H. P. Lovecraft 1890–-1937
(Full name Howard Phillips Lovecraft; wrote under the pseudonyms Lawrence Appleton, Houdini, John J. Jones, Humphrey Littlewit Gent., Henry Paget-Lowe, Ward Phillips, Richard Raleigh, Ames Dorrance Rowley, Edgar Softly, Edward Softly, Augustus Swift, Lewis Theobald Jr., Frederick Willie, and Zoilus) American short story writer, poet, novelist, and journalist.
Lovecraft is one of the most significant American writers of modern supernatural and fantastical fiction. Many of his works, comprising some sixty short stories, were published in the magazine Weird Tales, and a number of his stories were reprinted in anthologies of horror fiction beginning in the late 1920s. Although he was not financially successful or favored by the reading public during his lifetime, Lovecraft gained popular and critical attention starting in the 1940s.
Lovecraft was born on August 20, 1890, in Providence, Rhode Island. When he was three years old, Lovecraft's father, a traveling salesman, suffered a breakdown and spent the remaining years of his life in a sanitarium. Lovecraft was raised by his mother in the affluent, intellectual atmosphere of his grandparents' Victorian mansion. Lovecraft, a sickly but intellectually precocious child, learned the alphabet by the age of two and was reading by the age of four. By the age of eight, he had discovered the works of Edgar Allan Poe. Because of his chronic ill health, he attended grade school sporadically and was unable to finish high school or attend college. Beginning in his twenties, Lovecraft supported himself as a journalist and ghostwriter. He wrote an astrology column for the Providence Evening News from 1914 to 1918. He also served as the publisher of The Conservative, a magazine he founded. In 1924 Lovecraft married Sonia H. Greene, a fellow writer whom he met at a journalism conference. The two lived together in Brooklyn until they separated two years later, and Lovecraft returned to Providence. They were divorced in 1929, and Lovecraft lived with his mother and aunts for the remainder of his life. He led a solitary life, largely isolated from society, but maintained a prolific personal correspondence, penning some 100,000 letters over the course of his life. Lovecraft died of cancer and Bright's disease in 1937, at the age of 46.
Major Works of Short Fiction
Lovecraft's short fiction has been variously categorized as fantasy, Gothic, supernatural, horror, macabre, and weird fiction. His best-known works are stories of the “Cthulhu Mythos,” an imaginary universe invented by Lovecraft; these stories include vivid descriptions of fantastical geography, mythology, and beings. Many of Lovecraft's tales concern phantasmic entities of ghastly appearance that inhabit ancient underground or underwater cities and terrorize the modern world. In “Dagon” (1917), his first important short story, a man discovers an ancient race of fish-men, causing one of the creatures to pursue and terrorize him. In 1919 Lovecraft began what he termed his “Dunsany period,” writing tales influenced by the Irish writer Lord Dunsany. That same year Lovecraft discovered Ambrose Bierce and several other literary influences in the following years, including Arthur Machen in 1923, Algernon Blackwood in 1924, and M. R. James in 1924. In “The Music of Erich Zann” (1921), one of Lovecraft's first stories to be anthologized, a musician seems to be possessed by some unearthly force through his playing of haunting tunes. “The Outsider” (1921), one of Lovecraft's most commonly reprinted tales, appeared as the title story of his first (posthumously) collected volume of short fiction. “The Outsider” was also one of the most popular stories ever published in Weird Tales. In this work, a man who has been living alone in a castle for as long as he knows, decides to leave it by climbing up to the roof, only to discover that he is actually dead, and the castle is his grave. In “The Rats in the Walls” (1923) a New England businessman, upon restoring an ancestral mansion, learns that he is descended from a long line of cannibals who commune with rats. “The Call of Cthulhu” (1926), the first of Lovecraft's “Cthulhu Mythos” stories, establishes many of the characters, myths, and settings that characterize this cycle of stories; and “The Dunwich Horror” (1928) further develops the imaginary tradition of the “Cthulhu Mythos.” In “Pickman's Model” (1926) an artist in modern Boston turns out to be a ghoul who was switched at birth with a mortal child and raised unsuspecting by human parents. “The Color Out of Space” (1927), considered by many to be Lovecraft's best story, is unadulterated science fiction, containing no elements of the supernatural. In this story a meteor lands in 1880s New England and emits an inexplicable force over the people, animals, and plant life of the region. After Lovecraft's death, some of his friends and other fellow writers founded a publishing firm, Arkham House, for the purpose of issuing collections of Lovecraft's letters, essays, and stories. In 1939 the first major collection of Lovecraft's stories was published as The Outsider and Others. In 1943 another major story collection, Beyond the Wall of Sleep, was published. Lovecraft's works of short fiction have since been collected in many volumes and anthologies.
Many critics and reviewers consider Lovecraft to be the premier American writer of the macabre in the twentieth century. For most of his life, however, Lovecraft wrote in relative obscurity, publishing in small journals and magazines, and never acquiring a broad audience. Although his first story was published in 1916, Lovecraft's literary career truly began in 1923 with the publication of five of his stories in the magazine Weird Tales. With the broader circulation of his prose, mostly due to posthumously published work, Lovecraft began to acquire a popular international readership and increasing critical attention. Lovecraft is praised for his storytelling powers and skill at evoking a nightmarish aura of unease and dread in the face of an usually nameless repugnancy. He is also celebrated for his unique blend of modern scientific fact with ancient mythological phenomenon. Some critics and authors nevertheless consider Lovecraft a drudge, a completely dilettantish writer whose works are overly melodramatic and filled with pointless adjectives. The weight of Lovecraft's current popularity with readers and his critical acclaim among fans of horror fiction is in part indicated by the annual World Fantasy Convention award for the genre's outstanding novels and short stories, the trophy for which is a caricature of Lovecraft. From the 1960s through the 1980s, numerous Lovecraft stories were adapted to film by such celebrated horror movie directors as Roger Corman, Daniel Haller, and Stuart Gordon.