H.P Lovecraft’s Cosmic Horror and Lovecraftian Genre

Lovecraftian art

ABSTRACT

H.P Lovecraft (1890-1937) is one of the most influential authors in the course of both American and horror literature. Not only he affected his age, but also his mythos created a new sub-genre called as cosmic horror or Lovecraftian horror which follows a series of horror tales about old and ancient gods. With unanswered questions, knowledge beyond human understanding, shapeless creatures, madness, formless aliens from outer space along with folk culture implementing realness to the genre. The important feature of cosmic literature is it puts human beings in unimportant, small, helpless position against the natural. Characters in the stories don’t capable of understanding the knowledge comic from the cosmic void. This sub-genre created by Lovecraft is taken and expanded by the following authors, directors and even songwriters. The Thing (1982), many of Clive Barker’s and Stephen King’s books and movies, Neil Gaiman, Mike Mignola, Robert E. Howards “Conan” and J.R.R Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring”.

Keywords: cosmic horror, Lovecraftian, knowledge, gods, Cthulhu mythos, occultism

H.P LOVECRAFT & COSMIC HORROR

This paper will include two main parts. The first part will analyze the brief summary of H.P Lovecraft’s life and how he came up with cosmic horror elements, the origin of cosmic horror elements, Lovecraft’s Cthulhu mythos of old gods and ancient gods in the sake of understanding what cosmic horror is.

In the second part, this paper will analyse cosmic horror after Lovecraft in art culture. How it was evolved, Lovecraftian intertextuality, why authors prefer cosmic horror and how are they expanding the Lovecraftian mythos.

H.P LOVECRAFT & CTHULHU MYTHOS

Have you ever found yourself looking at the sky, staring at the countless stars, galaxies, distant planets and though how small you are in this vast black? Found yourself in the countless questions about laws that keep the universe together and the knowledge beyond our reach. As you are looking, this blackness invades your mind and making you realize the scale of the expanding universe and how small you are in comparison. After this realization, you feel like you peaked at something beyond yourself and your understanding. That is what is comic horror is about.

In Lovecraftian literature, these elements are presented in science fiction and horror form. Lovecraft transfers his ideas in a grotesque, uncanny way. His elements of fear come from these questions along with a war of the old and elder gods. This war sets up the base level of his mythos. In his works, his character deals with abominable things beyond their understandings.

In Lovecraft books many his characters after dealing with a series of horrifying events they go into madness, die or vanish. That’s because Lovecraft had a difficult childhood along with a father diagnosed with psychosis and overprotective mother who had wished Lovecraft would born as a girl.1

“Winfield Scott Lovecraft was committed to Butler Hospital after being diagnosed with psychosis when HP Lovecraft was only three years old. He died in 1898, when HP was eight. To this day, rumours persist that Winfield had syphilis, but neither HP nor his mother ever displayed symptoms. 

Sarah Susan Phillips Lovecraft was later committed to Butler in 1919. She remained in close correspondence with her son for two years, until she died of complications after surgery.”1

His mother locked him in the room because she was having shame. Lovecraft used to look at the sky at the room and read “One Thousand and One Nights” when he was a kid. In his works there are a lot of eastern refences. Protagonist in his works access forbidden knowledge through a book called Necronomicon written by a mad Arab Abdul Al-Hazred. Necronomicon and Al-Hazred plays a key role for the mythos.

“Born a prodigy, Howard is said to have started reciting whole poetries by the age of two and reading by the age of three. By five, he had completed ‘The Arabian Night’ and took up the pseudonym of ‘Abdul Alhazred’.”3

The most influential eastern reference in his works is the book of Necronomicon. According to his mythos Necronomicon is written by mad Arab Abdul-Al Hazred who had interested in occult and mysticism. He wrote Necronomicon, the book of the dead, all of his terrifying knowledge about elder ones, deep ones, nether realms, different dimensions and all of the information related to occultism. This book is the key point of all of his major works. Also, Necronomicon has been an intertextual book and used by many writers. It is first appeared in “The Hound” (1922).

“Immediately upon beholding this amulet we knew that we must possess it; that this treasure alone was our logical pelf from the centuried grave. Even had its outlines been unfamiliar we would have desired it, but as we looked more closely we saw that it was not wholly unfamiliar. Alien it indeed was to all art and literature which sane and balanced readers know, but we recognized it as the thing hinted of in the forbidden Necronomicon of the mad Arab Abdul Al-Hazred; the ghastly soul-symbol of the corpse-eating cult of inaccessible Leng, in Central Asia. All too well did we trace the sinister lineaments described by the old Arab demonologist; lineaments, he wrote, drawn from some obscure supernatural manifestation of the souls of those who vexed and gnawed at the dead.” (The Hound)

Lovecraftian At the mountains of Madness Minimal Poster

“The jade amulet now reposed in a niche in our museum, and sometimes we burned strangely scented candles before it. We read much in Al-Hazred’s Necronomicon about its properties, and about the relation of ghouls’ souls to the objects it symbolized; and were disturbed by what we read. “(The Hound)

            His creatures are formless, shapeless and for the readers, they are hard to imagine. Not only his characters but also his descriptions of cities and objects have a complex design and are in unearthly geometric shapes that make the reader hard to imagine the surroundings. In “At the Mountains of Madness” (1931) a group of university professors, engineers and students go to an arctic expedition and they find an ancient city that has different pinnacles and indescribable geometry. They discover secrets of ancient astronaut civilizations once ruled the earth and enigmatic codes about a sunken city named R’lyeh in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. In R’lyeh dead Cthulhu waits for dreaming. This statement often shorted as “Cthulhu fhtagn” which might possibly mean “Cthulhu waits”4 or “Cthulhu waits dreaming”.5 Lovecraft made created Cthulhu a detailed genology in his (Selected Letters 617) in this way Cthulhu become the center image of his mythos.

“Here now lay revealed on the ultimate white horizon behind the grotesque city a dim, elfin line of pinnacled violet whose needle-pointed heights loomed dream-like against the beckoning rose-colour of the western sky. Up toward this shimmering rim sloped the ancient table-land, the depressed course of the bygone river traversing it as an irregular ribbon of shadow.” 6

            These lines explain the indescribability of his descriptions. It can be deducted as Lovecraft’s understanding about simplicity of human mind, because his descriptions are hard to imagine. That’s why the characters don’t understand what is going on around the stories. When they peak at the door of the hidden knowledge, it drives them mad.

            Madness plays a big role in cosmic horror. Since Lovecraft lost his parent to madness, the genre shows great signs of madness. Often madness gives an insight into the nature of reality which is terrifying and uncanny. Characters experience unearthly events, hidden knowledge like qabalism and alchemy or situations beyond their understanding.

“The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. 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.”7

Madness and Tentacles

            Lovecraftian horror is not only known for its unnameable contents madness and occultism but also known for its amphibian-like creatures. The monsters of Lovecraft have tentacles, wet, with many eyes, humanoids with branchia. For example, Cthulhu is an octopus-like titan (Call of Cthulhu) with the army of sea creatures called deep ones with greyish green like slippery skin with white stomachs (Shadow Over Innsmouth), Yog-Sothoht (Case of Charles Dexter Ward) with many tendrils, enormous Dagon (Dagon) who dwells in the ocean. Also, the Lovecraftian novel is known for its mad, believer of superstitious, occultist characters. Zadok Allen (Shadow Over Innsmouth) who has seen the true face of deep ones and gone mad, or Charles Dexter (Case of Charles Dexter Ward) who has obsessed his alchemist ancestor and dives into forbidden knowledge or mad Arab Abdul Al-Hazred in many of his works.

Lovecraftian Shadow Over Innsmouth

            In Lovecraft’s later works becomes more cerebral rather than visceral. The protagonist’s fear doesn’t come from fear of loss or death, but it is the fear of knowing the truth hiding beneath the surface.

            “My fears, indeed, concerned the past rather than the future.” (The Nameless City)

            Stephen King still using Lovecraftian themes, Guillermo Del Toro director of many movies along with “Pan’s Labyrinth”(2006) and “Shape of Water” a Lovecraftian movie which is earned four Oscar award18(2017) are also Lovecraftian. Lovecraft’s style defined the genre with hard to imagine descriptions and believable characters and gods with a detailed background made other people have developed the genre and have made it gradually expanding the universe.

LOVECRAFTIAN HORROR AFTER LOVECRAFT

Lovecraft was limited with amateur side of the literature in his age. He used to publish his short stories or novellas in Weird Tales, a pulp magazine book. Editor Farnsworth Wright rejected his well-known stories like Call of Cthulhu, At the Mountains of Madness and Shadow Over Innsmouth.8 Also Lovecraft himself finds himself a bad author and stopped writing at the age of 34. “think of tragedy of such a move for an aged antiquarian” (Selected Letters 1.172) But his effect in both literature and other art cultures continued with many writers, directors and painters.

In “Lovecraft: Fear of the Unknown” a 2008 documentary about Lovecraft. Neil Gaiman says

 “…and there are other things you can make fun of him for. The tendency to write in the first person and to keep writing the ultimate parodic Lovecraftian phrase is somebody going mad while writing and something’s coming up “I can hear them now! Coming up these steps.  Their hellish tentacles are squirming at the door. I are Shub-Niggurath, the beast with a thousand young fhtagn, fhtagn!”. And you’re done. Dot, dot, dot. You disappear in a burst of ellipses and italics”9

With these lines Gaiman explains the power of Lovecraftian narrative. But not only Gaiman, other authors like Stephen King talks about Lovecraft as a great author when he came across an old paperback edition of Lovecraft’s “The Lurking Fear and Other Stories”.

“Now that time has given us some perspective on his work. I think it is beyond doubt that H. P. Lovecraft has yet to be surpassed as the twentieth century’s greatest practitioner of the classic horror tale. Lovecraft. . . opened the way for me as he had done for others before me…. it is his shadow, so long and gaunt, and his eyes, so dark and puritanical, which overlie almost all of the important horror fiction that has come since.”10

Stephen King’s short story “The Mist” is about a group of scientists who opened a portal to another dimension and take shapeless, formless Lovecraftian monster in their town with heavy mist. The monsters have tentacles and hard to describe even for the author and the characters don’t understand what is going on and they believe some sciences and knowledge have to be forbidden and they are not for gazing.

Another great comic book writer Mike Mignola takes Lovecraft as an inspiration source. His iconic character Hellboy, who comes from hell because of the Nazi’s occultist experience but rejects his origin of evil and becomes worlds greatest paranormal detective, fights European folk monsters. These folk tales include 17th and 18th-century gothic folk tales. These gothic elements go parallel with Lovecraftian architecture. In Lovecraftian setting, stories mostly in gothic castles or wooden fishermen’s townhouses with moss and moisture. Hellboy has this setting too.11 Also, Mignola doesn’t hesitate to use the power of Lovecraftian gods.11

In Conqueror Worm Hellboy tries to stop former Nazi occultist Grigori Rasputin who tries to awake the frog army along with the ancient being Cthulhu like creature Conqueror Worm who comes for to destroy the earth. Mignola’s enthusiasm to Lovecraft not only limited with Conqueror Worm but also his other character Screw-on Head has Lovecraftian marks in it. In Screw-on Head there is no Cthulhu like gods, but occultism and Einsteinism and Darwinism with forbidden knowledge and occultism show itself.

In the Name of Crom! and Fhtagn!

Lovecraftian Horror

Robert E. Howard who wrote Conan the Barbarian, Kull the Conqueror and Sonja, also wrote his stories to weird tales and his books have references to it’s the part of the Lovecraft’s mythos. There are connections between Howard’s Conan the Barbarian stories his weird and horror fiction and Lovecraft’s Mythos. In his own world Hyboria, barbarian folks’ worship Crom who is the god of barbarianism and war also King Kull rules Valusia before the great cataclysm. For instance, in The Shadow Out of Time Lovecraft wrote of: “Crom-Ya, a Cimmerian chieftain of B.C. 15,000” and in “The Haunter of the Dark” he wrote of the “serpent-men of Valusia” from Howard’s Kull tales; Valusia is also mentioned in At the Mountains of Madness. In Howards novelette The Phoenix on the Sword, which is rejected for publication, have Valusian king Kull references along with the Lovecraftian mythos marks.

“I did dark and terrible magic with the Serpent Ring of Set, which I found in a nighted tomb a league beneath the earth, forgotten before the first man crawled out of the slimy sea.”12

“He shuddered to see the vast shadowy outlines of the Nameless Old Ones, and he knew somehow that mortal feet had not traversed the corridor for centuries.”12

In the first line, Howard says the first man crawled out of the sea just like Lovecraft’s deep one who once ruled the earth and goes R’lyeh deep of the oceans after the great cataclysm and waits there for Cthulhu’s awakening. In the second sentences, he talks about Nameless Old Ones who are trapped in time. In Lovecraftian mythos, old ones wait for Yog-Sothoth the gate for different dimensions to open. Lovecraft mentions about old ones and Yog-Sothoth in The Dunwich Horror;

“Yog-Sothoth knows the gate, Yog-Sothoth is the gate. Yog-Sothoth is the key and guardian of the gate. Past, present, future, all are one in Yog-Sothoth the cosmic entity. He knows where the Old Ones broke through of old, and where they shall break through again. He knows where they have trod earth’s fields, and where they still tread them, and why no one can behold them as they thread.”13

Source for Forbidden Knowledge: Necronomicon

necronomicon

Last but not least, Lovecraftianism is not affected only art culture. Necronomicon the tome of black magic, which is mentioned in the first part of this paper was heavily believed book by people. Lovecraft created a perfect background for Necronomicon, it’s history from mad Arab and it’s statement of how it came to Arkham and Necronomicon held in these five institutes of the world: The British Museum, The Bibliotheque Nationale de France, Widener Library of Harvard University in Cambridge, The University of Buenos Aires and his the library of the fictional Miskatonic University in the also fictional city of Arkham, Massachusetts.14  Also through time, with disasters like burned pages and translations some parts of Necronomicon are lost according to History of Necronomicon. All these tiny details make Necronomicon closer to believe. From time to time Lovecraft found himself to explain in his letters that Necronomicon is his work of fiction of himself and it is not related to the real world.

“As for the “Necronomicon”—this month’s triple use of such allusions is bringing me in an unusual number of inquiries concerning the real nature & obtainability of Alhazred’s, Eibon’s, & von Junzt’s works. In each case I am frankly confessing the fakery involved.”15

“Regarding the Necronomicon—I must confess that this monstrous & abhorred volume is merely a figment of my own imagination!”16

“The name “Abdul Alhazred” is one which some adults (I can’t recall who) devised for me when I was 5 years old & eager to be an Arab after reading the Arabian Nights. Years later I thought it would be fun to use it as the name of a forbidden-book author. The name Necronomicon…occurred to me in the course of a dream.”17

As a genre: Lovecraftian

To sum up, even though Lovecraft wasn’t popular in his own period, quitted writing in the early ages of his life, and declared himself as a bad writer many of his works were rejected and not only his stories published as a book. One of his friends tried to publish it after his dead yet economic problems had its penalties.19 Love wanted to make the reader suffocate with his long, full of coma sentences as he suffocates himself with his horror style.  But his mythos, his imagination, his personality reflected his writings made him not a name but a genre. There are video games, comic books, stories who added and developed the Lovecraftian genre. Pale hybrids, superstitious sailors, amphibia creatures, indescribable creatures, psychological horror, formal speaking protagonist, stories with less speaking but more inner dialogues lead characters to madness, ancient astronauts, magic and alchemy harmonized with science (especially works of Darwin and Tesla), old folk tales, tentacles, geometries and colours out of this world that makes reader impossible to imagine. All in all, these are Lovecraftian mythos is still being expanded by the writers, directors, game makers, painters, and comic book writers.

References

  1. The Guardian, Cain S. (2014). Ten Things You Should Know About Lovecraft
  2. Lovecraft, Giffen K. (2004). Vertigo Comics
  3. H.P Lovecraft Biography, Editors, TheFamousPeople.com (2017)https://www.thefamouspeople.com/profiles/h-p-lovecraft-267.php
  4. R’lyehian as a Toy Language- on psycholinguistics, Marsh, P. (n.k)
  5. Spectrum No. 3:The Best in Contemporary Fantastic Art, Curnett, C. (n.k)
  6. At the Mountains of Madness, Lovecraft H.P (1936)
  7. Call of Cthulhu, Lovecraft, H. P. (1928) p.1
  8. Cthulhu Mythos Publications, https://lovecraft.fandom.com/wiki/Weird_Tales
  9. Lovecraft: Fear of the Unknown, Woodward, F. H. (2008)
  10. The Man Who Can Scare Stephen King, Wohleber C. (1995) Vol.46, Issue 8
  11. Hellboy: Volume 5 Conqueror Worm, Mignola M. (2005)
  12. The Phoenix on the Sword, Howard R. E. (1932) Weird Tales 20 6
  13. The Dunwich Horror, Lovecraft H. P (1928) Weird Tales p. 481-508
  14. History of the Necronomicon, Lovecraft H.P. (1938)
  15. Lovecraft’s Letter to Robert E. H., Loveraft H. P. (October 4, 1930)
  16. Lovecraft’s Letter to Miss Margaret Sylvester, Lovecraft H. P. (January 13, 1934)
  17. Lovecraft’s Letter to Harry O. Fischer, Lovecraft H. P. (February, 1937)
  18. https://www.imdb.com/title/tt5580390/awards?ref_=tt_awd
  19. Call of Cthulhu: Preface by Dost Körpe, Körpe D.

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