It is truly tragic to think that Howard Phillips Lovecraft, like many other writers, died poor, alone, and vastly unread. Although his work did gain some minor pulp acclaim in the 1920s and 1930s with magazines like Weird Tales, it wasn’t until the ’60s when Lovecraft’s work became a regular fixture among the counterculture scene. His name lit up like a wildfire. This led to a near-fanatical boost in Lovecraft fandom. I use the word “fanatic,” because many ’60s cultists took his writing a little too seriously, honestly believing that Lovecraft had tapped into a sort of cosmic consciousness, that he had a genuine glimpse to into the unknown vastness of the universe, and was also privy to the many horrors it had to offer.
As you may have gauged from some of my previous postings, I am one of those readers who enjoys the more psychological aspects of horror. Truth be told, I feel that all of the blood-spattered CGI in the world would have NOTHING on what lurks in the dark corners of the human mind. This is where Lovecraft reigns supreme. Although spectres and gargantuan-godlike creatures, (aka. “Cthulhu”), are commonplace in his stories, it is the aural attack on the senses that truly effects his readers. In a Lovecraft story, every primal fear you ever experienced in darkness, every indescribable phantom that made you shudder, becomes tangible and horrifying. And generally when his characters encounter such an experience, they are forever damaged, (this is evident in the sailors who discover Cthulhu’s lair in the deep black ocean on the far side of the globe). Everyone of them snaps, and eventually the horror they initially sustained leads them all to early deaths.
If you have never read Lovecraft before, The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Tales is a great place to start. The title story is one of his most well known, and most celebrated. The very first line is the classic Lovecraft quote, “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.” A voyage is exactly what occurs in this amazingly unique short story.
The lead character is an anthropologist, named Francis Wayland Thurston, a man who feverishly follows the leads of his deceased great uncle. What Thurston discovers is the existence of a long-forgotten cult, one that was said to have predated any other known facet of history. These cultists claim to worship, “the Great Old Ones who lived ages before there were any men, and who came to the young world out of the sky… hidden in distant wastes and dark places all over the world until the time when the great priest Cthulhu, from his dark house in the mighty city of R’lyeh under the waters, should rise and bring the earth again beneath his sway. Some day he would call, when the stars were ready, and the secret cult would always be waiting to liberate him.” Thurston later learns of a doomed crew of sailors, who did, in fact, discover R’lyeh. What happens as a result doesn’t end with the poor men of the doomed vessel… “Loathsomeness waits and dreams in the deep, and decay spreads over the tottering cities of men.”
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