Howard Phillips Lovecraft aka H.P. Lovecraft (August 20, 1890 – March 15, 1937) was an American author who achieved posthumous fame through his influential works of horror fiction.
Virtually unknown and only published in pulp magazines before he died in poverty, he is now regarded as one of the most significant 20th-century authors in his genre.
Lovecraft was born in Providence, Rhode Island, where he spent most of his life. He encountered problems with classmates in school and was kept at home by his highly strung and overbearing mother for illnesses that may have been psychosomatic. In high school, Lovecraft was able to better connect with his peers and form friendships.
Beginning in his early life, Lovecraft is believed to have suffered from sleep paralysis, a form of parasomnia; he believed himself to be assaulted at night by horrific “night gaunts”. Much of his later work is thought to have been directly inspired by these terrors.
In early adulthood, Lovecraft was established in a reclusive “Nightbird” lifestyle without occupation or pursuit of romantic adventures. In 1913 his conduct of a long running controversy in the letters page of a story magazine led to his being invited to participate in an amateur journalism association. Encouraged, he started circulating his stories; he was 31 at the time of his first publication in a professional magazine. By age 34, he was a regular contributor to the newly founded Weird Tales magazine.
Lovecraft returned to Providence from New York in 1926 and, over the next nine months, he produced some of his most celebrated tales, including The Call of Cthulhu, canonical to the Cthulhu Mythos. Never able to support himself from earnings as author and editor, Lovecraft saw commercial success increasingly elude him in this latter period, partly because he lacked the confidence and drive to promote himself. He subsisted in progressively straitened circumstances in his last years; an inheritance was completely spent by the time he died at the age of 46. In early 1937, Lovecraft was diagnosed with cancer of the small intestine and suffered from malnutrition as a result. He lived in constant pain until his death on March 15, 1937, in Providence.
His oeuvre is sometimes seen as consisting of three periods: an early Edgar Allan Poe influence; followed by a Lord Dunsany–inspired Dream Cycle; and finally the Cthulhu Mythos stories. However, many distinctive ideas and entities present in the third period were introduced in the earlier works, such as the 1917 story “Dagon“, and the threefold classification is partly overlapping.
Although he was able to combine his distinctive style (elusive and amorphous description by horrified though passive narrators) with the kind of stock content and action Weird Tales‘s editor wanted—Wright paid handsomely to snap up “The Dunwich Horror” which proved very popular with readers—Lovecraft increasingly produced work that brought him no remuneration.
Affecting a calm indifference to the reception of his works, Lovecraft was in reality extremely sensitive to criticism and easily precipitated into withdrawal. He was known to give up trying to sell a story after it had been rejected just once.
Sometimes, as with The Shadow Over Innsmouth he wrote a story that might have been commercially viable but did not try to sell it. Lovecraft even ignored interested publishers. He failed to reply when one inquired about any novel Lovecraft might have ready, although he had completed such a work: The Case of Charles Dexter Ward; it was never typed up.
Lovecraft was relatively unknown during his own time. While his stories appeared in the pages of prominent pulp magazines such as Weird Tales (eliciting letters of outrage as often as letters of praise from regular readers of the magazines), not many people knew his name. He did, however, correspond regularly with other contemporary writers, such as Clark Ashton Smith and August Derleth, people who became good friends of his, even though they never met in person. This group of writers became known as the “Lovecraft Circle”, since they all freely borrowed elements of Lovecraft’s stories – the mysterious books with disturbing names, the pantheon of ancient alien entities, such as Cthulhu and Azathoth, and eldritch places, such as the New England town of Arkham and its Miskatonic University – for use in their own works with Lovecraft’s encouragement.
After Lovecraft’s death, the Lovecraft Circle carried on. August Derleth in particular added to and expanded on Lovecraft’s vision. However, Derleth’s contributions have been controversial. While Lovecraft never considered his pantheon of alien gods more than a mere plot device, Derleth created an entire cosmology, complete with a war between the good Elder Gods and the evil Outer Gods, such as Cthulhu and his ilk.
Lovecraft’s writing, particularly the so-called Cthulhu Mythos, has influenced fiction authors including modern horror and fantasy writers. Stephen King, Ramsey Campbell, Bentley Little, Joe R. Lansdale, Alan Moore, Junji Ito, F. Paul Wilson, Brian Lumley, Caitlín R. Kiernan, William S. Burroughs, and Neil Gaiman, have cited Lovecraft as one of their primary influences. Beyond direct adaptation, Lovecraft and his stories have had a profound impact on popular culture.
Lovecraft’s fictional Mythos has influenced a number of musicians. The psychedelic rock band H. P. Lovecraft released the albums H. P. Lovecraft and H. P. Lovecraft II in 1967 and 1968 respectively; their titles included “The White Ship”. Metallica recorded a song inspired by “The Call of Cthulhu”, an instrumental titled “The Call of Ktulu”, and another song based on The Shadow Over Innsmouth titled “The Thing That Should Not Be”, and another based on Frank Belknap Long‘s “The Hounds of Tindalos“, titled “All Nightmare Long“. Black Sabbath‘s “Behind the Wall of Sleep” appeared on their 1970 debut album and is based on Lovecraft’s short story “Beyond the Wall of Sleep”. The Darkest of the Hillside Thickets entire repertoire is Lovecraft-based. Melodic death metal band The Black Dahlia Murder produced “Throne of Lunacy” and “Thy Horror Cosmic” based on the Cthulhu Mythos. Progressive metal band Dream Theater‘s song “The Dark Eternal Night” is based on Lovecraft’s story “Nyarlathotep“. UK anarcho-punk band Rudimentary Penimake repeated references in their song titles, lyrics and artwork, including in the album Cacophony, all 30 songs of which are inspired by the life and writings of Lovecraft. In the Iron Maiden album Live After Death, the band mascot, Eddie, is rising from a grave inscribed with the name “H. P. Lovecraft” and a quotation from The Nameless City: “That is not dead which can eternal lie yet with strange aeons even death may die.” German metal group Mekong Delta made an album called The Music of Erich Zann.
Lovecraft has also influenced gaming. Chaosium‘s role-playing game Call of Cthulhu (currently in its seventh major edition) has been in print for 30 years. The board games Arkham Horror, Eldritch Horror, and dice game Elder Sign are derived from mechanisms first introduced in the Call of Cthulhu RPG. Two collectible card games are Mythos and Call of Cthulhu, the Living Card Game. Several video games are based on or influenced heavily by Lovecraft such as Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth, Quest for Glory IV: Shadows of Darkness, Shadow of the Comet, Prisoner of Ice, Shadowman, Alone in the Dark, Chzo Mythos, Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem, Cthulhu Saves the World, Sherlock Holmes: The Awakened, Amnesia: The Dark Descent, Amnesia: A Machine For Pigs, Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, Bloodborne, Dead Space, Terraria, Splatterhouse,Darkness Within: In Pursuit of Loath Nolder, Darkness Within 2: The Dark Lineage, Penumbra, Blood, The Last Door and Quake.
For most of the 20th century, the definitive editions (specifically At the Mountains of Madness and Other Novels, Dagon and Other Macabre Tales, The Dunwich Horror and Others, and The Horror in the Museum and Other Revisions) of his prose fiction were published by Arkham House, a publisher originally started with the intent of publishing the work of Lovecraft, but which has since published a considerable amount of other literature as well.
Penguin Classics has at present issued three volumes of Lovecraft’s works: The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories, The Thing on the Doorstep and Other Weird Stories, and most recently The Dreams in the Witch House and Other Weird Stories.
Films based upon Lovecraft’s work include:
The Haunted Palace (1963)
Die, Monster, Die! (1965)
The Shuttered Room (1967)
The Dunwich Horror (1969)
From Beyond (1986)
The Curse (1987)
The Unnamable (1988)
Dark Heritage (1989)
Cast a Deadly Spell (1991)
The Resurrected (1992)
In the Mouth of Madness (1994)
The Lurking Fear (1994)
Witch Hunt (1994)
Castle Freak (1995)
Cool Air (1999)
Alone in the Dark (2005)
The Call of Cthulhu (2005)
The Tomb (2007)
The Whisperer in Darkness (2011)
Call Girl of Cthulhu (2015)