos concept have led some to believe that Lovecraft had based it on actual myth, and faux editions of the Necronomicon have also been published over the years.

Pooch cthulhu.jpg

His prose is somewhat antiquarian. He was fond of heavy use of unfamiliar adjectives such as "eldritch", "rugose", "noisome", "squamous", and "cyclopean", and of attempts to transcribe dialect speech which have been criticized as inaccurate. His works also featured British English (he was an admitted Anglophile), and he sometimes made use of anachronistic spellings, such as "compleat/complete" and "lanthorn/lantern".

Lovecraft was a prolific letter writer, inscribing multiple pages to his group of correspondents in small longhand. He sometimes dated his letters 200 years before the current date, which would have put the writing back in U.S. colonial times, before the American Revolution that offended his Anglophilia. He explained that he thought that the 18th and 20th centuries were the best; the former being a period of noble grace, and the latter a century of science. In his view, the 19th century, particularly the Victorian era, was a "mistake".

Survey of the work

The definitive editions (specifically At the Mountains of Madness and Other Novels, Dagon and Other Macabre Tales, The Dunwich Horror and Others, and The Horror in the Museum and Other Revisions) of his prose fiction are published by Arkham House, a publisher originally started with the intent of publishing the work of Lovecraft, but which has since published a considerable amount of other literature as well.

Lovecraft's poetry is collected in The Ancient Track: The Complete Poetical Works of H. P. Lovecraft, while much of his juvenilia, various essays on philosophical, political and literary topics, antiquarian travelogues, and other things, can be found in Miscellaneous Writings. Also, Lovecraft's essay Supernatural Horror in Literature, first published in 1927, is a historical survey of horror literature available with endnotes as The Annotated Supernatural Horror in Literature.

Writing phases

Lovecraft had three very distinct categories of fiction in which he wrote during his life. Although the groups' stories were often written in overlapping time periods with the other groups, there were still periods where almost all of Lovecraft's writings could be categorized in one of the below mentioned groups. It should be noted that these distinctions have been drawn by others and not by Lovecraft himself.

It might also be noted that some critics see little difference between the Dream-Cycle and the Mythos, often pointing to the recurring Necronomicon and subsequent 'gods'. A frequently given explanation is that the Dream-Cycle belongs more to the genre of fantasy, while the Mythos is science fiction.


Despite the fact that Lovecraft is mostly known for his works of weird fiction, the bulk of Lovecraft's writing mainly consists of voluminous letters about a variety of topics, from weird fiction and art criticism to politics and history. S. T. Joshi estimates that Lovecraft wrote about 87,500 letters from 1912 until his death in 1937 — one famous letter from November 9, 1929 to Woodburn Harris being 70 pages in length.

Lovecraft was not a very active letter-writer in youth. In 1931 he admitted: "In youth I scarcely did any letter-writing - thanking anybody for a present was so much of an ordeal that I would rather have written a two hundred fifty-line pastoral or a twenty-page treatise on the rings of Saturn." (SL 3.369–70). The initial interest in letters stemmed from his correspondence with his cousin Phillips Gamwell but even more important was his involvement in the amateur journalism movement, which was responsible for the enormous number of letters Lovecraft produced.

Lovecraft clearly states that his contact to numerous different people through letter-writing was one of the main factors in broadening his view of the world: "I found myself opened up to dozens of points of view which would otherwise never have occurred to me. My understanding and sympathies were enlarged, and many of my social, political, and economic views were modified as a consequence of increased knowledge." (SL 4.389).

Today there are four publishing houses that have released letters from Lovecraft — Arkham House with its five-volume edition Selected Letters being the most prominent. Other publishers are Hippocampus Press (Letters to Alfred Galpin et al.), Night Shade Books (Mysteries of Time and Spirit: The Letters of H. P. Lovecraft and Donald Wandrei et al.) and Necronomicon Press (Letters to Samuel Loveman and Vincent Starrett et al).


There is no little controversy over the copyright status of many of Lovecraft's works, especially his later works. All works published in the US before 1923 are public domain. However, there is some disagreement over who exactly owns or owned the copyrights and whether the copyrights for the majority of Lovecraft's works published post-1923 - including such prominent pieces as The Call of Cthulhu and At the Mountains of Madness - have now expired.

Questions center over whether copyrights for Lovecraft's works were ever renewed under the terms of the USA Copyright Act of 1976 for works created prior to January 1 1978. If Lovecraft's work had been renewed they would be eligible for protection for 75-95 years after the author's death according to the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act of 1998. This means the copyrights would not expire on some of Lovecraft's works until 2019 at the earliest, providing that no further laws extend the periods of copyrights within the USA. Similarly, the European Union Directive on harmonising the term of copyright protection of 1993 extended the copyrights to 70 years after the author's death.

In those Berne Convention countries who have implemented only the minimum copyright period, copyright expires 50 years after the author's death.

Lovecraft protégés and part owners of Arkham House, August Derleth and Donald Wandrei often claimed copyrights over Lovecraft's works. On October 9, 1947 Derleth purchased all rights to Weird Tales. However, since April 1926 at the latest, Lovecraft had reserved all second printing rights to stories published in Weird Tales. Hence, Weird Tales may only have owned the rights to at most six of Lovecraft's tales. Again, even if Derleth did obtain the copyrights to Lovecraft's tales no evidence as yet has been found that the copyrights were renewed.[2]

However, prominent Lovecraft scholar S.T. Joshi concludes in his biography, H.P. Lovecraft: A Life, that Derleth's claims are "almost certainly fictitious" and that most of Lovecraft's works published in the amateur press are most likely now in the public domain. The copyright for Lovecraft's works would have been inherited by the only surviving heir of his 1912 will: Lovecraft's aunt, Annie Gamwell. Gamwell herself perished in 1941 and the copyrights then passed to her remaining descendents, Ethel Phillips Morrish and Edna Lewis. Morrish and Lewis then signed a document, sometimes referred to as the Morrish-Lewis gift, permitting Arkham House to republish Lovecraft's works but retaining the copyrights for themselves. Searches of the Library of Congress have failed to find any evidence that these copyrights were then renewed after the 28 year period and, hence, it is likely that these works are now in the public domain.

According to Peter Ruber's (the current editor of Arkham House) essay, The Un-Demonizing of August Derleth, certain letters obtained in June 1998 detail the Derleth-Wandrei acquisition of Lovecraft's estate. It is unclear whether these letters contradict Joshi's views on Lovecraft's copyrights.[3]

It is also worth noting that Chaosium, publishers of the Call of Cthulhu role-playing game, have a trademark on the phrase "The Call of Cthulhu" for use in game products. Another RPG, Dungeons & Dragons, included in one of its earlier suppliments a section on the Cthulhu Mythos; they were forced to remove this from later editions because of Chaosium's trademark.

Regardless of the legal disagreements surrounding Lovecraft's works, Lovecraft himself was extremely generous with his own works and actively encouraged others to borrow ideas from his stories, particularly with regard to his Cthulhu Mythos. By "wide citation" he hoped to give his works an "air of verisimilitude" and actively encouraged other writers to reference his creations, such as the Necronomicon, Cthulhu and Yog-Sothoth. After his death, many writers have contributed stories and enriched the shared mythology of the Cthulhu Mythos, as well as making numerous references to his work (see References to the Cthulhu Mythos).

Locations featured in Lovecraft stories

Lovecraft drew extensively from his native New England for settings in his fiction. Numerous real historical locations are mentioned, and several fictional New England locations make frequent appearances.

Historical locations

Fictional locations



  • McInnis, John L. (1975). H.P. Lovecraft: The maze and the minotaur. (Doctoral dissertation, Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge).



Films based (generally very loosely) on specific Lovecraft works (partial list only; see Lovecraft's IMDB entry for a more complete selection):

Radio production

  • The Call of Cthulhu (Broadcast in Tasmania, on Lovecraft's 100th birthday)
  • Jeffrey Combs reads Herbert West—Reanimator (Audio book CD by Beyond Books/Lurker Films)
  • At the Mountains of Madness (Atlanta Radio Theater Company, www.artc.org)
  • The Dunwich Horror (Atlanta Radio Theater Company, www.artc.org)
  • The Rats in the Walls (Atlanta Radio Theater Company, www.artc.org)
  • The Shadow Over Innsmouth (Atlanta Radio Theater Company, www.artc.org)

Lovecraft's influence in popular culture

Main article: Lovecraftian horror

Beyond direct adaptation, Lovecraft and his stories have had a profound (if sometimes indirect and unnoticed) impact on popular culture, and has been praised by many modern writers of horror, science fiction, and fantasy. Much of his influence is secondary, as he was a friend, inspiration, and correspondent to many authors who would gain fame through their creations. He was a friend of Conan the Barbarian creator Robert E. Howard; Robert Bloch, author of Psycho; and Frank Belknap Long, Lovecraft's biographer and contributor to the Mythos.

Many later creators of horror writing and films show influences from Lovecraft, including Clive Barker, H. R. Giger and John Carpenter. Others, notably Clark Ashton Smith, August Derleth, Neil Gaiman, Fred Chappell, Stephen King, Alan Moore, and Brian Lumley, have written stories that are explicitly set in the same "universe" as Lovecraft's original stories. Videogames like Eternal Darkness show a great amount of influence from his work; others, like Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth, are directly based on his job. Lovecraft pastiches are common. For more examples of specific references to and uses of the Mythos in popular culture, see References to the Cthulhu Mythos.

Lovecraft stamps.jpg

Lovecraft's "universe" is so distinctive that he is an eponym for strange creatures and settings. Lovecraftian horror may mean a story that references the Mythos, or that is simply too bizarre to be classified as normal horror. Examples include beings with hideous and completely unnatural features (innumerable sets of eyes, far too many limbs) or architecture or geography of inhuman or alien design (such as the city of R'lyeh, which makes exclusive use of curves in its architecture). Lovecraftian horror stands in contrast to the predominantly humanoid and anthropomorphic designs in mainstream horror and mythology.

Race, Class, and Sex

The racist, classist and sexist themes in much of Lovecraft's writing evoke strong reactions in many modern readers. Lovecraft was an avowed Anglophile, and may have held English culture to be the pinnacle of civilization, with the descendants of the English in America as something of a second-class offshoot, and everyone else below them (see, for example, his poem "An American to Mother England). Lovecraft's writing showed a distinct disinclination towards mixing with other ethnic groups, reverence for birth-issued social status, and a preference for traditional social roles for women.

Racial, ethnic, class, and sexual stereotypes are frequently encountered in Lovecraft's work. A typical example of this sentiment is found in the name of the black cat "Nigger-Man" in his tale The Rats in the Walls (fiction), which was actually the name he gave to his real-life cat. The narrator in "The Rats in the Walls" expresses sentiments which could be considered hostile towards Jews (although several of Lovecraft's closer friends and correspondents were Jewish), Italians, and Poles. Racist views can also be found in his poetry, particularly in On the Creation of Niggers, and New England Fallen (both 1912).

Contemporary critics have decried Lovecraft's presumed white supremicism, particularly in the treatment of immigrants and African-Americans. However, Lovecraft does not spare even northern European ethnic groups from his onslaught of negative ethnic stereotyping. The degenerate descendants of Dutch immigrants in the Catskill Mountains, "who correspond exactly to the decadent element of white trash in the South," (Beyond the Wall of Sleep (fiction), 1919) are common targets. The Temple (fiction) presents a stereotypical arrogant and coldly murderous Prussian aristocrat U-boat captain from World War I who makes frequent references to his "iron German will," supremely rational Prussian mental powers, and the insignificance of human life compared to the need to glorify the Fatherland.

Perhaps the best example of his classist views can be found in the short story Cool Air (1926): the (presumably Anglo-Saxon) narrator speaks disparagingly of the poor Hispanics of his neighborhood, but he worshipfully respects the wealthy and aristocratic Spaniard Dr. Muñoz, "a man of birth, cultivation, and discrimination."

Lovecraft drew upon the history of his own ethnic group for the environment of much of his work, and his love for Anglo-Saxon history and culture is often-times repeated in his work (such as King Kuranes' nostalgia for England in The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath (fiction)). Characteristically, this history is viewed sardonically.

A major Lovecraftian theme is the individual who finds that his lineage is accursed or interbred with a non-human strain. Important examples are Facts Concerning the Late Arthur Jermyn and His Family (fiction) (1920), The Rats in the Walls (fiction) (1923), and The Shadow over Innsmouth (fiction) (1931). This theme may represent concerns relating to Lovecraft's own family history, particularly the death of his father due to what Lovecraft must have suspected to be a syphilitic disorder.

Lovecraft expressed racist and ethnocentric beliefs in his personal correspondence and he gave a thorough summary of his views on race and culture in a letter to J. Vernon Shea written September 25, 1933. This letter, 648, can be found in the book Selected Letters IV published by Arkham House.

Women in Lovecraft's fiction are rare, and the few leading female characters in his stories often turn out to be agents of some evil, alien force. Paradoxically, Lovecraft married a Jewish woman of Ukrainian ancestry, Sonia Greene. The marriage failed, and some commentators believe that the cause may have been shame felt by Lovecraft over his wife being essentially the breadwinner.

While the unapologetic frankness with which Lovecraft reveals his beliefs on race, class, and sex can often seem quite shocking to the early 21st century reader, the modern reader must bear in mind that these attitudes were not at all unusual during Lovecraft's lifetime. The eugenics movement, for example, was quite mainstream in the United States and most of Europe before World War II, to the point where harsh eugenics policies were actually written into the law in many states. Racial segregation was still legally enforced throughout much of the United States. Very many prominent and powerful individuals in these times openly avowed attitudes similar to or even harsher than Lovecraft's.

Further reading

In the past few decades, the quantity of books about Lovecraft has increased considerably. Also, Lovecraft's stories themselves have enjoyed a veritable publishing renaissance in recent years. The titles mentioned below are a small sampling.

Lovecraft, a Biography, written by L. Sprague de Camp, published in 1975, and now out of print, was Lovecraft's first full-length biography. Frank Belknap Long's Howard Phillips Lovecraft: Dreamer on the Night Side (Arkham House, 1975) presents a more personal look at Lovecraft's life, combining reminiscence, biography, and literary criticism. Long was a friend and correspondent of Lovecraft, as well as a fellow fantasist who wrote a number of Lovecraft-influenced Cthulhu Mythos stories (including The Hounds of Tindalos). A newer, more extensive biography is H. P. Lovecraft: A Life, written by Lovecraft scholar S.T. Joshi. It was for a long time out of print, but has recently been republished by Necronomicon Press, with a new afterword by the author. Used copies of the first edition are rare. An adequate alternative is Joshi's abridged A Dreamer & A Visionary: H. P. Lovecraft in His Time. Most recently, an English translation of Michel Houellebecq's HP Lovecraft: Against the World, Against Life was published by Believer Books in 2005.

Other significant Lovecraft-related works are An H. P. Lovecraft Encyclopedia (informative but expensive) and Lovecraft's Library: A Catalogue (a meticulous listing of many of the books in Lovecraft's now scattered library), both by Joshi, and also Lovecraft at Last, an account by Willis Conover of his teenage correspondence with Lovecraft. For those interested in studying in detail Lovecraft's writings and philosophy, Joshi's A Subtler Magick: The Writings and Philosophy of H. P. Lovecraft is useful both for the analysis it provides and for the thorough bibliography appended to it. Andrew Migliore and John Strysik's Lurker in the Lobby: A Guide to the Cinema of H.P. Lovecraft and Charles P. Mitchell's The Complete H. P. Lovecraft Filmography are both practicable for their discussion of films containing Lovecraftian elements (see Adaptations, below).

Lovecraft's prose fiction has been published numerous times, but, even after the "corrected texts" were released by Arkham House in the 1980s, many non-definitive collections of his stories have appeared, including Ballantine Books editions and, also, three popular Del Rey editions, which nonetheless have interesting introductions. The two collections published by Penguin, The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories and The Thing on the Doorstep and Other Weird Stories, incorporate the modifications made in the corrected texts.

Many readers, when they first encounter Lovecraft's works, find his writing style difficult to read — owing, no doubt, to his fondness for adjectives, long paragraphs, and archaic diction. This characteristic style differs greatly from the fashion standards in literature of the early 21st century. Also, Lovecraft's early 20th century perspective yielded references in his works to objects and ideas that may be unfamiliar to modern readers. Some of Lovecraft's writings, however, are annotated with footnotes or endnotes. In addition to the Penguin editions mentioned above and The Annotated Supernatural Horror in Literature, Joshi has produced The Annotated H. P. Lovecraft as well as More Annotated H. P. Lovecraft, both of which are footnoted extensively.

Lastly, The Philosophy of H. P. Lovecraft presents an excellent and extensive study of Lovecraft's use of language, which further reveals the depth of his writings.

External links

Original Wiki source: Wikipedia