A Lot of Things You Love Were Influenced By Lovecraft
HP Lovecraft is one of those writers that's so influential that they're almost ubiquitous, which is just pretentious-jerk speak for "you're totally familiar with his works, even if you're not familiar with the guy." For example, you've hard of Batman, right?
he's the one in the middle
If so, you probably know that most of his villains end up at Arkham Asylum -- a notoriously low-security establishment. What you probably don't know is that "Arkham" gets its name from a fictional city in Massachusetts that Lovecraft invented as a setting for many of his stories.
Or maybe you're an MMORPG player -- in which case, you probably had a few C'Thun sessions, wherein you killed the s**t out of this guy:
Or maybe you just watch a lot of South Park. They make C'thulu jokes a lot, actually -- but some of them are pretty subtle.
Others, less so.
Or maybe you're just a fan of Sean "Seanbaby" Reily, in which case, yeah. Pretty much everything he says.
He Was Extremely Racist
Disclaimer: There is some super racist stuff in this entry, because Lovecraft was a total asshole. No, not just a product of a "different time" -- objectively a racist asshole. So if that kind of stuff pisses you off you may want to skip ahead to the next one.
Another thing ol' LoveCraft taught us is that even though racism is really, really offensive, if you take it to a far enough extreme it becomes… oh, wait, no. It's still super offensive and distracting.
Yeah, it turns out that HP was something of a horrible, horrible racist bastard, often devoting more time to talking about how disgusting non-white people are than his actual plot (Herbert West: ReAnimator is a great place to start, if old-timey racism is your bag) -- or, you can just check out his letters, where he said things like:
"Now the trickiest catch in the Negro problem is the fact that it is really twofold. The Black is vastly inferior. There can be no question of this among contemporary unsentimental biologists… But, it is also a fact that there would be a very grave and very legitimate problem even if the Negro were the White man's equal."
"Of course they can't let N*****s use the beach at a Southern resort -- can you imagine sensitive person bathing near a pack of greasy chimpanzees? The only thing that makes life endurable where Blacks abound is the Jim Crow principle, and I wish they'd apply it in New York both to N****rs and to the more Asiatic types of puffy, rat-face Jews!"
"Race prejudice is a gift of nature, intended to preserve in purity the various divisions of mankind which the ages have evolved."
Phew. Well, I'll give him a little credit: while most people these days will say stuff like "I'm not a racist but I totally lynch people who aren't white," at least Lovecraft came out and said "I hate n*****s because I'm racist." It's a bit simpler. He made his opinions known, science proved him wrong, and voila! He's dead now.
He Wrote An Essay About Why Cats Are Better Than Dogs
Somewhere between his third draft of the Necronomicon and permanently redefining horror as we know it, old Lovey-Dovey decided to write an essay about how much cats are better than dogs.
It may seem like a weird topic at first, but once you read a bit you'll realize that it's actually just Lovecraft being Lovecraft, but in a very different way:
"Being told of the cat-and-dog fight about to occur in your literary club, I cannot resist contributing a few Thomastic yowls and sibilants upon my side of the dispute, though conscious that the word of a venerable ex-member can scarcely have much weight against the brilliancy of such still active adherents as may bark upon the other side. Aware of my ineptitude at argument, a valued correspondent has supplied me with the records of a similar controversy in the New York Tribune, in which Mr. Carl van Doran is on my side and Mr. Albert Payson Terhune on that of the canine tribe. From this I would be glad to plagiarise such data as I need; but my friend, with genuinely Machiavellian subtlety, has furnished me with only a part of the feline section whilst submitting the doggish brief in full. No doubt he imagines that this arrangement, in view of my own emphatic bias, makes for something like ultimate fairness; but for me it is exceedingly inconvenient, since it will force me to be more or less original in several parts of the ensuing remarks."
Wait, what? Wow dude, you're kind of a tool. Not only are you being unnecessarily verbose (holy s**t, right?) you're being kind of presumptuous. I mean, I'm definitely a cat person too, but I would never go so far as to say that "Dogs… are the pets of peasants, cats are gentlemen and the pets of gentlemen."
Oh, wait, a University of Texas Study corroborated your point, 90 years later?
Well, alright then. Fact: Lovecraft was a genius when it came to pets.
His Night Terrors Inspired Most of His Work
It's sometimes hard to feel sympathy for tortured artists, especially after I've just finished explaining what a racist piece of s**t they were, but it's really important to note that all of Lovecraft's work came from a place of real terror and pain. From an early age, around six, Lovecraft was plagued with uncontrollably fears at night -- most likely linked to the fact that both his parents suffered from hysteria and depression, which is likely to leave a kid pretty messed up.
It was these night terrors that led him to writing, and writing that led him to sending a letter to a pulp magazine complaining about how bad their most popular writer was. And it was because of this letter that a young Lovecraft was invited to join the United Amateur Press Assocation.
So take that as a lesson, folks: if you whine about and troll writers that you dislike, you could someday have an amazing career! Unless you troll me. That won't work, because I will crush you.
He Ghost Wrote A Story For Harry Houdini
You can't escape from his gaze
In a case of just total randomness, one of Lovecraft's first major writing jobs was being commissioned to ghost-write an allegedly true story about Harry Houdini escaping from Egyptian kidnappers and encountering a gigantic nether-demon. Realizing that this story was probably fake, Lovecraft asked for the right to use artistic license and embellish it, which he was granted -- along with $100, at the time the largest sum he had ever been paid in advance.
It was this act of totally selling out that created a long-term partnership between the fledgling writer and famed escape artist, and influenced Lovecraft's major works for the rest of his life.
Not sure how to title this entry, but Lovecraft's basic philosophy of "cosmicism" is one of the most fascinating insights into the psychology of horror ever written down. The basic tenants are that humans are not merely alone in the universe, just utterly insignificant. Morality, love, good and evil are all constructs. The philosophy even goes beyond nihilism -- while the latter merely says that human beings shouldn't do anything for a higher purpose because no such purpose exists, cosmicism simply says "f**k it, do whatever because you don't matter."
It's this helplessness, and total paralysis in the face of the unknown, that so thoroughly informs his work and, arguably, his racism. After all, what is racism if not a crippling fear of something you don't understand, or an uncomfortable rejection of everything beyond your comfort levels? Lovecraft wasn't simply afraid of the unknown, he was pretty certain that it didn't care about him and was totally full of demons.
You Can Read All His Stuff For Free!
Ah, finally some good news! Though the actual legality of the "public domain" nature of his books is open to a slight bit of controversy, that's never stopped the internet! If you're interested in checking out the father of modern horror and science fiction, I humbly recommend you read the holy hell out of all of this.
Happy Birthday, Howard. For all your flaws and crazy bits, you've made every geek's life a little bit better, and for that we think you've earned a good night's sleep.