So, I recently had cause to pull out an old piece I'd written a few years back for a book intro about H.P. Lovecraft. I've been in full-on Lovecraft mode for the last several months because I did an independent study about Lovecraft's development of a unique mythos and its comparison to the classical concept of man's place in the universe. I'm still trying desperately to get the paper I wrote published, so hopefully you'll be able to read it sometime too. But, on top of that, I ran a one shot Call of Cthulhu RPG with two friends about a week and a half ago, for the first time in like 10 years! So that's had me thinking about the Old Man from Providence as well. Anyway, back to the article… I pulled the article and cannibalized it because I answered the question on the Lovecraft Ezine forum, "When or how did you discover H.P. Lovecraft?". It was an interesting question, and one that I've examined before. I mean, obviously I've thought about it. I wrote a fucking article about it. But that also got me thinking about the larger question… why am I the way I am? Or, to put it another way, what is the origin of my unnatural obsession with all things horror and H.P. Lovecraft? It's a good question, a question that goes beyond my weird geekishness. As you can see, I'm moving intellectually and writing-wise into actual, serious literary analysis of weird fiction and - more specifically - the titans who defined the current horror universe. From the Victorians like Stoker, Shelley, or Stevenson; to the weird writers like Lovecraft, Machen, Derleth, or Chambers; or the sublimely American masters of early creepiness like Poe or Hawthorne - I'm reading, analyzing and trying to academically and professionally find the roots of literary horror. This in no way diminishes my love for all the other tropes and trappings of horror. Horror films, anime, Halloween, visiting the filming sites of classic horror films - my obsession knows no bounds. So - again - it asks the question… where did all of this madness begin? It all falls, I believe, on my late Uncle James.
He was only 10 years older than me and, after the death of my grandmother - when I was around 5 or so - he came to live with us. He was 15, a teenager, and cool... and I idolized him. It was through him that I learned to love horror, and - believe it or not - as an obsessed Lovecraft scholar, I didn't come to Lovecraft until I was in high school myself. But that seed was planted many, many years ago by James. His was a hard life. He lost his mother and father at an early age, and never recovered. He was raised for a time by my mother, who was only a few years older. He crawled in a bottle at a young age and never crawled out… and that addiction cost him his life at the relatively young age of 52. He died alone. His life came to an end sadly.
But for a time, when he was living with us, he was my favorite uncle and he introduced me to horror movies.
I grew up on a steady diet of horror.
Whether it was movies or books, I can remember always being fascinated by the
darker things in life. My Uncle James introduced me to the Universal monsters on Saturday afternoons, to The
Munsters, and to classic Hammer horror films when I was 4 or 5 years old. His
recent death made me reflect on how integral a part of me this early education
was, and I will always be grateful to him for that. It’s not much of a legacy,
but to me, he was solely responsible for the writer I am today.
I grew up in the 70’s, and as a combination
of my Uncle James’ love of horror films and the unique time period it was for
toys, movies, and pop culture -- I was
inundated with horror in all of its incarnations. I'd stay up late on Friday night watching creepy Hammer films, or Classic drive-in horror flicks on our local late night horror host show. Then I'd then wake up late on on the following Saturday morning and eat Count
Chocula and Boo Berry cereal while listening to albums of spooky
tales told by the deep baritone of Boris Karloff. Then I'd watch the Saturday afternoon creature features, Addam's Family reruns, and go to bed under my Frankenstein sheets -- under the watchful eye of of an Aurora Model of Lon Chaney, Jr.'s tragic Wolfman.
My fascination with the horrific grew as I
did. I taught myself how to read before I was five (and Sesame Street’s The
Count taught me my earliest arithmetic) and I remember sitting in the back of
the classroom while the rest of my first grade class learned how to read (my
parents wouldn’t let me skip grades). While they were learning that the snake
says, “Sssss…”, I was imagining myself
hiding in the dark of a cave with Tom Sawyer and Becky Thatcher, hiding from
Injun Joe in the stygian depths. Although Mark Twain hadn’t intended it, he’d
come up with a masterpiece of suspense and horror that resonated with my own
I remember being 8 or 9 and reading Stephen
King’s ‘Salem’s Lot; and it scared
the crap out of me. I still – to this day – glance at the windows on dark,
stormy nights and shudder as I imagine a soft tapping, or perhaps the quiet skree of a bloody fingernail on it. I’ve
obviously always had a great imagination, but that imagination is a detriment
when you’re in your 40’s and still give yourself the heebee-jeebees imagining
the deathly pallor of the Glick boy outside the bedroom window, asking me -
pleading with me - to let him in.
I devoured every book I could. My movie
tastes evolved as I came of age in the golden age of the 80’s slasher flicks
and amidst George Romero’s first holy trilogy of zombie films. I plunged into
the darkness and reveled in it.
And yet, against this rich background and
vast horror experience, I had never heard
of H.P. Lovecraft.
At least not until I was freshman in high
school, that is. I was in a health
class, ignoring the teacher and reading Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings for the fourth or fifth time, when the kid in the
desk next to me – his name was Sean -
commented on it. We started up a conversation, and as true geeks and purveyors
of the odd know, we can smell our own. We became fast friends and he invited me
to do something I’d always wanted to do – namely join in one of his and his
friends’ weekly role playing game.
He had a disdain for Dungeons and Dragons,
having long since played and evolved past that. Instead, my book being a clue
to him, he asked me to join him and a few other friends in playing Middle Earth
Role Playing (MERP). Surprisingly, I agreed, despite my usual quietness and
non-social tendencies. I told him I’d always wanted to do it, and was pleased
he’d asked me. The thing is, the more we talked, the more obvious my love for
horror became. After a few days, he made a decision.
“D.,” he said, “I think you’d totally love
MERP, but there’s something else I think you might like better. There’s a game
out there called Call of Cthulhu
that’s based on the work of H.P. Lovecraft. It’s a horror game and, although
it’s probably not the best game to learn to role play with, I think you’ll
really, really like it.”
When he saw my quizzical look at the
strange name of Cthulhu and the name of the dark master, Lovecraft, he grew
excited and tried to explain to me the Cthulhu Mythos and Lovecraft’s strange
world. I had no idea what he was talking about, but it intrigued me nonetheless.
next day he handed me a dog-eared copy of a mass market paperback with the
most disturbing artwork I’d ever seen upon its cover. I held it at arm’s
length, shocked at the images upon it.
There were corpses, spiderwebs, and strange insect-like dog creatures
with clusters of ruby red, murderous, eyes. There were strange men standing
before bloody altars and drawn in such a way as to imply dark human sacrifice
and all manner of debauchery. In other words, it had all the things that still
warm my ghoulish heart.
I was speechless, and Sean rubbed his large
hands together in delight
“HP Lovecraft, my
man…” he said with absolute certainty, “Lovecraft is by far the greatest horror
writer of all time. He’s influenced more writers, artists, novels, stories, and
movies than any other writer EVER has. His influence is deeper than Edgar Allan
Poe’s; deeper than Shakespeare’s. I guarantee you you’ll never be the same
after reading Lovecraft. He’ll scare the hell out of you, brother. Seriously.”
withstanding, damn him if he wasn’t right. That night, as I lay in bed reading The Doom That Came to Sarnath, I
experienced true vertiginous terror. Never before had I experienced anything so
horrifying, so gooseflesh-inducing, so mind-numbingly terrifying in all of my
life. I came to realize that Lovecraft had a unique power, the power to see
into the dark, nebulous space between the stars over our heads and in the
shadows that lurk in the darkest corners of our homes and SEE things; things
that no one else can see. He opened my eyes to new horrors – horrors that are
all around us, and I was never the same.
Needless to say, my
first taste of Lovecraft left me hungering for more. I began researching and
studying his work -- to the detriment of my own studies at times. I became
enamored with all things Lovecraftian; and that love of Lovecraft’s wild New
England and the hallowed, brown, ivied walls of Miskatonic University still
call to me.
weekend, in the midst of a howling, cold, Northern Ohio snowstorm -- I joined
Sean, and two other young men, Jason and Curtis, and we explored for the first
time ancient Arkham. Together, we three plumbed the depths of Lovecraft’s
mythology and, to this day, I look back at those many hours when the four of us sat in
Sean’s attic as some of the best times of my life. That tiny dark room, lit by
candlelight and filled with the quiet, but pervasive, sound of dark, eclectic
background music. I feel a tugging nostalgia when I recall the deep, melodic,
and mesmerizing voice of my friend Jason (our Game Master) as he led us to comb
the Miskatonic Library, or investigate a trapper’s shack in the middle of a
hoary, primeval Massachussetts forest. We played for years afterwards, and
gleefully lost sanity with the role of a die when confronted by one of
Lovecraft’s otherworldly monstrosities. Those afternoons and nights are part of
who I am today.
One chance encounter
in high school health class changed my life, and I will always be grateful to
Sean, Curtis, and Jason for making my life better, for introducing me to the
man I consider the master of modern horror -- the man whose tombstone reads,
simply, “I Am Providence.”
In addition to reading
all of Lovecraft’s works, and playing Call
of Cthulhu, we also immersed ourselves in the Brian Yuzna-helmed movies
that make up the best Lovecraft adaptations to date. I still shudder with
delicious pleasure to think of the depravity that is The Reanimator, and cannot look at the actor Jeffrey Combs as
anything but ‘that tow-headed freak, Herbert West’. I still devour Lovecraftian
moves, and hold dear those that truly capture Lovecraft’s vision; movies like Dagon, or The HP Lovecraft Historical
Society’s brilliant silent film, The Call
of Cthulhu. I almost wept when I heard that At the Mountains of Madness was not to be made into a film version
because of the idiocy of Universal Studios suits.
And, later, as I
became more literate, it was almost impossible to not see Lovecraft’s sinister
touch in the works of the giants of today’s horror writing world. Brian Keene,
Dean Koontz, Edward Lee, even New England’s other dark son, Stephen King. I
found out many years later that my first of his novels, ’Salem’s Lot, was his own attempt at a Lovecraftian tale. Lovecraft
can be found in music as well. From the overt work of Metallica and a myriad of
other heavy metal, industrial, and gothic bands; to the more subtle and
visceral musical scores of Nox Arcanum and Midnight Syndicate. Lovecraft is
Born in Providence,
H.P. Lovecraft himself lived a sad, lonely life. Laboring under a persistently
ill and quiet existence, he found solace in the writing of the type of stories
that had come into vogue in the pages of such classic pulp collections as Weird Tales and Amazing Stories. He was a recluse, but he kept prodigious
correspondence with many of the writers of the time, writers like Robert Bloch
and Robert Howard.
We know much of
Lovecraft through these letters, and through the impressive body of his work.
When taken as a whole, we can maybe not forgive his patrician attitude, his
racism, his classism, and the other faults that were a product of his time and
breeding, but we can give them context. Much has been said of his persistent
racism; but now we can look back at the inappropriateness of some of his
portrayals and characters, of his representation of New England locals as
inbred, degenerate inferiors, as a failing that is eclipsed by his writing. His
own somewhat erroneously inflated upper class ideals pale when compared to the
brilliance in his imaginative mythos. He created a new world (two, if you
consider his Dreamlands) that still resonates through the membrane of the
horror genre to this day.
He died painfully, but
his legacy is left intact. Lovecraft was the first to imagine a cold, dark universe in which
we’re insignificant insects. He wrote about the darkest fears of man, and the
morphic thread that ties occult, magic, and science into one twisted Gordian
knot. They are not separate; instead they are inextricably linked.
And that is
Lovecraft’s greatest gift to mankind – namely, that WE ARE NOT ALONE. There are
things that science, and the occult, and the human mind can’t explain. He is
the progenitor of the horror concept that we are not – nor have we ever been -
And we’re all the more
terrified at the thought of that than anything else.
For me, that history -- those throbbing, alien roots of cosmic horror -- inundated all that came after it. The movies, the music, the literature, they all owe a debt to Lovecraft and the others. And it is through my late Uncle James, and the horror movies and books he introduced me to, that I learned my love for them and came to appreciate them. It comes full circle.