His early fantasies were greatly influenced by the stories of Lord Dunsany, but later took on a much darker tone with the main thrust of his work, the Cthulhu Mythos, which deals with a lurking older pantheon and horrors which live extra-dimensionally. His fiction often mentions the Necronomicon, the secret grimoire purportedly written by the mad Arab Abdul Alhazred.
His prose is somewhat repetitious and tends towards the grand guignol. He was fond of heavy use of unfamiliar adjectives such as "eldritch", "rugose", "noisome" and "squamous", and of attempts to transcribe dialect speech which have been criticized as inaccurate. His works also featured British English spellings (he was an admitted Anglophile) and occasionally antiquated 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 and Brian Lumley, have written stories that are explicitly set in the same "universe" as Lovecraft's original stories.
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 Massachussetts 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 embarassment - Lovecraft's father was admitted because syphillis 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 2 and was writing by 6. 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 accomadations. 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 Green. She was Russian, a Jew, and significantly 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 Green 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 ten year of his life - were 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, such as 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.
"That is not dead which can eternal lie, And with strange aeons even death may die."
For a complete biography of Lovecraft, see Lovecraft, a Biography by L. Sprague de Camp
Survey of Lovecraft's Work
- At the Mountains of Madness
- Cool Air
- The Dreams in the Witch-House
- Herbert West: Reanimator
- Pickman's Model
- The Call of Cthulhu
- The Case of Charles Dexter Ward - his only novel-length work
- The Cats of Ulthar
- The Colour Out of Space
- The Doom that Came to Sarnath
- HThe Dunwich Horror
- The Haunter of the Dark
- The Music of Erich Zann
- The Rats in the Walls
- The Shadow Over Innsmouth
- The Shadow Out of Time
- The Terrible Old Man
- The Thing On the Doorstep
- The Whisperer in Darkness
The definitive edition of his work is 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.
Films based (generally very loosely) on Lovecraft's works:
- The Haunted Palace, an adaptation of The Case of Charles Dexter Ward. See: http://us.imdb.com/Title?0057128
- Bride of Re-Animator
- Beyond Re-Animator
- From Beyond
- The Dunwich Horror
- Unnamable II