Something for a Halloween weekend. Hey there Cthulhu. A minor vice of mine is a love for old pulp science fiction and fantasy. One of the authors I treasure is H.P. Lovecraft, best known for his cycle of horror science fiction\fantasy stories centering around the Old Ones, evil supernatural entities that lurk in dark dimensions, waiting to unleash unspeakable horror on unsuspecting humanity. The best known of these demonic creatures is Cthulhu. I have always found these stories gut-bustingly funny due to the fact that Lovecraft, in these stories, has to be the worst writer of fiction, at least fiction that does not contain phrases like “Love’s Savage Unending Fury”, “The Davinci Code”, “Based On A True Story”, and “Stephen King”, since Bulwer-Lytton shuffled off to the world beyond. Some things are so spectactularly bad that I find myself liking them due to how hair-raisingly inept they are.
Only an example will do. Much of Lovecraft’s work can be found online. Here is a sample from the Mountains of Madness, which is one of Lovecraft’s better efforts:
“But we were not on a station platform. We were on the track ahead as the nightmare, plastic column of fetid black iridescence oozed tightly onward through its fifteen-foot sinus, gathering unholy speed and driving before it a spiral, rethickening cloud of the pallid abyss vapor. It was a terrible, indescribable thing vaster than any subway train – a shapeless congeries of protoplasmic bubbles, faintly self-luminous, and with myriads of temporary eyes forming and un-forming as pustules of greenish light all over the tunnel-filling front that bore down upon us, crushing the frantic penguins and slithering over the glistening floor that it and its kind had swept so evilly free of all litter. Still came that eldritch, mocking cry- “Tekeli-li! Tekeli-li!” and at last we remembered that the demoniac Shoggoths – given life, thought, and plastic organ patterns solely by the Old Ones, and having no language save that which the dot groups expressed – had likewise no voice save the imitated accents of their bygone masters.”
That is typical Lovecraft. Characters exist in his fiction as an afterthought. Plot is simply an excuse so that he can expound on the mythos he created. Never use one word when ten can substitute. Keep telling the dullard reader that he must be afraid, and that this is a horror story that he is reading. As Edmund Wilson, a great literary critic if also a left-wing loon, tax cheat and rather poor novelist himself, put it “The only real horror in most of these fictions is the horror of bad taste and bad art. Lovecraft was not a good writer”.
Well then, why bother with Lovecraft at all? A writer who is a poor writer is a waste of time to read, right? Not in the case of Lovecraft. Poor writer that he was, and in his more candid moments Lovecraft admitted that his writing skills were not of a high order, he had a great imagination and the loving detail he poured into the mythos he created is interesting, even if it was done with little craft. Reading his stories, other than the somewhat shameful pleasure of viewing a literary car crash, is somewhat akin to listening to a delightfully daffy uncle-in-law explain his theory as to how the Rosicrucians control the Fed. Taken in small doses this flight into unreason has a certain zany charm.
Since the death of Lovecraft many competent writers, including August Derleth and Robert Bloch, have authored stories in the Lovecraftian mythos. There is also a cottage industry of products produced by devotees of the saga. My personal favorite:
Just the thing for that little scamp in the family: My Little Cthulhu and victims!
Of course some people will always try to work in a political angle to everything, and the mythos is no exception. Cthulhu has been running for president now for decades, and his campaign slogan “Why Settle for the Lesser Evil?” does have a refreshing candor about it.
So I must say well done to Mr. Lovecraft. He has given many hours of amusement to millions of people over the years since his death as a result of his scribblings. Not an important accomplishment perhaps, but not a bad one for a bad writer.