1. “West of Arkham the hills rise wild, and there are valleys with deep woods that no axe has ever cut. There are dark narrow glens where the trees slope fantastically, and where thin brooklets trickle without ever having caught the glint of sunlight. On the gentle slopes there are farms, ancient and rocky, with squat, moss-coated cottages brooding eternally over old New England secrets in the lee of great ledges; but these are all vacant now, the wide chimneys crumbling and the shingled sides bulging perilously beneath low gambrel roofs.”
The Colour Out of Space (1927, Amazing Stories)
Sometimes I inevitably read “America” whenever Lovecraft writes
“Arkham”. His New England stories are rife with colonialist fears which, more often than not, find themselves deeply rooted in the dense, dark forests of the American landscape. While Lovecraft’s fictional horrors are monstrous entities, there hides behind his descriptions of landscape the acknowledgement of altogether more human qualities: repression and guilt. It recently occurred to me that many for his narratives would be well-served in a comparative study on the South African Apartheid era. There is the sense that, underneath the apparent status quo, something is straining to break free and make itself known. “…New England secrets…bulging perilously…” America was for Lovecraft, like Arkham for his fictional characters, both attractant and repellent.
2. “It is only the inferior thinker who hastens to explain the singular and the complex by the primitive shortcut of supernaturalism.”
The Temple (1925, Weird Tales)
If Lovecraft is anything, he is contradictory. An agnostic going on atheist, he never intended his deities as supernatural in any way; they are only otherworldly in the sense that they are extra-terrestrial. Yet, there remains in the summoning of these creatures very specific supernatural roots. The ritual aspects involved in bringing, for instance, Yog-Sothoth, into our dimension ties itself to many religious/cultic/pagan rites. At the same time, the above quote is indicative of Lovecraft’s juxtaposed admiration and ambivalence toward science. Science may be able to explain the utterly strange, but in doing so, may harm us psychologically.
3. What do we know… of the world and the universe about us? Our means of receiving impressions are absurdly few, and our notions of surrounding objects infinitely narrow. We see things only as we are constructed to see them, and can gain no idea of their absolute nature. With five feeble senses we pretend to comprehend the boundlessly complex cosmos, yet other beings with wider, stronger, or different range of senses might not only see very differently the things we see, but might see and study whole worlds of matter, energy, and life which lie close at hand yet can never be detected with the senses we have.
From Beyond (1934, The Fantasy Fan)
Actually, this is a pretty good argument for Ridley Scott’s Prometheus. Just sayin’. Lovecraft was clever. He may have been a bit of a dummy when it came to issues of race and gender, but his observations about looking at the world through a scientific lens, while at the same time being limited by such an approach can sometimes border on the mystical. God forbid, even spiritual.
4. I am writing this under an appreciable mental strain, since by tonight I shall be no more.
Dagon (1919, The Vagrant)
This is a potential problem in many of Lovecraft’s stories—the unreliable narrator. How do you trust a madman to tell you a true and correct version of events? It’s one of the hitches in the Lovecraftian mode that makes for such a weird reading experience. In this instance, we are informed by the narrator that he is not of sound mind, yet we read anyway. Do we want to hear what he says because we simply want to experience, vicariously, what it feels like to be unhinged? Or do we read because we are looking for a like mind, someone to share the things and thoughts that haunt our own minds?
5. It is an unfortunate fact that the bulk of humanity is too limited in its mental vision to weigh with patience and intelligence those isolated phenomena, seen and felt only by a psychologically sensitive few, which lie outside its common experience.
The Tomb (1922, The Vagrant)
It’s interesting to contemplate what Lovecraft means here by “psychologically sensitive” and “common experience”. By the former, is he intimating madness? Or does he mean someone attuned to some kind of extra-sensory perception? As for “outside…common experience”, is this something that exists in an actual, accessible different dimension, or an experience that is rather a mental one, only obtainable by those who have slipped into madness? Contradictory Lovecraft rears his head here again.
6. In my dreams I found a little of the beauty I had vainly sought in life, and wandered through old gardens and enchanted woods.
Ex Oblivione (1921, The United Amateur)
In Lovecraft’s dreams, the woods were delightful and welcoming, unlike the real woods of America. A colonialist’s dream world, indeed. Lovecraft read Schopenhauer, whose influence can be found in his non-fiction work. A quote from “In Defence of Dagon” comes to mind here: “There is nothing better than oblivion, since in oblivion there is no wish unfulfilled.” But all oblivion does is put off the inevitable, after all. It makes you wonder what inner demons Lovecraft were struggling with, what “little beauty” he so vainly sought but could only find in the fugues of his dreams.
7. “Searchers after horror haunt strange, far places.”
The Picture in the House (1921, The National Amateur)
There are those who actively search out the terrible. Why? Who knows? To learn, perhaps more about ourselves. Only sometimes, we need not go very far, though these places become infinitely strange through what we discover. Note how “oblivion” saves the protagonist’s mind at the end. Learn about ourselves indeed.
8. “Memories and possibilities are even more hideous than realities.”
Herbert West – Re-Animator (1922, Home Brew)
You know what they say—don’t think it, or it will become real. Memories are strange things, and the action of remembering is something Lovecraft employs very cleverly in his own work. He gives us just sort of enough information, his descriptions sometimes frustratingly elusive, so that we need to use our own imagination to fill in the gaps. The memory of the possibilities of what his horrors may reveal themselves to be become lodged in our minds and, like memories over time (or from one reading to another) transmute themselves much in the same manner his tentacled, oozing terrors do. They become the realities we have told our minds exist on paper. A different reality, but a reality nonetheless.
9. “The Old Ones were, the Old Ones are, and the Old Ones shall be.”
The Dunwich Horror (1929, Weird Tales)
Humanity? What’s that? Lovecraft is well known for the cosmic nature of his work. The man was a pessimist extraordinaire, though I am not entirely convinced he was a nihilist. There’s too much mental straining and fighting going on in his work. As for those who vociferously argue that The Dunwich Horror is a Lovecraftian oddity because it has a happy ending: sure, on paper. Just remember the last bit of the above quote: “…the Old Ones shall be.” Just because a story ends on paper doesn’t mean it doesn’t continue.
10. “But are not the dreams of poets and the tales of travellers notoriously false?”
The Street (1920, The Wolverine)
Remember how he talks about finding beauty in his dreams from the earlier quote from Ex Oblivione? Lovecraft appears to be saying that the concept of beauty is akin to wishful thinking, and that context and frame of mind creates for us only illusions that make life bearable.
11. “The sciences, each straining in its own direction, have hitherto harmed us little; but someday the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the deadly light into the peace and safety of a new dark age.”
The Call of Cthulhu (1928, Weird Tales)
This is my favourite Lovecraftian bit about science. I like that he talks about science hurting us, especially on days when I keep seeing Neil deGrasse Tyson memes all over my internet. Don’t get me wrong, I love science. Science rules! But yes, I do on occasion get frustrated by the surety of “science as saviour”. The more I read Lovecraft’s more scientifically orientated stories, the more I admire him for his obvious admiration of the field, and his ability to consider that something he has so much respect for may become in some way damaging to us. Science may very well reveal to us one day our true origins. Who knows, maybe it will be a miraculous revelation. Or maybe it will be devastatingly disappointing, causing a backlash, what Lovecraft refers to as a “new dark age”. Some days, when I consider the state of the world, I think we are already knocking on the door.
12. “Blue, green, grey, white, or black; smooth, ruffled, or mountainous; that ocean is not silent.”
The White Ship (1919, The United Amateur)
“Mountainous” oceans. Yikes. I inherited a fear of deep and dark water from my mother. Even before I picked up Lovecraft, the ocean held both a fascinating allure and simultaneous terror for me. What swam, dive and crawled beneath its surface were real aliens, semi-gelatinous things so different from us land dwellers. No, it’s not silent at all. Lovecraft’s brilliance in making the ocean, approximately 70% of our planet, a pervasive source of fear and terror that cannot be ignored.
13. “What do we know … of the world and the universe about us? Our means of receiving impressions are absurdly few, and our notions of surrounding objects infinitely narrow. We see things only as we are constructed to see them, and can gain no idea of their absolute nature.”
From Beyond (1934, The Fantasy Fan)
A quote that painfully highlights our shortcomings in the quest for understanding the world we live in. The “absoloute nature of things” is what eludes Lovecraft continuously, and I have a great admiration for a writer who doggedly tries to, if not capture it through his work, tries to bring toe reader as close as possible to experiencing the nature of something so vast and incomprehensible.
14. “Life is a hideous thing, and from the background behind what we know of it peer daemoniacal hints of truth which make it sometimes a thousandfold more hideous. Science, already oppressive with its shocking revelations, will perhaps be the ultimate exterminator of our human species — if separate species we be — for its reserve of unguessed horrors could never be borne by mortal brains if loosed upon the world.”
Facts Concerning the Late Arthur Jermyn and His Family (1921, The Wolverine)
More trouble with science. This is Lovecraft’s writing at its most loathsome of the human race. The misconception exists that Lovecraft himself was a loner all his life, some kind of tall, awkward giant that shuffled along the streets of Providence, alone in the dark, hissing at children. This is not entirely true. Lovecraft’s New York Circle existed of a number of writers who got together regularly to discuss their work and other topics. Known as The Kalem Club, it included Frank Belknap Long, Rheinhart Kleiner and Samuel Loveman. Perhaps he was lonely in New York, a place he, by his own admission, found loathsome. Then again, should that not have made him shrink from its social scene even more? One wonders if, by “Life”, Lovecraft rather meant to convey a sense of the solitary moments we spend by ourselves, in which case his image as a misanthrope might be overstated.
15. It was an All-in-One and One-in-All of limitless being and self — not merely a thing of one Space-Time continuum, but allied to the ultimate animating essence of existence’s whole unbounded sweep — the last, utter sweep which has no confines and which outreaches fancy and mathematics alike.
Through the Gates of the Silver Key (written with E. Hoffman Price, 1934, Weird Tales)
What I love about Lovecraft’s Dream Cycle stories is their abstract, organic feel. They’re less brooding and strangely spiritual; the language Lovecraft used to write them has a kind of amorphous feel, indeed, dreamlike. His juxtaposing of “fancy” and “mathematics” in the above quote induces what I like to refer to as the “Lovecraftian blip”, an idea or suggestion that, for a moment, takes us beyond the border of human understanding, but then thrusts us back into our limited perspectives, stirring in us a sense of unbalance and weirdness. And boy, could he be lyrical about things when he wanted to: “…the ultimate animating essence of existence’s whole unbounded sweep…” Uhuh. Read it and weep.
16. Some terror in the swishing tall grass seemed added to that of the diabolically pounding sea, and I started up crying aloud and disjointedly, “Tiger? Tiger? Is it Tiger? Beast? Beast? Is it a Beast that I am afraid of?”
The Crawling Chaos (1921, United Cooperative)
This inevitably makes me think of William Blake’s poem “The Tyger”. Lovecraft as a Romantic is not entirely that far a stretch. He pines about things like meaning and lack thereof and often focuses on Nature as a source of external and internal conflict. The notion of “fearful symmetry” (as in Blake) is also an interesting concept when considered as a lens for the opposites and contradictions found in Lovecraft himself and his work. Note how the question, “Beast? Is it a Beast I am afraid of?” brings us back to a consideration of Beast/Human.
17. I thought with a shudder of what Old Castro had told Legrasse about the Old Ones; “They had come from the stars, and had brought Their images with Them.”
The Call of Cthulhu (1926, Weird Tales)
I’m starting to think Ridley Scott’s read a lot of Lovecraft. I’ve always liked the idea of Lovecraft’s entities as not of our world. He makes certain allowances for the idea that man—or the conceptual image of man—also came from somewhere else. In “At the Mountains of Madness”, we are given hints of this, when scientists find strange murals on the walls of the ancient Antarctic city of the Old Ones, depicting unsettlingly humanoid figures. It is intimated that the Old Ones created these as playthings, a source of food, even. This is why it’s important to read Lovecraft entirely, by which I mean, his work as a whole creates a big picture. While not always consistent, it certainly opens the vistas of what he was trying to convey in a way that one, two, or three stories or even ten are unable to do.
18. We must recognise the essential underlaying savagery in the animal called man, and return to older and sounder principles of national life and defense. We must realise that man’s nature will remain the same so long as he remains man; that civilisation is but a slight coverlet beneath which the dominant beast sleeps lightly and ever ready to awake.
At the Root (1918, The United Amateur)
Another reason why I admire Lovecraft: he did not shy away from the inherent, brutal nature of humanity. Alas, as in so many instances, he contradicts his own, selective, forward thinking moments with knee-jerk reactions like “We must…return to older and sounder principles of national life and defense.” This quote, like others from Lovecraft’s work, feels strangely relevant today. I say “strangely” because everyone tends to associate Lovecraft with a) the way he wrote, his “purple, florid” style, or b) tentacles. Yet, at the root (tut-tut) his work is very relevant today in terms of its cosmic, encompassing themes. As a race, humans have never been more globalised than we find ourselves today. Our problems reveal themselves on a universal rather than an individual scale, making Lovecraft perhaps one of the first Modern writers to anticipate and address these issues.
19. It is good to be a cynic—it is better to be a contented cat — and it is best not to exist at all. Universal suicide is the most logical thing in the world—we reject it only because of our primitive cowardice and childish fear of the dark.
Nietzscheism and Realism (1921, The Rainbow)
Lovecraft loved cats. Unfortunately, one of them was name “Nigger Man”, like his feline counterpart in Lovecraft’s “The Rats in the Walls.” I kid you not. But Lovecraft’s racism is not as black and white (stop it) as some make it out to be, as is also the case with Lovecraft’s attitude toward women. From the above quote, it seems Lovecraft is again attempting to highlight humankind’s inability to accept that we are, essentially, animals. Cats on the other hand? They know the score.
20. One can’t write a weird story of real power without perfect psychological detachment from the human scene, and a magic prism of imagination which suffuses them and style alike with that grotesquerie and disquieting distortion characteristic of morbid vision. Only a cynic can create horror—for behind every masterpiece of the sort must reside a driving daemonic force that despises the human race and its illusions, and longs to pull them to pieces and mock them.
Letter to Weird Tales Editor Edwin Baird (March 1924, Weird Tales)
Again with the great phrases—”magic prism of imagination”. Lovecraft’s letters arguably reveals more about the author than his fiction. I wonder sometimes, in our age of flame wars and trolling, what would happen if a writer publicly made a statement like the one above. I don’t find Lovecraft’s declaration particularly self-important. Rather, I think Lovecraft simply knew what he was good at writing. Creating horror on paper, the kind that broods and unnerves, is not an easy thing to do. It’s much easier to go for the revolting approach, the standard gross-out. Lovecraft is definitely adept at mocking humanity, possibly (probably?) because he himself writes from the perspective of the very thing he mocks.
21. All I say is that I think it is damned unlikely that anything like a central cosmic will, a spirit world, or an eternal survival of personality exist. They are the most preposterous and unjustified of all the guesses which can be made about the universe, and I am not enough of a hair-splitter to pretend that I don’t regard them as arrant and negligible moonshine. In theory I am an agnostic, but pending the appearance of radical evidence I must be classed, practically and provisionally, as an atheist.
Letter to Robert E. Howard (16 August, 1932)
Can’t make up his mind, can he? I find this an endearing quality; to my mind, it’s a sign of someone willing to keep an open mind. Here, five years before his death, Lovecraft is still puzzling over notions about science, intermingled with his own particular philosophies on religion. It’s easy to claim Lovecraft as a staunch atheist, considering that his protagonists are almost always men of science, rooted in academia, and exhibiting a rational outlook on life. Yet, almost always, these are the qualities which are always tested, and almost always lead to the mental undoing of said protagonists.
22. I am perfectly confident that I could never adequately convey to any other human being the precise reasons why I continue to refrain from suicide—the reasons, that is, why I still find existence enough of a compensation to atone for its dominantly burthensome quality.
Letter to August Derleth (25 December, 1930)
It certainly wasn’t any religious inclinations that kept Lovecraft from taking his own life. His prolific letter writing is a possibly clue—not only what he wrote in them, but that he wrote them at all. Anyone who feels the need to get so many thoughts and ideas down on paper is arguably not ready to shuffle off their mortal coil just yet. Here, too, shades of Romanticism glimmer through. I wonder what Lovecraft would have written had he been a contemporary of Byron, Wordsworth, Shelley, Coleridge and Keats. Opium-induced Lovecraft, ola!
23. It is just as ridiculous to get excited & hysterical over a coming cultural change as to get excited & hysterical over one’s physical aging . . . There is legitimate pathos about both processes; but blame & rebellion are essentially cheap, because inappropriate, emotions . . . It is wholly appropriate to feel a deep sadness at the coming of unknown things & the departure of those around which all our symbolic associations are entwined.
Letter to Frank Belknap Long (27 February, 1931)
Statements like these indicate that Lovecraft’s racism cooled during the final number of years of his life. One wonders if the pathos he mentions is to a certain extent directed at himself. Lovecraft was as much a philosopher as he was a writer. It is hard to imagine that a thinker might not change certain of his perceptions over time. The “sadness” Lovecraft reveals here is, rather than sadness about a loss of any Western ideal, simply the act of letting go of what one knows.
24. Disintegration is quite painless, I assure you… You are curious? I always knew you were no scientist.
From Beyond (1934, The Fantasy Fan)
This remains, at least for me, one of the most enigmatic lines from any Lovecraft story. “From Beyond” contains another gem: “That Crawford Tilinghast should ever have studied science and philosophy was a mistake.” Considering everything we know, or can possibly derive, of Lovecraft as amateur scientist, writer and philosopher, “From Beyond”, though a short piece, potentially offers us much more than a cursory reading may assume. Disintegration of what kind? What disembodied voice ensures us of this fact, or does it elude to some different kind of dissolution, perhaps that of the mind? Furthermore, if such dissolution is sought out, why would it not make the seeker a scientist? I need to read this story again.
25. The only saving grace of the present is that it’s too damned stupid to question the past very closely.
Pickman’s Model (1927, Weird Tales)
This is an interesting one, particularly in the context of what I said about Lovecraft’s fiction being relevant to contemporary society. Of course, when we take into consideration any colonised country, oppression remains whenever the past is not questioned. I mentioned South Africa earlier as a potentially interesting comparative backdrop for Lovecraft’s New England setting; here, too, the analogy springs to mind. I can relate to the fear of questioning the past. Of course, it’s wrong not to, but the knee-jerk reaction will always be “why didn’t we leave well enough alone”, or “we were better off before…”
26. What, in substance, both the Esquimaux wizards and the Louisiana swamp-priests had chanted to their kindred idols was something very like this: the word-divisions being guessed at from traditional breaks in the phrase as chanted aloud: “Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn.”…”In his house at R’lyeh dead Cthulhu waits dreaming.
The Call of Cthulhu (1926, Weird Tales)
When one considers the notion that the Old Ones may have fashioned humans into existence, it raises an interesting question about Lovecraft’s perception of cultural backgrounds. Here, he refers to two very different societies as having “kindred” idols, inferring that they have somehow evolved from the same stock, the same primordial ooze. The cosmic nature of “The Call of Cthulhu” allowed perhaps for Lovecraft a more culturally-inclusive take on mankind, though it should be said, he still chooses two so-called “tribal” examples to highlight a kindred bond. That said, anyone who has read the story knows that Cthulhu’s allure also ensnares the educated academics Lovecraft was so fond of.
27. I could not help feeling that they were evil things– mountains of madness whose farther slopes looked out over some accursed ultimate abyss. That seething , half-luminous cloud-background held ineffable suggestions of a vague, ethereal beyondness far more than terrestrially spatial; and gave appalling reminders of the utter remoteness, separateness, desolation, and aeon-long death of this untrodden and unfathomed austral world.
At the Mountains of Madness (1936, Astounding Stories)
Here we have Lovecraft channelling Wordsworth, albeit on a somewhat more hysteric level. Part of what makes Lovecraft so interesting to read is exactly what some find a turn-off: his language. In a Weird Fiction context, it attributes to the sense of alien-ness; there is the notion that anything founded in the past has been “discovered”, studied, identified. Yet Lovecraft’s language feels foreign despite its modern context. Contributing to this weird atmosphere is the combination of words Lovecraft uses in close contact with one another, for example “ethereal” and “spatial” and “ineffable” and “beyondness”. Bit of a master wordsmith, really.
28. I took opium but once — in the year of the plague, when doctors sought to deaden the agonies they could not cure. There was an overdose — my physician was worn out with horror and exertion — and I travelled very far indeed. In the end I returned and lived, but my nights are filled with strange memories, nor have I ever permitted a doctor to give me opium again.
The Crawling Chaos (1921, United Cooperative)
Remember what I said earlier about Lovecraft and opium? Yes, had he, what he wrote might have been even more chaotic than what he ended up giving us. Of course, as should be considered in all other instances, fictional narrator and living author are separate entities. Yet, writing is a strange craft, one that not always allows for the convenient separation of intent and final product.
29. Sometimes when earth’s gods are homesick they visit in the still of the night the peaks where once they dwelt, and weep softly as they try to play in the olden way on remembered slopes.
The Other Gods (1921, The Fantasy Fan)
Lovecraft’s knack for writing in the Romantic mode really shines here, with the sublime shimmering through in the above quote. I think studying “At the Mountains of Madness” and “Rime of the Ancient Mariner” together as examples of Romanticism would be a blast. This quote is also extremely reminiscent of Algernon Blackwood’s short story “The Willows”, which Lovecraft admired greatly.
30. My opinion of my whole experience varies from time to time. In broad daylight, and at most seasons I am apt to think the greater part of it a mere dream; but sometimes in the autumn, about two in the morning when winds and animals howl dismally, there comes from inconceivable depths below a damnable suggestions of rhythmical throbbing … and I feel that the transition of Juan Romero was a terrible one indeed.
The Transition of Juan Romero (1944, Marginalia)
“Damnable suggestions” indeed sits at the heart of what makes much of Lovecraft’s work so fascinating. It’s also what has kept it fresh, able to be read and re-read, without losing its strangeness. When talking about “transitions” we are once again dealing with things that change, and as mentioned before, Lovecraft laments change as something to be mourned, but essentially inevitable. There are intimations of ritual sacrifice in the story, which echoes nicely with Lovecraft’s own experiences with loss. Apparently, he himself was not fond of the story himself, and would not allow it to be published while he was still alive.
31. Just before dawn Arcturus winks ruddily from above the cemetery on the low hillock, and Coma Berenices shimmers weirdly afar off in the mysterious east; but still the Pole Star leers down from the same place in the black vault, winking hideously like an insane watching eye which strives to convey some strange message, yet recalls nothing save that it once had a message to convey. Sometimes, when it is cloudy, I can sleep.
Polaris (1920, The Philosopher)
The stars are right. Or terribly wrong, depending on your perspective. I’ve always found the connection between Lovecraft, the stars, and his dreams somehow melancholic. The sense of distance, between ourselves and the cosmos, and ourselves and our dreams is like an invisible bridge that we keep stumbling past, unable to find. As always though, with Lovecraft, there is a nasty edge to finding our dreams. From up there (and in there) things “leer”, “winking hideously like an insane watching eye”. Like the stars reveal the unknown depths of the universe, we might find things in ourselves we don’t like. Terrible things. Beauty is often a dangerous thing.
32. I recall that the people went about with pale and worried faces, and whispered warnings and prophecies which no one dared consciously repeat or acknowledge to himself that he had heard. A sense of monstrous guilt was upon the land, and out of the abysses between the stars swept chill currents that made men shiver in dark and lonely places.
Nyarlathotep (1920, The United Amateur)
“Dark and lonely places” echo Lovecraft’s sentiments about finding the terrible within ourselves. Nyarlathotep is perhaps one of Lovecraft’s most enigmatic creations. Sometimes referred to as the “Crawling Chaos”, one cannot help but see a connection between Lovecraft’s colonial aspirations and “a sense of monstrous guilt…upon the land…that made men shiver in dark and lonely places.” Alienation permeates Lovecraft’s work, particularly those stories with the Arkham Cycle. Perhaps Lovecraft’s own sense of personhood was affected by this, if we accept notions about him as an intellectual loner rather than a flamboyant man about town. If one cannot feel at home on the soil beneath your feet, how exactly does one go about “fitting in”?
33. Poor devils! After all, they were not evil things of their kind. They were the men of another age and another order of being… They had not been even savages—for what indeed had they done? That awful awakening in the cold of an unknown epoch—perhaps an attack by the furry, frantically barking quadrupeds, and a dazed defence against them and the equally frantic white simians with the queer wrappings and paraphernalia . . . poor Lake, poor Gedney . . . and poor Old Ones! Scientists to the last—what had they done that we would not have done in their place? God, what intelligence and persistence! What a facing of the incredible, just as those carven kinsmen and forbears had faced things only a little less incredible! Radiates, vegetables, monstrosities, star-spawn—whatever they had been, they were men!
At the Mountains of Madness (1936, Astounding Stories)
Another personal favourite quote. Published in the year before his death, “At the Mountains of Madness” reveals clearly that Lovecraft’s philosophical ideas and outlook on life had changed radically from when he first began writing. The narrator here is able to see what ostensibly seems like hostile behaviour toward humankind from the perspective of something truly alien, something critically other than himself, and show empathy on behalf of the “monsters”. There is again recognition of humankind as monsters ourselves; it is only (in the large scheme of things) our species-perspective as a whole that make us believe we are the ones in the right. It is powerful philosophical (perhaps even spiritual… potato, tomato) stuff, something Lovecraft is not always given recognition for.
34. To say that we actually believed in vampires or werewolves would be a carelessly inclusive statement. Rather must it be said that we were not prepared to deny the possibility of certain unfamiliar and unclassified modifications of vital force and attenuated matter; existing very infrequently in three-dimensional space because of its more intimate connexion with other spatial units, yet close enough to the boundary of our own to furnish us occasional manifestations which we, for lack of a proper vantage-point, may never hope to understand.
The Shunned House (1937, Weird Tales)
This is almost as if Lovecraft is trying to explain – from an armchair enthusiast’s point of view – the fundamental ideas of quantum mechanics. He often embedded his descriptions of parallel dimensions with mathematic language so as to highlight the scientific nature of these alternate planes, to make it feel feasible, possible, real. The notion of the supernatural as some kind of scientifically explainable phenomena, one that we currently do not have the capacity to understand, is a tantalising one. He has a way of blending the quasi-scientific with notions and ideas that for long has been linked to the supernatural; this is why his work continues to find relevance and offer meaning.
Lynne Jamneck lives in New Zealand. She holds an MA in English Literature from the University of Auckland, and has been short listed for the Sir Julius Vogel and Lambda Awards. She has published short fiction in various markets, including Jabberwocky Magazine, H.P. Lovecraft’s Magazine of Horror, Fantastique Unfettered, and Tales for Canterbury. She edited the SF anthology, Periphery, and is currently writing her first speculative novel.