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An Arkham Encounter with H.P. Lovecraft

H.P. Lovecraft by John Cebollero (Copyright 2009)

Many of my favorite writers, directors, and comic book creators have been inspired by the work of cult horror writer H.P. Lovecraft. Lovecraft’s stories of cosmic horror appeared mostly in pulp magazines trafficking in weird fiction throughout the 20s and 30s. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos (the fictional universe of his work) centers around the fictional city of Arkham, Mass. and its inhabitants who are most commonly on the verge of being driven mad by forbidden knowledge of the dread “great old ones”–cosmic beings whose existence and motives lie far outside the understanding of mankind.

Though Lovecraft’s work wasn’t very popular during his lifetime, his legacy has spread across the dark corners of pop culture thanks to writers like Stephen King, Neil Gaiman, and Mike Mignola (artist/writer Hellboy) who all cite Lovecraft as a strong influence. His influence is also easy to spot in video games (Dead Space, Alone in the Dark), film (Re-Animator, Evil Dead II), and the web, like YouTube where I found a lot of cool videos inspired by Lovecraft and his Mythos.

Lovecraft encouraged his followers like August Derleth to borrow from his Mythos, spreading the influence of the Necronomicon and Cthulhu far and wide. Lovecraft’s giving nature combined with the fact that his work is in the public domain and, therefore, not subject to copyright restrictions means you can find lots of great fan-created work out there. Like this visual adaptation of Lovecraft’s poem “Nightgaunts” which I found on YOUTube:

or this spooky piece of animation:

Nowadays you can purchase a plush Cthulhu along with role-playing games like Arkham Horror and Call of Cthulhu on ThinkGeek.com. I started reading Lovecraft after Mike Mignola’s Hellboy led me to another great weird fiction writer: Manly Wade Wellman. Now I’m deeply invested not only in the RPG Arkham Horror, but one of the expansion packs as well. How did this happen? This weird fiction stuff is addictive and engrossing.

So, if you’re a fan of vociferous authors writing about life’s futility and horror on the cosmic scale then you should try Lovecraft.

 The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories by H.P. Lovecraft – A great intro to the dark world of Lovecraft. The Call of Cthulhu includes the popular stories “Rats in the Walls,” “Herbert West Reanimator”, and “The Haunter of the Dark” and “Pickman’s Model” the basis for an episode of Rod Serling’s Night Gallery.

At the Mountains of Madness by H.P. Lovecraft – is probably Lovecraft’s most popular and well-known work. A novella written in February/March of 1931, At the Mountains of Madness was rejected that year by pulp magazine Weird Tales editor Farnsworth Wright on the grounds of its length. The story chronicles the Antarctic expedition of professor William Dyer and the strange remains he uncovered in the frozen wasteland.

Hellboy by Mike Mignola – And don’t forget Hellboy! He’s a protagonist trying to cope with the cosmic-scale Lovecraftian insanity of his life. Summoned by Rasputin and a bunch of Nazis in the 1930s, Hellboy was raised by the Allies and a professor of the occult. He used to investigate the unexplained and supernatural for the Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense (B.P.R.D.), but now fate has led him to embark on a hero’s journey. Any questions?

You could say say that all of this Lovecraft stuff is kind of gruesome and morbid, and I’d say you’re right. Isn’t it wonderful?

– Corey, Digital Learning Librarian

5 Responses

  1. Iä! Iä! Cthulhu Fhtagn!

    • I’ve been particularly obsessed with The Colour Out of Space, especially Lovecraft’s conclusion that it was simply a color out of space and it couldn’t truly be described.

      Have you ever played Arkham Horror, Jon?

  2. Yeah, that’s one of the awesome things about Lovecraft – stuff is always unspeakable and indescribable; he’s completely evasive, yet still strangely effective. I was totally crestfallen when Del Toro’s ‘Mountains’ was put on hiatus. For a while there it really looked like it was gonna happen.

    I have played Arkham Horror. It’s a good time for all.

    • I heard that was because Prometheus is so clearly inspired by the story. Probably true. I like Del Toro a lot–especially Pan’s Labyrinth. It’s starting to look like he’s losing steam in Hollywood, though. His projects keep falling through.

      I hadn’t encountered The Unnamable until the other day (only knew it as a space on the Arkham board). When I read it, I was very impressed by his acknowledgment and defense of writing about the indescribable. Pretty great (and it shows me that the space in the game is a good in joke).

      • I hadn’t thought of Prometheus, though that does make some sense. The Thing prequel was also being made while Mountains still had some life in it. From my understanding, the suits demanded that he add a love story, which is just preposterous… (le sigh) …Perhaps it’s for the best. Tom Cruise probably would’ve tanked the whole thing anyways.

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