Born on 20th August, 1890, in Providence, Rhode Island, USA, Howard Phillips Lovecraft was referred to as “The King of Weird” by Joyce Carol Oates in the New York Book Review.
Lovecraft was one of the first authors who successfully managed to fuse horror and science fiction writing together within individual storylines. Influenced a great deal by Edgar Allan Poe, Lovecraft’s work fist came to public attention in the horror magazine, Weird Tales, in 1923.
Arguably his most seminal story, The Call of Cthulhu, was published in Weird Tales in 1928, but it wasn’t until after his death that his work became popular, and a model for future horror, gothic and science-fiction writers to aspire to.
Brought up with a father who suffered from a severe mental illness that saw him committed permanently to hospital, and suffering from a series of health issues himself, Lovecraft was largely taught from home. He suffered a nervous breakdown as a teenager, and lived as a recluse for many years. Lovecraft used this time alone to write articles for many newspapers, periodicals and pulp fiction magazines.
It was The Call of Cthulhu that first illustrated Lovecraft’s skill in creating his otherworldly type of terror, which we might recognise as one of “modern fiction”, but which for its time was unusual. He excelled in the creation of ancient and extraterrestrial beings, ostensibly hidden behind a paradox of science and the supernatural, that could wreak havoc upon mankind. What would appear a weird ghost story would in fact have its roots in high science fiction. Despite the nature of his stories, though, Lovecraft insisted they were based on the flaws of humanity.
“The most merciful thing in the world…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.” (from The Call of Cthulhu)
In his own lifetime, Lovecraft was ridiculed for his work, and had to take up editing and ghost-writing to make ends meet. He died of cancer in 1937, leaving behind over 60 short stories, including the acclaimed The Outsider and novella At the Mountains of Madness, the latter of which would ultimately be the basis for the sci-fi horror classic film, 1981’s The Thing, or more recently, 2011’s Hunters of the Dark. These are just two examples of how influential his stories would be, not just on the page, but on the screen and stage.
After his death, two of Lovecraft’s friends, August Derleth and Donald Wandrei, formed the Arkham House publishing company to promote his work.
A truly revolutionary author, Lovecraft is an acknowledged inspiration to many of the most renowned writers of the modern age, such as Stephen King and Neil Gaiman. His work continues to delight- and give nightmares to- a whole new generation of avid readers.
“I think it is beyond doubt that H.P. Lovecraft has yet to be surpassed as the twentieth century’s greatest practitioner of the classic horror tale.” – Stephen King
More information about H.P. Lovecraft can be found at http://www.hplovecraft.com/
Dr Kathryn Bates is a graduate of archaeology and history. She has excavated across the world as an archaeologist, and tutored medieval history at Leicester University. She joined the administrative team at Oxford Open Learning twelve years ago. Alongside her distance learning work, Dr Bates is a bestselling novelist, and an itinerant creative writing tutor for primary school children.