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Old 09-18-2015   #1
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Good article: "The Campy Cosmic Horror of H. P. Lovecraft"

I find myself quite impressed by this piece at The Digital Antiquarian, "An Ongoing History of Computer Entertainment," even though the writer's ultimate judgment on Lovecraft is too harsh for my taste. He judges Lovecraft a mostly bad -- very bad -- author who could occasionally produce works of genius, but who is really, finally fascinating and worth reading because of his rivetingly neurotic and flawed personal character and his strange influence on pop culture at large. But it's obvious throughout that the writer, one Jimmy Maher, is a skilled wordsmith who's deeply knowledgeable about all things Lovecraftian.

Here are three excerpts:

Quote
"The Campy Cosmic Horror of H. P. Lovecraft"

by Jimmy Maher

The Digital Antiquarian, September 18, 2015

Lovecraft is in most respects a pretty bad writer. He is, however, an otherwise bad writer who somehow tapped into something that many people find deeply resonant of the proverbial human condition, not only in his own time but perhaps even more so in our own. Despite his clumsy prose and his racism and plenty of other sins, his stature has only continued to grow over the decades since his death in poverty and obscurity in 1937 at age 46. This man who himself believed he died a failure, who saw his work published only in lurid pulp magazines with names like Weird Tales and never had the chance to walk into a bookstore and see a book of his own on the shelf, now has a volume in the prestigious Library of America series. His literary influence, at least within the realm of fantastical fiction, has been almost incalculable.

. . . But just what is it about this profoundly limited writer that makes his work so enduring? Well, I can come up with three reasons, one or more of which I believe probably apply to most people who’ve read him — those, that is, who haven’t run screaming from the horrid prose.

The first and most respectable of those reasons is that when he wrote “The Call of Cthulhu,” his one stroke of unassailable genius, Lovecraft tapped into the zeitgeist of his time and our own. We should think about the massive shift in our understanding of our place in the universe that was in process during Lovecraft’s time. In the view of the populace at large, science had heretofore been a quaint, nonthreatening realm of gentlemen scholars tinkering away in their laboratories to learn more about God’s magnificent creation. Beginning with Darwin, however, all that changed. Humans, Darwin asserted, were not created by a divine higher power but rather struggled up, gasping and clawing, from the primordial muck like one of Lovecraft’s slimy tentacled monsters. Soon after the paradigm shift of evolution came Einstein with his theories about space and time, which claimed that neither were anything like common sense would have them be, that space itself could bend and time could speed up and slow down; think of the “loathsome non-Euclidean geometry” of Lovecraft’s Great Old Ones. And then came our first inklings of the quantum world, the realization that even the comforting regularity of Newtonian physics was a mere facade spread over the chaos of unpredictability that lay beneath. The world seemed to be shifting beneath humanity’s feat, bringing with it a dawning realization that’s at the heart of the embodiment of existential dread that is Cthulhu: that we’re just not that important to anyone or anything; indeed, that it’s difficult to even express how insignificant we are against the vast sweep of the unfeeling cosmos. I believe that our collective psyche sill struggles with the ramifications of that realization today. Some cling ever tighter to traditional religion (it’s interesting to note that fundamentalism, in all its incarnations, is a phenomenon that postdates Darwin); some spend their lives trying to forget it via hedonism, career, social media, games (hey, I resemble that remark!); some, the lucky ones, make peace with their insignificance, whether through Nietzschian self-actualization, spirituality, or something else. But even for them, I believe, persists somewhere that dread and fear of our aloneness and insignificance, born of the knowledge that a rogue asteroid — or a band of inconceivably powerful and malevolent aliens — could wipe us all out tomorrow and no god would save us. It’s this dread and fear that Lovecraft channels.

. . . If you haven’t yet read Lovecraft, I certainly recommend that you do so. Love him or hate him, he’s a significant writer with whom everyone — especially, as we’ll begin to see in my next article, those interested in ludic culture — should be at least a little bit familiar.


Last edited by matt cardin; 09-18-2015 at 12:24 PM..
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Old 09-18-2015   #2
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Re: Good article: "The Campy Cosmic Horror of H. P. Lovecraft"

I no longer read such articles, because they usually make me so livid that I make a fool of myself by responding in a manner that does nothing to "prove" that Lovecraft is indeed an EXCELLENT writer. This is the new critical "point of view" from commentators on HPL--that he was such a bad writer, and such a messed-up freak and loser; and yet he is SO intriguing in a way that defies reason. Or some such thing. My way of commenting on such ignorance is to publish yet another collection of stories that pay homage to the magnificent and ingenious writing of H. P. Lovecraft.

But, also in response, I'm gonna change my Avatar....

"We work in the dark -- we do what we can -- we give what we have. Our doubt is our passion and our passion is our task. The rest is the madness of art."
--Henry James (1843-1916)
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Old 09-19-2015   #3
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Re: Good article: "The Campy Cosmic Horror of H. P. Lovecraft"

Meh. Once again Lovecraft is a bad writer because his dictionary was too rich and a twisted, abnormal individual because he didn't care about things all Normal People should care about. All such essays are usually smug and unoriginal, and this one is not an exception. It is the first time, however, when I see Lovecraft being called pathetic for having had friends younger than him. This is quite a new low.
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Old 09-20-2015   #4
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Re: Good article: "The Campy Cosmic Horror of H. P. Lovecraft"

<le sigh> I don't know why I wrote a book on Lovecraft & sex if nobody reads it and everybody is happy to just continue throwing around ignorant ideas that Lovecraft was repulsed by sex.

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Old 09-20-2015   #5
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Re: Good article: "The Campy Cosmic Horror of H. P. Lovecraft"

Lovecraft has been dead for almost 80 years and we still read his stories. Is this not the best possible definition of a great writer?

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Old 09-20-2015   #6
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Re: Good article: "The Campy Cosmic Horror of H. P. Lovecraft"

That's an interesting question. Any writers that have remained relatively or very popular from at least 80 years ago that you'd consider simply bad?

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Old 09-20-2015   #7
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Re: Good article: "The Campy Cosmic Horror of H. P. Lovecraft"

I remember being shocked when I read Brian Aldiss’s comments in Billion Year Spree (1973). I was a teenager then, and it couldn’t have been long before that I’d read my first HPL story (it was The Dunwich Horror) and I quickly followed that by reading – well, all the rest.

My thought after reading that first story was “That must have been written just for me… Thank you!”

So when I opened Billion Year Spree and found one of my literary idols writing of another: “Ghastly writer though Lovecraft is…” it was similar to a glass of ice-cold water dashed in the face.

But Aldiss didn’t belittle Lovecraft in those pages. The piece continues: “…predictable though the horrors are, somewhere buried in his writing is a core of power that remains disconcerting when all the adjectives have fallen away like leaves.” Aldiss disliked the mechanisms and devices, the old diaries with incomplete passages, the books of spells; and of course he disliked the overwriting (which contributed to precisely the atmosphere which seduced me years ago) while recognizing the strength beneath.

I do think Jimmy Maher’s article is a good one. I’d agree that most of Lovecraft’s stories are overwritten. The point Maher makes about The Call of Cthulhu is a good one:

“In only one respect is “The Call of Cthulhu” not archetypal Lovecraft: it has a relatively subdued climax in comparison to the norm, with our narrator neither dead nor (presumably) insane but rather peeking nervously around every corner, waiting for the cult’s inevitable assassin to arrive. This is doubtless one of the things that make it so effectively chilling.”

I admit I wish that more of Lovecraft’s fiction was a little more subdued and less predictable; it would be so much easier to defend as literature. Not that it needs much defence; it’ll probably outlast all of us.

I suppose my own attitude to Lovecraft’s writing is simplistic. I find it easier to think of it some of the time as “a psychological case history” (quoting Colin Wilson) but frankly – and this is nearly all of the time – I think of it as precisely what I always thought it was, right from those teenage years when I found The Dunwich Horror in a Boris Karloff horror anthology: it was something written just for me. I’m also glad I read all the stories in those far-off days, because I often want to re-read them now... but these days I find them a lot tougher!
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Old 09-21-2015   #8
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Re: Good article: "The Campy Cosmic Horror of H. P. Lovecraft"

Quote Originally Posted by Mr. D. View Post
Lovecraft has been dead for almost 80 years and we still read his stories. Is this not the best possible definition of a great writer?
"Some books are undeservedly forgotten; none are undeservedly remembered." - W.H. Auden.

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Old 09-21-2015   #9
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Re: Good article: "The Campy Cosmic Horror of H. P. Lovecraft"

The point I was making was very simple. If any author still has an audience decades after their death then there is something important about their work. There may be flaws in their work. Times may change and their style may no longer be as popular as it once was. But There has to be something both entertaining and edifying about their work to remain in the public eye. I think that the writers who think that Lovecraft was a poor writer don't understand his art. He was very effective in creating mood and atmosphere. Maybe these critics who carp on his supposed lack of ability are unable to read older writers with empathy. Still, from the rest of their articles they seem to be affected by this same style that they downplay just as much as Lovecraft's other readers. Any comments?

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Old 09-22-2015   #10
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Re: Good article: "The Campy Cosmic Horror of H. P. Lovecraft"

Quote Originally Posted by Mr. D. View Post
The point I was making was very simple. If any author still has an audience decades after their death then there is something important about their work. There may be flaws in their work. Times may change and their style may no longer be as popular as it once was. But There has to be something both entertaining and edifying about their work to remain in the public eye. I think that the writers who think that Lovecraft was a poor writer don't understand his art. He was very effective in creating mood and atmosphere. Maybe these critics who carp on his supposed lack of ability are unable to read older writers with empathy. Still, from the rest of their articles they seem to be affected by this same style that they downplay just as much as Lovecraft's other readers. Any comments?
I tend to get the feeling from this particular angle of criticism, that it comes from people who have (as someone else has alluded here) always felt comfortable being 'normal'. There's an undertone of, "Who is this peculiar individual?", which is exasperating to those who have, in fact, had to grow up with the same attitude directed towards themselves.

Those who grew up in the Anglosphere (such as myself) are often convinced that this is a culture that has a near monopoly on this attitude, but perhaps that's an exaggerated stereotype.

P.S. I agree 'worth remembering' does not mean above criticism. It means, precisely, worth remembering.

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