The Curious Case Of H.P Lovecraft
‘You need to read him – he’s where the darkness starts.’ – Neil Gaiman
Howard Phillips Lovecraft was haunted by demons. They stalked him in daylight and darkness alike, from childhood until his premature death at the age of 47. They took the form of his earliest memories – of losing his father and of life with his hysterical, emotionally abusive mother.
They leered over his shoulder as he gazed at the distorted reflection in the glass. They taunted him as he struggled to endure blinding migraines, crippling fatigue and periodic breakdowns – debilitating psychosomatic disorders which threatened to suck his vitality and curtail his creativity. He fled from them in his sleep – in dreams so terrifyingly vivid that they left him fearing for his own sanity – and mocked him in the street in the form of ‘evil-looking foreigners’ who threatened to overrun his picturesque colonial hometown of Providence, New England.
They left him riddled with self-doubt, disappointment and despair, but like a man possessed, he drove them from his mind time and again in bouts of feverish activity. Even as his fortunes declined and various publishing ventures failed to materialise, he worked tirelessly to create an extraordinary and highly influential body of work that has secured him a prominent place in the history of imaginative fiction.
H.P. Lovecraft is widely regarded as the most original writer of modern horror fiction and a pervasive and enduring influence on popular culture. His primordial universe of elder gods and eldritch horrors – existing just on the periphery of the more mundane, ordered world we know as ‘reality’ – has inspired authors as diverse as Stephen King, Robert Bloch, Clive Barker, Alan Moore and Neil Gaiman. Lovecraft’s most memorable creatures – notably the tentacle-headed god Cthulhu – have been invoked by such giants of rock music as Black Sabbath, Metallica and Iron Maiden, and continue to feature in almost every form of fantasy art: from graphic novels to computer games. His compelling creations have influenced the look of major movies such as Alien, Hellboy and even Pirates of the Caribbean – although the grotesque otherworldliness of Lovecraft’s original tales is yet to be captured by any director onscreen in a way that fully realises the author’s fantastic vision in the truest sense of the word. Yet this eccentric and reclusive resident of Providence, Rhode Island, did not have a book published by a major commercial house during his lifetime. He died at the age of 47 in comparative obscurity, convinced that he had failed to achieve the recognition he craved.
The Strange Case of H.P. Lovecraft examines the life and work of the man Stephen King called ‘the twentieth century’s greatest practitioner of the classic horror tale’, revealing how Lovecraft’s disturbing creations may have been an attempt to exorcise both his inner-demons and the elemental abominations which haunted his recurring nightmares.
A masterful biography. By Grey Malkin. (Amazon)
An expansive and detailed account of Howard Phillips Lovecraft from author and writer Paul Roland, this incredibly readable biography covers not just the facts and events in the life of this master of the weird tale, but also includes a detailed personal analysis of what made Lovecraft the man he was and thus, the basis or foundation from which his writing sprang. The illuminating chapters on Lovecraft's early years convincingly paint a picture of a neurotic, scholarly yet curiously unworldly and reclusive individual which, Roland posits, could be evidence of the presence of Asperger's Syndrome. It's a fascinating and well argued theory. Certainly, it is difficult not to see the linage between Lovecraft's uniquely dark, troubled visionary writing and his difficult upbringing and distinct personal attributes. Roland ably describes how the writer responded to the tragedy and trials of his early years and his adulthood; you get a genuine and sympathetic sense of Lovecraft as he was.
Indeed, Roland's writing envelopes the reader in Lovecraft's world. We empathise with this ungainly and repressed young man yet Roland is no apologist; he tackles head on and decries Lovecraft's evident racism and prejudice. Insightful and in depth this book sheds significant light on Lovecraft the person and consequently therefore, as is suggested, his work too; such is the symbiotic nature of the man and his writing.
This is not to suggest that Roland presents solely a superb and detailed bio, he also takes each Lovecraft tale and piece of writing and examines their worth, origins and relation to the writer's own characteristics and beliefs. This gives the book a rounded, holistic viewpoint that truly brings the tales to life and breathes new insight into their inspirations. One leaves the pages with a genuine sense of the philosophy, fears and perspectives that shaped these now classic stories.
A useful appendix examining the modern glut of Lovecraftian media, from music inspired by his writing to graphic novels and PC games, is an interesting take on a writer who was barely recognised in his lifetime. There are also plentiful archive photographs of Lovecraft with his family in his New England home and with the small group of friends and fellow writers he associated with. Indeed the book is a lovingly put together package all round, from Sean Philip's evocative cover art to the shadow portraits that frame each new chapter.
A must for Lovecraft aficionados, this book is clearly written by a fellow fan. A work of many years in the making this is a intensely researched, masterful and essential biography. Lovecraft's own correspondence is highly referenced as is his wife's memoirs.Hard to put down and eminently approachable, Roland's writing manages to be both highly accessible and yet also deeply detailed. In short, if you like Lovecraft you need this book.