H. P. Lovecraft Lovecraft, H. P. - Essay


(Short Story Criticism)

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.

Biographical Information

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.

Critical Reception

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.

Principal Works

(Short Story Criticism)

The Outsider and Others 1939

Beyond the Wall of Sleep 1943

The Weird Shadow Over Innsmouth, and Other Stories of the Supernatural 1944

Best Supernatural Stories of H. P. Lovecraft 1945

The Lurking Fear, and Other Stories 1948

The Dunwich Horror, and Others: The Best Supernatural Stories of H. P. Lovecraft 1963

Dagon and Other Macabre Tales 1965

At the Mountains of Madness, and Other Tales of Terror 1968

Then Shadow Out of Time, and Other Tales of Horror 1968

The Haunter of the Dark, and Other Tales of Horror 1969

Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos 1969

The Tomb and Other Tales 1969

The Shuttered Room, and Other Tales of Horror 1970

Nine Stories from “The Horror in the Museum and Other Revisions” 1971

The Horror in the Burying Ground, and Other Tales 1975

The Best of H. P. Lovecraft: Bloodcurdling Tales of Horror and the Macabre 1982

Cthulhu 2000: A Lovecraftian Anthology 1995

Miscellaneous Writings 1995

The Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath (novel) 1955

Autobiography: Some Notes on a Nonentity (autobiography) 1963

At the Mountains of Madness, and Other Novels (novels) 1964

The Case of Charles Dexter Ward (novel) 1965

Selected Letters, 1911–1937. 5 vols. (letters) 1965–1976

Herbert West: Reanimator (novel) 1977

Memoirs of an Inconsequential Scribbler (memoirs) 1977

T. O. Mabbott (review date 1940)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: Mabbott, T. O. Review of The Outsider and Others, by H. P. Lovecraft. American Literature 12, no. 1 (March 1940): 136.

[In the following review of The Outsider and Others, Mabbot praises the volume for its “striking and original stories of horror.”]

[The Outsider and Others] is a large volume, the first of a promised three-volume collection of the writings of an author known for striking and original stories of horror, for which he invented a mythology of his own. He was a typical New Englander, though in some senses a follower of Poe and Dunsany. Time will tell if his place be very high in our literary history; that he has a place seems certain. For if the popular magazines, as he felt, forced him to be melodramatic, his style was unhampered, and has a fine quality. The present volume consists chiefly of stories. Among them his own favorite seems to have been “The Color Out of Space” or “The Music of Erich Zann,” to which, however, the reviewer would prefer the Poesque “Tomb” and a characteristic fantasy from which the volume is named “The Outsider.”

At the end of the volume is included the hitherto not very accessible essay “Supernatural Horror in Literature.” This is all too brief, and leaves untouched the work of several authors one would expect to find, and tends to underrate Stevenson, and overrate Dunsany. But it contains discussions of Poe, Hawthorne, and Bierce, so penetrating, sympathetic, and imaginatively keen that scholars will not want to miss them. Lovecraft understood the “House of Usher,” and in a story called At the Mountains of Madness, makes a brief allusion to the identity of Yaanek in Ulalume and Mt. Erebus in the Antarctic, which is probably correct. Messrs. Derleth and Wandrei have done a service in collecting Lovecraft's works.

Punch (review date 1951)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: “Sabbat-Night Reading.” Punch 220, no. 5755 (28 February 1951): 285.

[In the following review of The Haunter of the Dark, the critic praises Lovecraft for his likeliness to Edgar Allan Poe, but derides him for a lack of prudence and an overuse of lurid adjectives.]

The Haunter of the Dark is not a book to explore alone in a benighted cottage; at high noon on top of a bus in Oxford Street it would be sufficiently disturbing. H. P. Lovecraft was an American who died before the war, when his remarkable gift for the eerie was not yet widely known; this collection of his uncomfortable ghoulish short stories is the first to be published here. At his best, as in “The Outsider” and “The Thing on the Doorstep,” his power to give overwhelming conviction to the wildly abnormal brings him close to Poe. His lesser pieces lack economy and suffer from an excessive use of grisly adjectives, but in nearly all of them is the same rare ability to convey terror in the fourth dimension. Most of the stories, set in the remote American countryside, have to do with dark creatures of the immemorial past, summoned from farthest space by hick devotees of black magic. Lovecraft was undoubtedly a minor master of cosmic horror.

Peter Penzoldt (essay date 1952)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: Penzoldt, Peter. “The Pure Tale of Horror.” In The Supernatural in Fiction, pp. 146–90. New York: Humanities Press, 1965.

[In the following excerpt, originally published in a 1952 edition, Penzoldt offers a psychological analysis of Lovecraft's horror tales.]

It is not the highest, but only the pedant and the prig will deny that he enjoys being thrilled, and our superior attitude towards sensational fiction is adopted largely because the blatant and crude fail to produce this effect.

Forrest Reid

If the short story of the supernatural is often considered as an...

(The entire section is 8879 words.)

Winfred S. Emmons, Jr. (essay date 1960)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: Emmons, Winfred S., Jr. “H. P. Lovecraft as a Mythmaker.” Extrapolation 1, no. 2 (May 1960): 35–37.

[In the following essay, Emmons discusses the “Cthulhu Mythos” stories as the creation of a mythology appropriate to the twentieth century, calling it “a myth for our time.”]

Myth is supposed to grow out of a current pattern of life, taking form in stories which crystalize beliefs that are a part of that life. The twentieth century is not notoriously an age of beliefs, and its approach to myth has tended rather to autopsy and analysis than to mythic creation. H. P. Lovecraft, however, has achieved a certain fame as the creator of the “Cthulhu...

(The entire section is 1031 words.)

Darrell Schweitzer (essay date 1978)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: Schweitzer, Darrell. The Dream Quest of H. P. Lovecraft, pp. 5–11, 20–25, 30–35, 38–55. San Bernardino, CA: The Borgo Press, 1978.

[In the following excerpt, Schweitzer discusses numerous Lovecraft stories, summarizing the plots, explaining their significance to Lovecraft's literary career, and offering a brief analysis of each story.]


There are a few specimens of Lovecraft's juvenilia extant, none of it of any real importance. The oldest story, “The Little Glass Bottle,” dates from his sixth year. “The Mystery of The Graveyard”; or, “The Dead Man's Revenge” shows that for all her Victorian...

(The entire section is 18670 words.)

Donald R. Burleson (essay date 1981)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: Burleson, Donald R. “H. P. Lovecraft: The Hawthorne Influence.” Extrapolation 22, no. 3 (fall 1981): 262–69.

[In the following essay, Burleson discusses Nathaniel Hawthorne as an important influence on many thematic elements in Lovecraft's fiction.]

Howard Phillips Lovecraft (1890–1937), the Rhode Island fantaisiste whose cosmic mythos of primordial gods has moved some critics to proclaim him a unique figure among creators of supernatural horror, came to admire Nathaniel Hawthorne greatly but did not seem to consider him a major influence on his own work. Lovecraft perceived his primary sources as residing in Poe and Lord Dunsany, and indeed the...

(The entire section is 3590 words.)

S. T. Joshi (essay date 1982)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: Joshi, S. T. H. P. Lovecraft, pp. 20–30, 44–50. Mercer Island, WA: Starmont House, 1982.

[In the following excerpt, Joshi, author of several books on Lovecraft, examines Lovecraft's stories in regard to the influence of Lord Dunsany, their New England settings, and the influence of Edgar Allan Poe.]


Dunsany has influenced me more than anyone except Poe—his rich language, his cosmic point of view, his remote dream-world, and his exquisite sense of the fantastic, all appeal to me more than anything else in literature. My first encounter with him—in the autumn of 1919—gave an immense...

(The entire section is 9530 words.)

Donald R. Burleson (essay date 1983)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: Burleson, Donald R. “Early Years: Beginnings and Foreshadowings (1920–1923).” In H. P. Lovecraft: A Critical Study, pp. 39–96. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1983.

[In the following essay, Burleson provides detailed analyses of several of Lovecraft's important, early stories.]


Even the very early period of 1917–1919 in Lovecraft's writing career, the period of “Dagon,” produced works that suggest that some of the major motifs and themes of Lovecraft's later productions were already stirring, already formative in his mind. However, in the period from 1921 to...

(The entire section is 24253 words.)

Michael Feingold (review date 1985)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: Feingold, Michael. “Lovecraft's Unliterary Terrors.” Village Voice 30, no. 12 (19 March 1985): 45.

[In the following review of The Dunwich Horror and Others, Feingold asserts that the sixteen stories in this collection are good as horror stories but hold no other significant literary merit.]

To know H. P. Lovecraft's stories is to know fear, but not literature. Which would be no problem if his devotees didn't insist on trying to promote him to some kind of dignified literary status. In this handsome new edition of the 16 short stories that are Lovecraft's claim to fame [The Dunwich Horror and Others], he gets the Grand Master treatment: S. T....

(The entire section is 886 words.)

Arthur Jean Cox (essay date 1987)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: Cox, Arthur Jean. “Some Thoughts on Lovecraft.” InDiscovering H. P. Lovecraft, edited by Darrell Schweitzer, pp. 58–64. San Bernardino, CA: The Borgo Press, 1987.

[In the following essay, Cox discusses the frequent criticism of Lovecraft's literary craftsmanship.]


“Lovecraft was not a good writer.” This blunt judgement by Edmund Wilson in his New Yorker essay, “Tales of the Marvelous and the Ridiculous,” has lodged itself, like an inextricable and uncomfortable foreign object, in the body of Lovecraftian discussion. “One of Lovecraft's worst faults,” says Wilson, “is his incessant effort to work up the...

(The entire section is 2261 words.)

Ben P. Indick (essay date 1987)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: Indick, Ben P. “Lovecraft's Ladies.” In Discovering H. P. Lovecraft, edited by Darrell Schweitzer, pp. 80–84. San Bernardino, CA: The Borgo Press, 1987.

[In the following essay, Indick refutes the common assumption that Lovecraft's stories are not concerned with female characters.]

One of the commonplace stereotypes about H. P. Lovecraft is that he had very little interest in women. His marriage itself, to Sonia Greene, is dismissed as some sort of aberration. L. Sprague de Camp, in his biography, remarks on “a lack of women in his stories.”1 Indeed, Lovecraft himself writes: “There is no such thing as ‘love’ in any unified,...

(The entire section is 1658 words.)

Dirk W. Mosig (essay date 1987)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: Mosig, Dirk W. “The Four Faces of the Outsider.” In Discovering H. P. Lovecraft, edited by Darrell Schweitzer, pp. 18–41. San Bernardino, CA: The Borgo Press, 1987.

[In the following essay, Mosig investigates the “message” in the story “The Outsider,” based on four methods of interpretation: the autobiographical, the psychological, the metaphysical, and the philosophical.]

H. P. Lovecraft did not write to entertain, nor did he tailor his impressive fiction with the paying market in mind. Instead, he relied on his work as a revisionist or ghost-writer, and on the meager proceedings of the rapidly vanishing Philips estate, for the small but regular...

(The entire section is 8278 words.)

Robert Weinberg (essay date 1987)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: Weinberg, Robert. “H. P. Lovecraft and Pseudomathematics.” In Discovering H. P. Lovecraft, edited by Darrell Schweitzer, pp. 113–17. San Bernardino, CA: The Borgo Press, 1987.

[In the following essay, Weinberg views Lovecraft's invented mathematics in several stories as a blending of science and fantasy.]

One of the strongest points in the Cthulhu stories by H. P. Lovecraft is the skillful blending of the unreal and the real. True and false are juggled together until one is undistinguishable from the other. Probably the most mentioned example of this work is Lovecraft's invention of a number of fictitious books complete with quotes, mysterious authors and...

(The entire section is 1570 words.)

Donald Burleson (essay date 1991)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: Burleson, Donald. “On Lovecraft's Themes: Touching the Glass.” In An Epicure in the Terrible: A Centennial Anthology of Essays in Honor of H. P. Lovecraft, edited by David E. Schultz and S. T. Joshi, pp. 135–47. Cranbury, NJ: Associated University Presses, 1991.

[In the following essay, Burleson explores the broad thematic concern of Lovecraft's ouevre, which he deems to be “the nature of self-knowledge.”]

Over the two decades of his career in fiction writing, H. P. Lovecraft progressed from relatively modest beginnings to final creations of high artistic power and employed a number of fictional themes repeatedly reworked at increasing levels of...

(The entire section is 6154 words.)

Stefan Dziemianowicz (essay date 1991)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: Dziemianowicz, Stefan. “Outsiders and Aliens: The Uses of Isolation in Lovecraft's Fiction.” In An Epicure in the Terrible: A Centennial Anthology of Essays in Honor of H. P. Lovecraft, edited by David E. Schultz and S. T. Joshi, pp. 159–87. Cranbury, NJ: Associated University Presses, 1991.

[In the following essay, Dziemianowicz analyzes the theme of isolation in Lovecraft's stories.]

There was thunder in the air on the night I went to the deserted mansion atop Tempest Mountain to find the lurking fear. I was not alone, for foolhardiness was not then mixed with that love of the grotesque and the terrible which has made my career a...

(The entire section is 13812 words.)

Douglas E. Winter (review date 1997)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: Winter, Douglas E. “Those Eldritch Horrors.” Book World 27, no. 43 (26 October 1997): 6.

[In the following review, Winter offers a favorable assessment of Tales of H. P. Lovecraft and The Annotated H. P. Lovecraft.]

Fear lurks in the shadows of American letters, its pleasures plebeian and guilty. The “genre” fiction of horror and the supernatural is Cain to the Abel of literary fiction, maligned and maverick, until time heals its wounds and makes it classic, if not literature.

Consider, if you will, the facts in the case of the “Gentleman from Providence,” the haunted savant known as H. P. Lovecraft (1890–1937).


(The entire section is 1452 words.)

Darrell Schweitzer (essay date 2001)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: Schweitzer, Darrell. “Lovecraft and Lord Dunsany.” In Discovering H. P. Lovecraft, Revised & Expanded, edited by Darrell Schweitzer, pp. 72–87. Holicong, PA: Wildside Press, 2001.

[In the following essay, Schweitzer investigates the nature and extent of Lord Dunsany's influence on Lovecraft.]

No knowledgeable critic has ever tried to deny the fact that the writings of Lord Dunsany were a major influence on those of H. P. Lovecraft. The reason for this is that Lovecraft's letters are so thickly laden with statements to this effect that one simply has to believe him. Also, the Dunsanian elements in some of Lovecraft's stories are unmistakable to anyone...

(The entire section is 8039 words.)

Further Reading

(Short Story Criticism)


Long, Frank Belknap. Howard Phillips Lovecraft: Dreamer on the Nightside. Sauk City, WI: Arkham House, 1975.

Long, who knew Lovecraft personally, discusses the life and work of the author.


Joshi, S. T. H. P. Lovecraft. Mercer Island, WA: Starmont House, 1982.

Overview of Lovecraft's career.

Schweitzer, Darrell. The Dream Quest of H. P. Lovecraft. San Bernardino, CA: The Borgo Press, 1978.

Critical analyses of Lovecraft's works.

Additional coverage of Lovecraft's life and career is contained in the...

(The entire section is 151 words.)