The world is indeed comic, but the joke is on mankind
H. P. Lovecraft (1890 - 1937) is widely considered the twentieth century's most important writer of supernatural horror fiction. Forging a unique niche within the horror genre, he created what became known as "weird tales," stories containing a distinctive blend of dreamlike imagery, Gothic terror, and elaborate concocted mythology.
To read David Stuart Davies’ article on the work of H.P. Lovecraft, click here.
Howard Phillips Lovecraft was born the only child to Winfield Scott Lovecraft, a travelling salesman of jewellery and precious metals, and Sarah Susan Phillips Lovecraft. He was born on 20th August 1890 in Providence, Rhode Island, where he would also die some years later.
Lovecraft is credited with being the creator of the Cthulhu Mythos – shared elements; characters, settings and themes used by Lovecraft and associated horror writers. He popularised ‘cosmic horror’ and often blended elements of horror and science fiction in his works. Although he is now recognised as one of the most important horror writers of the 20th century, his works were criticised during his lifetime for being occasionally ponderous and having an uneven quality.
Lovecraft was a child prodigy, able to recite poetry at the age of two and writing poems by the age of six. His father was hospitalised after becoming acutely psychotic on a business trip and died five years later, leaving him to be brought up by his mother, aunts and grandfather. His grandfather encouraged his writing, and it is thought that Lovecraft’s interest in the ‘weird’ came from his grandfather’s stories of Gothic horror told to him as a child. Frequently physically and psychologically ill as a child, Lovecraft barely attended school in his early years and was withdrawn for a year when he was eight due to his undisciplined and argumentative nature. He returned to full time schooling at thirteeen but never received his high school diploma after suffering from a nervous breakdown shortly before he was due to graduate.
Following his breakdown in 1908 Lovecraft spent five years writing poetry and living virtually as a hermit, only having contact with his mother. He joined the UAPA (Amateur Press Association) in 1914, after the UAPA President noticed a debate Lovecraft was having in pulp magazine ‘The Argosy’ over the blandness of a story by one of the publication’s popular writers. He contributed many essays and poems to UAPA but returned to writing fiction in 1917. His first professionally published work ‘Dagon’ appeared in ‘Weird Tales’ in 1923 and it was through this pulp magazine that he started correspondence with fellow horror writer Robert E. Howard.
Lovecraft met his future wife, Sonia Greene, at an amateur journalist convention in Boston. His mother had died just a few weeks previously after complications from gall bladder surgery, whilst in the same hospital that Lovecraft’s father died in, having suffered a nervous breakdown two years previously. After marrying in 1924 Lovecraft and his new wife moved to Brooklyn, New York City but lack of work and poor finances led to the couple living apart to try and find work. A few years later, still living separately, the couple amicably agreed to a divorce – although the divorce was never completed. Lovecraft moved back to Providence in the last decade of his life and it was in this time that the majority of his best-known stories were written, such as ‘The Case of Charles Dexter Ward’ and ‘At The Mountains of Madness’. He died on the 13th March 1937 from intestinal cancer and malnutrition, less than a year after his friend Robert E. Howard’s suicide.
Themes in his work include forbidden knowledge, non-human influences on humanity and inability to escape fate. So popular now is Lovecraft’s work, that it has been adapted into films, theatre and even computer games.
Wordsworth Editions publishes a selection of Lovecraft’s short stories.
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