Upon checking out Facebook today, a lot of people and pages were sharing statuses like “HB Lovecraft!” and “Happy Birthday, H.P.!”. Curiosity got the best of me and I had to know a little more about who H.P. was and what drove people to take time out of their day to wish him a “HB”.
Of course, I had heard about H.P. Lovecraft in high school through his avid readers and my boring English teacher raving about him, but I didn’t know anything else about him or any of his writings. After doing a little research, today is the birth date of Howard Phillips Lovecraft, a horror fiction author that went down in history for such works as The Call of Cthulhu, The Horror at Red Hook and The Dunwich Horror, just to name a few. His stories of larger-than-life creatures and creepy towns with secrets are widely known and widely loved. I now know a little bit about this author that was relatively unknown in life and prolific after death.
Born in Providence, Rhode Island, Lovecraft was the only child of Winfield Lovecraft, a traveling jewelry salesman and Susan Philips, a housewife. His lineage was entirely of English decent on both sides, his great-grandfather came to America in 1831. Sadly, Lovecraft’s father died in 1898, after a five year stay in a psychiatric hospital which he was placed in for his psychotic tendencies, when Lovecraft was just three.
He was raised by his mother and his mother’s two sisters and father, all of them living together in one home. He started reading poetry aloud from memory at age three and writing his own work by six. While most of his childhood was spent sick, in bed, that didn’t stop him from reading about science and astronomy and hearing his grandfather’s freaky horror stories. His grandfather passed away in 1904, and the subsequent mishandling of the funds he left for the family drove them into poverty. Lovecraft fell into a mental breakdown of sorts and did not end up graduating high school, he instead wrote poetry at home while still living with his mother. He also suffered horrible night terrors, beginning when he was a child, which inspired some of his later writing.
In 1913 he wrote a letter to a well-known pulp magazine and his writing began to get attention. So much so, he was invited to join the UAPA (United Amateur Press Association). After trying and failing to join the National Guard and his mother passing in the same hospital she was admitted to (for hysteria) as his late father, he was reluctant to attend a popular authors’ convention in Boston. But lucky he did, he met and fell in love with Miss Sonia Greene, whom he married a few years later. They moved to Brooklyn, upon his new wife’s urging and financial support, hoping his writing career would take off. He met a few other authors and poets that encouraged him to submit his crazy stories to editor Edwin Baird of Weird Tales, a pulp magazine .
Sonia’s job had her in constant travel, leaving Lovecraft alone to his thoughts and his writing. He tried to hold down a few odd jobs, but he had no employment history and didn’t know how to do so. He tried moving to a small single room apartment in Brooklyn Heights, but that was burgled, leaving him with only his clothes. It was at that time we wrote the rough draft for The Call of Cthulhu and The Horror at Red Hook. It was later hinted at in one of his writings that “moving to New York was a mistake…”, and it was also later suggested in the Lovecraft study (H.P. Lovecraft: Against the World, Against Life by Michel Houellebecq) that his writings flourished due to his misfortunes. With a small sum sent by Sonia weekly, Lovecraft eventually saved enough to move back to Providence.
His last years in Providence were his most fruitful- he was writing more short stories and editing works of other authors. Weird Tales editor Baird was replaced by Farnsworth Wright, who enjoyed Lovecraft’s unique stories along with readers. Once The Dunwich Horror was completely finished and ready to go to the editor, Wright was eager to review the piece. It was just what he wanted for his magazine and knew the readers would feel the same. Eventually though, Lovecraft found that he couldn’t afford basic expenses by simply selling his work and ghost writing for others. His inheritance was long gone by that time and he was so broke, he sometimes chose to mail letters instead of eating, hoping to catch some financial security. He had to unfortunately move in with his aunt to survive and stayed there until his death in 1937, from cancer.
Despite his constant attempt at “making it big” with pulp magazine publishing, he was pretty much unknown in his time. Which is too bad, those peeps would have loved his unique writing elements! His writing has influenced such greats as Stephen King, Joe Lansdale, and Neil Gaiman. He also had a huge influence on music! Such bands as Metallica, Black Sabbath, The Black Dahlia Murder, Iron Maiden and Mercyful Fate have used Lovecraft-type elements in their music. Also, most don’t know that The Evil Dead was created by Sam Raimi after he studied Lovecraft! So, without giving too much away- if you’re interested in giant alien-type gods, forbidden/dark knowledge, not being able to escape misfortune, society threatened by disorder or harm, scientific breakthroughs, and possible racial undertones- check this guy out! His work introduced a sub-genre of horror fiction- Lovecraftian Horror: focusing on the cosmos and unknown that comes with it.
I didn’t really have the room to expand on all his work, but here is a list that will help you newbies get started:
The Call of Cthulhu (1928), At the Mountains of Madness (1936), Necronomicon: The Best Weird Tales of H.P. Lovecraft (2008), The Shadow over Innsmouth (1936), The Dunwich Horror (1929) and The Thing on the Doorstep (1937).
So, again: Happy Birthday, H.P. Lovecraft! Thanks for giving us horror nerds a true icon to worship! You totally rock, bro!