MY FAVORITE LOVECRAFT

by Jeffery Scott Sims

Introduction

Despite my esteem for his works, I have held off for the longest time on writing an essay relating to H.P. Lovecraft because I dreaded the ordeal of coming up with something new concerning him. Whatever I contemplated, I readily discovered that someone, or many someones, had beaten me to it. Of course that should not surprise, for Lovecraft must be the most analyzed, and over analyzed, author in the history of literature. I have wondered if, by now, his "writings about" exceed Shakespeare's. Wouldn't that be amazing? However accurate that possibility, it is hard to concoct something novel. Well, what of it? As a fan, I have a personal relationship to Lovecraft which, while it may resemble that of countless others, is necessarily all my own, my private property, one only I can explicate. That it may matter only to me constitutes an irrelevancy. I wish to write about my Lovecraft: the stories I especially enjoy, why I enjoy them, which ones have proven particularly important as influences on my own work. Fear not: this isn't an essay entirely about me; though purely an opinion piece, it's mainly all about him... as he has impacted me.

We go way back, he and I. In the hazy epoch of youth--round about the age of twelve, perhaps earlier still--I read a weird story, one of scores or hundreds in those days, which contained scenes that hauntingly stuck with me, scenes of mysterious alien cities and frightful exotic landscapes. In the rush of reading I forgot the author (a bad habit then, since broken), remembered obscure bits of colorful phrasing. A year or so later a buddy gave me a paperback book titled, I believe, The Shadow Over Innsmouth and Others, with that fabulous tale and a bunch more. With that I was hooked on Lovecraft. As quickly as I could afford them I collected the Arkham House volumes. By my mid to late teens I knew and relished the basics of Lovecraft. Along the way I learned the identity of the story that impressed me so many years before: none other than "The Shadow Out of Time", which continues to reign supreme. Since then I've read all of his letters, most of the letters to him (the Lovecraft-Howard correspondence is a real hoot, the best reading outside the fiction), and a million essays and book-length studies. Lots of good stuff, but it's the stories that count.

Allowing for meandering digressions and random observations, I construct this essay in three sections: a discussion of the crucial tales, those individual stories that render Lovecraft a giant in my eyes; consideration of those classic groupings, the Poe and Dunsany inspired, and the grand Mythos; and an argument making plain my debt to Lovecraft, attempting to discern the extent to which he has influenced me.

The Essential Lovecraft

If I were stuck on that proverbial desert island, what of Lovecraft must I have with me? It's hard to keep the list manageable. I propose the following, listed in order of composition:

The Statement of Randolph Carter
The Outsider
The Rats In the Walls
The Festival
The Call of Cthulhu
The Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath
The Case of Charles Dexter Ward
The Colour Out of Space
The Shadow Over Innsmouth
The Shadow Out of Time
The Haunter of the Dark

There are several others I would hate to lose, but these are critical to my well being.

"The Statement of Randolph Carter"--early Lovecraft, minor league Lovecraft, a little throw away which doesn't belong--oh no, much more. It gives me that Lovecraftian thrill right from the start, maintains it beautifully in compact form. Carter's account of poor Harley Warren's fiendishly morbid demise affords the perfect blueprint for the many shocked and shaken narrators to come. For what Lovecraft sets out to do here, he never did it better. It's really scary, too.

Sample line: "It's too utterly beyond thought--I dare not tell you--no man could know it and live--Great God!"

Ah, "The Outsider," that blackest of dark fantasies; again, for what Lovecraft attempts to accomplish, I can't imagine how to improve it. The mysterious narrator leads us step by step through his fearful odyssey, from the desolate castle, to the unexpected graveyard, to the great estate of light and merriment and the terrible revelation within. As with the previous story, I relish the eerie, dream-like quality which Lovecraft, when he chooses, nails with precision.

Sample line: "It was the ghoulish shade of decay, antiquity, and desolation; the putrid, dripping eidolon of unwholesome revelation; the awful baring of that which the merciful earth should always hide."

If one requires a model for grue and nastiness, "The Rats In the Walls" can't be beat. It's just scary all the way, a fright fest; no big thoughts, simply a grim determination to make stand up the hair on heads. Ancient castle, horrid legends, suggestive signs, macabre discoveries, self-destruction by curiosity; stir this conventional brew with a deft hand and you get something special. Lovecraft never went farther in this line. Those who have tried usually fabricate a muddy mess.

Sample line: "I seemed to be looking down from an immense height upon a twilit grotto, knee-deep with filth, where a white-bearded daemon swineherd drove about with his staff a flock of fungous, flabby beasts whose appearance filled me with unutterable loathing."

I'm supposed to relegate "The Festival" to the lesser heap, but gleefully refuse. If it's a fright you're after, this one will leave you gasping, and begging for more! It's got it all: that deliriously creepy Kingsport, one of Lovecraft's finest geographical creations; the best employment of the Necronomicon, that ultimate book of horror; spooky people, hideous underground passageways, and awful monsters. Don't worry, it's only a dream, couldn't be anything else... but--

Sample line (quote from the Necronomicon): "Great holes secretly are digged where earth's pores ought to suffice, and things have learnt to walk that ought to crawl."

"The Call of Cthulhu"; okay, I scarcely dare approach this one, too high and mighty for the likes of me. Here's the story that put Lovecraft on the map, that sets him apart as unique among his peers, that defines him as the Master. True, he picked up odd elements of ideas from others, but nobody before ever wrote anything quite like "Cthulhu", and little can be said in favor of most of the horde who have since tried. There's no getting around it; Lovecraft has a knack for this kind of "cosmic horror," a skill which, it transpires, is almost impossible to duplicate. Even he doesn't always subsequently attain such heights. It's a titanic tale, just the right length, with the proper development in the investigative segments--the accumulation of grotesque evidence from across the globe, the freakish sub-story of the Louisiana cultists--leading up to the stunning account of what actually happened on that strange, ephemeral island in the south Pacific. Had Lovecraft written nothing else in his life, he would be appreciatively remembered for this one.

Sample line: "Johansen, thank God, did not know quite all, even though he saw the city and the Thing, but I shall never sleep calmly again when I think of the horrors that lurk ceaselessly behind life in time and in space, and of those unhallowed blasphemies from elder stars which dream beneath the sea, known and favored by a nightmare cult ready and eager to loose them on the world whenever another earthquake shall heave their monstrous stone city again to the sun and air."

The Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath makes my list. I enjoy a good out and out fantasy, one set in what some style "secondary worlds;" it's a shame there aren't many I consider good, but Lovecraft wrote one, even though it's not the sort of thing routinely associated with his name. I marvel at the beauty and the terror of the tale (striking me at times as a weirdly distorted children's story), at the sheer inventiveness of Randolph Carter's adventures in dreamland. Impressive too is how Lovecraft ties together in this one so many of his previous short works. I wouldn't have complained if he had produced more of the type.

Sample line: "Indubitably that primal city was no less a place than storied Sarkomand, whose ruins had bleached for a million years before the first true human saw the light, and whose twin titan lions guard eternally the steps that lead down from dreamland to the Great Abyss."

The Case of Charles Dexter Ward stands as Lovecraft's most accomplished novel, a masterful feat for a writer dedicated to short stories. It delivers the thrills throughout its length, contains his finest presentation of historical scariness (this one tale justifies Lovecraft's lifetime of antiquarian interests) and, in the scene of Dr. Willett's subterranean delvings, the perfect pitch of pure horror. The cold, cunning Joseph Curwen is easily Lovecraft's best villain. To anticipate later comments, current authors of horror novels ought to carefully study this one.

Sample line: "It is hard to explain just how a single sight of a tangible object with measurable dimensions could so shake and change a man; and we may only say that there is about certain outlines and entities a power of symbolism and suggestion which acts frightfully on a sensitive thinker's perspective and whispers terrible hints of obscure cosmic relationships and unnameable realities behind the protective illusions of common vision."

What if H.P. Lovecraft wrote a standard science fiction story? Well, he did--"The Colour Out of Space"--only there's nothing standard about it. Forget the techno-fantasies of his day and later, for Lovecraft surely did; obviously they don't exist for the creator of this tale. A meteorite falls to earth on an isolated backwoods farm. What next: Martians, ray guns, feats of heroism or daring escapes? No, this is Lovecraft I'm writing about. The result is undiluted horror rare even for the Master, and his grandest statement on the consequences of the unknown from beyond impinging upon puny mortal man. Like certain of his best, "The Colour Out of Space" never really explains itself, being simply an account of an occurrence incomprehensible, bizarre, and heart-breaking. If I understand rightly, this was his favorite story among his own. I can accept that. This is another production that could have made his name all by itself.

Sample line: "Upon everything was a haze of restlessness and oppression; a touch of the unreal and the grotesque, as if some vital element of perspective or chiaroscuro were awry."

I assert that "The Shadow Over Innsmouth" rivals "The Call of Cthulhu" in the power of its narration and the chills it fosters. For creepiness of location only this one surpasses "The Festival"; Innsmouth is a wonder of weird literature, an imaginary place made totally real in the telling. Everything about it comes across as authentic; I'm almost amazed that I can't find it on a map. When reading the story, I believe in the horrors, the tragic history, the festering monstrosities of that hideous old town. Lovecraft makes fabulous use of the double climax, bringing the rapt reader to a peak, then building up again for the final shock.

Sample line: "Some frightful influence, I felt, was seeking gradually to drag me into unnameable abysses of blackness and alienage; and the process told heavily on me."

"The Shadow Out of Time", in novelette length, presents Lovecraft's most intelligent and sweeping portrayal of cosmicism, I'd say the best of its kind ever written. It's weird and spooky too, of course--Lovecraft never fails to remind his readers how hair-raising the unknown can be, something too many of his imitators regularly forget--but the grandiosity of its "historical" narrative most appeals to me. As he generates terror, Lovecraft weaves a capsule history of the Earth, past and future, as it relates to his crowning imaginative achievement, the story of the Great Race, travelers in space and time. Those mighty (and mighty callous) alien adventurers constitute another landmark in the fictional development of non-human entities.

Sample line: "But there would be races after them, clinging pathetically to the cold planet and burrowing to its horror-filled core, before the utter end."

Lovecraft's last major story, "The Haunter of the Dark," terminates his too short career on a note of supreme mystery and visionary weirdness. Surely to frighten is its sole purpose--no big thoughts here--but if so, it brilliantly succeeds. Everything about this morbid yarn gets under my skin: the horrid old church, the historical revelations within, poor Robert Blake's mounting realization that blackest evil persists. I guess Lovecraft just dashed off this one. If so, he should have dashed off a dozen more of the same caliber.

Sample line: "This place had once been the seat of an evil older than mankind and wider than the known universe."

The Importance of Lovecraftian Categories

The sub-heading says much, and maybe not much, for while Lovecraft's works are commonly divided into three general groupings--the Poe-esque, the Dunsanian, and the Mythos--these can be misleading, and they are known to blur into one another. The first, for instance, often comes across to me as a grab-bag; if the story doesn't belong in the other two, then it goes into that one. Also, a tale with a definite Poe feel incorporates Mythos tidbits, and so forth. Still, Lovecraft himself recognized at least vague distinctions, so most commentators wisely follow his lead.

Lovecraft's obviously Poe-inspired stories--"The Outsider"being the prime example--tend to be basic tales of grue. They conform, as a rule, to Poe's grisly first-person narratives, although often only in that way. Poe never produced such developed horrors as those found in "Pickman's Model." Some of these stories are real treats certainly, but I don't know that any of them are especially influential. What makes them stand out is that marvelous Lovecraftian intensity, which I suppose the author did derive from Poe. Others have too; I think of M.P. Shiel, who gave us brooding oddities like "The House of Sounds."

The Dunsanian tales, more readily identifiable, may be Lovecraft's most derivative works, but he tends to twist them his own way. I can't imagine Lord Dunsany writing Dream Quest, or even "The Doom That Came to Sarnath;" Lovecraft borrows something of style, more of form, conceives his kind of gloominess. Following Dunsany, Lovecraft constructs dreamy fables rather than conventional narratives (by which I mean the short story tradition largely defined by no less than Edgar Allan Poe). Those interested in pure fantasy can gain much from studying these stories.

When one refers to the Lovecraftian tale, one usually means the Mythos; Cthulhu, Lovecraft, however one styles the Mythos. The category exists, incorporates numerous stories that clearly belong together, with others on the margins. "The Call of Cthulhu" defines it, although a few earlier works can be shoe-horned in. Hardly anybody mistakes the group containing "The Lurking Fear" and "Cool Air" with that in which "The Dunwich Horror" and "The Whisperer In Darkness" belong. It is with this latter collection of tales that Lovecraft shook up the world of weird literature, and has left the most profound influence.

My obvious list of the Mythos, as composed solely by Lovecraft, contains "The Call of Cthulhu," "The Dunwich Horror," "The Whisperer In Darkness," At the Mountains of Madness, "The Shadow Over Innsmouth," "The Dreams In the Witch House," "The Thing On the Doorstep," "The Shadow Out of Time," and "The Haunter of the Dark." A few revisions and collaborations--I think of "The Mound," "Through the Gates of the Silver Key," and "The Horror In the Museum"--are also worth mentioning. Others have considerably expanded this category, in ways I find questionable. For instance, I don't think "The Colour Out of Space" qualifies at all. It may be the rare Lovecraft story that doesn't fall under any of these headings. I could (as others have surely done before me) group that tale with others of more science fictional leanings, like "Whisperer," Mountains, and "The Shadow Out of Time." Call it a sub-set of the Mythos.

Anybody who's anybody wants to write stories like those, to contribute tales of such enduring power to the canon. I've noticed with great alarm, with sadness veering toward despair, that virtually no one succeeds, including some of the best names in the business. The same mistakes crop up again and again, ad nauseum. The traditional recurrent errors are unimaginative re-use of Mythos elements, stultifying over-explanation, and dreary lack of atmosphere.

1) It has become trite to note that the otherwise wonderful August Derleth completely missed the boat when it came to imitating Lovecraft, he (and the many following in his train) cobbling together stories that merely lumped Lovecraftian terminology into linguistic clusters and calling those Mythos tales. Of course heaps of references to Cthulhu, Yog-Sothoth, and Azathoth don't cut it; the tidal wave of weird words doesn't add up to soul-searing fright.

2) Nor do the efforts, by many of the same authors, to "improve" on or "correct" Lovecraft by filling in all of the vital details that he "mistakenly" left out of his stories. The family life of Cthulhu may be odd but not genuinely weird, nowhere close to scary. The "real" story behind the non-human creations of Lovecraft--their explicit goals, motivations, and such--doesn't fly either. These sorts of tales irk me, force me to flip forward to the good stuff that I seldom find.

3) So often would-be Lovecrafts miss the glaring point that the Lovecraftian tale is meant to frighten, and nothing in the printed word serves to frighten like the proper development of appropriately somber and creepy atmosphere. So many of the stories in the two categories above fail to develop this; indeed, amidst all the gloppy borrowing and misplaced technicalism, they rarely try. This weakness alone tends to kill the story. Remember, please: it has to be spooky! That before all else; get that right, and the rest can follow. I note that Lovecraft wildly praises "The Willows" by Algernon Blackwood. Read that along with Lovecraft, as an experiment, to see what to shoot for.

There are so few that even come close to passing my test. The famous Robert Bloch penned a pathetic sequel to "The Haunter of the Dark" (itself a response to his tepid "The Shambler From the Stars") entitled "The Shadow From the Steeple," which may be read as a textbook case of error #2. Fortunately, he atoned for this by composing "Notebook Found In a Deserted House," which may be the only legitimate Lovecraft short story that Lovecraft didn't write. Also I recommend The Great White Space by Basil Copper, of which I have written much elsewhere. Despite regrettable Derlethian excesses marring the ending, it packs an atmospheric wallop just this side of Lovecraft, without utilizing a single explicit Lovecraftian reference.

What Lovecraft Has Done For Me

Or, what have I done with Lovecraft? I've read his stuff since I was a kid, oohed and aahed over it for years, eventually tried my hand at some, as I imagined them, Lovecraftian productions.

Those very early efforts of mine are terrible. They never saw the light of day, with luck never will. In those far off days, I must state, my main weakness lay in lack of experience at writing fiction. It's a learning process; I had to pass through it. It cheers me to note, however, that I never committed mistakes 1 and 2, nor did I ever consider them. That may have given me a bit of a leg up.

So, having become a paid writer of weird tales, what if anything have I learned, to my edification, from the Master? The answers aren't simple, at least not obvious. I don't write like him, never try to imitate his style. That's theoretically possible to do, almost impossible in practice. His literary likes and dislikes sometimes match mine, his literary prejudices hardly ever. And yet...I want to write strong weird tales, that unsettle and frighten, and in the main I want to do so without employing the conventional spooks of the Nineteenth Century and before. My stories are somewhat light on ghosts, extremely sparing on anything resembling vampires and werewolves. Most of my horrors descend upon their victims from beyond; beyond space, time, this dimension.

Lesson number one: Lovecraft changed the rules when it comes to defining sources of horror, and I have normally attempted to follow him in this. That feels right when I produce a story. Many of the perils confronted in my Professor Vorchek cycle of tales, for instance, may be described as alien in nature rather than supernatural. A few of these works are outright science fiction, others a blend of that and varieties of fantasy. Lovecraft accomplished that blending with his Mythos. I have gained from that. When needs be Vorchek casts a spell--magic works in his world, as a kind of alternative science--other times he operates strange machinery that opens doors to the unknown.

Lesson number two: the trappings of the Lovecraftian oeuvre still work, if not abused to the destruction. The notion of powerful entities operating for their own purposes, occasionally interacting with man, often to the detriment of the latter, can make for a whopping great thriller. The problem traditionally lies in knowing when to cry "hold enough." Repetitive use of Lovecraft's beasties has drained from them much of their terror, especially when employed in too familiar and cozy a fashion. I don't do that. I cook up my own when I need them, try very hard to maintain that aura of oppressive mystery that works so well in H.P.'s Mythos. One invention of mine, identified as Xenophor, has appeared or been alluded to in numerous stories. Xenophor may be understood as my version of Azathoth, a pan- or extra-cosmic force that dominates the universe. Xenophor, Lord of All Things--Creator and Destroyer--He of the Million Eyes--is worshiped as a god, followed and feared by modern cultists and ancient civilizations, haplessly studied by men of science. I present no known truth of Xenophor, no explicits, no concretes. He is, He is out there; contact--no matter who instigates it--is chancy, dangerous, possibly lethal.

Lesson number three: in a tale of horror, explain only enough to maintain plot coherency. Is this a lesson that needs learning? I think so: in every case of what I mean by over-explanation, the heavy-handed exposition evacuates from the premises all the weird magic of the story. It can be a difficult trick to get right--I believe Lovecraft slipped up in a couple of tales, which became too influential on other writers--but just bearing the issue in mind takes the author a long way. Of course, lurching into murky obscurantism won't make the grade, either.

Lesson number four: the fright is the thing. In attempting to employ a literary template, one may stumble into confusion over the relative merits of form vs. function. Authors who write these sorts of stories mean to scare their readers, but it can be easy to forget that while endeavoring to get everything else "correct." I know I don't always hit my mark, and I'm aware of the problem; pity the poor, earnest fellow who believes the form is its own answer. It isn't. Imagine having to count all the Lovecraft imitations that aren't frightening. What a boring, thankless task that would be!

Lovecraft regularly emphasizes atmosphere over plot, in the cause of generating fear. I'm not inclined to argue with him. Creepy settings, eerie landscapes, deep shadows enhance a tale. He didn't invent that, but he sure shows how wonderfully it works. I think Lovecraft also establishes that the short story is the choice medium for horror, not the novel. I conclude this because my research (translation: an enormous amount of reading this stuff) shows the short story is the prime vehicle for conveying atmosphere. Lovecraft's few novels are exceptions to this rule, in that they are novels structured like shorts. This issue fascinates me, because despite my devotion to literary horror, there are pitifully few horror novels that I find deserve a second read. All right, I can praise Dracula, maybe one or two more--I'd have to give the subject additional thought--otherwise, they typically tire me. The problem is ever the same: scarcely any of them maintain frightening atmosphere throughout their length. In a too long work, the story-telling gets in the way of the terror, the volume becoming mired in meaningless incidentals. Lovecraft's not so long novels, whatever their other flaws, never succumb to this error, not even in a single line. Would that current authors of the horror novel--that swelling legion--would pause to analyze Lovecraft's methodology.

Lovecraft As Archetype?

He wrote all those stories, I enjoy most of them, some loom larger than others; what is the core of Lovecraft that appeals to me so, coming through magisterially here, not so much there? Hark back to my essential list, consider what's there, what's missing. I left off many a good story, while those I chose aren't perfect. In scrutinizing what I love or don't, I begin to discern a Lovecraft surmounting the man, a construct of special benefit to me. Random points:

"The Shadow Out of Time" resoundingly makes the list, At the Mountains of Madness doesn't. Many would take exception, but for me it's no contest. "Shadow," the later story, is everything the earlier one should have been. Mountains gets off to a fabulous start, then sputters and wavers toward a vacuous conclusion. Compare that to the shattering climax of "Shadow," pregnant with sinister meaning, though quietly expressed: "They were, instead, the letters of our familiar alphabet, spelling out the words of the English language in my own handwriting." Knowing the story, the implications of that line stagger. "Shadow" provides all necessary background material, without the tedious lecturing that pads Mountains. I think Lovecraft had learned something from himself.

"The Colour Out of Space" gives me science fiction without techno-babble. I suspect that SF has always been torn between its Verne and Wells wings: awe of technology opposed to awe of the unknown. Lovecraft belongs in the Wellsian camp whether he likes it or not. So do I, but I know I like it. To this day, I'm afraid, few writers in the genre have improved on Wells. Lovecraft is one of the few to succeed. "The Shadow out of Time" wins this prize, too. "The Whisperer In Darkness" ought to do so, yet despite many fine moments it is, like At the Mountains of Madness, a remarkably clumsy story.

"The Call of Cthulhu" comes through loud and clear, as do "The Shadow Over Innsmouth" and "The Haunter of the Dark." "The Dunwich Horror" and "The Dreams In the Witch House," for all the goodies contained therein--including some of Lovecraft's most memorable characters--seem lesser stories to me. I find Professor Armitage in the former wholly grotesque, while the climax of "Witch House" strikes me as a bit squalid, ugly rather than scary.

All of Lovecraft's pure fantasies satisfy me. I really enjoy them, maybe more than most do these days. With modern fantasy having wandered Tolkein's way for so long--with nods to Howard--I think Lovecraft's Dunsany-inspired fable-ism offers possibilities seldom tapped until now.

One sour note: what I can't appreciate, from scarcely any Lovecraft story, is his disdain for his human characters. The constant parade of doomed narrators or feckless victims palls if I read too many tales at a time. There I truly think the Master got himself stuck in a rut (for what he considered his artistic reasons, I allow) from which he couldn't or wouldn't escape. As counterpoint, I note that M.R. James excels at plaguing his characters with menacing ghosts, without feeling it necessary to crush or destroy said characters every time. Lovecraft's common goal of dreamy passivity works in certain stories, fails in others; Wilmarth and Akeley of "The Whisperer In Darkness" being the worst and dopiest offenders. One of the reasons I love "The Shadow Over Innsmouth" so much is that its narrator isn't merely a drifting mind observing events; he partakes of them, he acts. Things happen because of him, not just to him. Lovecraft could write that. He should have more.

My Work In the Lovecraftian Vein

Lovecraft has definitely influenced my stories. As I poke through them, I see the evidence everywhere. As I've already made clear, I haven't written a Cthulhu story, or a Randolph Carter story, or a sequel to "The Horror At Red Hook;" okay, point made. That still leaves plenty of Lovecraftian subtleties, or features not so subtle.

For starters, almost all of my tales, regardless of plot, are essentially horror stories. There spreads the aura of Lovecraft. He emphasizes the fear factor in every situation; I do the same. The majority of my tales certainly belong in the horror category, including most of those featuring Professor Vorchek, my most successful productions to date. I've banged out several science fiction pieces along the way, but I find myself repeatedly turning them toward the scary end of the emotional spectrum. Two of my published works illustrate this: "The Report From Hansen's Planet" and "My War Against the Invisibles." In the former, my heroes face an unseen, murderous peril on a strange world. In the latter, unseen aliens commit unspeakable atrocities against their enslaved victims. Unseenunknown--fear of the unknown--a pattern emerges. My large volume of fantasy writing confirms this trend. Most of this falls into two sub-sets, the medieval Jacob Bleek stories and the tales of ancient Dyrezan. The wizard Bleek, a pretty ominous character himself, faces malicious ghosts, monsters, and sorcerers in numerous published adventures. The heroes of Dyrezan, that magical kingdom forgotten by time, routinely run afoul of deadly horrors, some of them fairly Lovecraftian in their immensity. The Dyrezanian stories owe a big debt to Howard as well, but then I would argue he was one of Lovecraft's contemporaries most influenced by the great man.

Many of my heroes tend to be learned, scholarly types, intellectually special, who know things about the world and the universe others don't. Vorchek and Bleek are prime examples. I suspect that Lovecraft weighs in here, although I don't know to what degree. My academic background has surely had an effect on such considerations. Those are the kind of people I relate to best and admire most. Also, many famous authors of the weird have employed similar characters, so why reward Lovecraft in particular? The following may be pertinent. Lovecraft's intelligent fellows are seldom do-gooders (as is typical of literary "psychic detectives," for instance), normally being more interested in pure knowledge or, once they've learned too much, in saving themselves from peril. I see a lot of that in my stories.

Lovecraft's sources of terror, and their associated accouterments, upwell from the distant past, a formula with which I find myself entirely comfortable. My long connection to anthropology makes this a no-brainer for me, as his similar antiquarian interests did for him. We share that kind of love; it oozes out of our stories. With so many tales set in Arizona, my ancient mysteries usually involve prehistoric Indians, yet a fondness for one Lovecraftian quirk leads me farther still. I get a kick out of inventing spooky old books, for which I am beholden to the master. My most oft consulted moldering tome is the Black Book of Jacob Bleek, but I've invented many more, dangerous volumes composed by the likes of Artocris and Azamodias, daring scholars of yore. Not long ago I surprised myself when, in a previous essay, I totaled up all of the forbidden books mentioned in my novel, The Journey of Jacob Bleek. There are a bunch of them!

This I got from Lovecraft: very often the horrors of my stories are, in the end, to be avoided or escaped from, rather than defeated. The foci of fear may prove too vast, too horrendously powerful to surmount by any mortal, even a clever chappy like Vorchek or a cunning knave like Bleek. One doesn't arm wrestle with Xenophor. The enduring power of Lovecraft's frightful pantheon has made a gigantic impact on me. Supreme evil can not be destroyed.

Though not his slavish imitator, I am Lovecraft's humble acolyte. What I enjoy most in him, to that I aspire. However my stories may differ in style, setting, and characterization, I boast of belonging to Lovecraft's fraternity. Should anyone agree with me, I take that as the dearest complement.


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