Recently in Lovecraft Category
I've been writing for the last month about H.P. Lovecraft, meandering from talking about his work to his scientific leanings to his letter writing. It has made me look like such a tremendous geek (or at least that's what my commercial clients tell me.) Part of that was certainly to help illuminate what I mean when I say that Eldritch Errors is inspired more by the author than his works, but I also want to set up a more radical proposition. Lovecraft was working with ideas from the 21st century, but he was forced to explore them with 19th and 20th century technologies (such as letter writing instead of email.)
Lovecraft was an alternate reality game designer, a writer who believed his stories must be "devised with all the care & verisimilitude of an actual hoax," stories that he unfolded like forensic investigations. He was also an Open Source advocate and loved implied share alike licensing (although I suspect the license I linked too is more restrictive than what he believed in.) He delighted when others lifted references from his work and equally delighted incorporating their references back into his work. He had an intimate relationship with his readers, because he was frequently the one mailing them the manuscript to read. It shouldn't be surprising that tabletop gaming and non-tabletop gaming have so embraced his work (now public domain) and played such a key role in preserving and extending it.
H.P. Lovecraft wrote more letters than it is easy to imagine, unless of course you live in the Age of Email. Scholars conservatively estimate that he wrote over 100,000 letters in his life: they have about 10,000 preserved, and to publish even those unabridged would take 100 volumes each 400 pages long. About a thousand of them are in print across a few handfulls of volumes. For me, his letters are both his towering artistic achievement, and his towering creative achievement in developing his relationship with the fans he did have, fans who would end up preserving his work for all of us. Lovecraft tries to disavow the power of his letters in a paragraph that sound suspiciously like the way many emailers and bloggers would describe writing today:
"Nobody expects anything of a letter, or judges any man's style by one. Even when I write one by hand I pay no attention to rhetorick, but just sail along at a mile-a-minute pace ... If you were to analyse the language of this letter you would find it shot all to hell with solecisms and bad rhythms."
I can't let that stop me: there seems to be so much power in his letters, an easy elegence of style that smells suspiciously 21st century. In an essay that Lovecraft wrote defending his work "Dagon," for example, he penned a line that I think is among the most revealing glimpses into his soul as an artist: "There are probably seven persons, in all, who really like my work; and they are enough. I should write even if I were the only patient reader, for my aim is merely self-expression." Here's the story of one of those "seven persons" and a few of the tidbits from those letters that have shaped my view of Lovecraft.
Here at Eldritch, we sometimes talk about Lovecraft's fears of what science would eventually uncover and what terrible vistas it would unlock. That really sells the Old Man of Providence terribly short. Lovecraft's stories are very frequently the myth of Pandora updated to the scientific age in horrible new ways, but Lovecraft wasn't an occultist or a mystic. He might have been a social reactionary in some ways, but he was also a futurist and a man of reason if not of letters. Lovecraft saw life as a battle between science and charlatanry.
In fact, the oldest surviving writing of his -- in 1906, at age 16 -- was a scathing letter about an astrologist:
"To the Editor of The Sunday Journal: In the Journal for May 17, I notice among the letters to the editor a set of astrological predictions for 1906. Passing over the fact that astrology is but a pseudo science, not entitled to intelligent consideration, I wish to call attention to a striking inaccuracy in the aforementioned article. Its writer mentions a transit of Mars over the sun in July. Of course, as Mars is a superior planet, or one outside of earth's orbit, it cannot transit over the sun."
Most people think of H.P. Lovecraft as a "weird fiction" horror hack. Neil Gaimen described his prose as "clotty with adjectival froth." More people have probably seen a "Chthulhu for President" bumper sticker than have read any of his actual stories. Much of what you even think of as Lovecraft isn't the Old Man's work -- the Mythos is a composite of hundreds of authors, filmmakers, and game designers over three-quarters of a century, none of them working from anything more than a loose playbook of continuity. Eldritch Errors is an apostrophy now in that long legacy of collective creativity.
Explaining why Lovecraft -- the author, the storyteller, the social critic -- became such a central part of the way I was thinking about the story I wanted to tell is difficult. The issues of computer security and my feelings about the "politics of the day" lead me to think alot about hopelessness and what to do if you feel insignificant in the face of huge forces. That summoned up Lovecraft metaphors from some deep part of my brain, not because I was fascinated with monsters or cults, but because I was fascinated with the way Lovecraft channeled his feelings about that topic into an artistic legacy that continues to be frighteningly modern.
Over the next few weeks, I'm going to try to start trying to explain that. My attempts will likely be messy, perhaps even clotty with adjectival froth, and probably not of much interest to more serious Lovecraft scholars. There's something deep and fascinating in Lovecraft himself that his work is but one wrinkle of, and I'm going to focus much more on Lovecraft the scientific critic, and Lovecraft the correspondant in the age of letter writing, and Lovecraft the Open Sourcer, and Lovecraft the ARG developer.
If you're an Eldritch participant, though, and are trying to figure out if you even want to dive into Lovecraft, you deserve some water wings. Here's my personal suggestions.