by Art Chantry:
my old friend, wilum pugmire, has recently emerged on facebook as an interesting presence. long an h.p. lovecraft admirer and weird fiction writer in the lovecraft tradition, he has begun a great deal of readings online and publishing of his work (along with a growing cadre of others doing the same). his efforts have opened me back up to my long love affair with howard phillips lovecraft – the man who was the greatest american weird fiction writer since edgar allen poe. even his actual name has become a sort of perfect noun to describe the strange bizarre – a perfect metaphor in itself. “lovecraft”.
one of the many things that h.p. lovecraft started was the notion of a cycle of fictional ancient myths. these were all based on the concept that our species was ‘seeded’ by an ancient race of evil aliens (aka ‘elder gods’) from another time/space dimension. strangely, some scholars have traced the idea of “seeding” in our culture – so common that it’s the underlying plotline of virtually every alien invasion action flick of the last half century – to the fertile imagination of lovecraft. apparently, that now-popular idea first emerges in lovecraft’s fiction. strange, isn’t it? it’s a very recently developed concept in our cultural imagination.
the plot thickens as the elder gods desire to come back into our world and dominate it once again. the conflict between modern man and ancient god is one of ignorance and stupidity (man) versus tremendous pressuring temptation and evil (god). that’s a great metaphor for our current situation in our own time as well. the idea that an oddball fella like lovecraft – a hermit, a recluse, a neurotic sickly dreamer living like a victorian gentleman in the ‘moderne’ world of the 20’s & 30’s – could be so connected to the world as we know it right now (in HIS future) puts him squarely into the realm of a sort of demented prophet. perhaps he was an elder god himself? (i smell a lovecraftian short story brewing…)
lovecraft filled his stories with fantasitcial vaguely imagined creatures who strived to come back to our world and live among us again as dominant overlords. the names were apocalypitcic and absurdly impossible to pronounce – azathoth, shub-niggurath, dagon, yog-sothoth, yig, nyarlathotep, and the grandmaster sleeping monster god of them all – cthulhu.
frankly, lovecraft’s fiction was long on atmosphere and short on depth. his stories are read for the worlds he creates for the reader to immerse himself into, not for actual plot lines or character development. his endless descriptions are apparently based on his own personal dreams and are therefore as difficult and vague in description as a personal dream is to recall. that’s part of his enduring magic.
so, what exactly DID this crazy god “cthulhu” LOOK like? it turns out that lovecraft also made sketches. this image is a model of what the mightly diety cthulu looked like according to lovecraft himself. if you notice, underneath, in lovecaft’s own handwriting are a couple of crude sketches of his imaginative vision of how cthulhu appeared. this image is carefully reporduced in the sculpture by joe borers above.
look familiar? this squid-faced multi-eyed ‘thinker’ is now a commonplace character in our fiction and our cinema. it’s popped up in so many places that it’s almost ubiquitous. that is also part of lovecraft’s intent. you see, he was a compulsive letter writer, even though he lived reclusively. he corresponded with virtually anybody who would write him. young fiction writer fans would send him their work and he would extensively critique it and even re-write it for them. the result was the creation of a large circle of new writers building a mythological cannon of elder gods and creatures and ‘props’. for instance, the evil ancient tome “the necronomicon” by abdul al-hazred (“all has read”. get it?) and an ever-growing number of ancient texts have been created by many writers contibuting to the mythology. these imaginary books become so deeply entwined in our shared imagination that most people now think they are real ancient books available at your local library.
these many fiction writers added other gods and characters and built upon lovecrafts’ inventions. over the last century, the ‘cthulhu mythos cycle’ (as it’s referred to) has become one of the largest sub-genres of weird and horror fiction in existance. it’s become a right of passage for horror writers and SF writers to tackle a cthulhu mythos story sooner or later. this tradition has continued to add to and help grow the lovecraft influence on our cultural thinking. ask stephen king. or johnny depp. or buffy the vampire slayer.
so, this weird isolated dreamer created a huge genre of writing that sneaked into our unconscious below our notice and became a regular secret dialog in our shared/collective fantasies and thinking. that’s not bad for a guy who spent most his life living on rice and beans and barely able to cover his cold attic garrett rent. it just goes to show you how imaginative creativity and commitment to process and action (aka ‘coming up with an idea and just DOING it) can achieve stunning results. h.p. lovecraftin my estimation, a great “man of action” and one HELL of a great DESIGNER.