Lovecraft circa 1934
My interest in Lovecraft began in junior high school, when I read one of his tales, but it began in earnest as a freshman in high school, where I obsessively read everything he wrote, including his poems and essays. Lovecraft had a vice grip hold on me that is hard to define when offering an answer as to "why". He was hardly a flawless writer. His prose style was a challenge, and felt antiquated compared to his contemporaries. There were also his phobias and prejudices to contend with. Yet there was an obsessive conviction and single-mindedness to the direction of his tales that often felt so distinct compared to his peers.
He is now regarded as the father of "cosmic terror," yet he lived much of his life in obscurity other than the publication of his tales in various pulps in the nineteen twenties and thirties. He is alleged to have been a recluse, and did devote a great deal of time in correspondence with friends via mail, he was allegedly homosexual, which is said to have been untrue by the accounts of his wife, and he was devoted to his residence in Providence. It should not escape anyone that an X-Files episode was given the title Providence.
The reasons why I made this leap thinking about H.P. Lovecraft while watching The Fourth Kind, will become clear in a moment. So much of Lovecraft’s classic work between 1925 to 1935 was so effective; it persuaded various enthusiasts that his tomb, the Necronomicon, a fictional grimoire of magical rites and forbidden lore, was inspired by an actual historical source. This belief has remained so prevalent that various books have been published or discovered that claim it to be bona fide.
It is a testament to Lovecraft's work, like J.R.R. Tolkien's, that his writing was so immersive as to trigger a belief that it had to have come from a historical origin, with his unique ability to invent languages, invent printed sources and academic centers, and invent towns or cities of ancient alien origin. My nagging question has remained: What childhood events triggered such a rich, and distinct imagination? The more you learn about his childhood, the more questions are raised over the possibilities.
Howard Phillips Lovecraft was born in 1890, in Providence, Rhode Island, the only child of Winfield Scott Lovecraft and Sarah Susan Phillips Lovecraft, a woman who could trace her American ancestry back to Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1631. When Lovecraft was three, his father became acutely psychotic while on a business trip and was placed in Butler Hospital where he remained until his death in 1898. It should be noted that both of his parents were married in their thirties, which was unusual for the time. After the hospitalization of his father, Howard was raised by his mother, his two aunts, Lillian Delora Phillips, and Annie Emeline Phillips, and his maternal grandfather, Whipple Van Buren Phillips. Lovecraft was a child prodigy, reciting poetry at age three and writing complete poems by age six. His grandfather had a profound influence with triggering his interest in gothic horror, by telling the boy his own original stories.
It has been noted by various accounts and biographies that Lovecraft was frequently ill as a child. Due to his sickly condition, he barely attended school until he was eight, but he was a voracious reader, and became enamored with chemistry and astronomy, going so far as to produce several hectographed publications that had a limited circulation, beginning in 1899 with The Scientific Gazette. Beginning in his early life, Lovecraft is believed to have suffered from night terrors, a rare parasomnic disorder. He believed he would be assaulted nightly by "Night Gaunts," beings he personified as devil-like creatures without faces.
Based on the perspective from the film, The Fourth Kind, which depicted such alien abduction scenarios in a highly negative light, could these "Night Gaunts" that Lovecraft experienced and described as a child tie into something that might have fit into our contemporary understanding of the alien abduction scenario? One hypothesis has been that such experiences are connected to some kind of sexual abuse in childhood. Another hypothesis is that children who suffer from high fevers, as a result of illness, are prone to hallucinations. Christopher Knowles, from the Secret Sun, has acknowledged suffering from such hallucinations as a child. Knowing that Lovecraft suffered from childhood illness, could he have been prone to hallucinations, especially considering his father’s history, or could such conditions have left him prone to outside influences? Could he have been more receptive in perceiving forces in the cosmos that the majority of people do not register? Or could he have been receptive to something in the collective unconscious? An argument that is often made about most inspired artists is that they channel their creativity from unconscious sources.
Which brings us to the question about the possibility that Lovecraft could have experienced something similar to a spiritual walk-in encounter. The basic definition of walk-ins is thought to be a person whose original soul has departed, and his or her soul has been replaced by a new soul. Could the inspiration behind Lovecraft’s visions have been inspired by an amalgamation of the two scenarios? Or could it have been something more practical? What drove the inspiration for the creation of the Necronomicon as a device in much of his classic fiction? One explanation might be practical, but no less fascinating. But we need to continue with his personal history.
In 1919, Lovecraft’s mother, suffering from hysteria and depression, was also committed to Butler hospital and she died in 1921 while institutionalized. Several weeks after her death, he met Sonja Green at an amateur journalists convention. Here’s where it gets interesting: There are accounts that Sonja Green met Aleister Crowley, the influential, and some consider notorious English occultist, in 1918 while he was in New York, trying to establish his literary reputation. It has been alleged that Crowley and Green had a brief relationship. Lovecraft first mentioned his tomb, The Necronomicon in “The Hound,” published in early 1922. The conjecture has been that Lovecraft was indirectly influenced by Crowley through Green’s association. It should be noted that this conjecture has been in dispute and that some of the dates that correlate these connections don’t match, as the source has been “Simon,” the finder of the “Necronomicon” publication from Avon books.
The alleged Elder Sign from the Simon Edition.
There has been further speculation that Crowley was reticent in not mentioning the alleged “Necronomicon” with his publication, “The Book of the Law,” due to the similarities between Crowley’s seminal book, and the Dr. John Dee / Edward Kelly Latin translation from circa 1586 that the Necronomicon source is most known for. The legend is that “Necronomicon” was written in 738 A.D. by Abdul Alhazred before being set upon by an invisible monster who devoured him in broad daylight. The book is also referred to as Al Azif, a reference to the nocturnal sounds of insects believed to be the howling of demons. The legend further adds that Al Azif was translated into Greek by Theodorus Philetas of Constantinople, and then Olaus Wormius produced a Latin translation in 1228. The book was said to be banned by Pope Gregory IX until the Dee / Kelly translation.
By all accounts, it is generally believed that the “Necronomicon” was a fictional device by H.P. Lovecraft. Although there are those that argue that the closest thing to an historical “Necronomicon” would be the Egyptian Book of the Dead. Other arguments include the belief that the lore of the “Necronomicon” is connected to Norse mythology, or that the great “Old Ones” mentioned in many Lovecraft tales are connected to the Jewish tradition of the Nephilum, a word which literally means “fallen ones”. The story of the Nephilum can be found in the Christian Book of Genesis, as well as the Book of Enoch. Such connections heighten speculation of the ancient astronaut theory of multi-dimensional gods school of thought, of gods who have been shunned from the Earth.
There have been various publications that have alleged to have been the bona fide source. In the aforementioned Simon edition, which has been mass marketed and released, it should be noted that Simon had speculated that the language used in his edition was Sumerian in origin, and this probably accounts for my mental speculation while watching The Fourth Kind of Lovecraft’s. For ultimately, Sumer is believed to be the oldest known civilization in existence, and that might help to explain why such speculation has a potent hold on many. It might be not relevant if the tomb itself even exists, as it might be the very idea of the book that compels such interest. The psychological / phantasmagorical impact of such a book, a book that holds ancient history or connections to multi-dimension entities, before registered time.
Lovecraft’s marriage was short lived and after a failed spell in New York, not securing proper employment, he moved back to Providence. It was during this period where he was most prolific, where he produced the bulk of his best known stories in the leading pulp publications of the day, primarily Weird Tales, such as The Case of Charles Dexter Ward, and At The Mountains of Madness, The Cthulhu Mythos from 1925-1935, as well as his Dream Cycle series of stories from 1920-1927. Despite his best writing efforts, he was forced to move into more meager lodgings with his surviving aunt. In 1936, he was diagnosed with cancer of the intestine. He lived in constant pain until his death in March, 1937.
An illustration from the Arkham House publication of The Dunwich Horror and other Tales, depicting the unleashing of Cthulhu from R’lyeh
Lovecraft was personally influenced by Edgar Allan Poe, Lord Dunsany, and Arthur Machen. His correspondences with a number of writers like August Derleth, Robert E. Howard (whose own death by suicide had a profound impact on Lovecraft), Robert Bloch, Fritz Leiber, and Clark Ashton Smith had a profound impact on these writers in their own future work. August Derleth would devote the rest of his life, by the establishment of Arkham House publishing, to get the work of Lovecraft out to the masses. A great many contemporary writers and filmmakers were impacted by Lovecraft’s work; Steven King, Clive Barker (although he has downplayed the influence, he comes the closest to being a benefactor of furthering the tradition of Lovecraft’s "cosmic horror"), comic writers Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman, and Mike Mignola, as well as directors John Carpenter (whose In The Mouth of Madness is an obvious homage), Stuart Gordon, and Guillermo Del Toro.
Published in Feb, 1936, a year before his death.
Perhaps Lovecraft’s sensibilities were just too ahead of his time in his day, with his pessimistic and cynical world views that challenged the orthodoxy of Christian humanism. Often the protagonist’s belief in scientific rationalism would be decimated by the revelations of such entities. These protagonists concluding that existence of such forces is incomprehensible to human minds and the universe is fundamentally alien, and we, the human race, should shun the outer spheres. While there has been a small percentage of direct adaptations of Lovecraft’s work in Hollywood, most have been low budget productions. Few have tackled his work with A-list production values. Perhaps the means of undertaking such ambitious projects was just too challenging technically, for far too many decades.
One of the few early faithful adaptations that comes to mind, for example, and one that effectively illustrates the Necronomicon’s use in the evocation of such powers, is Roger Corman’s The Haunted Palace, a 1963 horror film that was credited as a Edgar Allan Poe tale. It was in fact an adaptation of The Case of Charles Dexter Ward, with its title coming from a poem from Poe, as the ending demonstrates below.
A film produced by the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society, a 47-minute silent adaptation of The Call of Cthulhu, released in 2006, was produced with the flavor of something from the 1920s, as well as a hint of German expressionism. It has generated critical raves at various genre film festivals. See Trailer:
Yet, in spite of the low ratio of proper adaptations, Lovecraft’s influence has remained profound. One could view Alien (1979), in its conceptualization and narrative, as the kind of tale that Lovecraft could have penned. There are rumors that Guillermo Del Toro will be going into production, on a proper A-list adaptation of At The Mountains of Madness.
A fan-created trailer, cobbled from various features, has gained some attention, and adds to the intrigue of what a Del Toro adaptation might have to offer:
Perhaps the inspiration for Lovecraft’s visions could simply be found in the circumstances of his life. After all, he did witness the mental decline of both parents, he spent his childhood in relative privilege, and was forced to live with meager means the bulk of his life. He often jokingly referred to himself as ‘grandfather’ in his written correspondence, and by many accounts did seem like an old soul, despite his age. All of the above factors likely played a role in shaping his point of view.
Lovecraft himself, as a man, has remained such an enigma, and contradiction of nature, that a feature biographical narrative of his life, phobias, and isolation would be as compelling indeed as any of his tales.
Just as long as Johnny Deep plays the cryptic figure himself, - Howard Phillips Lovecraft.
In closing, dare I utter the dreaded words that might unleash Cthulhu from his slumber in the ancient sunken city of R’lyeh:
"Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wganh’nagl fhtagn"
Would Fox Mulder be so bold as to stare into such an abyss? One could only speculate.
Special thanks to XScribe for further editorial assistance.
You can find his work published at the following site. You can also learn more about his personal history from this source.