What's the appeal of Lovecraft? And horror in general?

  1. Wolery

    Wolery Science fiction fantasy

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    And what an auspicious way to start my posting here. Well, restart, my user ID from years ago is gone, and I know I stopped posting in good standing, and I know cause this user name is my old one. Confusing.

    OK, I'm writing a short story and the protagonist who's a grad student in English Lit, particularly 20th century horror. I don't need advice on plot or anything, I need to understand why someone would be drawn to horror. Simply put, I don't, as a rule, like horror at all, and after reading Shadow over Innsmouth, I detest Lovecraft, though I'm working on Dunwich Horror to see if he gets better. I'm writing this story, about the Innsmouth Look, not because of what I liked about Shadow over Innsmouth, but what I hated about it.

    And this goes onto a broader question, to the appeal not just of the Mythos, but horror in general. Let me explain things from my perspective: I've read two horror novel(le)s: I am Legend, and Shadow over Innsmouth. I loved I am Legend, but it didn't scare me. I felt like I was in the foxhole with Neville, and connected through his isolation and suffering, and he became a human being in my mind and I rooted for him fully in his campaign to remain a civilized man through the vampires, the scrounging and the death of everyone he'd ever cared about. His post-mortem relationship with his friend Benny was dark humor to the max. Shadow over Innsmouth I found poorly constructed, with a lack of style that I wouldn't accept from and 8th grader, the concept of the Look was racist in a way that was out of sorts even for the 30s. But most unforgivable of all is Lovecraft's inability or unwillingness to humanize a single character to the point that the only time there is any connection of any kind was the moment Zadok Allen talked about his decision to come back after the Civil War. And the depraved ending came out of left field...not Olmsted getting the Look, but his near instant embrace of it. Lovecraft ruined the ending, and ending for real sadness and despair because that would mean making someone worthy of our sympathies.

    In film Event Horizon scared the living hell out of me, but I didn't know it was a horror movie until the visions started. And in the TV version of the Stand I only found the first part terrifying. Once civilization was dead, there was nothing left to scare me. The only thing remotely close to a horror movie I actually liked was Evil Dead 2, and there Ash conquers the demons, even if he gets trapped in Candar for his troubles.

    I think it's fair to say I don't like the genre, and I really don't like Lovecraft. Turns out all I like is killing critters from the Mythos in Arkham Horror. I don't find most horror frightening, and I don't like being frightened when I do. But I wanna go on with my story and need to have some feel on how the protagonist will defend his chosen genre against someone who does not respect the genre and detests Lovecraft (and he's also a descendant of Barnabas Marsh). Anyway, any thoughts are appreciated.

    Oh and one more thing: Copyright's expired on Lovecraft himself right? It's like 70 years after death? Yeah, I've got that much faith in the story.
     
    Mar 12, 2011
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  2. w h pugmire esq

    w h pugmire esq Well-Known Member

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    The appeal of Lovecraft is that he is an excellent and original writer, with a vivid imagination and a superb prose style with which to evoke his dreams and fancies. The appeal of Lovecraft is never-ending. At first he appealed to the adolescent thrill I found in reading Mythos fiction, but as I matured my respect for Lovecraft as a writer became more profound. Although I have no gift for literary scholarship, I love reading it, and it was from reading the superb essays in Lovecraft Studies that shew'd me that part of Lovecraft's power and mastery as a writer comes from the fact that he understood that which makes for good writing, and that he knew exactly what he was doing as a writer and very often achieved his goals as a writer. I am currently reading the remarkable book, The Monster in the Mirror -- Looking For H. P. Lovecraft, by Robert H. Waugh -- and it re-emphases the fact that Lovecraft was a brilliant writer, an extremely effective and original writer, and that he was creating Literary Art of the finest sort.
     
    Mar 13, 2011
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  3. Tinsel

    Tinsel Science fiction fantasy

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    If you want to make it scary, than read it in that way after first raising yourself in dominance. Don't expect any horror to provide you with any satisfaction if you are not trying to either consume the fire, or else, be willing to be lead along by it, with growing awareness of it's fullness or completeness. Prepare yourself or else you may cause yourself to suffer.

    Lovecraft's writing is powerful. If you read a few pages of "The Shadow Over Innsmouth" and you do not appreciate it, than you should immediately stop reading.
     
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  4. w h pugmire esq

    w h pugmire esq Well-Known Member

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    You are spot-on, Tinsel -- Lovecraft's writing is powerful, and "The Shadow over Innsmouth" is one of his flawless stories, original and wonderful in every way. The story's structure is ingenious and perfect, and one is caught immediately in its spell. Never has Lovecraft's magnificent sense of place been so effectively evoked. Each character in the tale is individual and believable and, more important, they play their narrative function to perfection. And then that absolutely breathtaking ending chase scene, one of the finest things that Lovecraft has ever conjured. But then, ingeniously, the racism evoked in the story (and Lovecraft's racism is evident in much if not most of his fiction, and proves a fascinating taint) gets turned on its head by the brilliant and bizarre final touch of genius -- where the narrator embraces his Outside nature. Excellent on all counts!
     
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  5. Wolery

    Wolery Science fiction fantasy

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    Ok guys, I'm getting some of it. However, I found Shadow Over Innsmouth to be a fat load of dung. There were good parts, the middle two fifths, but I think Lovecraft is a hack. The only person who can change that opinion is Lovecraft, and I'm reading a bit more of him to be fair. But this isn't about my contempt for Lovecraft, but trying to understand, and get into the head of people who do. I don't see any redeeming about Lovecraft's prose...I've read better crappy fanfiction. This is beyond my destesation of every single metaphysical underpinning of the Mythos. I feel the same way about Dune, but I enjoyed it nonetheless.

    Trying to convince me Lovecraft is not banal drek is an excersise in futility, and not what I am here for. Why do you find him compelling? Why do you see him as powerful? What is socially redeeming about his work? The last one is more aimed at horror in general. I don't agree, but I am trying to understand.
     
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  6. w h pugmire esq

    w h pugmire esq Well-Known Member

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    I couldn't disagree more. Anyone who has studied Lovecraft's life and art would know that he was the opposite of a hack. A hack is one who bends her writer's will to commercial market and produces what that market desires. Lovecraft never did this, but rather was intensely driven to write works of Literary Art. And he succeeded, which is why he is now published in Penguin Classics and The Library of America. He is that rare thing is the weird fiction genre -- a pure genius of artistic integrity and brilliance. Of course my viewpoint is that of an obsess'd Lovecraft fanatic who is driven to write book after book in homage to Lovecraft -- so my point of view may be a wee bit tainted. It's a pure waste of time to write fiction that is "socially redeeming" -- society is bollocks. Art alone of what matters.
     
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  7. Yog-Sothoth

    Yog-Sothoth Well-Known Member

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    Wolery, you don't enjoy "horror", yet at the same time wonder why you detest Lovecraft? That's like a person who dislikes apples asking us why he doesn't enjoy apple-juice, and why we "apple-consumers" do. Lovecraft stories get under your skin, and transport your imagination to some of the most disturbing and fascinating places a writer could take you with words alone.

    The guy certainly wasn't a hack, many of his most interesting stories almost disappeared for good, because he had no interest in submitting them for publication despite the material being absolutely wonderful.
     
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  8. Ningauble

    Ningauble Lovecraftian

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    Just make something up, or change the plot of your story. Attempting to explain sounds like an exercise in futility to me. Lovecraft is still being read and is in print from the Library of America close to 75 years after his death. That's reason enough.
     
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  9. Wolery

    Wolery Science fiction fantasy

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    Hack wasn't the word I wanted then. I'm aware of his integrity, and...whatever. I wont get into a debate on art here. I meant untalented, and grossly overdone Macob 'style' was made worse by such integrity. I was expecting another Poe from the praise.

    I don't get it. I thought I'd established that. Whether my distaste was due to a failure of style or deliberate choice it makes no difference to me. Engaging me as a reader is the primary concern of the author, and he failed and did so UTTERLY. I've read erotica I found more intellectually an emotionally engaging. I came away feeling that reading Lovecraft was an utter waste of my time. That's why I'm here: I cannot on my own write a character who loves modern horror, at least not plausibly. I owe it to my character to give him a good argument. That's why I'm here
     
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  10. w h pugmire esq

    w h pugmire esq Well-Known Member

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    I'd suggest that if, as an imaginative writer, you cannot create a character who loves modern horror, then you are writing a story beyond your capabilities and should set it aside to tackle something you feel capable of achieving. I, for one, do not love "modern" horror, but it would be a simple task to invent a character who did. Such invention need not have any basis in reality, for this is imaginative fiction. Your job as an author is to make your character convincing, not true to life.
     
    Mar 13, 2011
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  11. Wolf873

    Wolf873 Well-Known Member

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    Well if you disliked horror in general, than it would hardly make any difference at all no matter what we say to you. But since you asked, to me Lovecraft's literature stands out from many contemporary authors due to his unique writing style. His words elicit such imagery that it really pushes your imagination to its limits and beyond. You say that he doesn't humanizes his characters, but isn't the fear of the unknown one of the characteristics of being human? Lovecraft's characters are fragile, just like how we humans are. When confronted with some nearly fantastical or logic defying ideas we tend to push them off or fear them. The psychological fear that his characters confront is I think that very human trait that humanizes them.

    From a distance his stories might seem simple, like Mountains: people go to Antarctica, find ancient city and some get killed by slimy monsters while others run away. But if you really take a harder look, its that fragile human nature that makes the story work. So I don't think your point about his characters not being human enough works all that well, but that's my opinion: and I certainly respect yours.

    I can't understand how you found Evil Dead to be much scarier but to me that movie or movie series has always been about slapstick horror comedy. I mean the only thing that might scare you are few good "Boo" moments and gruesome faces, that's it. Lovecraft's horror is not like that at all. I think the best example of Lovecraft's horror can be seen in Silent Hill games, to some degree.

    The reason I think people like horror is because it explores one of man's most primal emotions: fear. Almost everyone has fear of something, be it of heights or supreme deity, if you're a believer. Lovecraft's horror in this regard explores that very emotion, fear of the unknown, of supreme beings, something that defies our conventional logic or common sense. That is what attracts me towards his work.

    So just ask yourself this question, why does anyone fear anything? What are the traits of your character? Is he a believer or open-minded fellow who believes that there are things that can exist outside of conventional logic? Is he fascinated more by what lies in the dark or human response to that thing in the dark? A person is drawn to something simply out of curiosity and need to satisfy that internal struggle of what to believe in. So what is your character's struggle?
     
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  12. Yog-Sothoth

    Yog-Sothoth Well-Known Member

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    Same here. Another aspect of his writing that appealed to me greatly is how his characters almost never liked what they discovered or gained from extensive research. It's in our nature to design little bubbles in our lives that keeps us going, and we like to protect these same bubbles from potential "reality-check" needles. Lovecraft characters alot of the times are unaware of what lies beneath the surface and so keep digging for more, until it's to late.

    I remember a few years back, a friend send me a link to a snuff-videos website, and it left me shocked with how messed up our world really is. I will never get back my former naive persepective of the globe. Sometimes ignorance is absolute bliss, and Lovecraft captures this sentiment in his writing.
     
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  13. J Riff

    J Riff The Ants are my friends..

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    It may look easy to you, what HPL does, with all the big words and sweeping concepts- but just try it.
    Evil Dead 2 was hilarious! The best sendup ever. Ash takes more punishment in that movie than Clint Eastwood does in any 3 westerns.
     
    Mar 13, 2011
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  14. Extollager

    Extollager Well-Known Member

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    Wolery, your project is really interesting.

    You'll want to make a distinction between horror fiction in general and the writings of particular authors, even between horror fiction in general and any particular story.

    Thus, when I think of my lingering fondness for Lovecraft, I have to acknowledge that one important elements in it is affection for the experience of literary discovery that I have from 1970 on (for a few years) when I was spotting his stories in books found in used book stores, or on trips to big cities, or the like. My guess is that, of all the big HPL fans you will encounter here, most will be people who began to read him is adolescence, as I did. An important part of their enjoyment when they reread him is the evocation of those earlier experiences -- or even of their imagination of those experiences, that might not be the same as purely accurate memories.

    Along with the nostalgia element, another element that is, I suspect, important for many, yet distinct from the experience of the stories as such, is the aura of Lovecraftian editions. This can take at least two forms, the fascination of rare books (with the first Arkham House book, The Outsider, as an obvious example), and the attraction of "collectible" but not truly rare paperbacks, magazines, etc. You'll find that people here are probably quite attached to their copies of old paperbacks from Lancer, Beagle, and Ballantine -- which were printed, I suppose, in tens or hundreds of thousands of copies. Although folks will discuss the merits of recent annotated editions (Penguin Classics) and so on, they either have and cherish or wish they had copies of editions with perhaps quite cheesy art (e.g. either of the Lancer editions of The Colour Out of Space).

    More in a moment.
     
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  15. Extollager

    Extollager Well-Known Member

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    Another important element in how many of his fans feel about Lovecraft, but that must be distinguished from the horror element, is his love of certain places. I believe that love of a particular place can be a very important part of some people's imaginations and when I was a youngster, Lovecraft was one of the main writers who taught me this. Thus Lovecraft has something in common with so radically different an author as the great Wendell Berry, the sage of Kentucky! Incidentally, this is important for Lovecraft's conservatism, which may appeal to conservatives (like myself) who have no taste for the nation's insane military expenditures and so on.

    What I'm getting at is that if your character "likes horror," you need to be clear on whether he likes Lovecraft for the specifically horror-focused element in HPL or if HPL is just one of many authors whom the character likes. If it's horror that he loves, he might feel HPL is overrated. My memory is that, when I first began to read HPL, I actually didn't find the specifically horror-focused material all that important. One may argue for the paradox that Lovecraft is actually a pretty poor horror writer because readers don't usually get very involved with his characters. Who thinks of the characters in At the Mountain of Madness, for example, as realized, humanly interesting individuals?

    And still another thing about Lovecraft: Lovecraftians read him because he affords such an idiosyncratic type of fun. He has some pretty hopeless literary offenses, which can somehow make him all the more endearing. You have just read "Shadow Over Innsmouth," in which Lovecraft obviously was at great pains to create a sense of locale and depth. He is making a bid to raise the literary quality of the weird tale far above the norm for the magazine of that name. And then he has to spell out the old coot's scream!! What did you make of that? I have almost literally has tears rolling down my face from mirth. Similarly, the old coot in "The Picture in the House" is just such an over-the-top guy -- one thinks how this could work as almost a parody of old-time radio horror. And so the reader finds himself thinking about Lovecraft the man, the sense of whom is so important an element in the reading of Lovecraftian fiction and the making of Lovecraftians.

    More...
     
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  16. Extollager

    Extollager Well-Known Member

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    My two previous messages will have made a case that much of Lovecraft's appeal is not to whatever it is that, in some people, gives a taste for the experience of "horror."

    On that topic, I would urge you to look up Edmund Burke's treatise on the Beautiful and the Sublime.
     
    Mar 13, 2011
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  17. Tinsel

    Tinsel Science fiction fantasy

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    I read a little over half the posts, but I'll go back and finish reading the rest of them.

    Someone said the word "erotica". Now that did grab my attention. It would have been so amazing if Lovecraft went into that area, and was able to include it in some of his fiction. As far as I know he did not. A short story like "The Shadow Over Innsmouth" was amazingly complete and for a general audience, however I did see an opportunity to create a sub story in at least one point in the plot. There is recent talk about a writers round robin. Now that would be a great place to write a short story since you can supplement the existing material. I'm not suggesting adding erotica to that particular story. Lovecraft just did not think that way at all or else old Farnsworth removed all traces.

    You could go onto iTunes and purchase "The Shadow Over Innsmouth" dramatic audio recording that was done by the Atlanta Theatre Company. That may enhance the readability because it creates tension as the pace of the chase encounter in rumor shadowed Innsmouth provides for the ending.
     
    Last edited: Mar 14, 2011
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  18. Extollager

    Extollager Well-Known Member

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    I guess one thing I am getting as it that you need to be clear on whether your character loves horror or whether he loves suspenseful stories, or the atmosphere of the weird, or the evocation of the Sublime, or the sense of wonder and awe, etc. -- none of which is the same thing as horror as such. My guess is that, of the people who contribute to this forum, they all like Lovecraft, but the reasons for their liking of Lovecraft might not be the same. One can like Lovecraft specifically as a horror writer; there are gruesome descriptions aplenty in his stories, as you'll have seen if you persisted with "The Dunwich Horror." And yet many other authors probably evoke horror much more dependably -- with nauseating descriptions and so on -- the sort of thing that goes back, at least, to the climax of Poe's "Case of M. Valdemar."

    I suspect that a true taste for horror may be connected with a desire to escape from boredom sometimes. (I'm trying to get at an answer to your initial questions.) And people's imaginations can be tickled by the sense of the transgressive. But that sense needs a normal against which it can flaunt its aberrations, even if the main audience is oneself.

    I don't care for horror as such, just for its own sake. But I think much of Lovecraft's appeal isn't based on horror. One wonders what he would have made of a book like The Silence of the Lambs. I wonder if he would have finished it. In short, I wonder if Lovecraft really liked horror all that much!

    To the extent that he did like horror, I would suggest that he may have had something in common with Jonathan Swift. In Gulliver's Travels, the horror element comes out in some of the Third Voyage and even more in the Fourth, in which Gulliver has to admit that he "is" the Other (a detestable Yahoo). This has much in common with Lovecraft's "Arthur Jermyn" story, also "Innsmouth" and "The Outsider." Swift did want to "vex" (upset) his reader at times, and as he sought to do so he anticipated techniques of the modern horror writer. See his poem about the "beautiful young nymph going to bed." Now that is horror, and, I would say, probably more productive of horror than anything HPL wrote.

    I think HPL wanted to evoke a sense of the eerie, the wonderful, a sense of dread.

    So -- is that what your character wants to do? or does he want to shock and disgust?
     
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  19. Extollager

    Extollager Well-Known Member

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    Wolery, one last comment from me for now. Don't miss HPL's "The Colour Out of Space." This is a story of horror. But I believe it is also a humane story. Lovecraft often went for the shock ending. What I remember from this story, rather, is pathos. You will find something of the sort in what I suppose is William Hope Hodgson's best story, "The Voice in the Night."
     
    Mar 14, 2011
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  20. Wolf873

    Wolf873 Well-Known Member

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    ^I'd also add Shadow Out of Time to that. Another wonderful piece.
     
    Mar 14, 2011
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