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Lovecraft's Style Praised at American Conservative

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May 9, 2006
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13,883
#2
I recently sent Wilum a paragraph from an essay I had just finished on "The Moon-Bog" (unquestionably one of HPL's minor tales), and his response included the following:

This is something I have been stressing in forums that discuss (usually disparage) Lovecraft's writings (the current cliche is to call him a "good bad writer"--whut bloody nonsense).
I would agree. Oh, HPL certainly had his off days, but overall he was intensely in control of his prose, and his poetic, Asianic style is an amazingly precise yet nuanced tool to address the moods, subtleties, and delicate adumbrations he is aiming for. The problem* is, as has been said by others before (since at least the 1940s) that so many are simply lazy or inattentive readers, and therefore miss the vast majority of what is going on in any text. They get the plot, and several (but often not all) the incidents, but beyond that, they very seldom do.

As for the article... I've argued several of these in various of my essays; HPL's careful use of alliteration and onomatopoeia, for instance, in even such a slight piece as "The House", where the sibilance of certain sounds is contrasted with the drum-beat of the consonants to build not only a contrast, but to emphasize the various effects of the scene he is describing, to bring about that effect through the use of selective sound.

Overall, I think the article is very much on the money, and this aspect is one of the things which, as a writer as well as a reader, continues to draw me back to Lovecraft's work over and over again throughout my life. To this day, I still find myself at times in amazement at some of the subtleties of what he is doing. And for those who might be interested, if you look at his critical essays for the amateur press (and even in isolated passages in "Supernatural Horror in Literature"), you'll find him spending an incredible amount of time discussing just such fine points when discussing the writing of others, and urging aspiring writers to pay attention to all the levels of writing and their effects on the impression made by the whole.

The one place where I would tend to have some disagreement is when it comes to characterization. Over the years, I've found myself at odds with this view more and more, and have come to feel very strongly that he actually does do a fair amount of characterization, but it is most often of a an extremely subtle, understated sort. But he certainly creates some memorable characters (Joseph Curwen, the Gardners, poor Lavinia Whateley, even her son Wilbur, the pitiful degenerate Joe Slater, etc., etc., etc.), even when they are not the primary focus of the writing....



*To me, anyway, based not only on the response of people to their readings of HPL, but to their readings of things in general, where they simply don't pick up on so damned much.....
 
Joined
May 9, 2006
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13,883
#4
Eh? Why, thank you, Wilum.

Incidentally, seeing the thread on Vonnegut reminds me... back in my late teens, shortly after having discovered both HPL and Vonnegut, I came across something the latter had written for the Writer's Digest (if memory serves)... sort of a full-page ad or very brief essay on writing and the importance of the sort of things mentioned above... and being quite surprised that he listed HPL as a consummate prose writer. What really made this so interesting is that the two are about as different in approach, philosophy, and tone as it is possible for two writers to be. Wish I could find that piece as, when I mention this, most people seriously doubt the assertion. Yet it should be no more cause for doubt than the fact that Thomas Ollive Mabbott said "Lovecraft is one of the few authors of whom I can honestly say that I have enjoyed every word of his stories" ("H. P. Lovecraft: An Appreciation", originally published in Marginalia, Arkham House, 1944), while William Rose Benét has noted that his brother, Stephen Vincent Benét, "was entirely familiar with the work of H. P. Lovecraft long before that little-known master of horror was brought to the attention of the critics" ("My Brother Steve," The Saturday Review of Literature, 15 Nov., 1941; cited in Joshi's H. P. Lovecraft: Four Decades of Criticism.)
 

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