Saturday, June 20, 2009


H.P. Lovecraft: Against the World, Against Life. Now there's a title for you. The theme of Michel Houellebecq's essay is that dear old HPL loathed life, believed that realism in fiction was utterly pointless, and created his dark vision as an antidote to all of it. This is a peek inside the life, work, and mind of one of the most loved, hated, and influential writers of weird fiction ever to take quill to parchment.

In Stephen King's introduction to this translation (from the French), he states that he agrees with its observations and conclusions but not with Houellebecq's world view. Here's a bon mot from the book: “Those who love life do not read. Nor do they go to the movies, actually. No matter what might be said, access to the artistic universe is more or less the preserve of those who are a little fed up with the world.” You might not agree with that, but Houellebecq is sure that Lovecraft would have. The world, we are told, sickened him.

Houellebecq focused on the group of writings that he calls “the great texts.” These are, for your future reading (or re-reading) pleasure:
“The Call of Cthulhu”
“The Colour Out of Space”
“The Dunwich Horror”
“The Whisperer in Darkness”
“At the Mountains of Madness”
“The Dreams in the Witch House”
“The Shadow Over Innsmouth”
“The Shadow Out of Time”
Various aspects of HPL's life and work are explored. His love of architecture, his brief marriage and life in New York City, his kindness and gentlemanly nature, and his racism are all examined and reflected in his writing. Of equal importance are the things that are not in the writing. Sex and money are themes that seem to dominate realistic fiction. Their complete absence from Lovecraft's writing says a lot about the man and the purity of his vision.

I'm not usually a great fan of looking into the life and mind of writers to divine meaning in their works, but in this case I'll make an exception. The Cthulhu mythos may not be a complete, coherent story, but I agree that in these works Lovecraft was presenting a coherent view. His writing form a rejection of the world and humanity. His elaborate prose style created an atmosphere to present the universe as he saw it. The universe is vast and filled with horrors inconceivable by our small minds. Beings, gods we might call them, could swat us out of existence in a moment. Utter doom might be delayed for now but is a certain inevitability. If any man were to understand the universe, to really understand it, the horror of it all would surely drive him mad.

Fun stuff, no? I recommend H.P. Lovecraft: Against the World, Against Life to anyone interested in or curious about Lovecraft. A word of caution though. The book is out of print in the U.S. and available copies seem a bit expensive. Further, the essay is only about half of the book, the rest of the pages being two of the “great texts,” “The Call of Cthulhu” and “The Whisperer in the Darkness.” Oh, and if you read it too closely you might end up a gibbering, slavering maniac, dreaming the dreams of a dead god.

And while I'm at it: Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn.

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