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Lovecraft, H P

Entry updated 26 February 2024. Tagged: Author.

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(1890-1937) US author who spent almost all his life in Providence, Rhode Island, maintaining extensive social contacts mainly by mail. He was an important figure by correspondence in the careers of many authors who later published work clearly influenced by him; and the correspondence between him and Robert E Howard illuminates these two solitary (but intensely communicative) figures. He joined the United Amateur Press Association (see APA) in 1914 and produced much of his early fiction in connection with this enterprise, which also allowed him to come in touch with Clark Ashton Smith, Frank Belknap Long and others, for all of whom he was a major inspiration; his own admitted influences included Robert W Chambers and Lord Dunsany. He began to publish professionally with the serial release of Herbert West – Reanimator (February-July 1922 Home Brew as "Grewsome Tales"; vt March 1942-November 1943 Weird Tales; 1977 chap), which features a caricature Mad Scientist, though he only began to establish himself when he started, with "Dagon" (November 1919 The Vagrant; October 1923 Weird Tales), to publish in Weird Tales; his prolific correspondence with many other of its writers made him a key influence on that magazine: without his background presence its highly significant contribution to the development of American weird fiction would have been considerably weakened. His disciples included Robert Bloch, August W Derleth, Henry Kuttner and E Hoffmann Price. Derleth, with assistance from Donald Wandrei, founded Arkham House to reprint Lovecraft's work, and the imprint was later for several decades to provide a haven for other writers influenced by Lovecraft, including Ramsey Campbell and Brian Lumley. Colin Wilson is another modern writer who has written Lovecraftian novels, notably The Philosopher's Stone (1969).

Although Lovecraft's primary reputation is as a Horror writer, his later works – in particular the last stories belonging to the Cthulhu Mythos, a term he did not himself invent – attempted to develop a distinctive species of "cosmic horror" (see Horror in SF), employing premises drawn from sf: other Dimensions, Invasion by Aliens known as the "Great Old Ones", and interference with human cultural and physiological Evolution. The overall sense of these tales is of a Universe essentially horrible and hostile to humankind, a sense conveyed (not always with a sure touch) through a distinctive prose style that distends by gradual degrees from quasi-clinical passages into strained heights signalled by dense, highly adjectival word-painting. There is a wide consensus that these stories comprise his best and most influential work, and critics generally agree on which ones are central texts: The Colour Out of Space (September 1927 Amazing; 1982 chap), "The Call of Cthulhu" (February 1928 Weird Tales), "The Dunwich Horror" (April 1929 Weird Tales), "The Whisperer in Darkness" (August 1931 Weird Tales) (see Brain in a Box) "The Dreams in the Witch-House" (July 1933 Weird Tales), At the Mountains of Madness (cut February 1936 Astounding; restored in The Outsider and Others coll 1939; 1990 chap), which can be read to suggest that the "Great Old Ones" are a Forerunner species, The Shadow over Innsmouth (1936) and "The Shadow Out of Time" (cut June 1936 Astounding; restored in The Outsider and Others, coll 1939). These eight tales have been immensely influential; perhaps the most accomplished, and most influential on later sf writers, were At the Mountains of Madness and "The Shadow Out of Time", in both of which Lovecraft embedded the old topoi of Gothic horror (like the trope-encrusted Vampire tale) into an attempt to describe this dark universe in scientific terms. In The Darkening Garden: A Short Lexicon of Horror (2006), John Clute suggests that the readerly response to Lovecraftian cosmic horror (as distilled here) can be described in terms of Vastation: a kind of psychic bondage "to the malice of the made or revealed cosmos"; a realization "that the world means its malice" (see Horror in SF): that, in other words, the malice of the world is argued. Lovecraft begins "The Call of Cthulhu" with perhaps his clearest (and most widely quoted) reference to the realities underlying what we perceive of the universe:

The most merciful thing in the world is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not mean that we should voyage far. [If we do see further than we should,] we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the deadly light into the peace and safety of a new dark age.

A notable essay by Lovecraft on the historical roots of his fiction is Supernatural Horror in Literature (mid-1927 The Recluse; rev October 1933-February 1935 The Fantasy Fan; 1945). Lovecraft encouraged other writers to use the background of what came to be known as the Cthulhu Mythos, a term he did not himself apply to any of his work; The Reader's Guide to the Cthulhu Mythos (1969; rev 1973) by Robert E Weinberg and Edward P Berglund lists many such writers including (in addition to those already cited) Lin Carter, Robert E Howard, Fritz Leiber, Robert A W Lowndes and Manly Wade Wellman. Lovecraft's principal stories retroactively assimilated into the Cthulhu Mythos – which include his best works – are "The Nameless City" (November 1921 The Wolverine), "The Festival" (January 1925 Weird Tales), The Colour Out of Space (September 1927 Amazing; 1982 chap), "The Call of Cthulhu" (February 1928 Weird Tales), "The Dunwich Horror" (April 1929 Weird Tales), "The Whisperer in Darkness" (August 1931 Weird Tales), "The Dreams in the Witch-House" (July 1933 Weird Tales), "The Haunter of the Dark" (December 1936 Weird Tales), The Shadow over Innsmouth (1936), "The Shadow Out of Time" (cut 1936 Astounding; restored in The Outsider and Others, coll 1939) (see Identity Exchange), At the Mountains of Madness (cut February 1936 Astounding; restored in The Outsider and Others, coll 1939; 1990 chap), The Case of Charles Dexter Ward (cut 1941 Weird Tales; restored in Beyond the Wall of Sleep, coll 1943; dated 1951 but 1952) and "The Thing on the Door-step" (January 1937 Weird Tales).

The first Arkham House Lovecraft collection was The Outsider and Others (coll 1939), which contained all his major works except The Case of Charles Dexter Ward, which first appeared in book form in the subsequent Arkham volume Beyond the Wall of Sleep (coll 1943). Marginalia (coll 1944) included some stories Lovecraft had revised for other writers as well as essays, fragments and appreciations; a complete collection of such revisions is The Horror in the Museum and Other Revisions (coll 1970; cut vt Nine Stories from The Horror in the Museum 1971; vt 2vols as The Horror in the Museum 1975 UK and The Horror in the Burying Ground 1975 UK; rev and corrected 1989). Lovecraft's complete works can be obtained in three volumes: The Dunwich Horror and Others (coll 1963; cut vt The Colour Out of Space, and Others 1964; corrected text under original ver 1985) – a title not to be confused with The Dunwich Horror, and Other Weird Tales (coll 1945) – At the Mountains of Madness and Other Novels (coll 1964; corrected text 1985); and Dagon and Other Macabre Tales (coll 1965; corrected text 1986) [for further sortings see Checklist]. The bibliography of the many other collections drawn from the corpus is inordinately complicated, and is supplemented by many chapbooks recovering all manner of trivia; the most frequently reprinted eclectic selections are The Haunter of the Dark (coll 1951), which was a cut version of Best Supernatural Stories of H P Lovecraft (coll 1945), both edited by Derleth, The Doom that Came to Sarnath (coll 1971) edited by Lin Carter and The Best of H.P. Lovecraft: Bloodcurdling Tales of Horror and the Macabre (coll 1982). Several Small Presses were more recently dedicated to the celebration of his works, most notably the Necronomicon Press, which published the journal Lovecraft Studies edited by S T Joshi, and, after 1990, when it took the title over from Cryptic Publications, the long-running Crypt of Cthulhu edited by Robert M Price. Several bibliographies of primary and secondary sources have been published, including Joshi's H.P. Lovecraft: An Annotated Bibliography (1981). These small presses gave a home to early work by several modern writers of note, including Thomas Ligotti (1953-    ).

Derleth wrote many stories based on fragmentary texts by Lovecraft or on notes for unwritten stories, including the novel The Lurker at the Threshold (1945), the stories in The Survivor and Others (coll 1957) and two stories in The Shuttered Room and Other Pieces (coll 1959; cut 1970), which also contains some Lovecraft juvenilia and essays about him; it is not to be confused with The Shuttered Room (coll 1971). The title story, a Gothic SF piece featuring a Monster in the eponymous attic, was filmed as The Shuttered Room (1967; vt Blood Island). All the Derleth "collaborations" are assembled in The Watchers Out of Time and Others (coll 1974); all but The Lurker at the Threshold had been in The Shadow Out of Time and Other Tales of Horror (coll 1968), along with the six which The Haunter of the Dark omitted from its parent collection. The Derleth stories are weak exercises in pastiche, and Derleth's editing of Lovecraft's own stories came in for some criticism in the 1980s on the grounds of alleged insensitivity and distortion, necessitating S T Joshi's corrected editions of the three Arkham House collections. [BS/JC]

see also: The Acolyte; Amnesia; Astounding Science-Fiction; Call of Cthulhu; Cats; Devolution; Fantasy; Fanzine; H P Lovecraft [band]; Icons; Invisibility; Paul LaFarge; Rafael Llopis; Métal Hurlant; Open Universe; Parallel Worlds; Paranoia; Pseudoscience; Psychology; Publishing; Suspended Animation; Underground.

Howard Phillips Lovecraft

born Providence, Rhode Island: 20 August 1890

died Providence, Rhode Island: 15 March 1937


titles published before Lovecraft's death (selected)

posthumous collections

Selected to 1965; highly selected after 1965: given the constant resorting of limited material, several volumes elsewhere describable as vts are either not listed or listed as separate titles.

individual titles (selected)

collected editions

Arkham House Collected Works

Uncollected Prose and Poetry

Annotated Lovecraft

Illustrated Lovecraft

Dark Dreamlands

  • Dark Dreamlands (Olympia, Washington: Pegana Press, 2016) [coll: chap: Dark Dreamlands: illus/hb/Michael Hutter]
  • Dark Dreamlands II (Olympia, Washington: Pegana Press, 2019) [coll: chap: Dark Dreamlands: illus/hb/Michael Hutter]
  • Dark Dreamland III (Olympia, Washington: Pegana Press, 2021) [coll: chap: Dark Dreamlands: illus/hb/Michael Hutter]



Lovecraft Selected Letters

Lovecraft Collected Essays

individual nonfiction titles

  • Marginalia (Sauk City, Wisconsin: Arkham House, 1944) [nonfiction: coll: also contains memorial material by other hands: hb/Virgil Finlay]
  • Supernatural Horror in Literature (New York: Ben Abramson, 1945) [nonfiction: first appeared mid-1927 The Recluse; revised October 1933-February 1935 The Fantasy Fan: hb/nonpictorial]
  • Autobiography: Some Notes on a Nonentity (Sauk City, Wisconsin: Arkham House, 1963) [nonfiction: chap: edited by August Derleth: first appeared in Beyond the Wall of Sleep (coll 1943): pb/nonpictorial]
  • To Quebec and the Stars. (West Kingston, Rhode Island: Donald M. Grant, Publisher, 1976) [nonfiction: coll: edited by L Sprague de Camp: hb/Robert MacIntyre]
  • Miscellaneous Writings (Sauk City, Wisconsin: Arkham House, 1995) [nonfiction: coll: edited by S T Joshi: hb/]

nonfiction: other letters

about the author


previous versions of this entry

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