Uprkos kontroverzama – poput one oko Lavkraftovog rasizma (o čemu sam pisao OVDE) – ovaj pisac ostaje bez ikakve sumnje najuticajniji i najznačajniji pisac horora 20. veka i to nikakvo kevtanje i podmetanja kojekakvih psića neće promeniti niti umanjiti. Jubilej 125 godina od njegovog rođenja obeležili smo i u Srbiji, izdanjem zbirke dosad neprevođenih priča, pod naslovom ŠAPTAČ U TAMI (imam još par primeraka, ko ih želi nabaviti od mene), a obeležili smo ih i u najboljem svetskom časopisu za horor, RUE MORGUE, za koji imam zadovoljstvo i čast da redovno pišem. Tamo sam nedavno priredio veliki temat o Lavkraftu – detaljnije o sadržaju i svemu pisao sam OVDE.
Međutim, koliko je Lavkraft inspirativan vidi se i u tome što sam, uprkos upozorenju da nećemo imati mesta za dugačke intervjue, od svojih ispitanika dobio znatno iscrpnije odgovore nego što sam tražio. A ispitanici su mi bili zaista „KO JE KO“ među današnjim piscima, izdavačima i urednicima. Zbog ograničenog prostora u magazinu, nismo mogli da upotrebimo sve što su mi oni poslali, pa sam zato uzeo i priredio izbor najboljih njihovih iskaza o Lavkraftu koji NISU ušli u magazin, i onda su te izjave premijerno prošle nedelje objavljene na sajtu Ru Morga, OVDE.
Sada ih plasiram i čitaocima ovog bloga, za zabavu i poduku. Ako je ovo dole bilo izbačeno, možete misliti tek kakve su divote bile uvrštene u veliki magazinski sedmostranični temat!
Why is LOVECRAFT still relevant?
Seven experts weigh in
(c) Dejan Ognjanović for RUE MORGUE
Our cover feature in November’s issue #161 is dedicated to 125 years of H. P. Lovecraft. The scribe from Providence got a lot of bad press this month, what with the World Fantasy Award statuette controversy – his visage (as designed by Gahan Wilson) has been removed from this prestigious award after four decades due to his privately expressed views of race. Still, regardless of those, the continuing and ever-growing influence of this author’s prose cannot be over-estimated. That is why seven important writers, scholars and editors are providing their own Rue Morgue exclusive answers to the same question: “What makes Lovecraft still relevant today and even far more popular than back in his day?”
1. Thomas Ligotti
Thomas Ligotti is probably the most faithful successor of Lovecraftian bleak philosophy, which he further developed together with a style and themes all his own. His two long out of print collections came out this fall from Penguin (Songs of a Dead Dreamer and Grimscribe): see our December’s issue #162.
I think there are a number of explanations for Lovecraft’s continued relevance and popularity, and they’re all quite glaring. A good many people are enamored of Lovecraft’s imagination, particularly when it comes to the monsters he created. These entities make for entertaining comic books, video games, role-playing games, and all kinds of amusement of that sort. Then there are people who admire Lovecraft less for these qualities than for his vision of what the universe and human life are all about. Such persons are fewer and probably always will be. The reason for this can best be traced to the fact that Lovecraft’s vision is not supportive or the commonplace doctrines of human values. Even those who favor Lovecraft’s imagination, particularly as it fabricated monsters of various kinds, do not share his existential views. Another class of Lovecraft fan may be attached to the character of the man himself as a rather freakish type of being whose obsessions they find enchanting as recorded in his letters. There may, of course, be some crossover between these groups. While Lovecraft is obviously more popular and enduring than most of the other horror writers of his time, it seems unlikely that he will ever mean very much for very many people.
He had other qualities that made him an attractive figure in a normal sense. Outside of psychopaths and some indefinite number of genuinely despicable persons, one doesn’t often confront someone who doesn’t have a measure of congenial features. Lovecraft was by no means loathsome. He was incredibly sensitive to what was loathsome about humanity and human existence, but all the best people are sensitive in exactly this way. All the same, he had to partake of a degree of insensitivity or he wouldn’t have been able to tolerate being alive. One has to be a clod to some extent, if not a psychopath or a genuinely despicable person, to maintain a sufficient degree of vitality. But seldom or never did Lovecraft wholly deviate from what made him a model horror writer who saw life in sheer awfulness and made this perception the basis of who he was.
2. S. T. Joshi
S. T. Joshi is the most eminent and devoted scholar of the weird tale in general, and of Lovecraft in particular; his contribution to understanding of this author through the dozens of books which he wrote and edited cannot be overemphasized. His I Am Providence: The Life and Times of H. P. Lovecraft is an unsurpassable critical biography.
I think Lovecraft’s stories speak to us in ways that those of his contemporaries by and large do not. Although his stories are, in some particulars, clearly rooted in the culture (intellectual, social, even political and economic) of the 1920s and 1930s, they also possess a timeless quality that transcends their era. Lovecraft addresses such questions as: the role of humanity in the vast cosmos-at-large; questions of identity (what is it to be human? what is the difference—if any—between the “human” and the “monstrous”?) and alienation from oneself and one’s fellows; and the role of history and topography upon human life. There is a depth and richness to Lovecraft’s work that is lacking in that of many of his contemporaries, especially in the pulp realm.
The proliferation of “Lovecraftian” anthologies is a slightly different matter. Certainly, the fact that Lovecraft permitted others to contribute to and add to his “Cthulhu Mythos” (although, in reality, there was no way he could have prevented anyone from doing so) during his own lifetime have given others the license to do the same. But this wouldn’t have been possible if the Cthulhu Mythos didn’t allow for nearly unlimited expansion and elaboration—in ways that might have surprised Lovecraft himself.
Currently what we’re seeing is a kind of snowball effect, where one anthology seems to lead to others, and still others. There may be a danger of oversaturation, especially if the resulting work is of low quality. But in my mind the neo-Lovecraftian work of the past 30 or 40 years has been remarkably high in quality, at least when written by professionals knowledgeable in the basic thrust of Lovecraft’s work. I like to think that the advance of scholarship during that time—which clarified many myths about Lovecraft and his writing and showed that the interpretations of such of his disciples as August Derleth were highly erroneous—has had something to do with this increase in overall quality. Now that we know that Lovecraft was not writing just stories about outlandish monsters, but had a definite philosophy—the philosophy of “cosmic indifferentism”—that he sought to embody in his stories, other writers have followed suit and elaborated upon this philosophy, rather than merely writing one more story about a “god” or “forbidden book” or something of the sort. The Cthulhu Mythos was to be “background-material” for stories that meant something to the author; it could therefore allow authors to express their own worldview within the context of this invented mythology.
Lovecraft's fiction is remarkable for being both “timeless” and deeply rooted in the time and place he lived in. The more I read his fiction—and the more I learn about his life--the more integrated his life, work, and thought seem to become. It is not merely that, as a New Englander, he wrote profoundly about the history and topography of New England. It is that his entire outlook—the “cosmic” perspective; a deep sense of the fragilty of human life; an awareness of the corrupting influence of technology and mechanisation on human affairs; a sensitivity to the psychological effects of terror--is infused in every story he wrote. Lovecraft's work is a product of the 1920s and 1930s--but it is also a gift for all humanity.
3. Jeffrey Andrew Weinstock
Jeffrey A. Weinstock is a scholar with significant contribution to Lovecraftian studies, with two essays on this author in forthcoming academic publications (Adapting Frankenstein and The Lovecraftian Poe). He is co-editor, with Carl Sederholm, of The Age of Lovecraft, a scholarly collection coming in 2016 from University of Minnesota Press and has also edited three volumes of Lovecraft's fiction for Barnes & Noble.
Lovecraft's popularity today is what I would refer to as “overdetermined” – that is, it is the product of multiple lines of converging forces. Foremost among these, however, is likely the concerted efforts of a group of admirers to publish and promote his works. Arkham House was founded by August Derleth and Donald Wandrei in 1939 to preserve Lovecraft's fiction. Few other authors, however deserving, have enjoyed similar efforts to ensure the perpetuation of their legacies.
Connected to this as well was Lovecraft's monumental correspondence and his encouragement of other authors that helped to establish the “Lovecraft circle.” As Poe once quipped, “to be appreciated you must be read” and together the Lovecraft circle and Arkham House ensured that Lovecraft continued to be read. His works found their ways into the hands of many influential contemporary makers of popular culture – among them Neil Gaiman, Guillermo del Toro, John Carpenter, and China Miéville – who have, in turn, created their own Lovecraftian works.
Lovecraft's anti-Humanist cosmicism is particularly appealing to contemporary posthumanist scholars invested in challenging models of thinking the human that have lead to environmental despoilation and system abuse of animals and other human beings.
4. Ellen Datlow
Ellen Datlow is today's most awarded editor in the field of horror, responsible, among other things, for Lovecraftian anthologies Lovecraft Unbound, Lovecraft’s Monsters and upcoming Children of Lovecraft (2016).
Lovecraft's influence on the field of horror has been enormous. During his lifetime and soon after, a whole sub-genre developed of what today we would call fan fiction. Writers among his circle of friends and acquaintances used his mythos to emulate and/or expand upon his work. Some of the resulting pieces of fiction were pastiches, some was more ambitious, more artful. In 1981 Chaosium Press released the roleplaying game Call of Cthulhu, and the original game, its playbook, and its offshoots and anthologies are still being published.
Scholars have been dissecting his work and his personal life for decades and I think their obsessions have helped keep his work alive.
The new generation of writers “playing” in his playground are doing very different things. The best have removed many of the trappings, bringing a freshness to the core elements of Mythos fiction.
But the why of it? More difficult to analyze: Perhaps because his vision of cosmic horror and of the existence of or return of Elder Gods that control human destiny is creepy and effective and has always been so, even though his prose was often clumsy and overblown.
5. Brian Hodge
Brian Hodge is among the most notable guests in recent Lovecraftian anthologies and some of his stories, like “The Same Deep Waters as You”, are among the best examples of HPL's concepts updated and upgraded with quality and style.
What Lovecraft is best known for, and what’s come to bear his name as an adjective, is just a subset of his total body of work. It’s important to note how much Lovecraft’s continued prominence is the result of factors that go beyond the merits of his work.
He open-sourced the mythology and happily invited other writers to come play in his yard. And it’s a big yard. That didn’t just spread his influence in his own lifetime. It lent the whole mythology an expansive, multigenerational momentum. So through that sense of play and camaraderie, creative generosity and just having fun, he unwittingly launched a project that hit a critical mass and took on a life of its own.
But there was no forgetting where it came from. None of that could’ve mattered if Lovecraft himself hadn’t delivered the goods. And he did. It wouldn’t have worked if the canvas he set up wasn’t broad enough to hold other writers’ visions. But it was. It wasn’t world-building he did. It was universe-building.
In the last few years, reams of commentary have been devoted to the obvious go-to here: Lovecraft’s psychological quirks in general and his racism in particular. I can't add to that. But the timing, that's a factor I find interesting, and less remarked upon.
For me, he was working in this ideal window of time. He was a contemporary of physicists like Einstein and Max Planck and Niels Bohr. His work often taps into that zeitgeist of the frontiers of science being radically expanded, and the nature of reality being plumbed at a much deeper level, where things get very strange. At the same time, the world was a bigger, more disconnected place. There were no interstate highways. Aviation was barely underway. Global population was less than a third of today’s. No camera phones, no satellites, no TV with a 24-hour news cycle. The more remote locales he uses feel genuinely isolated and hard to get to. They’re places where superstitions die hard. They feel capable of containing weird events without them drawing much wider attention, with plenty of time to congeal into area folklore. I love how he stirs all this together.
6. Charles Stross
Charles Stross is a British writer who took up Lovecraft's new world of Gods and Monsters and made something recogizably his own through a series of novels about “The Laundry”, a secret government agency for battling occult threats to mankind. The latest is The Annihilation Score (2015).
Lovecraft's writing career stretched over more than 30 years, and like any human being his preoccupations and outlook changed over time. When we look back at him it's with history's foreshortening telephoto lens: we see it all superimposed as if it all happened at once. What we can say for sure is: Lovecraft straddled the high gothic of the Victorian era and the uneasy birth of the modern in the early 20th century. He felt born out of his time, living in a fallen, debased age — indeed, we would today characterise him as an early victim of future shock.
Lovecraft's relevance, for me, goes back to one particular story I wrote: “A Colder War”. The premise of ACW was that “At the Mountains of Madness” was a true and accurate historical account: what, then, would have ensued during the 1940s through to the 1980s, with the second world war and then the cold war in full effect? Lovecraft's nightmares have to some extent faded due to over-exposure in the spotlight of public awareness: so I used them as stand-ins for nuclear weapons, in an attempt to put the fear of annihilation back into the mythos. It works, but too well — ACW is a very bleak novelette, and any attempt to write something in that mode at greater length would be too depressing.
However, I wanted to do something involving secret histories, and spies, and Lovecraftian nightmares. And I had an inkling that adding situational humour — a protagonist for one sort of story who's fallen into a very different one and keeps rubbing up against the rough edges the wrong way -- would take the edge off the darkness. Both horror and humour are flavours you can add to any other type of fictional narrative, and it turns out that they work well together: if anything, a dose of edgy humour sharpens the edge of the abyss.
7. Gemma Files
Gemma Files is a writer whose stories are commonly among the very best in any recent Lovecraftian anthology. See RM#161 for a feature on her first novel called Experimental Film.
For me, there’s no other formative horror author—someone almost universally acknowledged as being a backbone part of the horror culture “canon”—who so typifies the main challenge of this most problematic of genres the way that H.P. Lovecraft does. And that’s because horror really revolves around the idea of “the Other,” which means it revolves inherently around the idea of “othering”...of implying, or even stating outright, that a everything/one sharing a certain combination of qualities is somehow innately negative, alien, disgusting, frightening, unnatural, horrible.
The symbological shorthand used in horror very easily slides from universality to specificity and back out again, so that what seems like a very personal fear—in Lovecraft, for example, his revulsion at the thought of eating seafood—can, if probed deeply enough, reveal facets that readers might end up sharing. So maybe you love calimari and shrimp and a well-cooked salmon steak, but you also have to agree that the ocean in general is spooky-ass place, a vast, dark unknown where nothing that can’t breathe water can survive, full of things which glow and bite and don’t have nearly enough bones for comfort, things that are cold-blooded and gelid, things that can prey on each other (and you!) in truly disgusting ways. Go deeper still (ha ha), and you end up orbiting fear of darkness, fear of limitless space, fear of death and dissolution, fear of drowning, fear of transformation... all basic human fears. Nobody’s going to argue with those.
Where Lovecraft runs into trouble, however, is when those universal human fears run up against equally universal human prejudices, our general tendency (proven by history) to apply the same standards to other human beings—to essentially move from saying “I don’t like seafood because I personally find it creepy” to “I don’t like Jewish people, or QUILTBAG people, or people of any type of colour/culture beyond my own because I find them creepy, and the reason I have that reaction is that if you peel things back far enough you’ll soon discover they’re not actually people at all, the same way the citizens of Innsmouth are actually upright fish wearing not particularly well-fitting human-masks.”
Which is disgusting, obviously, and our immediate reaction is to want to say “oh well, fuck Lovecraft, let’s just get rid of him and everything he wrote, and everything will be okay from then on.” But the lesson of Lovecraft is that no matter how extreme his prejudices are, they’re far less the exception than the rule, and that only by recognizing how innately racism, sexism, homophobia, etcetera form the constant background radiation of everybody’s lives do we have any hope of defusing that cycle. That no matter what we do or how hard we try to reject these social constructions which exclude some of us from “full humanity,” the true cosmic horror of it all is that each of us has a switch inside that’s constantly flicking back and forth, recognizing that exclusion and being exclusive in turn, setting boundaries and policing them, making our own personal standards for what qualifies as human. That if we only scratch ourselves hard enough, we will always find the instinct to say: “You’re not like me, and that makes you somehow wrong.”
This is a basic human impulse, the impulse to literally dehumanize others, and it doesn’t go away just because you cut Lovecraft out of the canon, any more than Barack Obama winning two terms somehow means racism is “over,” so shut the fuck about it. It continues whether we choose to examine it or not, a grinding, chronic universal pain that has to be defused again and again. And if we choose to make Lovecraft into nothing more than a convenient scapegoat for our collective white/cissexual/heterosexual/able-bodied guilt, we risk not realizing that he remains only the tip of that particular iceberg. We have to keep on checking ourselves in order to stay honest, and having Lovecraft around making us look bad provides a very handy reminder of that fact.