Lovecraft's America

  1. j d worthington

    j d worthington Moderator

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    First: I wouldn't be too quick to dismiss Lovecraft's being exposed to some of those older pieces, or things similar to them. He was quite aware of folk songs and expressed a high regard for the ballads of the cowboys of the West, which he saw (and he was backed on this by various researchers into such things) as being a more recent version of something close to the old border ballads; and many of those songs of the west are indeed transpositions to a different soil of things which originated in Ireland and Scotland, and show traces of them, at times quite strongly. He goes into some of this at some length in one of his letters to the Kleicomolo in the Letters to Rheinhart Kleiner volume....

    Dale: I don't know whether you were aware or not, but Lovecraft made it plain he was a Southern sympathizer, a supporter of the Confederacy against the North when it came to the War Between the States. He also had a strong interest in Southern literature and culture which lasted his entire life, only made all the stronger by his love for Charleston, S.C., St. Augustine, FL., and so on.
     
    Nov 26, 2010
    #21
  2. nigourath

    nigourath Well-Known Member

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    Interested topic.But Lovecraft, was more like a time traveller ,trapped at his age confinements,but ,yet only partially.So, i wouldn"t see why this 20-30ty research ,would have any definitive importance,except, maybe, the influences, he inevitably draw from it.Anyway, i am glad to see ,he put some of his readers ,to the same little trip, that he was on frequently-namely ,"time travelling"....
     
    Nov 27, 2010
    #22
  3. nigourath

    nigourath Well-Known Member

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    Well,ofcourse i meant ,"interesting" ,not "interested" topic.Despite ,a topic like this, could come to life and start really have an interest on us hehe..
     
    Nov 27, 2010
    #23
  4. Extollager

    Extollager Well-Known Member

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    Nigourath, I don't have a grand thesis about Lovecraft in his times. This "Lovecraft's America" isn't a research project.

    However, I have found that it can be rewarding to dig into the social context of the time and place, when thinking about fantasy writers.

    Here's an example. People have sometimes objected to the emphasis on good food and creature comforts like hot baths, in Tolkien's Lord of the Rings. These objectors disdain that material as juvenile.

    But I recently read David Kynaston's superb Austerity Britain: 1945-1951, and was struck by the dreary, meagre lives of the British people -- year after year. Food rationing actually got worse after the end of the war. And I began to feel it was not very becoming in us well-fed Americans today to sniff our disapproval of a few passages celebrating how wonderful it felt for the weary hobbits to get hot baths or a plate of mushrooms cooked in butter with fresh bread. I think Tolkien's audience could appreciate such things all too well. Tolkien wrote most of The Lord of the Rings during World War II and the subsequent austerity years, and when it was published in 1954 those privations were hardly distant memories. So my enjoyment of a book I love very much was enhanced this way.

    I don't anticipate anything just like that happening if I get into the background for Lovecraft, but I think interesting things will happen. For example, it would be interesting to see a little, in some excellent panoramic book about America in the Twenties and Thirties, about the discovery of the one and only American planet discovery (Pluto, since downgraded to "dwarf planet" status). Or take the progress of rural electrification and telephony & think of "The Dunwich Horror." Or flood control damming and "The Colour Out of Space."

    JDW, was Lovecraft a newspaper reader? I rather suspect that he was; he was not endlessly poring over his Poe and Dunsany; he could have talked about events and issues of his day with rather more sophistication, I suspect, than some of us could talk about our own! Or am I wrong?

    Incidentally, some of us are admirers of Arthur Machen. He wrote a very fine little essay called "The Gray's Inn Coffee House" that was published in book form in a wartime anthology called We Shall Eat and Drink Again. It's worth reading if you get the chance. It celebrates "pudding," good things to drink, and roast beef, and well it might, well it might, for the benefit of people suffering privations that we'd be apt to think of as "Third World."

    That great book about America between the wars is out there, I suspect, but I don't know what it is yet.

    I'm making several points in this message, or maybe they are all aspects of one point... Here are some comments about a limited aspect...

    I'd like to be able to read Lovecraft's stories (and other literary works that I care about) with an imagination a little better able to reconstruct how a contemporary audience might have read them. Conversely, I feel some desire to shy away from the Mountains of Madness movie that is being discussed here. Already there is the expectation that the imaginations that will be at work upon the Lovecraft plot line will be standard-issue ones of now. Whatever it looks like, the movie is hardly likely to look like anything but a typical big-budget 2010s horror/sf movie, with CGI, mandatory sexy female character(s), and above all lots of scenes that elicit that COOL! response from adolescents and gamers of all ages. I'm not trying to be cynical! But really, isn't it to be expected that if someone makes a movie in 2011, it's going to look like a 2011 movie? And that means copious CGI and go-for-the-WOW COOL response, even if, as I suppose there may be, there is some superficial attempt to capture some obvious 1930s color (if they do decide to be that faithful to the story).

    If we must have a movie of Mountains, I wish we could have one that, sure, would use appropriate technology of now, appropriately, but would give us something closer to what would have been imagined by HPL and his original readers -- people who grew up on Verne, Wells, the mags, not Alien etc.
     
    Last edited: Nov 27, 2010
    Nov 27, 2010
    #24
  5. Richard--W

    Richard--W writer-director-editor

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    Extollager, are you able to access the newspaper microfilms for Providence, Rhode Island in the 1910s and 1920s? The college libraries and historical society make them readily available. If so, take note of the society column in which public events are mentioned. Note the movies and plays that came to town, what the music stores advertise in terms of sheet music and cylinders, the radio station schedules, the lectures, and most of all, the bookstores. You'll get a picture of the culture in which HPL was immersed from the newspapers where he lived. Read up also on local and national news as reported in the same newspapers. I'd be surprised if HPL did not at one time or another stand on the same breadlines as everybody else. I'd also be surprised if his name were not mentioned from time to time, as one of the more well-known residents.

    Richard
     
    Nov 28, 2010
    #25
  6. Richard--W

    Richard--W writer-director-editor

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  7. Extollager

    Extollager Well-Known Member

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    Maureen Taylor's Picturing Rhode Island might be especially interesting. Thanks. The newspaper idea would be an excellent one for researchers. I wonder if S. T. Joshi hasn't done a lot of the legwork already, though.

    Anyone who's read the original version of his biography of HPL, or the 2-volume edition that just came out: does Joshi evoke America of the time for you?
     
    Nov 28, 2010
    #27
  8. j d worthington

    j d worthington Moderator

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    He does a pretty good job at times; certainly he researched it well enough, and includes a considerable amount of data to help put things in context. (I am speaking of the original published version; I have only just begun the restored, revised edition; but I'll pass on anything in that which seems germane.)

    No, HPL was not one to show up in the papers as a well-known resident. In fact, he wasn't listed as a Rhode Island writer until long after his death in any of the standard reference works dealing with such things. However, he did keep abreast of current events, to a surprising degree. The father of two of the best friends of his youth (a man who himself served in the Rhode Island legislature), Addison P. Munroe, had this to say about him:
    -- taken from Winfield Townley Scott's "Howard Phillips Lovecraft: His Own Most Fantastic Creation", cited in Joshi, Life, p. 88.

    His letters are full of discussions of various issues of the day and his thoughts about them, as are a number of his essays. Even some of his verse shows their influence. As for his fiction... a careful reading of that will reveal his full awareness of what was going on in the world around him, and its importance, as well. A good brief overview of this topic is Joshi's "Topical References in Lovecraft", in his Primal Sources: Essays on H. P. Lovecraft (pp. 126-44).

    On the subject of the Mountains movie... given GDT's comments, the long time he has been desiring to make this, the fact Joshi is to be a consultant, and that he is apparently going to handle this with the same care and concern he did his own El espinazo del diablo (2001) and El laberinto del fauno (2006), there's a good chance we'll get a stunning film here; one which will at least show due respect for the original material, even though it will inevitably take some liberties with it.
     
    Nov 28, 2010
    #28
  9. Extollager

    Extollager Well-Known Member

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    Richard, thanks for the recommendation of Maureen Taylor's Picturing Rhode Island a while back. I have been browsing in an interlibrary loan copy. The book's worth some attention from HPL fans. However, I should note that most of the photos are from the late 1890s and some that aren't are from after HPL's 1910s-30s -- of which desirable three decades there are not a great many pictures here. The emphasis is on landmark buildings, bridges, etc. I don't think one would get much of a sense of Lovecraft's neighborhoods from the book. The single best picture, for me, is probably "View from Prospect Terrace, Providence, Early 1870s," with sight of the "tower of the Superior Court House (built 1877) at the corner of Benefit and College Streets." The whole view must have fit in well with Lovecraft's love of sunset scenes. There's a gambrel-roofed house to be glimpsed, too. On the opposite page is a view from the same spot, 2006. Ach! Lovecraft's view is about as lost as Atlantis -- though there's still a gambrel-roofed building, presumably the same one. I suppose Lovecraft must have mentioned the spire of the First Baptist Church...
     
    Dec 7, 2010
    #29
  10. j d worthington

    j d worthington Moderator

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    Indeed he did... frequently. Pity that the view has been so altered; but yes, that is almost certainly the same gambrel-roofer; from what I understand, since the 1960s there has been a very thorough attempt to preserve most of the antiquities of old Providence which were still standing.. and that, at least, would have made HPL very happy....
     
    Dec 7, 2010
    #30
  11. Extollager

    Extollager Well-Known Member

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    I glimpsed a few HPLian names as I glanced through the book -- Tillinghast, Whipple ...
     
    Dec 7, 2010
    #31
  12. Extollager

    Extollager Well-Known Member

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    Has anyone examined these offerings from Arcadia's Images of America series?

    Arcadia Publishing

    I have several of their books. They're modestly-priced and interesting. I think the texts are often written by local history buffs. The emphasis is on photographs.
     
    Dec 17, 2010
    #32
  13. Extollager

    Extollager Well-Known Member

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    THANK YOU, Richard -- W! I did get hold of some Skip James, including the album you mention and also, what I'm listening to now, The Complete Early Recordings, where right now it's "Special Rider Blues" that's catching me. So now I know whay Dylan's publisher is Special Rider Music... Listen to this and you'll know what Creedence Clearwater Revival was reviving and revamping, and of course the Dylan resonances are all over the place; but I don't want to make it sound like those later guys were the main thing and this is simply of historical interest.

    Thanks for putting me on to this music.


     
    Dec 31, 2010
    #33
  14. Extollager

    Extollager Well-Known Member

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    Have any Lovecraftians here read David Kyvig's Daily Life in the United States, 1920-1940? It sounds like it could be a good read for those of us who like thinking of the historical and social context at the time HPL was writing his stories. From correspondence with a friend who is reading the book now, I gather that Kyvig has interesting things to say about the spread of electrical wiring. This made it possible for people to read much more comfortably after dark, and demand for books rose measurably. I suppose many people were reading newspapers and pulp magazines -- and of course electricity made radio operation more convenient as opposed to batteries. Does anyone know if HPL listened to what we now call "old time radio"?
     
    Jun 7, 2011
    #34
  15. Ningauble

    Ningauble Lovecraftian

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    I'm not familiar with the term, but he or his aunt owned a radio, at least -- I remember a reference from one of the letters to them listening to Edward VIII's abdication.
     
    Jun 7, 2011
    #35
  16. Extollager

    Extollager Well-Known Member

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    "Old Time Radio" refers to the radio drama and comedy of the Thirties-Fifties. Programs such as Escape!, Suspense, Lights Out, Inner Sanctum, Mysterious Traveller, etc. featured compact thrillers, usually with twist endings, that are, I suppose, an aural equivalent of some of the pulp fiction of the time. I don't like the common approach whereby the story is narrated by someone planning to kill his wife, etc., but at their best these productions can be a lot of fun. I like to stretch out on the living room sofa with the lighting minimal of an evening. Allow me to recommend "Leiningen Versus the Ants," "A Shipment of Mute Fate" (man vs savage animals), and (over-the-top sci-fi horror) "Chicken Heart" (lovingly remembered in a Bill Cosby routine); and, if you can find it, the one about the scientist who has Nothing Behind the Door in rural California (something like that). You can check Wikipedia for information about once-famous radio play writer Arch Oboler and various old programs. Here is the source that I usually check when I want to listen to radio plays on my computer:

    http://www.otr.net/
     
    Jun 8, 2011
    #36
  17. Extollager

    Extollager Well-Known Member

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    Jun 8, 2011
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  18. Ningauble

    Ningauble Lovecraftian

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    Aaaaah... I get it. :) Sounds fun!
    I can't recall any such references in HPl's letters off-hand, but it sounds like the radio equivalent of the pulp magazines... Hmm... come to think of it, he does say something somewhere about dramatisations of his stories, and he may refer to radio in that context.
     
    Jun 8, 2011
    #38
  19. Extollager

    Extollager Well-Known Member

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    Some of his stories would fit right in with the more pulpish radio series. He was aiming for shock effects in "The Picture in the House," for example, just like what you might expect from Inner Sanctum.
     
    Jun 8, 2011
    #39
  20. Extollager

    Extollager Well-Known Member

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    Just listened to a Quiet, Please show that I hadn't heard before, "Northern Lights," at otr.net. It both made me grin and feel a little creepy.
     
    Jun 21, 2011
    #40
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