A good introduction to H. P. Lovecraft

| April 12, 2008

I’m a fan of Howard Phillip Lovecraft, not because I think he was a great writer (his prose is a bit purple by today’s standards), but because he really was the father of 20th Century post-Gothic horror. Sadly, all the film adaptations of Lovecraft’s work to date have been mediocre at best and usually wretched, often doing serious violence to the work from which they allegedly derived. The only exception is “The Call of Cthulhu“, a wonderful silent film (here’s a trailer) done on a minuscule budget by the H. P. Lovecraft Historical Society (full disclosure: I contributed to the film’s budget by buying a couple of t-shirts). Aside from that, the best examples of Lovecraftian horror in film are, ironically, “Hellboy”, “Cloverfield” and “The Mist”, none of which are based on Lovecraft’s works. There are persistent rumblings of Guillermo del Toro (director of “Hellboy” and “Pan’s Labyrinth”) doing a film version of “At The Mountains of Madness“, but he’s acknowledged that the studios usually want a love story and/or a happy ending, and “Lovecraft permits neither.”

Anyway, one of the widgets on my iGoogle page links me to a different American short story every day, and today it served up “The Colour Out of Space” by H. P. Lovecraft. If you’ve ever wanted to read a Lovecraft story, this is a great place to start:

West of Arkham the hills rise wild, and there are valleys with deep woods that no axe has ever cut. There are dark narrow glens where the trees slope fantastically, and where thin brooklets trickle without ever having caught the glint of sunlight. On the gentle slopes there are farms, ancient and rocky, with squat, moss-coated cottages brooding eternally over old New England secrets in the lee of great ledges; but these are all vacant now, the wide chimneys crumbling and the shingled sides bulging perilously beneath low gambrel roofs.

The old folk have gone away, and foreigners do not like to live there. French-Canadians have tried it, Italians have tried it, and the Poles have come and departed. It is not because of anything that can be seen or heard or handled, but because of something that is imagined. The place is not good for imagination, and does not bring restful dreams at night. It must be this which keeps the foreigners away, for old Ammi Pierce has never told them of anything he recalls from the strange days. Ammi, whose head has been a little queer for years, is the only one who still remains, or who ever talks of the strange days; and he dares to do this because his house is so near the open fields and the travelled roads around Arkham.

There was once a road over the hills and through the valleys, that ran straight where the blasted heath is now; but people ceased to use it and a new road was laid curving far toward the south. Traces of the old one can still be found amidst the weeds of a returning wilderness, and some of them will doubtless linger even when half the hollows are flooded for the new reservoir. Then the dark woods will be cut down and the blasted heath will slumber far below blue waters whose surface will mirror the sky and ripple in the sun. And the secrets of the strange days will be one with the deep’s secrets; one with the hidden lore of old ocean, and all the mystery of primal earth.

When I went into the hills and vales to survey for the new reservoir they told me the place was evil. They told me this in Arkham, and because that is a very old town full of witch legends I thought the evil must he something which grandams had whispered to children through centuries. The name “blasted heath” seemed to me very odd and theatrical, and I wondered how it had come into the folklore of a Puritan people. Then I saw that dark westward tangle of glens and slopes for myself, end ceased to wonder at anything beside its own elder mystery. It was morning when I saw it, but shadow lurked always there. The trees grew too thickly, and their trunks were too big for any healthy New England wood. There was too much silence in the dim alleys between them, and the floor was too soft with the dank moss and mattings of infinite years of decay.

A major part of Lovecraft’s genius was creating a a common backdrop and set of references (commonly called the “Cthulhu Mythos“) for many of his stories and novels. This, of course, is routinely done today, particularly in science fiction, fantasy, and horror works. But I really believe that Lovecraft pioneered the concept, and it is a tribute to his inventiveness that dozens (if not hundreds) of other authors have written stories set in the Cthulhu Mythos or have worked references from it into their own stories.

Enjoy! ..bruce w..

P.S. If you’re already a Lovecraft fan, be sure to buy a copy of “A Shoggoth on the Roof” from the HPLHS, a brilliant and very professional Lovecraftian parody of “A Fiddler on the Roof”.

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Category: Books, Humor, Main, Media, Movies, Music, Weird

About the Author ()

Webster is Principal and Founder at Bruce F. Webster & Associates, as well as an Adjunct Professor of Computer Science at Brigham Young University. He works with organizations to help them with troubled or failed information technology (IT) projects. He has also worked in several dozen legal cases as a consultant and as a testifying expert, both in the United States and Japan. He can be reached at bwebster@bfwa.com, or you can follow him on Twitter as @bfwebster.

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