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H.P.Lovecraft and Supernatural/Horror Fiction

I have just read my first H.P. Lovecraft, "The Case of Charles Dexter Ward". It's set in the early part of the 20thC and deals with a young man, Ward, who becomes obsessed with the life of an ancestor, Joseph Curwen. Curwen who lived in the 18thC, seems to have been practising ancient occult arts, with the intention of conjuring up - what?  Ward, himself, after intensive research, becomes obsessed, and seems to be practising the same things as Curwen, and after many strange occurrences, appears to have become insane. The climax of the book occurs when Ward's physician, Dr Willett, exploring the subterranean abode of Ward,discovers horrors. But the book has a surprising ending which I hadn't anticipated.
It's a relatively short book, 100 pages, but Lovecraft's prose is so dense it makes for rather slow reading.  Lovecraft cleverly keeps the reader at a distance. Everything is told through old reports, documents and hearsay and, until the end, the reader is only dimly aware of what is happening in Ward's house.
The book gives off an atmosphere of decay and dust, and reading it is like groping your way through a long-closed catacomb where strange sounds can be dimly heard in the distant darkness.  This is typical of Lovecraft's prose.
"It was a godless sound; one of those low-keyed, insidious outrages of nature which are not meant to be. To call it a dull wail, a doom-dragged whine or a hopeless howl of chorused anguish and stricken flesh without mind would be to miss its most quintessential loathsomeness and soul-sickening overtones."
Lovecraft is definitely in the American Gothic tradition of Edgar Allan Poe, and is an acknowledged influence on Stephen King.
I read it in a sumptuous editon of Lovecraft's Best Weird Tales "NECRONOMICON" (Gollancz H/B. 2008)

Re: H.P.Lovecraft and Supernatural/Horror Fiction

I have only read a few of Lovecraft's short stories, and have been quite impressed by them. I've always meant to read more.

I was interested to hear you say this:

Mikeharvey wrote:
Everything is told through old reports, documents and hearsay and, until the end, the reader is only dimly aware of what is happening in Ward's house.

Since the point of q horror story is obviously to convey a sense of horror, I think it's probably for the best if the writer can be vague about what really happens: the less the writer reveals, the more the readers are forced to imagine for themselves. Of course, it takes a great deal of skill to do this.

I liked the piece you quoted. I like especially that bit about the "stricken flesh without mind" - that really sets off all sorts of images in the reader's mind without being explicit about anything. I definitely should read some more of Lovecraft.

I think suggesting as opposed to saying is an important part of any kind of fiction writing; I often think of the fiction-writer as a sort of hypnotist - it's what (s)he evokes in the subconscious that really makes the most impact. But I think suggestion is perhaps more important in horror than any other genre.

I mentioned on another thread that I reread Borges' The Garden of Forking Paths recently - I think Borges was another master at conjuring a certain atmosphere out of a few well-chosen words and images, whilst maintaining a certain distance between reader and narrative. Indeed, he also often uses reports, journals - even fictional books and encyclopaedia entries - as filters for his narratives.

I have H.P.Lovecraftís The Colour out of Space in a collection of science-fiction short stories. Iíve read the story once in the mid 80ís and still remember what a terrifying read it was.


By the way, Mike (Mike Alx - that is!) your enthusiasm is infectious: having read your posts about it, I too re-read "The Garden of Forked Paths" last night. What a unique talent Borges had! And I suppose, on one plane, this story too could be considred a supernatural story. What sort of imagination does it require I wonder, to embed something such as this into what is essentially an epionage thriller?

PS Sorry for going off-topic ... we'd better return this thread to Lovecraft now!

Without wishing to derail the topic too much, one image that struck me in the Borges was when Yu Tsun is walking down the road towards the English house where the maze is located. The way the road is described, arched with trees and heading ever downwards, is a wonderful subliminal suggestion that Tsun is already in the maze - which of course turns out to be the point of the story (the stuff about always turning left is an obvious labyrinth allusion too):
A lamp enlightened the platform but the faces of the boys were in shadow. One questioned me, "Are you going to Dr. Stephen Albert's house?" Without waiting for my answer, another said, "The house is a long way from here, but you won't get lost if you take this road to the left and at every crossroads turn again to your left." I tossed them a coin (my last), descended a few stone steps and started down the solitary road. It went downhill, slowly. It was of elemental earth; overhead the branches were tangled; the low, full moon seemed to accompany me.
Simon The Sponge

I do enjoy HP Lovecraft's style and his unique imagination.  I have two collections of his short stories.  You can see the influence on contemporary Horror writers and Horror films.  I think it's horror that is agoraphobic in nature - a fear of what's out there rather than say the horror of Shelley and Stoker which is a much more introspective and I think far more concerned with internal demons.

My favourite is the Dunwich Horror, you can see the x-files writers have taken a good chunk of his work for their influences

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