an infernal paradise

May 28, 2018

a city of the future - London

In Lovecraft’s defining stories, meaning such later works as “The Shadow out of Time” and “At the Mountains of Madness,” there is a sense of adventure. In his letters, Lovecraft often wrote of experiencing moments of what he called “adventurous expectancy,” by which he meant feeling oneself on the brink of some weird and hyper-exciting revelation that is always held in suspension and never known in its particulars. This is patently an aesthetic perception of existence. Borges described a similar feeling of the imminence of a revelation that never occurs as the definitive aesthetic experience. In Lovecraft’s work, unlike that of Borges, the origin of his feeling of adventurous expectancy derives from something terrible that is associated with the inconceivable spatial and temporal nature of the physical universe. I think that a great many people experience the same thing in their lives. I have myself. But it never occurred to me to express this feeling as a source of adventure in my stories.

My focus has fairly consistently been on what I have thought of as an “infernal paradise,” a realm where one wallows in something putrid and corrosive that lies beyond exact perception. In his stories, Lovecraft’s adventurous expectancy ultimately has its origin in something terrible, and not the child’s picture-book wonderland you find in the work of a lot of writers of fantastic fiction. But it’s still thrilling in its own way. It isn’t purely hellish, as is the case with my stories. Lovecraft was an astronomy buff as a child and so this feeling probably stemmed from that time. I was a pathological Catholic as a child, and one might make a connection between my early life and my later writings on that basis. Ultimately, the difference I’m trying to articulate between Lovecraft’s adventurous expectancy and my infernal paradise may seem superficial. I would say as much myself. But it seems to me that what captivates a reader’s interest in one writer’s work as opposed to another’s is quite often based on superficial qualities, even when there are deeper likenesses. Anyone can think of examples among both popular and literary writers. Lovecraft’s defining works portray a variety of monsters. Mine seldom do. What’s the difference? Not much on the deepest level. But monsters are a great literary hook and there is necessarily a surface adventure in dealing with them. If asked to name the definitive image in Lovecraft, one might likely say its tentacles flailing from the body of a monster. For me it would be probably be puppets, manikins, and clown-like things, even though these are more often a matter of metaphor than a literal presence of a monstrous type. Nevertheless, if Lovecraft’s tentacle monsters and my puppets and so on fought each other, I think the monsters would win.

Thomas Ligotti
Interview: Thomas Ligotti and the Realm of Nightmares
Weird Review 15th October 2015

cthulhu_rises_by_silberius-d7mlm8d

Well, it’s pretty generally known in the States that I got into writing because of Lovecraft. He’s taken a lot of blame for a lot of things that he’s not really responsible for. But I did send my first fan letter to him because I read about his previous stories in the letter column of Weird Tales. There was nowhere to get them. They weren’t reprinted; they weren’t available. So I wrote to him and asked whether he knew where I could find some of this stuff and he offered to let me borrow all of his published work. And then at about the fourth letter on he suggested I try my own hand at writing — he’d be glad to read it and comment on it. And he also gave me a list of correspondents that formed what would later become known as the ‘Lovecraft Circle’. The result of that I got in touch with August Derleth, who lived out at Sauk City about 125 miles from where I was, and Clark Ashton Smith, Eddie Hoffman Price, and J. Vernon Shea, who was not a professional writer, but certainly one of the most avid fans and one of the most knowledgeable. And this increased my area of operations considerably, and some of the people I remained in correspondence with for many, many years to come. It was a very rewarding experience.

Bear in mind I’m talking about times when I was 16, 17, 18 years old, and it was quite a thrill to associate with such people even through correspondence, or know people like Weinbaum and Farley and work with them in the Fictioneers group, where we didn’t read stories or anything but helped each other with plot problems. That was very, very interesting.

Robert Bloch
Fandom Panel: Cinecon 20th April 1981

true supernatural horror

March 31, 2018

Halloween boy and ghost

Atmosphere is the all-important thing, for the final criterion of authenticity is not the dovetailing of a plot but the creation of a given sensation. We may say…that a weird story whose intent is to teach or produce a social effect, or one in which the horrors are finally explained away by natural means, is not a genuine tale of cosmic fear; but it remains a fact that such narratives often possess, in isolated sections, atmospheric touches which fulfil every condition of true supernatural horror literature. Therefore we must judge a weird tale not by the author’s intent, or by the mere mechanics of the plot; but by the emotional level which it attains at its least mundane point…The one test of the really weird is simply this — whether or not there be excited in the reader a profound sense of dread, and of contact with unknown spheres and powers; a subtle attitude of awed listening, as if for the beating of black wings or the scratching of outside shapes and entities on the known universe’s utmost rim.

H.P. Lovecraft
Supernatural Horror in Literature

machines using men

March 24, 2018

our future selves

There’s no use pretending that a standardised, time-table machine-culture has any point in common…with a culture involving human freedom, individualism and personality. So…all one can do…is to fight the future as best he can. Anybody who thinks that men live by reason, or that they are able to consciously mould the effect & influences of the devices they create, is behind the time psychologically. Men can use machines for a while, but after a while the psychology of machine-habituation & machine-dependence becomes such that machines will be using the men – modelling them to their essentially efficient & absolutely valueless precision of action and thought…perfect functioning, without reason or reward for functioning at all.

H.P. Lovecraft
Letter to James F. Morton, November 19, 1929

dead Cthulhu waits dreaming

December 2, 2017

Cthulhu

The main thing about HP Lovecraft is his too-muchness; he never uses three adjectives when five will do, but he writes words that haunt the memory: “In his house at R’lyeh dead Cthulhu waits dreaming.” My recall of the multiplication table is shaky but those words disquiet me today as freshly as when I first read them.

Where did dead Cthulhu come from? Why did he rise up from the murky depths of Lovecraft’s mental ocean? I say it’s because there is a need for him and the rest of the maestro’s monsters. Why is there such an appetite, such a hunger for scary stories and films? I think there is a primal horror in us. From where? From the Big Bang when Something came out of Nothing? From the nothingness we must become at life’s end? I don’t know, but I know it’s there and we like to dress it up with a bolt through its neck or a black rubber alien suit; or as Cthulhu. Get a load of this: “A pulpy, tentacled head surmounted a grotesque and scaly body with rudimentary wings”, with elements of “an octopus, a dragon, and a human caricature”, “but it was the general outline of the whole that made it most shockingly frightful”. Close your eyes and try to imagine this creature of non-Darwinian evolution. Just the look of this bozo is already a major horror, and we’re not even into the story yet. While he’s dead and dreaming in his house at R’lyeh (“Dun Foamin”?) his Cthulhuvibes are spreading worldwide and causing strange rites and observances here and there. Lovecraft is not everybody’s mug of Ovaltine but I have always found him horribly cosy.

Russell Hoban
H P Lovecraft
The Guardian Newspaper 14th May 2011

sense of wonder

November 4, 2017

alien landscape3

Wells is teaching us to think. Burroughs and his lesser imitators are teaching us not to think. Of course, Burroughs is teaching us to wonder. The sense of wonder is in essence a religious state, blanketing out criticism. Wells was always a critic, even in his most wondrous and romantic tales.

And there, I believe, the two poles of modern fantasy stand defined. At one pole wait Wells and his honorable predecessors such as Swift; at the other, Burroughs and the commercial producers, such as Otis Adelbart Kline, and the weirdies, and horror merchants such as H.P. Lovecraft, and so all the way past Tolkien to today’s non-stop fantasy worlders. Mary Shelley stands somewhere at the equator of this metaphor.

Brian W. Aldiss
Trillion Year Spree: The History of Science Fiction

from a now-vanished world

October 4, 2017

(Algernon Blackwood’s) works spanned two centuries and inspired Elgar, Henry Miller and H P Lovecraft. He counted H G Wells, Hilaire Belloc and W B Yeats as his friends, and appeared on the very first British television programme. Blackwood came from a now-vanished world; his mother was the Duchess of Manchester, his evangelist father was a knight, but he forsook his privileged heritage to become an adventurer and traveller, and remained a natural storyteller to the end of his life. He was awarded a CBE in 1949, and still we knew virtually nothing about him, probably because he hailed from a period when the concept of the peculiar Briton was hardly a novelty.

Christopher Fowler
Algernon Blackwood

Tintern Abbey

Weird writers were explicit about their anti-Gothic sensibility: Blackwood’s camper in ‘The Willows’ experiences ‘no ordinary ghostly fear’; Lovecraft stresses that the ‘true weird tale’ is characterised by ‘unexplainable dread of outer, unknown forces’ rather than by ‘bloody bones, or a sheeted form clanking chains according to rule’. The Weird entities have waited in their catacombs, sunken cities and outer circles of space since aeons before humanity. If they remain it is from a pre-ancestral time. In its very unprecedentedness, paradoxically, Cthulhu is less a ghost than the arche-fossil-as-predator. The Weird is if anything ab-, not un-, canny.

China Miéville
M.R. James and the Quantum Vampire

I didn’t learn about Barlow until the spring of 2005, when I met the poet and novelist Robert Kelly. He told me the story of H P Lovecraft and the poet R H Barlow, who was a young Lovecraft fan. He wrote letters to Lovecraft, and they became friends through the mail; then, in the spring of 1934, Barlow invited Lovecraft to visit him in central Florida, and Lovecraft went. He stayed with Barlow for about six weeks, which was very unusual, both because Lovecraft (who has the reputation of being a recluse) didn’t spend that much time with anyone, and because Barlow had just turned 16 in the spring of 1934, and Lovecraft was 44.

Paul La Farge
Interview with Matt Staggs for Unbound Worlds, March 2017

Ferdinand Knab

I should not have ventured out that night; for the taint of thunder was in the clouds, and hellish phosphorescence rose from the rank swamp at the bottom of the hollow. The call of the dead, too, was different. Instead of the hillside tomb, it was the charred cellar on the crest of the slope whose presiding daemon beckoned to me with unseen fingers. As I emerged from an intervening grove upon the plain before the ruin, I beheld in the misty moonlight a thing I had always vaguely expected. The mansion, gone for a century, once more reared its stately height to the raptured vision; every window ablaze with the splendor of many candles. Up the long drive rolled the coaches of the Boston gentry, whilst on foot came a numerous assemblage of powdered exquisites from the neighbouring mansions. With this throng I mingled, though I knew I belonged with the hosts rather than the guests. Inside the hall were music, laughter, and wine on every hand. Several faces I recognised; though I should have known them better had they been shriveled or eaten away by death and decomposition. Amidst a wild and reckless throng I was the wildest and most abandoned. Gay blasphemy poured in torrents from my lips, and in my shocking sallies I heeded no law of God, Man, or Nature. Suddenly a peal of thunder, resonant even above the din of the swinish revelry, clave the very roof and laid a hush of fear upon the boisterous company. Red tongues of flame and searing gusts of heat engulfed the house; and the roysterers, struck with terror at the descent of a calamity which seemed to transcend the bounds of unguided Nature, fled shrieking into the night. I alone remained, riveted to my seat by a groveling fear which I had never felt before. And then a second horror took possession of my soul. Burnt alive to ashes, my body dispersed by the four winds, I might never lie in the tomb of Hydes! Was not my coffin prepared for me? Had I not a right to rest till eternity amongst the descendants of Sir Geoffrey Hyde? Aye! I would claim my heritage of death, even though my soul go seeking through the ages for another corporeal tenement to represent it on that vacant slab in the alcove of the vault. Jervas Hyde should never share the sad fate of Palinurus!

H P Lovecraft
The Tomb