Where does HP Lovecraft come from

H. P. Lovecraft biography : Cthulhus long tentacles

Legend has it that it all started with a plate of spoiled seafood. The fact that tentacles hit us today from the cinema, from comics, from record covers and even from the boxes of Lego kits is solely due to the fact that a sensitive eccentric from New England ate something wrong more than a century ago. The nervous stomach of H. P. Lovecraft is to blame for the fact that tentacle-faced monsters and fishy slime are symbols of the absolute stranger not only in horror but also in family films such as “Pirates of the Caribbean”.

When and where and what exactly Howard Phillips Lovecraft ate at that time, none of his biographers could later reconstruct. The only thing that is certain is that he never recovered from the nausea he developed during his life. "From my earliest youth, every form of fish, mollusc, or crustacean was an emetic to me," writes Lovecraft in one of his letters.

It was precisely this disgust that gave birth to the hobby writer when he set out in the 1920s and 1930s to revolutionize modern horror storytelling, what is now known as the "Cthulhu myth". In a good 40 short stories and a dozen longer stories, he designed a cosmos that is dominated by huge, ancient beings and in which the human being is no more than an insignificant marginal phenomenon. A world in which, as the French writer Michel Houellebecq writes in his Lovecraft biography "Against the world, against life", life has no meaning: "But neither does death."

From Edgar Allen Poe to the Simpsons

Ignored for a long time by the literary business or laughed at because of his adjectivism, sometimes called “Byzantine”, Lovecraft is today, alongside Edgar Allen Poe, the most important representative of American fantasy. His works were ennobled with an admission to the Library of America, and colleagues like the American writer Fritz Leiber celebrate Lovecraft as "literary Copernicus".

Nevertheless, at the beginning of the 21st century you may never have heard the name Lovecraft. Horror is still branch literature. However, it is highly unlikely that you have never come into contact with one of his creations. Because Lovecraft's monsters, his unholy books and places have not only influenced the horror genre like almost any other literary cosmos, but sometimes dominantly, sometimes subliminally, the entire pop culture. Til today.

Just compare the figures of Dr. Zoidberg from "Futurama" and Captain Davy Jones from the "Pirates of the Caribbean" films with the monster on the cover of the Vangelis record "Dragon". It is not difficult to recognize the three tentacle-faced creatures as brothers. Her father is: Cthulhu. That caricature of an "octopus, a dragon and the caricature of a human" that Lovecraft describes in the story "Cthulhus Ruf" from 1926.

In the television series "The Simpsons", power plant owner Montgomery Burns and politician Bob Dole read from Lovecraft's "Necronomicon" at a meeting of the Republican Party. That blasphemous book after which the Swiss painter H. R. Giger named a picture and the avant-garde musician John Zorn a music cycle, and which the German indie band Tocotronic sings about in the song “Das böse Buch”. In Batman's hometown of Gotham City is the maximum security prison Arkham Asylum - named after the fictional city in Massachussetts that Lovecraft made the setting for many of his stories. In 1966, in the Star Trek episode "The Old Dream", Captain Kirk met the remnants of a lost culture on an ice planet called "The Old Ones". The parallels to the "old beings" that Lovecraft describes in the story "Mountains of Madness" set at the South Pole are abundantly clear. This story, which is currently celebrating its 80th birthday, should actually have been filmed this year by Guillermo del Toro and James Cameron - had the studio not stopped at the last minute from investing 150 million dollars in a horror film. Countless computer games such as "Alone in the Dark" or "Doom" quote Lovecraft. The successful role-playing game "Call of Cthulhu" makes its stories playable. In the repertoire of the band Metallica there is a song called "The Call of Ktulu". The same Cthulhu, after Umberto Eco one of the conspirators in his novel “The Foucault Pendulum” with the words “Iä! Cthulhu! Yes! S’ha-t’n! " In short: three quarters of a century after his death in March 1937 Lovecraft is everywhere!

Not a bad achievement for an author who was virtually unknown during his lifetime, who published in dime books and headed his mini-autobiography with the title "Some Notes on a Zero". "My life has been so quiet, so uneventful, so inconspicuous that when put on paper it must at best appear pathetic lackluster and bland," he said. Seldom has anyone been so wrong.

Madness enters Lovecraft's life

Howard Phillips Lovecraft was born on August 20, 1890 in Providence, Rhode Island. The madness entered his life when he was three years old and his father was referred to a mental hospital with delusions. When he died five years later, the official cause of death was "general paresis" - a euphemism for syphilis.

Lovecraft stayed with his mother, Sarah Susan Phillips, who tucked the boy in girls' clothes in his early years, made him curly and persuaded him to be ugly. "His mother was depressed, domineering, and helpless, a neurotic close to the verge of madness, who was finally admitted to Butler Hospital in March 1919, where she died two years later of mental and psychological exhaustion," described August Derleth, Lovecrafts self-appointed administrator who founded Arkham House in 1939 to publish his friend's works. Without him, Lovecraft would have remained as unknown as Kafka without Max Brod.

Lovecraft rarely attended school because of his often unhealthy health. Instead, after he had learned to read at the age of four, he ate his way through “Grimms Märchen”, the stories from “1001 Nights”, ancient legends, but also increasingly chemical, geographical and astronomical books in his grandfather's library. Encouraged by his grandfather, he wrote poetry and eerie stories.

When he died in 1904, the family not only lost a large part of their fortune, but also their house and library. A blow from which Lovecraft was only able to get rid of after nearly a decade of lethargy when he joined the United Amateur Press Association (UAPA) in 1914. An association of hobby writers who rekindled the desire for fantastic literature in Lovecraft. That it was precisely this genre that fascinated him, who believed neither in God nor in occult hocus-pocus, explains Lovecraft in his essay “Notes on Writing Eerie Stories”: “One of my strongest and most lasting wishes is to have the illusion at least temporarily to achieve that the annoying restrictions of time, space and natural law, which keep us incarcerated and our thirst for knowledge about the infinite cosmic spaces beyond our field of vision and our analytical abilities, are lifted and blown up. "

Lovecraft never saw writing as more than a cultivated pastime, despite the steadily increasing financial shortage. "I have come to the conclusion that literature is not a real profession for a gentleman, and that writing should at best be seen as an elegant skill," he once said.

Lovecraft communicated with friends and colleagues mainly by mail. His biographer S.T. Joshi assumes that Lovecraft must have written more than 80,000 letters during his life. Many of them reveal anti-Semitic and also in some stories recognizable racist beliefs, for which the older Lovecraft is said to have been ashamed: “Occasionally hands furtively and suddenly put out the light and pull down the curtain, and dark-skinned sin-eaten faces disappear from windows when Visitors come along the way ”, it says, for example, in“ The horror of Red Hook ”. The story was made by Lovecraft after he got married and moved his wife near this New York area.

The invention of Cthulhus

The marriage failed after two years and in 1926 Lovecraft returned to Providence. There he revised the stories of colleagues, wrote letters and ate cold canned beans, sweets and loads of sweetened coffees. In these years of poverty, however, the stories to which he owes his reputation today emerged: "The Case of Charles Dexter Ward", "The Horror of Dunwich", "Mountains of Madness", "Shadows over Innsmouth" and above all "Cthulhu's reputation" .

In them you can find the quintessence of Lovecraft's work, for which he himself coined the term “cosmic horror”. The recurring motif of these myth stories is the idea that the world was ruled in primeval times by beings from space, whose legacies or who themselves are still buried in the depths of the earth and the oceans. There are no categories like good or bad at Lovecraft. The monsters are not enemies of humans, but simply trample over them like we do over ants. In his stories, the human being is the insignificant foreign body that he has perceived himself to be in life. It was often criticized that his protagonists were pale, interchangeable outsiders - that is correct. In Lovecraft's cosmos, however, this is not a result of literary inability, but part of the program.

For Marco Frenschkowski, it is precisely from this focus that the continuing fascination for Lovecraft's works is fed. The Protestant theologian is the editor of the annotated, meanwhile 13-volume German HPL complete edition in Edition Phantasia. “Lovecraft's importance as a writer is that he is passionate about a subject that other writers only marginalize,” he says. Love, growing up, friendship, sex: the great contents of all stories of mankind hardly appeared in his work. “His topic is the irritation of human identity. The question: What is man in the face of the whole? "

A thoroughly modern topic, in his opinion. And perhaps the fear of one's own insignificance has never been greater than in times when people voluntarily submit to the degrading mechanisms of a casting show for 15 minutes of fame.

"Today everyone knows that the cosmos is infinite and that humans are just a speck of dust in creation," says Frenschkowski. However, this knowledge is permanently hidden in everyday life. Lovecraft's work is still so disturbing because it helps us to realize this knowledge in our imagination. Here the horror of existence as such becomes tangible when it is viewed not only in its facets but also in its meaningless totality.

Lovecraft's reaction to this realization is always surrender. "The sciences - each of which aims in its own direction - have so far bothered us little," he writes in "Cthulhus Ruf". "But one day the putting together of the individual insights will reveal such terrible aspects of reality that through this disclosure we will either go mad or flee from the deadly light into the peace and security of a new, dark age."

Terror beyond the laws of nature

According to the American philosophy professor Dirk Walter Mosig, Lovecraft achieves its effect primarily from the clash of accurate scientific descriptions and the violation of natural laws - the last universal standards of a world that is increasingly losing moral standards and orientation. “If you go to work with a horror story with extreme realism, the indispensable framework of credibility is much more successful, because if everything in the story appears natural and believable, you will be inclined to see a deviation from the expected reality in the unnatural element happens in a real world ”, he writes in the essay“ Lovecraft, the dissonance factor in fantastic literature ”.

Lovecraft sometimes takes this realism to excess. Cthulhu's sunken homestead R’lyeh is not just somewhere in the Pacific, but at "47 ° 9" south latitude and 126 ° 43 "west longitude. In the "Mountains of Madness" he describes the equipment of the South Pole expedition, architectural details and the monstrous bodies found in the ice. "Lovecraft does not want to be a visionary, but a chronicler of horror," wrote the Italian writer and critic Giorgio Manganelli logically.

This realism is generated not only through the settlement of the stories in everyday life, but also through a recurring reference to invented and real books, places, monsters and people. As a result, it creates an oppressive unity and credibility - quite a few weirdos are still looking for a true "Necronomicon" today.

A large number of writers have used these building blocks and continued the myth: Stephen King, Alan Moore, Mike Mignola, Neil Gaiman, Jorge Luis Borges or Arno Schmidt, who used Lovecraft's stories in "Julia, or the paintings", bore his name and that of his creatures. Until our time.

The supplier of monsters and myths

However, the theologian Frenschkowski makes a strong distinction between Lovecraft and the abundance of works citing him that we currently encounter in popular culture. "When Lovecraft's essence or inventions are quoted today, it rarely has anything to do with his subjects," he says. Instead, his work has become increasingly independent through constant updating. Its success makes it an arbitrarily interchangeable building block in a fantasy universe. "Today, Lovecraft often does not serve as a literary model, but only as a supplier of monsters and myths." With the religious or - as Franz Rottensteiner, Lovecraft's long-time editor at Suhrkamp, ​​says - in the sense of suppressed sexuality, they would have psychoanalytically interpretable "cosmic horrors" The films and series mentioned at the beginning usually have little to do. Lovecraft would have seen it similarly: "I should never allow anything that bears my signature to be trivialized and popularized for the kind of infantile chatter that is declared a 'horror story' and presented to the radio and cinema audience," he once wrote . Howard Phillips Lovecraft still has a decisive influence on the aesthetics of this culture.

When he died quietly and without complaint in 1937, devoured by colon cancer, he did so believing that he had achieved nothing. As I said, rarely has anyone been so wrong.

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