One vein of thought that I will repeat is that there are not many writers out there who have managed to invent their own mythology. Lovecraft is one of them. Ironically, what got me into Lovecraft was the FANTABULOUSLY twisted and kinky conspiracy-theory of all conspiracy-theory books Wilson and Shea: The Illuminatus! Trilogy (also not for the feint of reading comprehension). I discovered in these two authors' heavily-layered fact-o-fiction the deep lures of many Lovecraft shout-outs, allusions I would later find in countless other books and movies and TV (X-files included, lol). I now take a huge amount of nerdy amusement in identifying the embedded Lovecraftian images in sci-fi, horror, and fantasy. After Illuminatus, I had to find out what all the fuss was about this guy, as isolated and tragic in his own way as Poe, and ever-surrounded by the mysticism that he helped create.
I should say that I'm not a huge Poe fan. I realize he was one of the greats to the audience that was his audience, and certainly a score for us American writers, but for some reason I never really bought in, much much much as I wanted to. Possibly because he was one of many blunt instruments used by one or two overpaid officials of the American public school system to ram "culture" into my brain. While I admit he was dark and creeptastic in his own pre-ghetto Bronx way, I always saw him as a tad bit of a drama queen. More melodramatic than hardcore, getting his panties all in a bunch because of a metaphorical bird and such. Yes, I'm dissing The Raven. I did it. It is rare that I find myself looking to be frightened by metaphorical birds. I can be saddened by metaphorical birds, but not necessarily frightened, and I guess that is one difference between the whimsical and the absolutely horrifying. I wanted the nitty gritty details of what exactly scared you shitless, not your description of the conniption you had after being scared shitless. I thought he'd do much better as a director of macabre theater in 1965 or something, curse my soul for saying it but it's true, as wondrous a wordsmith as he was. But then came HP, and I was knocked backward and upside the head. This was something that just felt intrinsically different than any genre of horror I had ever attempted before. It was like I was finally finding this essential piece of my love of horror fiction that was missing all the while. This was truly dark, as in dark under thousands of feet of black ocean current, dark as in dark beyond eons of cold glittering stars, dark as in the heavy metal lord of horror.
WTF = 29
W = 10
T = 9
F = 10
This was the kind of horror that had me up at night, feeling ill-at-ease. Written by a guy who died before 1940, his work is still as wild and relevant as it was when it was initially printed in the pulp mags. The eternal leavings of Lovecraft's self-termed "cosmicism" are items like the Necronomicon, and creatures like Cthulu, Dagon, and the Old Ones, including a language much more metal than Tolkein's elf talk that all those dorks buy rings with the inscriptions and such. That being said, I have fallen victim personally to Lovecraftian merchandise (though nothing as lame as some locket with something an elf said, I'll give you that at least.) For some reason I felt while reading all of this crazy stuff, that somehow, Lovecraft was basing his stories on some tangent of reality. That it could very well be that aliens landed here long before humans ever populated the earth, and that their technology or aims were unimaginable to our feeble linear minds.
While I continued to tell myself I was just reading epic and hysterically well-worded pulp fiction, I dug up the old X-Files phrase almost immediately, because I found I could not help but apply it to the pilots and scientists in the face of the "At the Mountains of Madness", or the poor fellow in "The Shadow Over Innsmouth", or the simple farmers in "The Color Out of Space". There was nothing else but to admit it to myself loud and clear, assuming that perhaps this was what other writers and directors were feeling when they pulled imagery and relics out of Lovecraft's prose either as a lovingly-made allusion or a half-assed attempt to pass off genius as one's own:
"I want to believe."
And oh did I ever. I guess if the slew of other famous names of those who profess him to be a complete genius and an influence to create does not convince you to read this stuff, hopefully my testament that this guy managed to scare the living shit out of me while keeping me interested in not only his twisted, gnarled plots but also his characters will add to the ranks. You may find at first that, like his drawn influence from Poe, Lovecraft's also a tad bit dramatic too with his lengthy flourish of language and multi-syllabic vocabulary, but when you are standing in the ancient dead hallways of a million-year old cavern built by all-knowing slumbering alien minds creating technology far exceeding anything humans could come close to imagining you just try not to have a panic attack.
As a new reader of Lovecraft stuff, I would start fairly simple. Had I begun with "At the Mountains of Madness", I might not have gotten far with his work, though that is definitely the place to end it with a bang! It seems all so archaic at first, like nothing out of the 20th century. You will stumble at first with his writing style unless you generally read stuff from pre-1900, and this is to be expected I think even from the seasoned reader despite our desires to make others believe our brains comprehend everything instantly. I'd advise starting with something like "The Colour Out of Space", or even "The Call of Cthulu". I remember "The Curious Case of Charles Ward" was also one of the early ones I enjoyed. There are several editions of Lovecraft collected short stories that are great, but I will suggest two sets that I have and quite enjoyed.
I would suggest starting with this edition titled Tales of H.P. Lovecraft (selected and edited by Joyce Carol Oates). This is a good little stack of Lovecraft stuff and a great way to get started before you go for the extended additions: Omnibus 1-3. These books are super-chunky with a huge cross-section of Lovecraft's writing, including some of the less-stellar stuff, so you'll more or less have to do some sifting. I don't care if Joyce Carol Oates or Jesus Christ did the intro for the book - the reason I picked this edition first is because the stories contained are good examples of Lovecrafty goodness. I generally don't read introductions as a rule unless I'm bored and stuck on a plane with nothing better to do than pick my nose. And even then, nasal spelunking is usually way better than the contents of most introductory material. If the author you are reading is THAT good, their work should usually speak for itself and I find biographical stuff online.
And here be the Omnibusssses. All told, you have about a year's worth (at least) of screaming space madness the likes of which will creep you out indefinitely. And while it would most definitely be one hell of an experiment to see what happens to your general mentality and life after one full year of reading nothing except Lovecraft...I probably would not advise it. You would inevitably fall apart like the author did.
I actually found that, as much as I loved his writing, I felt always a little sick when I read it. This is the only stuff that gave my husband nightmares...he's the logical type that doesn't dream. Possibly because the guy manages such an intense feeling of ominous foreboding that if you're into the stories you can't help but feel kind of ill with this dull kind of constant worry in the back of your mind. It's maddening after a while and I discovered that what worked for me is to vary what I read and when I have a random rainy day where I can get away with a good hour or two's delve into something epic, I'll grab one of these and see what I find.
Get into Lovecraft to get in touch with your ageless, slimier self, the part of you that wouldn't mind descending into a thousand-mile-deep oceanic abyss to learn the secrets of the Universe...and possibly be eaten alive by a creature four hundred times your size. Lovecraft awakens in all of us, through the Cthulu mythos and his other tales, the sense that everything on earth and in the space around us is so much older than we can really fathom. That we are at the brink of some insanely ageless magical violent and indifferent mystery. I think what ultimately draws readers into this kind of writing is the realization that we humans know so little of the truth of what makes us sentient beings in what often appears to be endless dead space. And so we ask: what else is there?
Heavy metal horror...
|Nerd Alert: bought one of these cuties for my husband. An adorable fluffy eater of souls :)|
And lastly, some old Metallica (before they became a country band)...