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Howard Phillips Lovecraft - circa 1900

A young H. P. Lovecraft

Howard Phillips Lovecraft (August 20, 1890 - March 15, 1937) was an American author of fantasy and horror fiction, noted for giving horror stories a science fiction framework. Lovecraft's readership was limited during his life, but his works have become quite important and influential among writers and fans of horror fiction.

His early fantasies were greatly influenced by the stories of Lord Dunsany, but later took on a darker tone with the creation of what is today often called the Cthulhu Mythos, a pantheon of deities and horrors which live extra-dimensionally. His stories created one of the most influential plot devices in all of horror: the Necronomicon, the secret grimoire written by the mad Arab Abdul Alhazred.

His prose is somewhat antiquarian and tends toward the grant guignol. He was fond of heavy use of unfamiliar adjectives such as "eldritch", "rugose", "noisome", "squamous", and "cyclopean", and of attempts to transcribe dialect speech which have been criticized as inaccurate. His works also featured British English (he was an admitted Anglophile) as well as anachronistic spellings, such as "compleat/complete", "lanthorn/lantern", and "divers/diverse".

Much of Lovecraft's work was directly inspired by his nightmares, and it is perhaps this direct insight into subconscious fears that helps to account for their continuing popularity.

Many later creators of horror writing and films show influences from Lovecraft, including Clive Barker and H. R. Giger. Others, notably Clark Ashton Smith, August Derleth, Neil Gaiman, Alan Moore, and Brian Lumley, have written stories that are explicitly set in the same "universe" as Lovecraft's original stories. Lovecraft pastiches are common.


Lovecraft was born in his family home at 194 (then 454) Angell Street in Providence, Rhode Island. His father was Winfield Scott Lovecraft, a traveling salesman. His mother was Sarah Susan Phillips Lovecraft, who could trace her ancestors in America back to their arrival in the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1630. When Lovecraft was three his father was said to have suffered a nervous breakdown in a hotel room in Chicago and was brought back to Butler Hospital, where he remained for five years. The story of mental collapse was merely a cover, however, to save the family from embarrassment — Lovecraft's father was admitted because syphilis was killing him.

Lovecraft was raised by his mother, two aunts, and his doting grandfather, Whipple Van Buren Phillips. Lovecraft was something of a prodigy and was reciting poetry at age two and was writing by six. His grandfather encouraged his reading, providing him with classics such as 1,001 Arabian Nights, Bulfinch's Age of Fable, and child's versions of The Iliad and The Odyssey. His grandfather also stirred young Howard's interest in the weird by telling him original tales of Gothic horror.

Lovecraft was frequently ill as a child. He attended school only sporadically but he read much. He produced several hectographed publications with a limited circulation beginning in 1899 with The Scientific Gazette.

Whipple Van Buren Phillips died in 1904, and the family was subsequently impoverished by mismanagement of his property and money. The family was forced to move down Angell Street to much smaller and less comfortable accommodations. Lovecraft was deeply affected by the loss of his home and birthplace and even contemplated suicide for a time. He suffered a nervous breakdown in 1908, as a result of which he never received his high school diploma. This failure to complete his education — his hopes of ever entering Brown University dashed — nagged at him for the rest of his life.

Lovecraft's first polished stories began to appear around 1917 with "The Tomb" and "Dagon". Also around this time he began to build up his huge network of correspondents. His lengthy and frequent missives would make him one of the great letter writers of the century. Among his correspondents were the young Forrest J. Ackerman, Robert Bloch (Psycho) and Robert E. Howard (Conan the Barbarian series).

Lovecraft's mother died in 1921. Shortly after, he attended an amateur journalist convention where he met Sonia Greene. She was Ukrainian, a Jew, and, having been born in 1883, several years older than Lovecraft. They married, though Lovecraft's aunts were unhappy with the arrangement. The couple moved to the Brooklyn section of New York City. He hated it. A few years later he and Greene agreed to an amicable divorce, and he returned to Providence to live with his aunts during their remaining years.

The period after his return to Providence — the last decade of his life — was Lovecraft's most prolific. During this time period he produced almost all of his best known short stories for the leading pulp publications of the day (primarily Weird Tales) as well as longer efforts like The Case of Charles Dexter Ward and At the Mountains of Madness. He frequently revised work for other authors and did a large amount of ghost-writing.

Despite his best writing efforts, however, he grew ever poorer. He was forced to move to smaller and meaner lodgings with his surviving aunt. He was also deeply affected by Robert E. Howard's suicide. In 1936 he was diagnosed with cancer of the intestine and he also suffered from malnutrition. He lived in constant pain until his death the following year (1937) in Providence, Rhode Island.

Lovecraft's grave in Providence has from time to time been inscribed with a graffito of his most famous turn of phrase, quoted from "The Call of Cthulhu":

"That is not dead which can eternal lie,
And with strange aeons even death may die."

Survey of Lovecraft's work[]

The definitive editions (specifically At the Mountains of Madness and Other Novels, Dagon and Other Macabre Tales, The Dunwich Horror and Others, and The Horror in the Museum and Other Revisions) of his prose fiction are published by Arkham House, a publisher originally started with the intent of publishing the work of Lovecraft, but which has since published a lot of other fantastic literature as well.

Lovecraft's poetry is collected in The Ancient Track: The Complete Poetical Works of H. P. Lovecraft, while much of his juvenilia, among other things, can be found in Miscellaneous Writings. Also, Lovecraft's essay "Supernatural Horror in Literature", first published in 1927, is an historical survey of horror literature available with endnotes as The Annotated Supernatural Horror in Literature.

Lovecraft is believed to have written tens of thousands of letters in his lifetime. Many of them are gathered in Selected Letters, published (and now out of print) in five volumes by Arkham House. A shorter, more concise collection is Lord of a Visible World: An Autobiography in Letters, which focuses on letters written by Lovecraft that pertain to his personal life.

Further reading[]

In the past few decades, the quantity of books about Lovecraft has increased considerably. Also, Lovecraft's stories themselves have enjoyed a veritable publishing renaissance in recent years. The titles mentioned below are a small sampling.

Lovecraft, a Biography, written by L. Sprague de Camp, published in 1975, and now out of print, was Lovecraft's first full-length biography. A newer, more extensive biography is H. P. Lovecraft: A Life, written by Lovecraft scholar S. T. Joshi. It is also currently out of print, and used copies are rare, but an adequate alternative is Joshi's abridged A Dreamer & A Visionary: H. P. Lovecraft in His Time.

Other significant Lovecraft-related works are An H. P. Lovecraft Encyclopedia (informative but expensive) and Lovecraft's Library: A Catalogue (a meticulous listing of many of the books in Lovecraft's now scattered library), both by Joshi, and also Lovecraft at Last, an account by Willis Conover of his teenage correspondence with Lovecraft. For those interested in studying in detail Lovecraft's writings and philosophy, Joshi's A Subtler Magick: The Writings and Philosophy of H. P. Lovecraft is useful both for the analysis it provides and for the thorough bibliography appended to it. Charles P. Mitchell's The Complete H. P. Lovecraft Filmography is practicable for its discussion of films containing Lovecraftian elements (see Adaptations, below).

Lovecraft's prose fiction has been published numerous times, but, even after the "corrected texts" were released by Arkham House in the 1980s, many non-definitive collections of his stories have appeared, including Ballantine Books editions and, also, three popular Del Rey editions, which nonetheless have interesting introductions. The two collections published by Penguin, The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories and The Thing on the Doorstep and Other Weird Stories, incorporate the modifications made in the corrected texts.

Many readers, when they first encounter Lovecraft's works, find his writing style difficult to read — owing, no doubt, to his fondness for adjectives, long paragraphs, and archaic diction. Also, Lovecraft's early 20th century perspective yielded references in his works to objects and ideas that may be unfamiliar to modern readers. Some of Lovecraft's writings, however, are annotated, meaning that they are accompanied by explanatory footnotes (at the bottom, or foot, of the page) or endnotes (at the end of the book). In addition to the Penguin editions mentioned above and The Annotated Supernatural Horror in Literature, Joshi has produced The Annotated H. P. Lovecraft as well as More Annotated H. P. Lovecraft, both of which are footnoted extensively.

Primary bibliography[]

Secondary bibliography[]


Films based (generally very loosely) on Lovecraft's works:

  • The Haunted Palace, an adaptation of The Case of Charles Dexter Ward (IMDb entry)
  • The Resurrected (1992) (another adaptation of The Case of Charles Dexter Ward) (IMDb entry)
  • Re-Animator (1985) (IMDb entry)
  • Bride of Re-Animator (1990) (IMDb entry)
  • Beyond Re-Animator (2003) (IMDb entry)
  • From Beyond (1986) (IMDb entry)
  • The Dunwich Horror (1970) (IMDb entry)
  • The Unnamable (1988) (IMDb entry)
  • The Unnamable II: The Statement of Randolph Carter (1993) (IMDb entry)
  • Dagon (2001) (IMDb entry)
  • The Curse (1987) (an unacknowledged 1980s adaptation of "The Colour Out of Space") (IMDb entry)
  • In the Mouth of Madness (1995) (satirical John Carpenter horror film about the relationship between horror writers and their audience; a Lovecraft pastiche) (IMDb entry)
  • The Necronomicon (1994) TV-Production. Three short films based on his stories (Call of Cthulhu, Cold Air)

Radio production:

  • The Call of Cthulhu (Broadcast in Tasmania, on Lovecraft's 100th birthday)

External links[]