The Malevolent Universe of H P Lovecraft

H P Lovecraft is ranked as one of America’s finest horror writers and his Cthulhu mythos has turned into one of writing’s most powerful manifestations. In his work, Lovecraft frequently refers to the minuscule scale of man in a frightening, obscure, and to a great extent vindictive universe. Ancient and unspeakable beings are at the heart of Lovecraft’s Cthulhu mythos.

The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown. The most merciful thing in the world… is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents.

In his complex mythologies things much older than earth are looking at human beings with cruel intent, or with indifference. To the writer’s imagination, these old ones are concealed in remote corners of the world, and in dark places within the metropolis itself, hidden in a rock pool, or lurking in a sewer for instance. Lovecraft’s strange oeuvre is full of these ancients, who predate human beings by eons, originating in the dark stars of the universe. They await the hour when they will reign on earth again.

These are not commonplace demons arising from the depths of hell, these are nasty, tentacled creatures coming from other worlds and banished into the deep. They form the core of our malign world and are horrible monstrous beings.

Lovecraft’s Monster

H P Lovecraft was an old-world xenophobic gentleman who hankered after an idyll in his home city of Providence Rhode Island. The Philips house on Angell Street was a remnant of old American values, and the Lovecraft family regarded itself as part of the Providence aristocracy, their family line stretching back as far as the 17th century, with origins in Devon in England. He felt hugely out-of-place in multicultural America, with its swathes of immigrants from Europe, Asia and the West Indies. He was stunned by the ruthless demographic movements and the aggravations they brought in their wake. Yet the changing scene bolstered Lovecraft’s vivid imagination in the early part of the twentieth century.

Lovecraft was not a masculine child. After his father’s death from syphilis in July 1898 young Howard was his mother’s only emotional tie and Susie Lovecraft was over attentive with her son. His mother’s over attention, and his grandfather’s vast library formed Lovecraft’s odd personality. Up in his grandfather’s library, Lovecraft hankered after an earlier time, and he fell in love with literature up the 18th and early 19th centuries. His schooling became intermittent at best, a variety of nervous maladies keeping him away from formal education, which was not mandatory, unlike today. Yet he read copiously and learned much, feeding his taste for the macabre with the works of Edgar Allan Poe, a writer whose life has eerie parallels with Lovecraft’s own life.

We think of history in terms of decades, or millenniums, but what do we know of deep time, of geological time, of time that is insurmountable? It is a way of thinking about scales of existence where mountains are pushed aside, where continental shelves erode, and where whole species evolve and become extinct. It is impossible to assimilate such an infinity in our human brain. In grandfather Whipple’s immense library, the young Lovecraft discovered astronomy giving him a sense of the boundlessness of the cosmos and the utter insignificance of humanity by comparison.

As we lurch further into the twenty-first century, what might Lovecraft have made of our current horror-filled world? It is tempting to imagine that these dogmatic social and political influences of today are the prophesied beasts of Lovecraft’s lurid and feverish imagination.

Bunch together a group of people deliberately chosen for strong religious feelings, and you have a practical guarantee of dark morbidities expressed in crime, perversion, and insanity.

To Lovecraft, humanity is a small, threatened, fragile soul living in a universe populated by monsters, beings that fill vast emptiness with their silent, evil intent.

Could H P Lovecraft have stumbled upon a truth that many are unwilling to face?

Searchers after horror haunt strange, far places. For them are the catacombs of Ptolemais, and the carven mausolea of the nightmare countries. They climb to the moonlit towers of ruined Rhine castles, and falter down black cobwebbed steps beneath the scattered stones of forgotten cities in Asia. The haunted wood and the desolate mountain are their shrines, and they linger around the sinister monoliths on uninhabited islands. But the true epicure in the terrible, to whom a new thrill of unutterable ghastliness is the chief end and justification of existence, esteems most of all the ancient, lonely farmhouses of backwoods New England; for there the dark elements of strength, solitude, grotesqueness, and ignorance combine to form the perfection of the hideous.

(“The Picture in the House”, 12 December 1920)

 

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