Wednesday, October 24, 2012

He was Providence

I am in a spooky mood.

I spent this evening at a sharing of ghost stories for our campus literary magazine.  In addition to the hauling out of that old academic chestnut of "why don't any of you like realism?" students and faculty shared their macabre best.  I did read a piece of literary nonfiction, but nothing I could write would ever compare to the terror of H.P. Lovecraft.  In the spirit of the night and since a horror post seems almost obligatory in late October, I thought that I would pay tribute to the master.

I don't often read horror.  But when I do, I prefer H.P. Lovecraft.  He was the granddaddy of the eerie and the supernatural, long before the current crop of whippersnappers came along, like King, Barker, and who ever the hell wrote Twilight.  His terror came from mood, description, and the secret, arcane knowledge that mankind is doomed.  The Old Ones, hideous and god-like entities from beyond that once ruled this world and were worshiped by its peoples, are returning one day to reclaim what is theirs.  Nothing can stop them.  They are above anything we could dish out.  They are above even death.  You might not lose your life when they take over, but you will doubtless lose your sanity.

As you might imagine, Howard Phillips Lovecraft of Providence, Rhode Island, was a strange young man.  That comes with the territory for most any writer but particularly so for one whose fever-oppressed brain harbors such notions.  He was troubled, experiencing "night terrors" as a child, believing that he was being assaulted by faceless "night gaunts." Later in life, Lovecraft suffered a nervous breakdown allegedly while trying to master mathematics so that he might become an astronomer.  I can relate.  Tormented and depressed, he began to find social interactions tedious and awkward.  I'm seeing a pattern here.

Lovecraft saw himself as an outsider to humanity.  Yep, pattern still on track.  In fact, one of his short stories is directly inspired by this notion, a story titled, aptly enough, The Outsider.  I refuse to give any of its secrets away.  Instead I will simply urge you to read it.  The author was known to have had no interest in the trifles of common humanity as opposed the darkness of the supernatural and the unknown.  It was this paradigm that allowed him to bring forth his tales of ancient gods, ones that were around far before Christianity, perhaps his own dig at organized religion.  Primary among these gods was Cthulhu, who awaits dreaming in the depths.

It was his own detachment from society that I believed allowed Lovecraft to write such wonderful and inspiring work.  He saw humanity for what it is: a pittance, no more significant to the cosmos than the ants that get stepped on as we walk.  Whereas many of his contemporary writers were attempting to hoist up and revel in humanity's stature, Lovecraft wanted to delate us and see us taken down multiple pegs.  I can relate.  Yet another check mark.

So I don't often read horror.  But when I do, I prefer H.P. Lovecraft.

Stay sane, my friends.

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