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Is Lovecraft A Good Writer?

J Riff

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#21
Character developement is difficult when writing about the kind of things HPL did. I don't even want it, I want the character to be as open and flexible as possible, so that it's easier to imagine it happening to oneself. Huge cosmic events reduce us all to the same person, goggling in amazement or awe. No point in going into the subtle personality of someone in a position that 99% of people will never ascribe to. It sounds wrong to say that the characters in weird fiction aren't truly important but in a real way they aren't. They represent all of us, and the more personal detail provided, the harder it is to identify with them.
Not that HPL couldn't write up interesting characters, obviously.
 

lynnfredricks

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#22
I think I mostly agree with you, but maybe you could elaborate?
Thank you. HPLs works are very purposeful. He very explicitly has stated that he was attempting to achieve specific types of mood or atmosphere, or to create tales around a specific, rather unique take on supernatural literature that reflected his materialist world view. He was a fantastic world creator. But he wasn't necessarily revealing anything much about human nature outside of revelations about the (alien) world around the protagonists in his stories.

I don't like to say "I am entertained by HPL's work", but in truth, I am. For me, he's the pinnacle of horror the way Agatha Christie (or Arthur Conan Doyle) is to mysteries, or JRR Tolkien is to epic fantasy. That doesn't mean I think HPL is unworthy of literary criticism / academic research. He's as worthy of that as Bram Stoker or Mary Shelley. But he's of a sort different from a Poe or Hawthorne.
 

Extollager

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#23
I hear you. Lovecraft wanted to achieve effects of "supernatural" dread and horror, while professing to disbelieve in anything but nature, with this "nature" being conceived as something without malevolence as well as without benevolence. Insofar as a Lovecraftian imaginative conception is congruent with his philosophy, a Lovecraftian monster poses a threat because it wants to eat someone as food, or because it wants to use someone as means to some other end (e.g. as sacrifice to attract what the sacrificer regards as favorable attention from a more powerful Something), or simply because it might, in its powerful indifference, effect harm.

I wonder if there isn't, finally, much mysteriousness in Lovecraft. His notions about the universe are stated plainly in numerous places and are not hard to grasp. And he does not seem to have been interested very much in the human mystery.

Nor is there often very much mystery in his stories -- in that one could tell, even in a first reading, pretty well where the story was going to go. The mystery in the stories is often not there for the reader, but is supposed to be experienced by the protagonist, and sometimes this works okay and sometimes the reader may feel the protagonist has little excuse for not understanding things better.

Dostoevsky (something of an admirer of Poe, if I'm not mistaken) can evoke more mysteriousness, both in the plot sense of suspense, uncertainty, etc., and in the more significant sense of the human mystery, having to do with compulsion and persisting free will and more.

In artistic terms, I think Poe, Hawthorne, Dostoevsky were more affected by the creative "daemon" than was Lovecraft; reading Lovecraft, I generally have the sense that he is consciously making things up, not so much that he is "discovering" things (Tolkien was a "discoverer" too in his way). There is a laboriousness in Lovecraft. I think this Lovecraftian laboriousness is sometimes part of his appeal and perhaps part of the reason that his writing seems to inspire imitation: "I think I'll sit down and try to plot out a Lovecraftian horror story."

But if I'm on to something with these groping comments, I should add that though I'm suggesting Lovecraft was an "inventor," he was often a good one for what he was trying (evidently) to do. In his way he was a Prince of Inventors, like Wilkie Collins, a writer with whom I think Lovecraft has more in common than many writers. As such, he and Collins were good writers.
 

BAYLOR

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#24
Lovecraft invented a universe populated by powerful malevolent/indifferent godlike extra dimensional alien beings and other not so friendly creatures. He gave it rules and a history. Was he good writer ? Considering his contributions to horror the influence he's had on filmmakers ,writers and illustrators and, the fact that he's entered the realm of classic literature, the answer would be a decided yes.
 
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Extollager

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#25
Baylor, you will get yourself in difficulties if you commit yourself to the equation "good" = "influential." Lyly's euphuism was influential (for a time). Was it good? It certainly was fashionable for a time.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Euphuism

So I'm going to dismiss "influential" as a criterion of goodness or literary excellence, at least till you or someone else makes an argument for that.

Second, you say Lovecraft has "entered the realm of classic literature," ergo he is decidedly a good writer. But what do you mean here? You are thinking that Lovecraft is represented in the Penguin Classics and the Library of America, I suppose. It is at least a possibility, though, that the editors have introduced Lovecraft for motives of gain, or that their judgment was in error. I mean, editors have been motivated by gain and have erred in judgment, isn't it so?

I'm trying to push HPL admirers to make a case or cases for Lovecraft as a good author by stating criteria for literary goodness against which HPL has written some things that measure up, or in other ways to try a little harder to do the work of making an argument(s) for HPL.

Putting the task this way will require you, or others, to get down to specifics, which (in my opinion) tends to be a real failing on the part of many Lovecraft advocates. They may assert his literary excellence as if his work is all of a piece, all good, except maybe for "Herbert West"! Such discussions aren't likely to convince those not already in love with Lovecraft.

As some who've read things I've posted may have divined, I've been wrestling with Lovecraft's literary attainment for years. I think I'vce recommended, for example, sincere attempts at thought experiments -- for example, suppose you did not know "Pickman's Model" was by your beloved HPL and you read it today. I've urged that serious readers attempt to read his writings without special pleading, without the aura of pleasure that I too feel in settling down once again with this author who captivated me at age 15.

These days I want to urge strongly that he could have been a developing writer who turned out a fair bit of low-quality writing, and some rubbish, and also achieved some outstanding imaginative work -- and seemed to be headed in promising directions in his last years.

A few months ago I floated a draft of a case for Lovecraft.

https://www.sffchronicles.com/threads/551838/

If it's been a while since folks have looked at the earlier entries on this thread (Is Lovecraft a Good Writer?), maybe they could be reviewed -- ?
 

lynnfredricks

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#26
In artistic terms, I think Poe, Hawthorne, Dostoevsky were more affected by the creative "daemon" than was Lovecraft; reading Lovecraft, I generally have the sense that he is consciously making things up, not so much that he is "discovering" things (Tolkien was a "discoverer" too in his way). There is a laboriousness in Lovecraft. I think this Lovecraftian laboriousness is sometimes part of his appeal and perhaps part of the reason that his writing seems to inspire imitation: "I think I'll sit down and try to plot out a Lovecraftian horror story."
I think these are good points.

There is a laboriousness in Lovecraft in terms of style, and rich, rich word choice in the English language that I think is part of the package. That's one major ingredient. Another is the mythic qualities of the Lovecraftian universe. And another the formula of the plots as weird fiction. For me, its very interesting to see how and what gets labeled "Lovecraftian" when there are only one (or a few) of these ingredients present.

Lovecraft created a world of pre-built symbols and events that he shared generously, in the spirit of collaboration, and not under a restrictive set of rules that must be pre-approved for any particular use by Lovecraft. I speculate that he actually would prefer some fuzziness or unreliability of definitions from author to author because that heightens the element of uncertainty, conspiratorial fear, and informed dread resulting from one of those trap doors of the universe opens up under the feet of a protagonist.
 

Extollager

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#27
I've been posting comments on Lovecraft ever since joining Chrons, and probably most of those comments could have been stated more clearly and, at the same time, tentatively. A weakness is that they've often been written from memories and impressions that were not fresh. But it does seem to me that Lovecraft was, or at least (had he lived) could have become, a developing author who might have surprised even himself. A hypothesis for testing could be: Lovecraft possessed a mythopoeic gift (see the thread a link to which I posted in #25 above) but was hampered from developing it more fully by his habit of using a horror story template. The trajectory of that template emphasizes a thrill of horror to be experienced by the curious, hapless protagonist and (vicariously) by the reader. I want to suggest that HPL might have decided eventually that he didn't have to keep writing according to this pattern and that it was at odds with what he really cared about. (OK, I will grant that when he wrote the horror-conclusion stories, he did care about the big thrill at the end. But I wonder if he might not have come to think that this type of conclusion was a feature of the commercial horror fiction that he aspired to transcend.)

That mythopoeic sense of wonder was, I suggest, what HPL was coming to care about most as he developed as a writer. As C. S. Lewis noticed in "On Stories," which I cite in my draft paper, we read successively, word by word, sentence by sentence, etc., just we hear music as a succession of notes, but the thing that we may be seeking to experience, or (if we are writing) to evoke, is not in essence temporal, it's a state in which the imagination is more fully aroused than usual, etc.*

It would have been interesting if someone could have discussed this kind of thing at length with Lovecraft. Did Lovecraft get to hear classical music much? It might have been valuable to him, intrinsically, to get well acquainted with music by Sibelius, if he had a capacity for orchestral music, and then also to provide an analogy relating to literary composition. I'll be more specific. If I could get Lovecraft to listen to Sibelius, I might recommend the tone poem Tapiola and the 3rd, 4th, 5th, and 6th symphonies, especially Tapiola and the 6th, perhaps. Let him enjoy these and see that while they move the aural "imagination" (awkward since music is not a matter of imagery), in which we are "led" deeper into a "mood" as the piece progresses, the ending is satisfying but you don't have the sense that the composer is trying to deliver the big punch there. (Not even in the 5th symphony, as wonderful as the "Thor's hammer" conclusion is.)

So then could Lovecraft have considered setting aside the thrilling-conclusion horror story template if it wasn't the ideal way to conclude a story?

And didn't he in fact do this at least once, in The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath? But I confess (uh oh) that I seem to have read that one only once, and that over 40 years ago, although I did begin to reread it a few years back. But I've been looking at Peter Cannon's fine essay "Sunset Terrace Imagery in Lovecraft," which J. D. sent me a couple of years ago, and it reminds me of a non-typical HPL conclusion.

As for literary rather than musical works that HPL might have considered (again) profitably, I might cite Lindsay's Voyage to Arcturus and MacDonald's Lilith (works he knew). I guess he never got his hands on Lindsay's The Haunted Woman. I don't mean that I mean Lovecraft should have "imitated" these. But these authors had a strong sense of the weird, but worked with it in a way not so "dependent" on the thriller ending.

*I'm sure this could be thought through better and stated better.
 

Extollager

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#28
PS Having said all that, I do wonder if Lovecraft was "doomed" as a mythopoeic writer in that he'd bound himself to a futilitarian mechanistic materialism. That would tend to work against the mythopoeic sense. Someone might be impatient with my speculations in the previous message and say that we should focus on what the man actually wrote rather than amusing ourselves with what-ifs ... that never could have come about, given the man's philosophical commitments....

Cannon's essay quotes Lovecraft as saying the sunset experience evoked in him a sense of "adventurous expectancy." But his philosophy of futilitarian mechanical materialism works all the other way, collapsing experience as "nothing but" something finally less interesting. Take something Lovecraft didn't write about so far as i know, romantic love. The lover perceives the beloved as a/the locus of meaning. This need not be written off as simply a subjective excitement. Rather, in the beloved the meaningfulness of creation is manifest -- truly as belonging to the beloved, but not as if the rest of creation must be assumed to be meaningless; but the lover beholds that meaningfulness as it is truly embodied in the beloved. So when Romeo beholds Juliet, she is "the sun" but the whole world is revealed to him with opened eyes, and he loves (till he falls back into ordinary awareness by hating Tybalt).

But for the mechanical materialist, love may be nothing but a socially constructed experience of biological activity. And biological activity is dependent on physics, of meaningless matter-energy transactions. Yes, the lover feels that the beloved is profoundly significant, but this is only a state of his nerves; what underlies his illusions is commonplace and meaningless physical causality. There can be no exceptions to a thoroughgoing materialism.

So the sense of wonder can't be privileged as an exception; I may "feel this way" and it matters to me, but my experience is really no more meaningful or valid than that of anyone else in any state of attention and imaginative activity.

But perhaps HPL would have reassessed his philosophy if he'd decided to follow the golden string of his most meaningful experiences.

The mythopoeic sense and the sense of wonder are expansive: there's more!, they suggest to us.

But mechanistic materialism is reductive: it's nothing but, it says to us.
 
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Extollager

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#29
PPS I suspect that Lovecraft had reached the point that he had to develop as a writer. He just couldn't very well go on writing the curious-protagonist-meets-inevitable-demise thriller, could he? -- since he had artistic as well as commercial ambitions. In two late stories, At the Mountains of Madness and "The Shadow Out of Time," especially in the former, he'd assimilated his sources (for the Antarctic and Australian locales, respectively) very well in service of "epics" (using the term loosely) of weird imagination. Could he have gone on from these while remaining committed to the same narrative pattern?

(One possibility -- which I imagine admirers of the man will reject, and which I don't much believe in either -- would be that he could have spent another 30 years writing familiar Lovecraftian stories with an increased professionalism, but not really doing all that much with his mythopoeic gift. I think we see something like this in the late story "The Haunter of the Dark," which, as I recall, in terms of narrative and descriptive skill is one of his most notable performances, but which never seems to be a story that awes readers. He's got more professional control here than in some earlier work, but finally it's basically a first-rate weird entertainment -- yes?)
 

Toby Frost

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#30
Lots of things to think about. Overall, I'm not even sure that he could have done the same thing over and over again, even if he'd wanted to. I mean, how much more refined could the standard format get? Not much, I suspect. Besides, even a writer who consciously opposes modernity will probably end up changing whether he likes (or knows) it or not.

Also, some of my favourite Lovecraft stories introduce aspects that aren't in the usual set-up. In particular, "The Shadow Over Innsmouth" has a few hints as to where he could have gone: the involvement of the government (cross "Shadow" and "The Whisperer in Darkness" and you've pretty much got the X-Files), the rather elegiac way in which the final twist is portrayed, and the adventure-story element of escaping from the hotel, and there's a different sort of story waiting to happen. I single this one out because I think it works better than, say the Randolph Carter stories or "The Shadow Out Of Time".

On the other hand, someone once wrote that Lovecraft had nothing to say about love, sex or money, and hence most of the motives of mankind simply didn't enter into his work. But that doesn't mean that he couldn't have produced some very interesting stories in a different style, given time.
 

BAYLOR

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#31
Baylor, you will get yourself in difficulties if you commit yourself to the equation "good" = "influential." Lyly's euphuism was influential (for a time). Was it good? It certainly was fashionable for a time.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Euphuism

So I'm going to dismiss "influential" as a criterion of goodness or literary excellence, at least till you or someone else makes an argument for that.

Second, you say Lovecraft has "entered the realm of classic literature," ergo he is decidedly a good writer. But what do you mean here? You are thinking that Lovecraft is represented in the Penguin Classics and the Library of America, I suppose. It is at least a possibility, though, that the editors have introduced Lovecraft for motives of gain, or that their judgment was in error. I mean, editors have been motivated by gain and have erred in judgment, isn't it so?

I'm trying to push HPL admirers to make a case or cases for Lovecraft as a good author by stating criteria for literary goodness against which HPL has written some things that measure up, or in other ways to try a little harder to do the work of making an argument(s) for HPL.

Putting the task this way will require you, or others, to get down to specifics, which (in my opinion) tends to be a real failing on the part of many Lovecraft advocates. They may assert his literary excellence as if his work is all of a piece, all good, except maybe for "Herbert West"! Such discussions aren't likely to convince those not already in love with Lovecraft.

As some who've read things I've posted may have divined, I've been wrestling with Lovecraft's literary attainment for years. I think I'vce recommended, for example, sincere attempts at thought experiments -- for example, suppose you did not know "Pickman's Model" was by your beloved HPL and you read it today. I've urged that serious readers attempt to read his writings without special pleading, without the aura of pleasure that I too feel in settling down once again with this author who captivated me at age 15.

These days I want to urge strongly that he could have been a developing writer who turned out a fair bit of low-quality writing, and some rubbish, and also achieved some outstanding imaginative work -- and seemed to be headed in promising directions in his last years.

A few months ago I floated a draft of a case for Lovecraft.

https://www.sffchronicles.com/threads/551838/

If it's been a while since folks have looked at the earlier entries on this thread (Is Lovecraft a Good Writer?), maybe they could be reviewed -- ?

Im not a literary scholar, nor an expert or writer , but a fan, Ive read just about all of his stories and have , for the most part , enjoyed them . My opinion of him as writer, for what it's worth , is that he is a good writer and spins good horror stories. I suspect I'm not alone in this opinion. Is he a perfect writer ? Hell no , Sometimes his prose and storytelling can be very clunky and overblown and some of his characters could be a bit one or two dimensional.

I do find it curious that he's somehow managed not only to stay in print, but thrive. There are numerous editions of his works out there( And Yes Im well aware that part of this is due to the fact that the copyrights have expired on many if not all of his works are public domain and publishers want to cash in ). But he's managed to get printed in such Places as Library of America editions along side such writers as Jack London, Louisa May Alcott, Phillip K Dick . And there are Modern Library editions of his works to . Surely that has to count for something?

Extollanger, No disrespect is intended on my part. I find your commentary and Wentworth's on Lovecraft other literary subjects quite interesting. I have picked up lots of things things that I didn't know. (y)

Have you ever read Fishhead by Irving Cobb?
 
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w h pugmire esq

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#32
Not only was Lovecraft an excellent writer, he remains extremely popular. From Leslie Klinger: "I'm very pleased to hear from my publisher Liveright/Norton that New Annotated H. P. Lovecraft is doing very well--so well that they'd like me to do a second volume, tentatively titled New Annotated H. P. Lovecraft: Beyond the Mythos." With the first volume, Mr. Klinger emphasis'd what he saw as stories belonging to the Arkham/Cthulhu cycle of stories. List of stories:
The Tomb
Polaris
Transition of Juan Romero
The Doom that Came to Sarnath
Ex Oblivione
The Terrible Old Man
Facts Concerning the Late Arthur Jermyn and His Family
The Cats of Ulthar
Celephais
The Temple
The Outsider
The Other Gods
The Music of Erich Zann
The Lurking Fear
The Rats in the Wall
The Shunned House
The Horror at Red Hook
He
Cool Air
The Strange High House in the Mist
Pickman's Model
The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath

Probably won't be publish'd until late next year or early 2018.
 

John Thiel III

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#33
I remember the vast discussion of HP Lovecraft that occurred toward the middle of the last century, and what you mention, Wilum, as typical commentary very much resembles what I was reading then. Perhaps it is the same discussion going on and on through the years, with the matter never being resolved. There was finally collected a Lovecraft Symposium, which I sent for and read, and heard a lot about the man from that without ever having read his works. Finally I got an Arkham House fantasy poetry collection edited by August Derleth and was able to read "Fungi From Yuggoth" along with his other poems. From this I was able to see where he was at, a man who had ranged out beyond the Call of Cthulhu.
 

MiskatonicFiles

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#34
Being so far detached from the time in which he worked, it's difficult to judge him as a writer. There's always the argument against his "purple prose," which is too-often imitated by modern writers of weird fiction. But Lovecraft created an absolutely dreadful world, which he encouraged others to build upon. Good writer? Probably. Good creator? Absolutely.
 

BAYLOR

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#35
Being so far detached from the time in which he worked, it's difficult to judge him as a writer. There's always the argument against his "purple prose," which is too-often imitated by modern writers of weird fiction. But Lovecraft created an absolutely dreadful world, which he encouraged others to build upon. Good writer? Probably. Good creator? Absolutely.
When it came to world outlook, he was a pessimist .
 

lynnfredricks

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#36
Welcome to Chrons, Lynnfredricks! Your first message at Chrons is thoughtful and provocative, and I'd like to see more development thereof. I think I mostly agree with you, but maybe you could elaborate?
Sorry, but I only noticed your reply after MiskatonicFiles liked my other post!

Some of HPL's stories are among the best in science fiction and horror, but does that make them great literature? That's where the problem is for me.

"The Outsider" is a very good story, but not only that, it also transcends its genre as a horror story in many ways that also makes Poe's stories transcend their genre. I suspect that is why it sometimes escapes and appears in some literary anthologies that aren't horror.

"At the Mountains of Madness" and some others are best in genre (better than "The Outsider" is a horror story), but I wouldn't say they add significant value to literature in general.

HPL's works often have 'toe holds' on greatness.
 

lynnfredricks

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#37
Being so far detached from the time in which he worked, it's difficult to judge him as a writer. There's always the argument against his "purple prose," which is too-often imitated by modern writers of weird fiction.
I was just ruminating on this very thing, because I am not critical of it, but it often a point of critique. I think there are many who reference this, yet by the same people who wouldn't say, read Poe or Hawthorne for pleasure, but are reading HPL and making comparisons with more modern writers. I probably haven't read as many of the 'weird writers' of HPL's time as others here have - some CAS and also REH. In comparison, maybe he's a bit more so. I think if you are comfortable with Poe, then HPL isn't going to frustrate you. Just read a bit through Ligeia, for example.
 

BAYLOR

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#38
Seabury Quinn
Abraham Merritt
Francis Stevens
Irving Cobb
Henry Kuttner
C L Moore
 

Extollager

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#39
Being so far detached from the time in which he worked, it's difficult to judge him as a writer. There's always the argument against his "purple prose," which is too-often imitated by modern writers of weird fiction. But Lovecraft created an absolutely dreadful world, which he encouraged others to build upon. Good writer? Probably. Good creator? Absolutely.
Hmm -- for what it's worth, I see Lovecraft as very much a writer of his time, an, in fact, that's one of the things that make his better stories interesting to me. Elsewhere here at Chrons

I've commented on Lovecraft as a writer who relates to the "old, weird America." See here

Lovecraft's America

and the ensuing discussion. Oh, so far as he looks to me, Lovecraft is very much a writer of his time and place.
 

KGeo777

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#40
"The Outsider" is a very good story, but not only that, it also transcends its genre as a horror story in many ways that also makes Poe's stories transcend their genre. I suspect that is why it sometimes escapes and appears in some literary anthologies that aren't horror.
The Outsider feels like a bastard child of An Occurrence At Owl Creek Bridge to me. Not a bad thing, just what it reminded me of.

My speculation on Lovecraft's enduring legacy is that it has something to do with the world building element in his work which has become an essential ingredient of speculative fiction (good or bad I won't comment on). Lovecraft was very fond of Fitz James O'Brien's the Diamond Lens and after reading it, that feels like a bridge between Poe and Lovecraft, since it has the madness and obsession element of some Poe, but also an other-worldliness, easy to see why it would appeal to Lovecraft as much as it did.
 

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