I originally wrote this for HPL’s 130th birthday, on 20 August 2020, while we were on blogging hiatus. Today is 15 March 2021, the anniversary of his death in 1937, so he is on my mind again.
Vale, Howard Philips Lovecraft, you complicated old soul. 130 years of age and you don’t look a day over strange aeons.
What a slithering mass of contradictions you were. Your views on non-Anglo peoples and cultures were reprehensible, and fill me with more horror than an Antarctic tunnel full of Shoggoth. That outlook infuses your work, poisons it, making some stories unreadable when I first encountered them 35 years ago and trust me they have not improved with age.
But you had kindness in you. You’d write to anyone, mentor anyone, with patience and humour (and occasionally some unfortunate rants). You were the original creative collaborator, cheerfully sharing monsters and forbidden tomes with your chums in the small press and using theirs in turn, killing each other off in gleeful ways.
And the stories… we’re revisiting them again lately, or listening with rapt attention to the readings by the HP Lovecraft Historical Society. There’s your voice, written or tapped out one word at a time in your cold and lonely room some ninety years ago, a voice at once confident and anxious, pouring on sensation after sensation by adjective after adjective until I feel trapped, suffocated, desperate to learn what is about to happen and terrified of what I’ll know when I do. Great horror needs conviction and your writing has it, even that ridiculous one about Dr. West.
I am sad that you didn’t get a chance to grow as a person or even into your senior years. You died at 46, an Old Gent before your time (Grandpa to all in your circle), in poverty and terrible diet, with little regard for the quality of your work and never enjoying great success with it. If you could see Cthulhu now, you’d chuckle, in a language we could not read nor speak.
I owe you so much, HPL. I’ve made so many dear friends, global travel, a life’s work of stories I’ve spun in your long dark shadow. You passed on so much to me that I can never forsake you, but you’ll get a scolding from time to time believe me, as should all racist literary uncles.
I’m so pleased to see your visions and horrors told anew by creators who are inspired by your ideas but reject your exclusions. I love the anthologies Heroes of Red Hook edited by Oscar Rios and She Walks in Shadows edited by Silvia Moreno-Garcia and Paula R. Stiles, which give voices to the people you left out of your fiction. I love the work that Mike Mason and Lynne Hardy at Chaosium did to rebalance Masks of Nyarlathotep, a seminal work of roleplaying from the 1980s but which in parts was still a bit too close to your outlook. And of course the towering work that is Harlem Unbound by Chris Spivey, the most unflinching and passionate reply yet. Thus we refute Lovecraft.
So, I’ll raise an ice cream to you Howard, not one from Chauncey’s of Hope Valley R.I. as you once wrote about with great delight to a friend (120 flavours!). In fact it’s a Vegan Cornetto and frankly I’m glad don’t have to hear your opinions on that, but thanks for all that you gave me. I cannot and will not forget it.