NOTE: This is the nineteenth in a series of 31 reviews of scary short stories and novels. As part of All Hallow’s Read, I will be sharing all the scary stories that I think you should consider giving to someone for Halloween. Because this is a tradition intended for people of all ages, some of these titles will be for children and young adults, while others are meant strictly for adults. Happy Reading.
When I wasn’t looking, H.P. Lovecraft became a household name. He’s now up there with Poe as a titan of horror. Those who wander far beyond the fringe and into the strait-up weird have always considered him a master. Now the rest of the world has seemed to catch up. More than that, Lovecraft and his grand mythos is now big time business – complete with adorable merchandise.
I think that any writer dabbling in the weird has tried their hand at Lovecraftian stories. Ramsey Campbell, modern day God of horror on par (or greater) with Stephen King, admits to all of his original stories to be blatant copies of Lovecraft. Imitation is how you learn to write. Who better to imitate than the guy who invented the genre.
My introduction to H.P. came through those he influenced. Neil Gaiman talked about him a bunch, even wrote one or two of his own Cthilhuian stories – Shogoth’s Old Peculiar being my personal favorite).
John Carpenter’s In the Mouth of Madness is top to bottom, left to right, all Lovecraft, even if his name appears nowhere in the film. A writer receiving messages from ancient powers, his work driving the readers insane, people transforming into other creatures, the latest book prophesying the end of the world and serving as a new bible to these old gods – it’s an unauthorized Lovecraft film. My guess is that authorization was a problem, so the producers had to make something Lovecraftian, without being an actual adaptation.
One of the first stories I ever wrote was called Clive and the New World. It was about a writer getting messages from a species which once existed with humans, until the divide, where our worlds were split in half, existing side by side. They come to the writer through portals, to tell him the truth about their world so that mankind will be prepared for the merger. He’s the one they chose to be their chronicler because he was touched by the thing that dwells along the border of their world at the bottom of the bay. This thing is so massive that at the time of the merger, it will rise and appear to be the horizon itself consuming the sky.
I had heard Cthulhu’s call before actually acknowledging it.
That story was written (never submitted) long before I’d ever read a single word by Lovecraft. The far reaching tentacles of his influence had touched so many that I contracted a righteous contact buzz just by reading their work.
In no way I’m I surprised by the sudden commercial viability of Lovecraft. His depiction of cosmic horror, of the universe being far more frightening than anything we could possibly conceive, is addicting. Anyone viewing existence through a prism outside of the world in front of them will, at some point, feel the awe of infinity and tremble before it. As the good book says, (and by good book I am of course talking about The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy) “Space is big.”
“We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity and it was not meant that we should voyage far.” -The Call of Cthulhu
By taking the threats away from castles, away from closets and under the bed, and glancing our eyes upward, Lovecraft opened up a limitless gateway to the possibilities of fear. Out in the vast black there are things much older and more powerful than us, they don’t care about us, and (quoting Neil Gaiman here) “they could squash us all like bugs”.
The Call of Cthulhu is special (despite its aimless verbosity) because it gives the reader their first glimpse at the great secrets of the universe, and with no regard for their kicking and screaming, pulls them ever deeper into the abyss. We are like the characters found in the long short story, especially the narrator. A single tear in the fabric of our reality, and it all unravels.