31 August 2010

Howard Phillips Lovecraft - Master of weird horror

I think many people know of H.P. Lovecraft, but there are others that don't - thus it can be a bit confusing to read about some of the stuff already posted (Journey into madness project) as well as future posts about games and miniatures based around H.P. Lovecrafts weird horror universe.

So this entire post will bring you up to speed with Lovecraft. And hopefully those already into Lovecraft will discover something new as well.

Lovecraft (August 20, 1890 – March 15, 1937) was an American author of weird tales and macabre horror stories, often blending science fiction elements and scientific approaches to the weird things described in his novels. He was very good at creating a "mood" in his novels, that often start out as a mystery - and as the characters investigate things deeper they unravel some ancient forgotten horror. The stories are often very cynical, dark, unforgiving, and humanity is pretty much screwed.

He was not very successful as a writer during his lifetime, sadly, but his popularity picked up rapidly after his death. He created this entire world of weird cults, monsters, ancient gods, untold horrors and exploration into subjects and places that drive men insane. Characters in Lovecrafts universe are most often killed, driven insane or see/hear something so terrifying that it leaves them numb for the remainder of their lives as they know that humanity could be wiped out by some ancient force at any minute. There are no silly love stories, humoristic banter or anything like that. His stories are often based around scholars, adventurers, investigators and such men that stumble upon something best left alone.

He has a very specific way of writing things, it could be perceived as silly at time and surely easy to parody - as most things in the novels are just unnamable shapeless horrors, impossible to describe. But that also lends strength to those stories as you never really know exactly what the hell they are facing, how it got there, why it is there or how to defeat it. There are no superheroes fighting of evil Ash off Evil Dead style, people die or run for their lives away from the dangers they find. The pace of the stories are slow but build towards a crescendo of insanity and a great payoff at the end.

I also find it fascinating that Lovecraft use a lot of new inventions in his stories, he has a very scientific approach - his characters use "electronic lanterns", airplanes, they travel to destinations such as the South Pole, use radios etc. You can feel how primitive and at the same time avant garde this technology is.

I would dare to say that Lovecraft is as important for weird literature as Tolkien is for the fantasy genre. It is hard to describe his stories in detail without spoiling the content but I will give you a list of essential reading - with the imo best H.P. Lovecraft stories if you are a newcomer and want to take a look at his works. And I will also list some other stuff that might get your imagination going or allow you a glimpse into that world he created.
The novels

H.P. Lovecraft never wrote a full book, he wrote short stories and a few lengthy novels. These were published in various magazines and newspapers during his lifetime – but they were gathered into collections after his death. The average length of a Lovecraft story is about 10-50 pages. Some are longer, his longest story is “At the Mountains of Madness” (which I hope will truly be visualized by Guillermo Del Toro as a full motion picture fairly soon).

Anyways, there are so many stories Lovecraft wrote, and his writing is divided into three periods:
•    Macabre stories (approximately 1905–1920)
•    Dream Cycle stories (approximately 1920–1927)
•    Cthulhu Mythos/Lovecraft Mythos stories (approximately 1925–1935)
He is most famous for his Mythos phase, were a lot of the really really good stuff comes from. Most of his stories start out or take place in New England, and often around the fictional town of Arkham, among other such invented towns. 

“The whisperer in darkness” – this chilling tale is for the most part told thru letters and is about a man who’s friend describes weird things going on around his house at night. With rising horror the details the friend describes get more and more unexplainable to the point where the friend asks the man to come to his aid. The payoff in this story is so crazy that it instantly became one of my favourites. I really can’t tell more because that would spoil the whole thing.

“The Shadow over Innsmouth” – this is what I would call an “Lovecraft in a nutshell” story. We have man trying to find out details about his family so he travels to this little town by the sea called Innsmouth. The town is sparsely inhabited, the people who are actually walking around look strange and are very unfriendly to any outsiders. The main character befriends a store owner – he too from out town – but soon this store owner disappears and the shit really hits the fan as the story evolves into a terrifying manhunt with chilling twists and turns. Again, this is one of the better stories that Lovecraft wrote.

“At the Mountains of Madness” – another favorite of mine, this time we have an expedition sent to the South Pole. This is the longest of Lovecraft’s stories so there is plenty of story elements. It starts out rather slow, the expedition travel as far south as they can only to stumble across a weird range of mountains. What they find there is mindblowing.

“The Dunwhich Horror” – again an outback small town is plagued by a horrific abomination, created by using an occult book stolen from a library.

“Pickmans model” – A painter of macabre paintings that fascinates people with his imagination - isn’t really using his imagination at all.

“The Call of Cthulhu” – A three part story linked by a mystery. We have a story about a crew of a ship that by accident find an mysterious uncharted island in the middle of the sea that is harboring a secret that drives them mad. A police inspector investigating a strange cult. And the story of a small weird looking statue depicting some fantastic creature.

The novel collections.

The tricky part of gathering Lovecrafts stories in bookform is that they are collected in different volumes and there is no real structure between these volumes at all. So if you buy one collection filled with Lovecrafts novels you may get 20 stories, then you buy another with the same amount of stories but with 7 stories you might already have.

There are a few ways around this problem. First of all, you can get the stories free from the internet, there are lots of pages dedicated to Lovecraft that have gathered his works as the copyright has expired or something like that. So there’s the chance to get them for free, you’ll still want to print them out of course and that may be a bit awkward reading books on printouts.

The other good option, is audiobooks. Many if not all of his stories can be found on audiobooks. Some of them are radio theaters, others are regular audiobooks. I actually have a large collection of Lovecrafts work in audiobooks since it is great to listen to while painting models or tinkering with the hobby.
The third option is to buy novel collections in book form, I already said it is hard since you will get a lot of duplicate stories the more books you buy and you will have to buy a few to get them all. However there are a couple of collections that I would recommend.

“Omnibus 1 At the Mountains of Madness” and “The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories” are two books that I have in my collection. If you have to buy just one, go for the second one since it contains more stories, while the first only includes a few but those are also the very long ones. So if you want to be introduced to Lovecraft and the range of his stories I would again opt for the Call of Cthulhu collection.

Now I also (to my extreme delight) –  found an awesome collection while browsing a Swedish bookstore on the internet for books I need for school. “Necronomicon: The Weird Tales of H.P. Lovecraft” – it features almost every good story Lovecraft wrote, it is a huge volume with 800 pages AND you can buy it bound properly in leather. The most fantastic thing is that it is cheap – considering what you get I don’t understand how it can be this cheap. 200SEK (about 25USD) at the Swedish bookstore AdLibris , for anyone outside Sweden I would advice on checking your local bookstore or internet store and see if you can find it as cheap as we can get it here in Sweden. http://www.adlibris.com/se/product.aspx?isbn=0575081562
Even if you are a student, strapped on cash like I am most of the time this is a very good collection that doesn’t burn a hole in your pocket.

There are also a lot of other things that were created with inspiration taken from Lovecrafts works. Sadly most movie adaptations – at least those that I can think of and have seen – are utter crap.
I think the two exceptions, would be “Dagon” which is loosely based on the novel “A Shadow over Innsmouth”. This movie is all over the place, mixing excellent horror and makeup, weird and unsettling settings with some out of place comedy. But then again – if you are into Evil Dead you probably won’t mind that at all. Some of the effects are actually really good and some parts are solid freak horror movie sequences that are pretty scary. And it has a decent score on imdb so check it out. Trailer to the movie can be seen here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wY8bdQeUQw0

The other movie is a silent black/ white movie made in 2006 IIRC, based on the story “Call of Cthulhu”, I personally have not seen anything except the trailer. I don’t mind old movies, or silent one ( I think Nosferatu is scary and disturbing as hell for a movie shot in the1920’ ) I just haven’t gotten around to watch this movie yet. You can make up your own mind checking out the trailer for it here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XHuY2wXTd0o

PC game wise I really recommend Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth. The game has a couple of years on its back but is a solid survival horror game with a perfect story, setting, unique look to it and a few RPG elements such as dialogue options, inventory system etc but in 1st person and with shooter elements from mid-game and onwards. This game too is based on “A Shadow over Innsmouth”, and features lots of settings mentioned in that novel. At times this game is really scary and will make you crap your pants – I especially love the first 1/3 of the game where you are basically unarmed and have to survive in such a messed up environment and situation that the character has stepped into. The game have a perfect atmosphere, soundtrack and voice acting.  An interesting feature is that you have no HUD, measuring your sanity or health, you can see that in your inventory, the screen is completely empty from any indicators which make it feel more like a movie. You will also get really messed up as a character if you start looking at horrifying stuff, the longer you look sick shit the more likely you are to die from a panic attack or kill yourself if you have a gun drawn. You can feel the panic of your character in his heartbeats and breathing as well as insane mutterings of someone on the verge of nervous breakdown.
The game also features different endings depending on whether or not you found enough clues on your journey and depending on how much horror you have witnessed. There is no other PC game on the market that comes even close to this masterpiece of Lovecraftian horror.

Lovecraft has also inspired some pretty atmospheric music, I would recommend checking out this guy calling himself AKLO on youtube – he has released 2CD’s with excellent Lovecraftian music scores: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VBOj9fGvNIk

And of course lots and lots of boardgames, cardgames and RPG’s – some of which I will review over the next couple of weeks. The pictures below are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to artwork inspired by Lovecrafts stories, google around for “Lovecraft” and you will find a TON of material.

I hope that this blog entry has been informative and given you as a reader an insight and hopefully sparked an interest in Lovecrafts work.


  1. Excellent introduction to one of my favorite authors. Thanks for putting this together.

  2. Thanks, I felt it necessary to make this introduction to make it easier to understand future Lovecraft related posts :-)

    Really looking forward to see that “Necronomicon: The Weird Tales of H.P. Lovecraft” book IRL. Ordered it with some school books but as one of them was out of stock I won't have it home until late next week if I'm lucky...

  3. Omnibus-volymerna är de sämsta (ur textuell synvinkel) utgåvorna som finns på marknaden, tillsammans med de flesta (men inte alla) HPL-böcker från Del Rey. I den boken du har börjar två kapitel av "The Case of Charles Dexter Ward" med samma rad (ett fel som hängt med minst sedan början av 70-talet), alla "dholes" ska egentligen vara "bholes", alla "Zoogs" ska vara "zoogs", "Inquanok" ska vara "Inganok", etc., etc. etc.

  4. Det är iaf inget som stör om man inte har en aning om det. Det heter även Dhole i Fantasy Flight Games Arkham Horror spel så jag antar att den missuppfattningen är vitt spridd bland både folk, förlag och spelföretag.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...