What exactly is a “cult author”? Not someone who writes about cults, certainly, but rather a writer who had (either during his lifetime or posthumously) gathered a cult following – squadrons of rabid fans re-reading his or her books over and over and quoting them to anyone who’s willing to listen.
It’s tricky to define exactly what makes a cult book, but chances are you’ll know when you read one. It’s often something obscure, because our society is obsessed with the strange and quirky. A cult author often comes at ya from the fringes of society, they write about the subcultures, about the downtrodden, about the underground. They represent that world you’d kinda like to inhabit, but are often too scared to do so. And often enough, they become the fascination of a lifetime.
In this new @adsactly series, we’ll be taking a look at several “cult authors” who mesmerize audiences in life, as well as long after their deaths. And today, we turn to the godfather of the entire horror genre, HP Lovecraft.
Well, one of the godfathers. Admittedly, one of Lovecraft’s greatest influences was horror giant Edgar Allan Poe (check out our post on Poe here). But, in time, Howard Phillips Lovecraft, together with his Cthulhu and other monsters has come to be recognized as one of the greatest inspirations for anything even remotely horror-related.
So, who was HP Lovecraft?
Lovecraft was born on the 20th of August 1890, into a relatively well to-do family. But his childhood was far from a happy one. The family home was allegedly rocky, given that his father, a traveling salesman, frequenty cheated on his mother and his mother, in turn, was what we today would probably call frigid. Things were uneasy between Lovecraft’s parents, even then, yet much worse was to come.
In the summer of 1893, when Lovecraft was only three years old, his father sustained some sort of mental breakdown, exhibiting some very strange behavior. He was eventually committed to the psychiatric Butler Hospital, where he remained for the next five years, until his death. HP Lovecraft would maintain, throughout his life, that his father had fallen into a paralytic state due to exhaustion.
It was then that the young Lovecraft and his mother went to live with her family. Even though his mother, Susie was greatly affected by her husband’s hospitalization, this didn’t blight Lovecraft’s childhood. He soon found the paternal figure he so needed in his grandfather, Whipple, who kept a close correspondence with the boy when traveling and told him many interesting (sometimes dark) stories when he was home. It seems storytelling ran in the family. It was also Whipple who helped overcome Lovecraft’s fear of the dark, by forcing him to walk though darkened corridors and rooms at a young age.
The family home was struck by tragedy in 1896, when Lovecraft’s grandmother died. Even though they hadn’t been particularly close, the death affected Lovecraft (who wasn’t quite 6 at the time) deeply. He also became terrified of seeing his aunts and mother in long mourning gowns and started having frequent nightmares, which would later find their way into his writing.
Lovecraft was a voracious reader and writer and, at the age of seven, started rewriting the Odyssey – a monumental undertaking for a child so young.
Lovecraft’s young life was once again shaken in 1904, when his beloved grandfather died of a stroke. The young Lovecraft was inconsolable and plunged into depression, which would plague him throughout his life.
His grandfather’s death was followed by a period of financial troubles and alienation from society for him and his mother. They had a close relationship, often read together (it seems Shakespeare was a particular favorite), but didn’t have much contact with the outside world.
Tragically, in 1918, Susie suffered a mental breakdown and was committed to Butler Hospital, like her husband more than two decades before. The news of his mother’s hospitalization upset Lovecraft deeply and he again became depressed, insisting there was no point to living. She died in 1921, leaving her son utterly heartbroken.
During this time, Lovecraft was writing a lot, penning numerous short stories, submitting them to magazines while also working as an amateur journalist. He befriended numerous writers and fellow amateur journalists and was a regular at their meetings and conventions. It seems Lovecraft had become more outgoing, even marrying in 1924.
He was hugely prolific during his life, but didn’t receive much recognition. Most of the Lovecraft myth and Cthulhu myth (which the author apparently didn’t even pronounce like we do, but something along the lines of kalulu) was born much later. He wasn’t popular or rich during his life and towards the end of it, he struggled to pay for food and sustain himself. He suffered from malnutrition and died of cancer of the small intestine in 1937. He was only forty-seven years old.
Lovecraft’s work revolved around the idea that human beings aren’t really all that much. He seemed to view us all as rather insignificant in the grand scheme of things. His stories are dominated by this theme of larger-than-life, mysterious alien creatures who transcend human emotion and other such petty things. Indeed, the monsters of Lovecraft’s stories never kill or attack because they hate humanity. They can’t hate. They’re beyond hate. Surely, it’s interesting to note Lovecraft’s attitude on this and it might, in a way, explain his own alienation from most people in general. He was also fascinated by the idea of fate and the end of the world, or at least, the human world under serious threat from some alien creature, who is infinitely smarter and stronger (a theme that would become so, so popular in the next century).
HP Lovecraft has inspired thousands of authors, game creators, screenwriters over the past hundred years. Really, it seems monumental to mention them all, but I will try to cover some. Famously, horror giant Stephen King has said, in his non-fictional Danse Macabre, that he was hugely influenced by HP Lovecraft’s stories, which he devoured as a boy. Today, Stephen King is one of the biggest names in the horror genre. Other writers inspired and influenced by Lovecraft are British author Neil Gaiman (the Sandman series, American Gods), comic book genius Alan Moore (V for Vendetta) and William S. Burroughs, the father of the Beat generation.
Another obvious example of Lovecraftian influence is Mexican filmmaker, author and actor Guillermo del Toro, he of Hellboy and Pan’s Labyrinth fame. It is so obvious, for anyone who’s seen any of del Toro’s works, from his earlier, low-budget movies, such as Cronos (1997) to his much more famous Pacific Rim and Hellboy series.
The most notable example of Lovecraftian influence is the terrifying, tentacled monster in the second season of Stranger Things. Straight out of Lovecraft, that one. In fact, the whole series screams Lovecraft and I think it’s interesting to note, it’s one of the most popular TV series today.
Lovecraft’s inspired several musicians, among which Metallica, Arctic Monkeys and Cradle of Filth. They all have written songs dedicated or referencing HP Lovecraft.
Yet another area where Lovecraft has had a huge influence is the world of video games. Most notably, World of Warcraft has constantly referenced the great writer. And it’s not become a staple of many horror games to feature Lovecraftian anthagonists – the same alien monsters, who threaten the very existence of humanity. He has also served as great inspiration for the ongoing theme of madness present in so many video games today.
And then, of course, there’s his legacy in our day-to-day world. The cult of Cthulhu, incredibly is still very strong. There are so many Lovecraft fanatics out there, ranging from those with a healthy sort of admiration to the ones bordering on insanity. HP
Lovecraft, I believe, has shaped our very nightmares, as well as had a huge impact on our perception of the world and life, in general.
Authored by @honeydue
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