Nervous exhaustion

H. P. Lovecraft

[luhv-kraft, -krahft]

Howard Phillips Lovecraft (August 20, 1890March 15, 1937) was an American author of horror, fantasy, and science fiction, known then simply as weird fiction.

Lovecraft's major inspiration and invention was cosmic horror: the idea that life is incomprehensible to human minds and that the universe is fundamentally alien. Those who genuinely reason, like his protagonists, gamble with sanity. Lovecraft has developed a cult following for his Cthulhu Mythos, a series of loosely interconnected fictions featuring a pantheon of human-nullifying entities, as well as the Necronomicon, a fictional grimoire of magical rites and forbidden lore. His works were deeply pessimistic and cynical, challenging the values of Enlightenment, Romanticism, and Christian humanism. Lovecraft's protagonists usually achieve the mirror-opposite of traditional gnosis and mysticism by momentarily glimpsing the horror of ultimate reality.

Although Lovecraft's readership was limited during his life, his reputation has grown over the decades, and he is now commonly regarded as one of the most influential horror writers of the 20th century, exerting widespread and indirect influence, and frequently compared to Edgar Allan Poe. Stephen King has called Lovecraft "the Twentieth Century's greatest practitioner of the classic horror tale.


Early life

Lovecraft was born on August 20, 1890 at 9:00 a.m. in his family home at 194 (later 454) Angell Street in Providence, Rhode Island. (The house was torn down in 1961.) He was the only child of Winfield Scott Lovecraft, a traveling salesman of jewelry and precious metals, and Sarah Susan Phillips Lovecraft, who could trace her ancestry in America back to the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1630. His parents married, the first marriage for both, when they were in their thirties, unusually late in life given the time period. In 1893, when Lovecraft was three, his father became acutely psychotic in a Chicago hotel room while on a business trip. He was brought back to Providence and placed in Butler Hospital, where he remained until his death in 1898. Lovecraft maintained throughout his life that his father died in a condition of paralysis brought on by "nervous exhaustion" due to over-work, but it is now almost certain that Winfield Scott Lovecraft died from general paresis of the insane. It is unknown whether Lovecraft was ever aware of the actual nature of his father's illness or its cause (syphilis), although his mother likely was, possibly having even received tincture of arsenic as "preventive medication".

Lovecraft thereafter was raised by his mother, his two aunts (Lillian Delora Phillips and Annie Emeline Phillips), and his grandfather, Whipple Van Buren Phillips. All resided together in the family home. Lovecraft was a child prodigy, reciting poetry at the age of two and writing complete poems by six. His grandfather encouraged his reading, providing him with classics such as The Arabian Nights, Bulfinch's Age of Fable, and children's versions of The Iliad and The Odyssey. His grandfather also stirred the boy's interest in the weird by telling him his own original tales of Gothic horror. His mother, on the other hand, worried that these stories would upset him.

Lovecraft was frequently ill as a child, at least some of which was certainly psychosomatic, although he attributed his various ailments to physical causes only. Early speculation that he may have been congenitally disabled by syphilis passed on from father to mother to fetus has been completely ruled out. Due to his sickly condition and his undisciplined, argumentative nature he barely attended school until he was eight and then was withdrawn after a year. He read voraciously during this period and became especially enamored of chemistry and astronomy. He produced several hectographed publications with a limited circulation beginning in 1899 with The Scientific Gazette. Four years later he returned to public school at Hope Street High School.

His grandfather's death in 1904 greatly affected Lovecraft's life. Mismanagement of his grandfather's estate left his family in such a poor financial situation they were forced to move into much smaller accommodations at 598 (now a duplex at 598-600) Angell Street. Lovecraft was so deeply affected by the loss of his home and birthplace he contemplated suicide for a time. In 1908, prior to his high school graduation, he claimed to have himself suffered what he later described as a "nervous breakdown", and consequently never received his high school diploma (although he maintained for most of his life that he did graduate). S. T. Joshi suggests in his biography of Lovecraft that a primary cause for this breakdown was his difficulty in higher mathematics, a subject he needed to master to become a professional astronomer. This failure to complete his education (he wished to study at Brown University) was a source of disappointment and shame even late into his life.

Lovecraft wrote some fiction as a youth but, from 1908 until 1913, his output was primarily poetry. During this time, he lived a hermit's existence, having almost no contact with anyone but his mother. This changed when he wrote a letter to The Argosy, a pulp magazine, complaining about the insipidness of the love stories of one of the publication's popular writers. The ensuing debate in the magazine's letters column caught the eye of Edward F. Daas, President of the UAPA, who invited Lovecraft to join in 1914. The UAPA reinvigorated Lovecraft and incited him to contribute many poems and essays. In 1917, at the prodding of correspondents, he returned to fiction with more polished stories such as "The Tomb" and "Dagon". The latter was his first professionally published work, appearing in Weird Tales in 1923. Around this time he began to build up a huge network of correspondents. His lengthy and frequent missives would make him one of the great letter writers of the century. Among his correspondents were Robert Bloch (Psycho), Clark Ashton Smith and Robert E. Howard (Conan the Barbarian series).

In 1919, after suffering from hysteria and depression for a long period of time, Lovecraft's mother had a nervous breakdown and was committed to Butler Hospital like her husband before her. Nevertheless, she wrote frequent letters to Lovecraft, and they remained very close until her death on May 21, 1921, the result of complications from gall bladder surgery. Lovecraft was devastated by the loss.

Marriage and New York

A few weeks after his mother's death, Lovecraft attended an amateur journalist convention in Boston where he met Sonia Greene. Born in 1883, she was of Ukrainian Jewish ancestry and seven years older than Lovecraft. They married in 1924, and the couple moved to the borough of Brooklyn in New York City. Lovecraft's aunts may have been unhappy with this arrangement, as they were not fond of Lovecraft being married to a tradeswoman (Greene owned a hat shop). Initially Lovecraft was enthralled by New York but soon the couple was facing financial difficulties. Greene lost her hat shop and suffered poor health. Lovecraft could not find work to support them both so his wife moved to Cleveland for employment. Lovecraft lived by himself in the Red Hook neighborhood of Brooklyn and came to intensely dislike New York life. Indeed, this daunting reality of failure to secure any work in the midst of a large immigrant population — especially irreconcilable with his opinion of himself as a privileged Anglo-Saxon — has been theorized as galvanizing his racism to the point of fear, a sentiment he sublimated in the short story "The Horror at Red Hook.

A few years later he and Greene, still living separately, agreed to an amicable divorce, which was never fully completed. He returned to Providence to live with his aunts during their remaining years. Due to the unhappiness of their marriage, some biographers have speculated that Lovecraft could have been asexual, though Greene is often quoted as referring to him as "an adequately excellent lover".

Return to Providence

Back in Providence, Lovecraft lived in a "spacious brown Victorian wooden house" at 10 Barnes Street (the address given as the home of Dr. Willett in The Case of Charles Dexter Ward) until 1933. The period after his return to Providence — the last decade of his life — was Lovecraft's most prolific. During this time period he produced almost all of his best-known short stories for the leading pulp publications of the day (primarily Weird Tales) as well as longer efforts like The Case of Charles Dexter Ward and At the Mountains of Madness. He frequently revised work for other authors and did a large amount of ghost-writing, including "The Mound," "Winged Death," "Imprisoned with the Pharaohs," and "The Diary of Alonzo Typer."

Despite his best writing efforts, however, he grew ever poorer. He was forced to move to smaller and meaner lodgings with his surviving aunt. He was also deeply affected by Robert E. Howard's suicide. In 1936 he was diagnosed with cancer of the intestine and he also suffered from malnutrition. He lived in constant pain until his death on March 15, 1937 in Providence.

Lovecraft was listed along with his parents on the Phillips family monument. That was not enough for his fans, so in 1977 a group of individuals raised the money to buy him a headstone of his own, on which they had inscribed Lovecraft's name, the dates of his birth and death and the phrase, "I AM PROVIDENCE," a line from one of his personal letters. Lovecraft's grave in Swan Point Cemetery in Providence is occasionally marked with graffiti quoting his famous phrase from "The Call of Cthulhu" (originally from "The Nameless City"):

"That is not dead which can eternal lie,
And with strange aeons even death may die."

On October 13, 1997, unknown individual(s) attempted to dig up Lovecraft's body from his grave, not knowing that his body is not under the new headstone.

Background of Lovecraft's work

H. P. Lovecraft’s name is synonymous with horror fiction; his writing, particularly the “Cthulhu Mythos”, has influenced fiction authors worldwide, and Lovecraftian elements may be found in novels, movies, music, comic books and cartoons. Many modern horror writers, including Stephen King, Bentley Little, Joe R. Lansdale, Alan Moore and Neil Gaiman, have cited Lovecraft as one of their primary influences.

Lovecraft himself, though, was relatively unknown during his own time. While his stories might have made it into the pages of prominent pulp magazines such as Weird Tales (often eliciting letters of outrage from regular readers of the magazines), not many people knew his name. He did, however, correspond regularly with other contemporary writers such as Clark Ashton Smith and August Derleth, people who became good friends of his, even if they never met in person. This group of correspondents became known as the “Lovecraft Circle”, since they all freely borrowed elements of Lovecraft’s stories — the mysterious books with disturbing names, the pantheon of ancient alien gods such as Cthulhu and Azathoth, and eldritch places such as the New England town of Arkham and its Miskatonic University — for use in their own (with Lovecraft’s blessing and encouragement).

After Lovecraft’s death, the Lovecraft Circle carried on. August Derleth was probably the most prolific of these writers, and added to and expanded on Lovecraft’s vision. Derleth’s contributions have been controversial, to say the least; while Lovecraft never considered his pantheon of alien gods more than a mere plot device, Derleth created an entire cosmology, complete with a war between the 'good' “Elder Gods” and the 'evil' “Outer Gods” (such as Cthulhu and his ilk), which the 'good' Gods were supposed to have won, locking Cthulhu and others up beneath the earth, in the ocean etc., and went on to associate different gods with the traditional four elements.

Lovecraft's fiction has been grouped into three categories by some critics. While Lovecraft did not refer to these categories himself, he did once write, "There are my 'Poe' pieces and my 'Dunsany pieces' — but alas — where are my Lovecraft pieces?

Some critics see little difference between the Dream Cycle and the Mythos, often pointing to the recurring Necronomicon and subsequent "gods". A frequently given explanation is that the Dream Cycle belongs more to the genre of fantasy, while the Mythos is science fiction. Also, much of the supernatural elements in the Dream Cycle takes place in its own sphere or mythological dimension separated from our own level of existence. The Mythos on the other hand, is placed within the same reality and cosmos as the humans live in.

Much of Lovecraft's work was directly inspired by his night terrors, and it is perhaps this direct insight into the unconscious and its symbolism that helps to account for their continuing resonance and popularity.

All these interests naturally led to his deep affection for the works of Edgar Allan Poe, who heavily influenced his earliest macabre stories and writing style known for its creepy atmosphere and lurking fears.

Lovecraft's discovery of the stories of Lord Dunsany with their gallery of mighty gods existing in dreamlike outer realms, moved his writing in a new direction, resulting in a series of imitative fantasies in a 'Dreamlands' setting.

Another inspiration came from a totally different kind of source; the scientific progresses at the time in such wide areas as biology, astronomy, geology and physics, all contributed to make the human race seem even more insignificant, powerless and doomed in a materialistic and mechanical universe, and was a major contributor to the ideas that later would be known as cosmicism, and which gave further support to his atheism.

It was probably the influence of Arthur Machen, with his carefully constructed tales concerning the survival of ancient evil into modern times in an otherwise realistic world and his mystic beliefs in hidden mysteries which lay behind reality, that added the last ingredient and finally helped inspire Lovecraft to find his own voice from 1923 onwards.

This took on a dark tone with the creation of what is today often called the Cthulhu Mythos, a pantheon of alien extra-dimensional deities and horrors which predate humanity, and which are hinted at in aeon-old myths and legends. The term "Cthulhu Mythos" was coined by Lovecraft's correspondent and fellow author, August Derleth, after Lovecraft's death; Lovecraft jocularly referred to his artificial mythology as "Yog-Sothothery".

His stories created one of the most influential plot devices in all of horror: the Necronomicon, the secret grimoire written by the mad Arab Abdul Alhazred. The resonance and strength of the Mythos concept have led some to incorrectly conclude that Lovecraft had based it on pre-existing myths or occult beliefs. Faux editions of the Necronomicon have also been published over the years.

His prose is somewhat antiquarian. Often he employed archaic vocabulary or spelling which had already by his time been replaced by contemporary coinages; examples including Esquimau, and Comanchian. He was given to heavy use of an esoteric lexicon including such words as "eldritch," "rugose," "noisome," "squamous," "ichor," and "cyclopean," and of attempts to transcribe dialect speech which have been criticized as clumsy, imprecise, and condescending. His works also featured British English (he was an admitted Anglophile), and he sometimes made use of anachronistic spellings, such as "compleat" (for "complete") "lanthorn" ("lantern"), and "phantasy" ("fantasy"; also appearing as "phantastic" and "phantabulous").

Lovecraft was a prolific letter writer; see the "Letters" section below.


Several themes recur in Lovecraft's stories:

Forbidden knowledge

In "The Call of Cthulhu" (1926), Lovecraft wrote: "The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents... some day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the light into the peace and safety of a new Dark Age." Lovecraft's protagonists are nevertheless always driven to this "piecing together," which makes up most Lovecraft stories.

When such vistas are opened, the mind of the protagonist-investigator is often destroyed. Those who actually encounter "living" manifestations of the incomprehensible are particularly likely to go mad.

Those characters who attempt to make use of such knowledge are almost invariably doomed. Sometimes their work attracts the attention of malevolent beings; sometimes, in the spirit of Frankenstein, they are destroyed by monsters of their own creation.

Non-human influences on humanity

The beings of Lovecraft's mythos often have human (or mostly human) servants; Cthulhu, for instance, is worshipped under various names by cults amongst both the Eskimos of Greenland and voodoo circles of Louisiana, and in many other parts of the world.

These worshippers served a useful narrative purpose for Lovecraft. Many beings of the Mythos were too powerful to be defeated by human opponents, and so horrific that direct knowledge of them meant insanity for the victim. When dealing with such beings, Lovecraft needed a way to provide exposition and build tension without bringing the story to a premature end. Human followers gave him a way to reveal information about their "gods" in a diluted form, and also made it possible for his protagonists to win temporary victories. Lovecraft, like his contemporaries, envisioned "savages" as closer to the Earth, only in Lovecraft's case, this meant, so to speak, closer to Cthulhu.

Inherited guilt

Another recurring theme in Lovecraft's stories is the idea that descendants in a bloodline can never escape the stain of crimes committed by their forebears, at least if the crimes are atrocious enough. Descendants may be very far removed, both in place and in time (and, indeed, in culpability), from the act itself, and yet blood will tell ("The Rats in the Walls," "The Lurking Fear," "Arthur Jermyn," "The Alchemist," "The Shadow Over Innsmouth," and The Case of Charles Dexter Ward). An example of a crime that Lovecraft apparently considered heinous enough for this consequence is cannibalism ("The Picture in the House" and again "The Rats in the Walls").


Often in Lovecraft's works the protagonist is not in control of his own actions, or finds it impossible to change course. Many of his characters would be free from danger if they simply managed to run away; however, this possibility either never arises or is somehow curtailed by some outside force, such as in "The Colour Out of Space" and "The Dreams in the Witch House." Often his characters are subject to a compulsive influence from powerful malevolent or indifferent beings. As with the inevitability of one's ancestry, eventually even running away, or death itself, provides no safety ("The Thing on the Doorstep," "The Outsider," The Case of Charles Dexter Ward, etc.). In some cases, this doom is manifest in the entirety of humanity, and no escape is possible ("The Shadow Out of Time").

Civilization under threat

Though little known to his fan base, Lovecraft was very familiar with the work of the German conservative-revolutionary theorist Oswald Spengler. Spengler's pessimistic thesis of the decadence of the modern West formed a crucial element in Lovecraft's overall anti-modern, conservative worldview. Spenglerian imagery of cyclical decay is present in particular in At the Mountains of Madness. In fact, S. T. Joshi places Spengler at the center of his discussion of Lovecraft's political and philosophical ideas--his book on the topic is entitled, H.P. Lovecraft: The Decline of the West. Lovecraft wrote to Clark Ashton Smith in 1927: "It is my belief, and was so long before Spengler put his seal of scholarly proof on it, that our mechanical and industrial age is one of frank decadence" (see China Mieville's excellent introduction to "At the Mountains of Madness", Modern Library Classics, 2005). To some degree, however, Lovecraft was also acquainted with the writings of another German intellectual who dealt with civilized decadence in philosophical terms, Friedrich Nietzsche.

Lovecraft frequently dealt with the idea of civilization struggling against more barbaric, primitive elements. In some stories this struggle is at an individual level; many of his protagonists are cultured, highly-educated men who are gradually corrupted by some obscure and feared influence.

In such stories, the "curse" is often a hereditary one, either because of interbreeding with non-humans (e.g., "Facts Concerning the Late Arthur Jermyn and His Family" (1920), "The Shadow over Innsmouth" (1931)) or through direct magical influence (The Case of Charles Dexter Ward). Physical and mental degradation often come together; this theme of 'tainted blood' may represent concerns relating to Lovecraft's own family history, particularly the death of his father due to what Lovecraft must have suspected to be a syphilitic disorder.

In other tales, an entire society is threatened by barbarism. Sometimes the barbarism comes as an external threat, with a civilized race destroyed in war (e.g., "Polaris"). Sometimes, an isolated pocket of humanity falls into decadence and atavism of its own accord (e.g., "The Lurking Fear"). But most often, such stories involve a civilized culture being gradually undermined by a malevolent underclass influenced by inhuman forces.

There is a lack of analysis as to whether England's gradual loss of prominence and related conflicts (Boer War, India, World War I) had an impact on Lovecraft's worldview. It is likely that the "roaring twenties" left Lovecraft disillusioned as he was still obscure and struggling with the basic necessities of daily life, combined with seeing non-European immigrants in New York City.


A common dramatic device in Lovecraft's work is to associate virtue, intellect, elevated class position, civilization, and rationality with white Anglo-Saxons, often posing it in contrast to the corrupt, intellectually inferior, uncivilized and irrational, which he associated with people he characterized as being of lower class, impure racial "stock" and/or non European ethnicity and dark skin complexion who were often the villains in his writings.

In "The Call of Cthulhu" he writes of a captured group of mixed race worshipers of Cthulhu:

the prisoners all proved to be men of a very low, mixed-blooded, and mentally aberrant type. Most were seamen, and a sprinkling of negroes and mulattos, largely West Indians or Brava Portuguese from the Cape Verde Islands, gave a colouring of voodooism to the heterogeneous cult. But before many questions were asked it became manifest that something far deeper and older than negro fetishism was involved. Degraded and ignorant as they were, the creatures held with surprising consistency to the central idea of their loathsome faith.

In a letter of January 23, 1920, Lovecraft wrote:

For evolved man — the apex of organic progress on the Earth — what branch of reflection is more fitting than that which occupies only his higher and exclusively human faculties? The primal savage or ape merely looks about his native forest to find a mate; the exalted Aryan should lift his eyes to the worlds of space and consider his relation to infinity!!!!

In "Herbert West - Reanimator," Lovecraft gives an account of a just-deceased African-American male. He asserts:

He was a loathsome, gorilla-like thing, with abnormally long arms that I could not help calling fore legs, and a face that conjured up thoughts of unspeakable Congo secrets and tom-tom poundings under an eerie moon. The body must have looked even worse in life - but the world holds many ugly things.

In "The Horror at Red Hook," one character is described as "an Arab with a hatefully negroid mouth". In "Medusa's Coil," ghostwritten by Lovecraft for Zealia Bishop, the story's final surprise--after the revelation that the story's villain is a vampiric medusa--is that she

was faintly, subtly, yet to the eyes of genius unmistakably the scion of Zimbabwe's most primal grovellers.... [T]hough in deceitfully slight proportion, Marceline was a negress.

In "The Case of Charles Dexter Ward," this is a description of an African - New English couple: "The present negro inhabitants were known to him, and he was very courteously shewn about the interior by old Asa and his stout wife Hannah." In contrast to their apparently alien landlord: "a small rodent-featured person with a guttural accent"

In the short story "The Rats in the Walls," one of the narrator/protagonist's nine cats is named "Nigger-Man", after Lovecraft's own cat.

As I have said, I moved in on July 16, 1923. My household consisted of seven servants and nine cats, of which latter species I am particularly fond. My eldest cat, "Nigger-Man," was seven years old and had come with me from my home in Bolton, Massachusetts ...

The narrators in "The Street," "Herbert West: Reanimator," "He," "The Call of Cthulhu," "The Shadow Over Innsmouth," "The Horror at Red Hook," and many other tales express sentiments which could be considered hostile towards Jews. He married a woman of Ukrainian Jewish ancestry, Sonia Greene, who later said she had to repeatedly remind Lovecraft of her background when he made anti-Semitic remarks. "Whenever we found ourselves in the racially mixed crowds which characterize New York," Greene wrote after her divorce from Lovecraft, "Howard would become livid with rage. He seemed almost to lose his mind.

Lovecraft was an avowed Anglophile, and held English culture to be the comparative pinnacle of civilization, with the descendants of the English in America as something of a second-class offshoot, and everyone else below (see, for example, his poem "An American to Mother England"). His love for English history and culture is often repeated in his work (such as King Kuranes' nostalgia for England in "The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath").

The narrator of "Cool Air" speaks disparagingly of the poor Hispanics of his neighborhood, but respects the wealthy and aristocratic Spaniard Dr. Muñoz, for his Celtiberian origins, and because he is "a man of birth, cultivation, and discrimination." The degenerate descendants of Dutch immigrants in the Catskill Mountains, "who correspond exactly to the decadent element of white trash in the South" ("Beyond the Wall of Sleep", 1919), are common targets. In "The Temple," Lovecraft's highly unsympathetic narrator is a World War I U-boat captain whose faith in his "iron German will" and the superiority of the Fatherland lead him to machine-gun helpless survivors in lifeboats and, later, kill his own crew, while blinding him to the curse he has brought upon himself.

One of the foremost Lovecraft scholars, S. T. Joshi, notes "There is no denying the reality of Lovecraft's racism, nor can it merely be passed off as "typical of his time," for it appears that Lovecraft expressed his views more pronouncedly (although usually not for publication) than many others of his era. It is also foolish to deny that racism enters into his fiction. In his book H. P. Lovecraft: Against the World, Against Life, Michel Houellebecq argues that "racial hatred" provided the emotional force and inspiration for much of Lovecraft's greatest works.

According to L. Sprague de Camp's biography, Lovecraft moderated his views a lot toward the end of his life. Sprague de Camp says Lovecraft was horrified by reports of anti-Jewish violence in Germany during the 1930s, which he regarded as irrational.

Lovecraft racist antagonism is a corollary of his nihilistic notion of biological determinism. In At the Mountains of Madness, explorers discover evidence of a completely alien race (the Elder Things) who are credited with the accidental introduction of life to Earth through bioengineering, but who were eventually destroyed by their brutish shoggoth slaves. Even after several members of the party are killed by revived Elder Things, Lovecraft's narrator expresses sympathy for them: "They were the men of another age and another order of being... what had they done that we would not have done in their place? God, what intelligence and persistence! What a facing of the incredible... Radiates, vegetables, monstrosities, star spawn — whatever they had been, they were men!"

These lines of thought in Lovecraft's worldview — racism and romantic reactionary defense of cultural order in the face of the degenerative modern world — have led some scholars to see a special affinity to the aristocratic, anti-modernism of Traditionalist Julius Evola:

Certainly "The Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath" with its grandiose portrayal of the onyx city respires the cool and elegant spirit of Tradition, arraigned against which in several stories is the sink of decadence, Innsmouth, an inbred population made up of the offspring of lustful mariners and sea monsters, the negative force of counter-Tradition. The eternal struggle between the Uranian power of light and the telluric forces of chaos is reflected in Lovecraft's work


Women in Lovecraft's fiction are rare, and sympathetic women virtually non-existent; the few leading female characters in his stories — like Asenath Waite (though actually an evil male wizard who has taken over an innocent girl's body) in "The Thing on the Doorstep" and Lavinia Whateley in "The Dunwich Horror" — are invariably servants of sinister forces. Romance is likewise almost absent from his stories; where he touches on love, it is usually a platonic love (e.g. "The Tree"). His characters live in a world where sexuality is negatively connotated — if it is productive at all, it gives birth to less-than-human beings ("The Dunwich Horror").

However, Lovecraft states in a private letter (to one of the several female intellectuals he befriended) that discrimination against women is an oriental superstition from which Aryans ought to free themselves.

Risks of a Scientific Era

At the turn of the 20th century, man's increased reliance upon science was both opening new worlds and solidifying the manners by which he could understand them. Lovecraft portrays this potential for a growing gap of man's understanding of the universe as a potential for horror. Most notably in "The Colour Out of Space," the inability of science to comprehend a meteorite leads to horror.

In a letter to James F. Morton in 1923, Lovecraft specifically points to Einstein's theory on relativity as throwing the world into chaos and making the cosmos a jest. And in a 1929 letter to Woodburn Harris, he speculates that technological comforts risk the collapse of science. Indeed, at a time when men viewed science as limitless and powerful, Lovecraft imagined alternative potential and fearful outcomes.

Influences on Lovecraft

Lovecraft was influenced by such authors as Oswald Spengler, Robert W. Chambers (writer of The King in Yellow, of whom H. P. Lovecraft wrote in a letter to Clark Ashton Smith: "Chambers is like Rupert Hughes and a few other fallen Titans — equipped with the right brains and education but wholly out of the habit of using them"), Arthur Machen (The Great God Pan), Lord Dunsany, (The Gods of Pegana and other Dunsany works), Edgar Allan Poe, A. Merritt (The Moon Pool, later a great liking and admiration of the original version of The Metal Monster) and Lovecraft's friends Robert E. Howard and Clark Ashton Smith.

Lovecraft considered himself a man best suited to the early 18th century. His writing style, especially in his many letters, owes much to Augustan British writers of the Enlightenment like Joseph Addison and Jonathan Swift. Lovecraft even went so far as to write using the antiquated grammatical peculiarities of that literary era. While Lovecraft's fiction radically inverted the Enlightenment belief in mankind being able to comprehend the universe, his personal outlook as revealed in his letters shows Lovecraft largely agreeing with rationalist contemporaries like Bertrand Russell.

He also cited Algernon Blackwood as an influence, quoting The Centaur in the head paragraph of The Call of Cthulhu. He also declares Blackwood's "The Willows" to be the single best piece of weird fiction ever written.

Among the books found in his library (as evidenced in "Lovecraft's Library" by S.T.Joshi) was "The seven who were hanged" by Leonid Andreyev and "A Strange Manuscript Found in a Copper Cylinder" by James De Mille .

Lovecraft's influence on culture

Beyond direct adaptation, Lovecraft and his stories have had a profound impact on popular culture and have been praised by many modern writers. Some influence was direct, as he was a friend, inspiration, and correspondent to many of his contemporaries, such as August Derleth, Robert E. Howard, Robert Bloch and Fritz Leiber. Many later figures were influenced by Lovecraft, including author and artist Clive Barker, prolific horror writer Stephen King, film directors John Carpenter, Stuart Gordon, and Guillermo Del Toro, game designers Sandy Petersen and Keichiro Toyama, horror manga artist Junji Ito, and artist H. R. Giger. H. P. Lovecraft’s name is virtually synonymous with horror fiction; his writing, particularly his so-called “Cthulhu Mythos”, has influenced fiction authors worldwide, and Lovecraftian elements can be seen in novels, movies, comic books, music,even cartoons. Many modern writers — such as Stephen King, Neil Gaiman, F. Paul Wilson, Thomas Ligotti, T.E.D. Klein, Caitlín R. Kiernan, Ramsey Campbell, and Brian Lumley, — have cited Lovecraft as one of their primary influences.

Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges wrote his short story "There Are More Things" in memory of Lovecraft. Contemporary French writer Michel Houellebecq wrote a literary biography of Lovecraft called H. P. Lovecraft: Against the World, Against Life. Prolific American writer Joyce Carol Oates wrote an introduction for a collection of Lovecraft stories. The Library of America published a volume of Lovecraft's work in 2005, essentially declaring him a canonical American writer.

Other authors have written stories that are explicitly set in the same reality as Lovecraft's original stories. Lovecraft pastiches are common. Lovecraft's characteristic devices — like the object that drives one insane upon seeing it — are now eponymous.

There have also been detailed references to the Cthulhu mythos in current and near current science fiction (for example, Babylon 5: Thirdspace and the Doctor Who new adventures novels). Lovecraft appears as himself in the television tie-in novel Stargate SG-1: Roswell.

Lovecraft's story The Call of Cthulhu gave rise to a popular role-playing game, and more recently to a video game. id software's 1996 computer game Quake was also influenced by Lovecraft's tales.

A psychedelic rock band called H. P. Lovecraft (later shortened to just Lovecraft) released four albums in the 1960s and 1970s. More recently, the funeral doom band Thergothon has used Lovecraftian themes in their music. The heavy metal band Metallica, devoted readers of Lovecraft's work, has recorded a song about Cthulhu, called The Call of Ktulu) and a song about Nyarlathotep, called The Thing That Should Not Be. The folk-rock band The Mountain Goats wrote a song called "Lovecraft in Brooklyn" for their 2008 album, Heretic Pride.

He has also been held responsible for the invention of the philosophy "Cosmicism" which was reflected in many works beyond his own, including the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy series and movies like The Day the Earth Stood Still.

Several Lovecraftian elements make frequent "cameo" appearances in the works of later authors, including the Massachusetts city of Arkham (where several of his stories were set), and the Necronomicon ("Book of Dead Names"), a book of terrible secrets written by the mad Arab Abdul Alhazred. Lovecraft himself sometimes makes cryptic appearances, often as "a reclusive writer from Providence" or something of that sort.

Survey of the work

For most of the 20th century, the definitive editions (specifically At the Mountains of Madness and Other Novels, Dagon and Other Macabre Tales, The Dunwich Horror and Others, and The Horror in the Museum and Other Revisions) of his prose fiction were published by Arkham House, a publisher originally started with the intent of publishing the work of Lovecraft, but which has since published a considerable amount of other literature as well. Penguin Classics has at present issued three volumes of Lovecraft's works: The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories, The Thing on the Doorstep and Other Weird Stories,, and most recently The Dreams in the Witch House and Other Weird Stories. They collect the standard texts as edited by S. T. Joshi, most of which were available in the Arkham House editions, with the exception of the restored text of "The Shadow Out of Time" from The Dreams in the Witch House, which had been previously released by small-press publisher Hippocampus Press. In 2005 the prestigious Library of America canonized Lovecraft with a volume of his stories edited by Peter Straub, and Random House's Modern Library line have issued the "definitive edition" of Lovecraft's At the Mountains of Madness (also including "Supernatural Horror in Literature").

Lovecraft's poetry is collected in The Ancient Track: The Complete Poetical Works of H. P. Lovecraft, while much of his juvenilia, various essays on philosophical, political and literary topics, antiquarian travelogues, and other things, can be found in Miscellaneous Writings. Lovecraft's essay "Supernatural Horror in Literature", first published in 1927, is a historical survey of horror literature available with endnotes as The Annotated Supernatural Horror in Literature.


Although Lovecraft is known mostly for his works of weird fiction, the bulk of his writing consists of voluminous letters about a variety of topics, from weird fiction and art criticism to politics and history. S. T. Joshi estimates that Lovecraft wrote about 87,500 letters from 1912 until his death in 1937, including one 70-page letter from November 9, 1929, to Woodburn Harris. L. Sprague de Camp estimates the number of letters written to be 100,000.

He sometimes dated his letters 200 years before the current date, which would have put the writing back in U.S. colonial times, before the American Revolution (a war which offended his Anglophilia). He explained that he thought that the 18th and 20th centuries were the "best"; the former being a period of noble grace, and the latter a century of science.

Lovecraft was not a very active letter-writer in youth. In 1931 he admitted: "In youth I scarcely did any letter-writing — thanking anybody for a present was so much of an ordeal that I would rather have written a two hundred fifty-line pastoral or a twenty-page treatise on the rings of Saturn." (SL 3.369–70). The initial interest in letters stemmed from his correspondence with his cousin Phillips Gamwell but even more important was his involvement in the amateur journalism movement, which was responsible for the enormous number of letters Lovecraft produced.

Lovecraft clearly states that his contact to numerous different people through letter-writing was one of the main factors in broadening his view of the world: "I found myself opened up to dozens of points of view which would otherwise never have occurred to me. My understanding and sympathies were enlarged, and many of my social, political, and economic views were modified as a consequence of increased knowledge." (SL 4.389).

Today there are five publishing houses that have released letters from Lovecraft, most prominently Arkham House with its five-volume edition Selected Letters. Other publishers are Hippocampus Press (Letters to Alfred Galpin et al.), Night Shade Books (Mysteries of Time and Spirit: The Letters of H. P. Lovecraft and Donald Wandrei et al.), Necronomicon Press (Letters to Samuel Loveman and Vincent Starrett et al), and University of Tampa Press (O Fortunate Floridian: H. P. Lovecraft's Letters to R. H. Barlow).

Ohio University Press also published "Lord of a Visible World - An Autobiography in Letters" in 2000 which presents his letters according to themes, such as adolescence and travel. It was edited by S. T. Joshi and David E. Schultz.

Intellectual property

There is controversy over the copyright status of many of Lovecraft's works, especially his later works. Lovecraft had specified that the young R. H. Barlow would serve as executor of his literary estate, but these instructions had not been incorporated into his will. Nevertheless his surviving aunt carried out his expressed wishes, and Barlow was given charge of the massive and complex literary estate upon Lovecraft's death.

Barlow deposited the bulk of the papers, including the voluminous correspondence, with the John Hay Library, and attempted to organize and maintain Lovecraft's other writing. August Derleth, an older and more established writer than Barlow, vied for control of the literary estate. One result of these conflicts was the legal confusion over who owned what copyrights.

All works published before 1923 are public domain in the U.S. However, there is some disagreement over who exactly owns or owned the copyrights and whether the copyrights for the majority of Lovecraft's works published post-1923 — including such prominent pieces as "The Call of Cthulhu" and "At the Mountains of Madness" — have expired as of April 2008.

Questions center over whether copyrights for Lovecraft's works were ever renewed under the terms of the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976 for works created prior to January 1, 1978. The problem comes from the fact that before the Copyright Act of 1976 the number of years a work was copyrighted in the U.S. was based on publication rather than life of the author plus a certain number of years and that it was only good for 28 years with one renewal for an additional 28 years. The Copyright Act of 1976 retroactively extended the renewal period for all works to a period of 47 years and the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act of 1998 added another 20 years to that, for a total of 95 years from publication. Similarly, the European Union Directive on harmonising the term of copyright protection of 1993 extended the copyrights to 70 years after the author's death. So, all works of Lovecraft published during his lifetime, became public domain in all 27 European Union countries on 1 January, 2008.

In those Berne Convention countries who have implemented only the minimum copyright period, copyright expires 50 years after the author's death.

Lovecraft protégés and part owners of Arkham House, August Derleth and Donald Wandrei, often claimed copyrights over Lovecraft's works. On October 9, 1947, Derleth purchased all rights to Weird Tales. However, since April 1926 at the latest, Lovecraft had reserved all second printing rights to stories published in Weird Tales. Hence, Weird Tales may only have owned the rights to at most six of Lovecraft's tales. Again, even if Derleth did obtain the copyrights to Lovecraft's tales, no evidence as yet has been found that the copyrights were renewed.

Prominent Lovecraft scholar S. T. Joshi concludes in his biography, H. P. Lovecraft: A Life, that Derleth's claims are "almost certainly fictitious" and that most of Lovecraft's works published in the amateur press are most likely now in the public domain. The copyright for Lovecraft's works would have been inherited by the only surviving heir of his 1912 will: Lovecraft's aunt, Annie Gamwell. Gamwell herself perished in 1941 and the copyrights then passed to her remaining descendants, Ethel Phillips Morrish and Edna Lewis. Morrish and Lewis then signed a document, sometimes referred to as the Morrish-Lewis gift, permitting Arkham House to republish Lovecraft's works but retaining the copyrights for themselves. Searches of the Library of Congress have failed to find any evidence that these copyrights were then renewed after the 28-year period and, hence, it is likely that these works are now in the public domain.

According to an essay by Peter Ruber, the current editor of Arkham House, called "The Un-Demonizing of August Derleth", certain letters obtained in June 1998 detail the Derleth-Wandrei acquisition of Lovecraft's estate. It is unclear whether these letters contradict Joshi's views on Lovecraft's copyrights.

Chaosium, publishers of the Call of Cthulhu role-playing game, have a trademark on several Lovecraftian phrases and creations, including "The Call of Cthulhu", for use in game products. Another RPG publisher, TSR, Inc., original publisher of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, included in one of that game's earlier supplements, Deities & Demigods (originally published in 1980 and later renamed to "Legends & Lore"), a section on the Cthulhu Mythos; TSR, Inc. later agreed to remove this section from subsequent editions because of Chaosium's intellectual property interests in the work.

Regardless of the legal disagreements surrounding Lovecraft's works, Lovecraft himself was extremely generous with his own works and actively encouraged others to borrow ideas from his stories, particularly with regard to his Cthulhu mythos. By "wide citation" he hoped to give his works an "air of verisimilitude", and actively encouraged other writers to reference his creations, such as the Necronomicon, Cthulhu and Yog-Sothoth. After his death, many writers have contributed stories and enriched the shared mythology of the Cthulhu Mythos, as well as making numerous references to his work. (See Cthulhu Mythos in popular culture.)


Lovecraft's style and subject matter have lent themselves to numerous parodies within the science fiction and horror genres.

Broad parodies that reference the Cthulhu Mythos are listed on the Cthulhu Mythos in popular culture page. Literature that specifically parodies Lovecraft's prose style includes:

  • Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges wrote a parody of Lovecraft in his short story "There Are More Things", calling Lovecraft disparagingly "an involuntary parodist of Poe".
  • Peter Cannon's "Scream for Jeeves" (which combines Lovecraft with P. G. Wodehouse); these and several other Lovecraft parodies were later collected in Forever Azathoth and Other Horrors
  • Howard Waldrop (as M. M. Moamrath)'s "Cthulhublanca"
  • Neil Gaiman's "A Study in Emerald", a Hugo-winning short story combining H. P. Lovecraft and Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes first appeared in Shadows Over Baker Street, an anthology of stories combining the worlds of Cthulhu and Holmes. Gaiman also has a web exclusive on his site, "I, CTHULHU"
  • Real Ghostbusters did a parody episode called "The Collect Call of Cthulu" in which Ray's favorite Lovecraft based comic book comes to life.
  • Jose Oliver and Bartolo Torres' El joven Lovecraft (Young Lovecraft), a comicbook parody of H.P. Lovecraft´s childhood, published in Spain by Diabolo Ed.
  • A Lovecraft pastiche by Alan Moore appears in the third volume of the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (Black Dossier, 2008): the very different styles of Lovecraft and P. G. Woodhouse are combined in the short story "What Ho, Gods of the Abyss".
  • J.P. Morgan's comic book Fission Chicken has a minor character named "P. U. Evolcraft", who is depicted as a deranged occultist who dresses in disheveled Victorian attire.
  • In Publish and Perish, a volume of comic-horror novellas by James Hynes, the final novella, "Casting the Runes" (which is based on the story of the same name by M. R. James), features a character who publishes a history of witchcraft with Miskatonic University Press.

Locations featured in Lovecraft stories

Lovecraft drew extensively from his native New England for settings in his fiction. Numerous real historical locations are mentioned, and several fictional New England locations make frequent appearances. (See Lovecraft Country.)

Historical locations

Fictional locations




  • Rod Serling's 1969-1973 series, Night Gallery, adapted at least two Lovecraft stories, "Pickman's Model" and "Cool Air", and the episode "Professor Peabody's Last Lecture" featured a character named Lovecraft being lectured on 'The Great Old Ones'.
  • Out of Mind: The Stories of H. P. Lovecraft (1998), a Lovecraft sampler shown on Bravo! distributed by Lurker Films (IMDb entry)
  • Rough Magik (2000), BBC pilot for a Call of Cthulhu show starring Paul Darrow, à la The X-Files distributed by Lurker Films (IMDb entry)
  • Chilean Gothic (2000), Chilean adaptation of "Pickman's Model" directed by Ricardo Harrington distributed by Lurker Films (IMDb entry)
  • The "H. P. Lovecraft's Dreams in the Witch-House" episode of Masters of Horror is based on the story and directed by Stuart Gordon, who also directed Re-Animator, From Beyond and Dagon.
  • The Collect Call of Cthulhu (1987) episode of the Real Ghostbusters where the Ghostbusters encounter a cult who uses the Necronomicon to release the famed apocolyptic entity, Cthulhu. [distributed by DiC Entertainment]
  • Prank Call of Cthulu episode of Cartoon Network's, The Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy

Video Games


This is a partial list of films based (generally loosely) on specific Lovecraft works. See for a more complete selection.


Audio Books

  • The Call of Cthulhu and other stories. (Produced By Fantom Films; ‘The Call of the Cthultu’ read by Gareth David-Lloyd with ‘The Festival’ and ‘The Hound’ read by Ian Fairbairn.)
  • Imprisoned with the Pharos and other stories. (Produced By Fantom Films; includes ‘The Nameless City’ read by Gareth David-Lloyd and ‘Imprisoned with the Pharos’ read by Staten Eliot.)

Radio production

Further reading

  • The Strange Sound of Cthulhu: Music Inspired by the Writings of H. P. Lovecraft (ISBN 978-1847287762), written by Gary Hill
  • Lovecraft: Disturbing the Universe (ISBN 0813117283), by Donald R. Burleson, PhD, a longtime scholar on Lovecraft and acquaintance of S. T. Joshi, is probably the only book analyzing Lovecraft's literature from a deconstructionist standpoint. University Press of Kentucky, November 1990.
  • The Gentleman From Angell Street: Memories of H. P. Lovecraft (ISBN 9780970169914), written by Muriel and C. M. Eddy, Jr. is a collection of personal remembrances and ancedotes from two of Lovecraft's closest friends in Providence. The Eddys were fellow writers, and Mr. Eddy was a frequent contributor to Weird Tales.
  • Lovecraft: A Look Behind the Cthulhu Mythos (ISBN 0-586-04166-4), written by Lin Carter in 1972, is a survey of Lovecraft's work (along with that of other members of the Lovecraft Circle) with considerable information on his life; it's now available in an updated edition (ISBN 1-55742-253-2 hc, ISBN 1-55742-252-4 pb) co-authored by Robert M. Price.
  • The first full-length biography was Lovecraft: a Biography (ISBN 0-345-25115-6), written by L. Sprague de Camp; published in 1975, it is now out of print.
  • Frank Belknap Long's Howard Phillips Lovecraft: Dreamer on the Nightside (Arkham House, 1975, ISBN 0-87054-068-8) presents a more personal look at Lovecraft's life, combining reminiscence, biography, and literary criticism. Long was a friend and correspondent of Lovecraft, as well as a fellow fantasist who wrote a number of Lovecraft-influenced Cthulhu Mythos stories (including The Hounds of Tindalos).
  • A newer, more extensive biography is H. P. Lovecraft: A Life (ISBN 0-940884-88-7) written by Lovecraft scholar S. T. Joshi. An alternative is Joshi's abridged A Dreamer & A Visionary: H. P. Lovecraft in His Time (ISBN 0-85323-946-0).
  • An English translation of Michel Houellebecq's H. P. Lovecraft: Against the World, Against Life (ISBN 1-932416-18-8) was published by Believer Books in 2005.
  • Other significant Lovecraft-related works are An H. P. Lovecraft Encyclopedia by Joshi and David S. Schulz; Lovecraft's Library: A Catalogue (a meticulous listing of many of the books in Lovecraft's now scattered library), by Joshi; Lovecraft at Last, an account by Willis Conover of his teenage correspondence with Lovecraft; Joshi's A Subtler Magick: The Writings and Philosophy of H. P. Lovecraft.
  • Andrew Migliore and John Strysik's Lurker in the Lobby: The Guide to the Cinema of H. P. Lovecraft and Charles P. Mitchell's The Complete H. P. Lovecraft Filmography both discuss films containing Lovecraftian elements.
  • Lovecraft's prose fiction has been published numerous times. The "corrected texts" were released by Arkham House in the 1980s, and many other collections of his stories have appeared, including Ballantine Books editions and three popular Del Rey editions. The three collections published by Penguin, The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories, The Thing on the Doorstep and Other Weird Stories, and Dreams in the Witch House and Other Weird Stories, incorporate the modifications made in the corrected texts as well as the annotations provided by Joshi.
  • Lovecraft's "revisions" or ghost-written works are compiled in The Horror in the Museum and Other Revisions, edited again by Joshi.
  • Some of Lovecraft's writings, however, are annotated with footnotes or endnotes. In addition to the Penguin editions mentioned above and The Annotated Supernatural Horror in Literature, Joshi has produced The Annotated H. P. Lovecraft as well as More Annotated H. P. Lovecraft, both of which are footnoted extensively.
  • The Philosophy of H. P. Lovecraft is a study of Lovecraft's use of language to analyze the psychology of Lovecraft's writings.
  • An Epicure in the Terrible (Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1991), edited by David E. Schultz and S. T. Joshi is an anthology of 13 essays on Lovecraft (excluding Joshi's lengthy introduction)on the centennial of Lovecraft's birth. The essays are arranged into 3 sections; Biographical, Thematic Studies and Comparative and Genre Studies. The authors include S. T. Joshi, Kenneth W. Faig, Jr, Jason C. Eckhardt, Will Murray, Donald R. Burleson, Peter Cannon, Stefan Dziemianowicz, Steven J. Mariconda, David E. Schultz, Robert H. Waugh, Robert M. Price, R. Boerem, Norman R. Gatford and Barton Levi St. Armand.
  • Missing Friendship The lost friendship of Derleth essay by Darren Herhold.
  • Weird Fiction and the Unholy Glee of H. P. Lovecraft (Florianópolis, SC: Universidade Federal de Santa Catarina, 2003), by Kezia L'Engle de Figueiredo, is a Mastership dissertation which includes a review of criticism on Lovecraft's works and analyzes the ways his aesthetic theory on weird fiction works.


External links

Search another word or see Nervous exhaustionon Dictionary | Thesaurus |Spanish
Copyright © 2015, LLC. All rights reserved.
  • Please Login or Sign Up to use the Recent Searches feature