Lovecraft's Comfortable World

Extollager

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#21
By the way -- thanks for the comments on the "Comfortable World" topic. I am working on an article for a fanzine and appreciate the responses as I get into drafting the piece.
 

Extollager

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#23
John, what are you referring to in your message #22 immediately above that relates to the thread of Lovecraft's comfortable world?
 

Toby Frost

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#24
I'm going to leave the MZB discussion here as well. My understanding was that the allegation that she'd turned a blind eye to her husband's acts was pretty much accepted across the board. If that's not the case then apologies. As for the virtue-signalling point, I'm not sure whether forum rules now allow much discussion on it, so I'll just say that even when wrong, I think most people involved are at least sincere.

So, to come to the point, the status of love is an element, even a key element, in Lovecraft's Comfortable World, a world of human characters but a world virtually without love.
I agree. I've got an interesting how-to book (How to Write Tales of Horror, Fantasy and Science Fiction, ed J.N. Williamson and definitely recommended) in which either Richard Matheson or Dean Koontz says that writing horror without the lighter emotions is like trying to play good music on half the keyboard.

Lovecraft seems to be either uninterested in or unable to depict love and friendship although, to be fair, it's hard to tell how deep the few male friendships depicted would be. As a result, his monsters aren't really threatening much apart from the narrator's (rather highly strung, I suspect) sanity and/or mankind as a whole (and one gets the strong impression that mankind as a whole isn't something Lovecraft cared much about). The main horror comes from a kind of vague, powerful awe about stars and dimensions, and also from sheer physical disgust. There's not enough for Lovecraft's monsters to kick against, and I think that really weakens him as a writer of greatness. (Nor, like Clive Barker, does Lovecraft suggest that the monsters deserve sympathy, or are more like us than we would like to admit).

In 1984, there's a moment when one of the secret police smashes a paperweight, pretty much just because it is a pleasant object and might have made someone's life more enjoyable. For all that's said of Lovecraft as an antiquarian, he never quite captures this sense that there are things worth saving, except in the negative sense that inbred monsters live in dirty houses. Big Brother (and Sauron) is worse than Cthulhu, because he is spiteful and vicious and hates goodness for the sake of it. Cthulhu might destroy the Earth, and the Deep Ones and Mi-Go might spawn monsters and cut out people's brains, but that spiteful cruelty - which seems to me like the opposite of love - is absent too.
 

Extollager

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#25
As for the virtue-signalling point, I'm not sure whether forum rules now allow much discussion on it, so I'll just say that even when wrong, I think most people involved are at least sincere.
Toby, they may well be sincere. My point is that deploring Lovecraft's racism is probably enjoyable, "comfortable," for many of those who do it. It's easy to do -- Lovecraft's racism is obvious -- and may prompt expressions of approval from others. For a parallel, imagine a gathering of Prohibitionists who have all read or heard about Gargantua and Pantagruel, and someone stands up and condemns the copious wine-drinking in Rabelais.
 

Extollager

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#26
Lovecraft seems to be either uninterested in or unable to depict love and friendship although, to be fair, it's hard to tell how deep the few male friendships depicted would be. As a result, his monsters aren't really threatening much apart from the narrator's (rather highly strung, I suspect) sanity and/or mankind as a whole (and one gets the strong impression that mankind as a whole isn't something Lovecraft cared much about). The main horror comes from a kind of vague, powerful awe about stars and dimensions, and also from sheer physical disgust. There's not enough for Lovecraft's monsters to kick against, and I think that really weakens him as a writer of greatness.
Ah! Interesting point, and I think you are right.

My own point was that Lovecraft's world is comfortable for readers, in part because it provides an escape from our awareness of the (appropriate) demands that love makes upon us.

Similarly, much is made by some Lovecraftians of the horror of his vision of a cosmos without meaning, without God. I understand the point. At the same time, for many it is a comfortable thought that there's "no hell below us, above us only sky" -- no God who might make demands on us. For contrast, imagine being an atheist or comfortable agnostic and reading, say, Graham Green's The Power and the Glory, with its shabby little whiskey priest who just might seem to be right about the biggest thing of all. There've probably been a few readers who, moved by Greene's imaginative art, felt just a leetle sense of misgiving, as they sat comfortably at home -- what if, after all ... ? More comfortable would be the reading of HPL!
 

Brian G Turner

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#27
Lovecraft seems to be either uninterested in or unable to depict love and friendship
Though not hugely familiar with Lovecraft's life, I struggle to imagine someone particularly sociable. IIRC correctly, many of his friendships were simply via correspondence. I've mentioned before that at least a number of Lovecraft's stories appear centred on someone feeling trapped in a room or home, and that it's hard not to see the author in his own writing.
 

Randy M.

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#28
Similarly, much is made by some Lovecraftians of the horror of his vision of a cosmos without meaning, without God. I understand the point. At the same time, for many it is a comfortable thought that there's "no hell below us, above us only sky" -- no God who might make demands on us. For contrast, imagine being an atheist or comfortable agnostic and reading, say, Graham Green's The Power and the Glory, with its shabby little whiskey priest who just might seem to be right about the biggest thing of all. There've probably been a few readers who, moved by Greene's imaginative art, felt just a leetle sense of misgiving, as they sat comfortably at home -- what if, after all ... ? More comfortable would be the reading of HPL!
I think you confuse "comfortable" with "interesting."

Seriously, can't speak to The Power and the Glory, but I was rooting for an early end to Henry Scobie in The Heart of the Matter so the novel could move onto something interesting.

Nope. No such luck.


Randy M.
 

Extollager

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#29
Thanks for your comments, everyone. I hadn't intended, when I started this thread, to write an article, but I have now drafted "Lovecraft's Comfortable World" and submitted it to a fanzine editor. If it appears, I would expect to provide a link here eventually. Of course, discussion of what's been said here can continue.
 

lynnfredricks

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#30
Though not hugely familiar with Lovecraft's life, I struggle to imagine someone particularly sociable. IIRC correctly, many of his friendships were simply via correspondence. I've mentioned before that at least a number of Lovecraft's stories appear centred on someone feeling trapped in a room or home, and that it's hard not to see the author in his own writing.
He seemed quite social to me. He visited several of his correspondent friends which were located quite a ways away from Providence. But he doesn't strike me as someone who lets his hair down, except maybe at the ice cream parlor. Joshi's I am Providence is the best biography yet and worth reading.

HPL hated it when he lived in New York - you can easily imagine him spending his free time at a library or huddled in a corner of his apartment with a couple of candles, some books and his letter stacks (seething over the swine who stole his one good suit from his crappy apartment).
 

Ningauble

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#31
Though not hugely familiar with Lovecraft's life, I struggle to imagine someone particularly sociable. IIRC correctly, many of his friendships were simply via correspondence. I've mentioned before that at least a number of Lovecraft's stories appear centred on someone feeling trapped in a room or home, and that it's hard not to see the author in his own writing.
HPL travelled all over the Eastern seaboard to meet his friends and would sometimes be invited to stay for weeks and even months because he was such good company. When he visited New Orleans in 1932 he was introduced (by telegram from Robert E. Howard, I think), to E. Hoffmann Price whom he had never met or even corresponded with. This first meeting turned into a 25.5-hour conversation. And Price also has something to tell about Lovecraft's sociability:
 

Extollager

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#32
My 5,000-word article on "Lovecraft's Comfortable World" has just been published in the new issue of Bob Jennings' Fadeaway. The essay originated in discussion in the present thread here at Chrons. My thanks to all who commented.

Your comments on the published essay would be welcome. I hope you will share them with Jennings as letters of comment.

http://www.efanzines.com/Fadeaway/Fadeway-53.pdf

Your comments, if any, for Bob's 'zine should be sent to this email address:

fabficbks@aol.com

Bob really likes to get comments. As you may see, about half of the current issue is the letters section.

Thanks!
 

Toby Frost

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#33
I really enjoyed your essay. At university, a friend of mine had a catchphrase "That would scare Cthulhu", usually accompanied by a fingers-over-face gesture, to describe bad meals, annoying people, difficult lectures etc. Hardly a sign of the end of the world. But then you can buy bobble-head toys of the Alien, a creature whose life is one long violent sex crime*. I think that Lovecraft is ripe for parody and imitation not because he's bad (he varies), but because he's distinctive (has anyone ever parodied Orwell's style, and would it be recognisable as such?).

Thinking about it, I'd go further than your point about the absence of love. What's missing is normal life in pretty much any form. There's very little sense of either bog-standard wife-and-kids suburbia being a good thing, or of praise for the sort of hearty adventure seen in King Solomon's Mines or The Lost World. You are a scholar, you live for academia, you go to a place, you see a thing, you go "mad". What makes the stories interesting, for me, is where and how they part from this set-up: there's the one with the letters, the one with the farming family, the one with the action scenes, and so on.

Anyway, it was interesting and well-written. I'm pleased that this sort of magazine still exists. Thanks.


*And which, perhaps along with John Carpenter's Thing, seems to me the best film "adaptation" of Lovecraft's work.
 

Extollager

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#34
Thank you for reading the essay, Toby, and for your kind words about it. If you haven't sent a letter of comment to editor Bob Jennings, I hope you will, since he aspires for about half of the wordcount of a given issue to be letters, it seems.
 

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