H.P. Lovecraft
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That is not dead which can eternal lie,

Basic Information

Howard Phillips Lovecraft was an American horror genre author who lived in the New England region of the United States of America. He was born on August 20 1890, and grew up an only child in Providence, Rhode Island. His father was stricken with Paralytic Dementia caused by late-stage Syphilis, and Lovecraft had a difficult childhood. He learned to read and write at the early age of three.

In 1924 he married Sonia Greene, and moved to New York City. Initially, he loved New York, and he gained a lot of weight in his new life. Before long, however, his wife left for work in Cleveland, and then his apartment was broken into and burgled, and he was miserable and lost an unhealthy amount of weight before he moved back to Providence in 1926. In 1933, Sonia divorced him and moved to California, unaware the H.P. had secretly not signed the divorce decree.

In 1936 his friend and fellow pulp author Robert E. Howard committed suicide, and Lovecraft took it pretty hard. In the wake of this loss, Lovecraft was growing sick and dying of cancer, but refused to see a doctor out of fear. He died in great pain on March 15, 1937.

He wrote some science fiction and fantasy and even poetry, ghost-wrote an autobiographical tall-tale for/as Harry Houdini and collaborated with him on an unpublished skeptical book debunking the supernatural, exchanged thousands of letters with various pen-pals, and even wrote some nonfiction astronomy/science and journalism, but his greatest contribution to literature was his creation of the cosmic horror subgenre, and specifically the cthulhu mythos. While he was published by a number of pulp magazines, overall his writing career wasn't that profitable. When he lived in New York, he survived off a weekly allowance sent to him by his wife. His literary success and significant impact on genre fiction was largely posthumous.

Lovecraft's horror tone and literary voice were distinctive. His protagonists were usually intellectual bookish types, not action heroes. His plot lines were almost never resolved with combat or actiony set-pieces, and often ended tragically, sometimes with the main character going insane. At the core of Lovecraft's horror fiction was the notion of the utter insignificance of mankind and the vast uncaring alien-ness of the universe. His monsters were generally squamous, cyclopean and indescribable. He peppered his tales with little easter egg cross-over references to his other works, and built up a body of myth that has fooled more than a few readers into thinking the Necronomicon of Abdul Alhazred was a real Eldritch Tome of hideous knowledge, and not just a fictional book that didn't exist. His tales were unique and fresh and horrifying in their day.

Unfortunately, he was also a terrible racist. Many of the stories don't seem so bad, no worse than anything else written in their day… so you'll be happily reading more and more of his body of work, until you stumble across a xenophobic line, or an N-word, or an entire poem that makes your jaw drop. So, y'know, be aware those literary landmines are out there. In his last year or two, he did shift politically and publicly expressed poor opinions of Fascism, but that doesn't exactly wipe the slate of his life clean of the stain of his years of bigotry (not least because fascism and racism are two completely different forms of toxicity that can be exist on their own or in combination).

Also worth noting when considering H.P. is his obsession with corruption from within - its expressed in many of his stories (whether the heredity of Arthur Jermyn or the ghoulish or Innsmouth taints) and more generally in his literal (as opposed to imaginary) xenophobia. His own lifelong health problems (possibly hereditary), his father's insidious destruction, his physically powerful friend Robert Howard destroyed from within in another way … his own cancer… all of these give us some indication of the sort of complex mental disorder that probably fuelled his creativity.

In his house in Providence, dead H.P. writes stories.



Game and Story Use

  • With Lovecraft your two big horror themes are "despair in the face of a dreadful and uncaring universe" (cosmic horror) and "the secrets of corrupt blood" (body horror / betrayal).
  • As a bookish intellectual who is a tragic, tortured and ultimately doomed soul, H.P. Lovecraft would make a great Lovecraftian protagonist.
    • His fiction works constantly invoked the notion that the Necronomicon was real, which provides a lovely smokescreen of verisimilitude. It's easy to pretend that the true secrets of the universe are eldritch and horrific, and thus Lovecraft had great and terrible insight rather than merely great imagination.
    • Charles Stross works this idea into the Laundry series - making HP a deeply unreliable narrator providing a twisted picture of things that are, unfortunately, still true.
  • Lovecraft and Houdini working together to debunk a paranormal occurrence or haunted house, or expose a supernatural fraud or hoax, would be a pretty fun team-up.
    • That semi-auto-biographical horror story that Lovecraft ghost-wrote as Houdini is set in the Great Pyramids in Egypt and has a huge monster in it. You could likewise riff on Egyptian Mythology in a tale with both of them. You might also play around with the irony of paranormal debunkers collaborating on an over-the-top tall tale of monsters.
  • See Cthulhu Mythos, Cosmic Horror, Eldritch Abomination, Interpretatio Cthulhiana and Necronomicon for ideas of how to use his horror fiction themes.
  • For ideas on how to navigate the literary landmines, I would recommend watching the excellent HBO series Lovecraft Country.
  • Generally, anyone who can't cope with Lovecraft's work being written and set in the 1920s would do well to take the core mythos and drag it into the modern era - this has been done very successfully by all sorts of people. Quite apart from "politics" this also gives you a good excuse to shoot at Cthulhu with better weapons … and still achieve very little.
    • The same applies to a lot of pulp - the language of the day expressed racial difference in ways that are complete unacceptable to day. Even positive and heroic portrayals of non-white characters can come across as "racist" due to linguistic drift - and there are plenty of negative portrayals. There is also a tendency to adopt ideas of racial degeneracy and decline that are currently unfashionable (see the whole picts/serpent people for example).
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