Howard Phillips Lovecraft (often referred to as H.P. Lovecraft) was an American author of horror, science fiction and fantasy. He was born on August 20, 1890 and lived most of his life in Providence, Rhode Island. He wrote mainly shorter fiction, though some of his work is novella length, and he also wrote poetry.
Lovecraft is regarded as one of the most important authors of the horror genre, usually by other authors of horror, such as Stephen King and Joyce Carol Oates, or by literary scholars interested in horror, such as S.T. Joshi. His legacy is rooted not only in his fictional works, but in his prolific correspondence with other authors who became important in their own rights in horror, science fiction, and fantasy, such as Robert Bloch, Robert E. Howard and Clark Ashton Smith.
Ideas and concepts developed by Lovecraft have influenced an enormous amount of literature, music, film, and art, from writers as diverse as Clive Barker and Jorge Luis Borges, to heavy metal bands like Cradle of Filth and Morbid Angel, to artists such as H.R. Geiger. So many stories and novels have been inspired by him that there is a subgenre of "mythos fiction" drawing upon characters, creatures, and ideas from Lovecraft's fiction, with many anthologies devoted to this theme.
His style and subject matter, despite the fact that many have tried to reproduce them, take a relatively unique approach. He deplored the formulaic qualities of the science fiction of his day, such as Buck Rogers stories. In his essay "Supernatural Horror in Literature." he expressed the importance of striving for new and unusual tactics. What Lovecraft achieved is described as "cosmic horror," in which terror is created through the confrontation of limited human qualities with knowledge and beings beyond understanding. Insanity and death arise from such encounters rather than through violence or outright malevolence.
An example of how Lovecraft implemented this was by using invented literary works supposedly describing encounters with strange beings, such as The Necronomicon, which also contains spells and ways of contacting outside realities. Reliance on such forbidden tomes often turns disastrous for Lovecraft's characters.
Also, the beings featured in Lovecraft's stories do not bear much resemblance to traditional horror villains, such as vampires, werewolves, etc. Instead, Lovecraft created monstrous entities, sometimes operating by completely different rules of biology and physics than any terrestrial creature. The beings sometimes bear similarity to known life forms, though these are mostly for a frame of reference, and draw upon creatures not typically seen as "horrific" per se, such as fish, frogs, fungi, and sponges.
Stylistically, the language is often academic in nature and draws upon various literary, artistic, historical, and scientific allusions, in contrast to a more action and character oriented style. At times, the writing can seem very heavy-handed due to Lovecraft's attempt to convey the overwhelming stress brought on by encountering phenomena so far removed from ordinary human understanding. In his dialogue, Lovecraft sometimes employed dialect, trying to show the oddness of characters isolated from society or entrenched in specific regional influences. His characterization remains one of his poorest devices, admitted even by his most fervent admirers, since the unfolding of mysteries overshadows the significance of personal issues.
Still, all these criticisms add to Lovecraft's "cosmic horror."
He was heavily influenced by writers such as Edgar Allan Poe, Lord Dunsany, Ambrose Bierce, and Robert W. Chambers. Lovecraft even used a character developed by Bierce and Chambers: Hastur, The Unnamable.
After he died on March 13, 1937 from complications due to intestinal cancer, a friend of his, August Derleth, founded the publishing company Arkham House with Donald Wandrei. Their purpose was to publish Lovecraft's stories (other publishers not expressing much interest). Although some have criticized Derleth for putting together anthologies of his own work dubbing it as a "posthumous collaboration" with Lovecraft, which utilized small fragments or notes of the latter author, there is no doubt that Derleth did much to spread Lovecraft's work to a wider audience, and probably was a significant factor in Lovecraft's current status as a major American author.
Lovecraft led a relatively solitary life, though he corresponded much with friends through letters. His personal life had a number of paradoxical elements: he often exhibited elitist and racist attitudes, though he was amicable to anyone he met, and married a Jew; he maintained an interest in science and the importance of rationality and reason, though he wrote about things that often defied those very things, and displayed a hostility towards modernity, romanticizing the 18th and 19th centuries; though a gentleman and intellectual, he remained wistful about childhood and wished to harken back to the simpler days before adulthood (reflected in stories such as "The Silver Key").
Some of Lovecraft's most important works include:
- At the Mountains of Madness
- The Battle that Ended the Century
- "The Call of Cthulhu"
- The Case of Charles Dexter Ward
- "The Cats of Ulthar"
- "The Colour Out of Space"
- "Cool Air"
- The Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath
- "The Dreams in the Witch-House"
- "The Dunwich Horror"
- "The Festival"
- "The Haunter of the Dark"
- "Herbert West--Reanimator"
- "The Horror at Red Hook"
- "The Hound"
- "The Nameless City"
- "The Outsider"
- "Pickman's Model"
- "The Picture in the House"
- "The Rats in the Walls"
- The Shadow out of Time
- The Shadow over Innsmouth
- "The Shunned House"
- "The Silver Key"
- "The Statement of Randolph Carter"
- Supernatural Horror in Literature
- "The Thing on the Doorstep"
- "The Tree on the Hill"
- "The Whisperer in Darkness"