Friday, August 20, 2021

Happy Birthday, H. P. Lovecraft


Happy Birthday, H. P. Lovecraft! HPL was born on this day in 1890, at the family home on Angell Street in Providence, RI. He has a lot to answer for, being one of those figures who seem to lurk in one's imagination for years after you've first read their work, or heard about them. I first came across the name Lovecraft in the Jim Morrison biography No One Here Gets Out Alive (the first, but not the best, bio of JDM). Jim's poetry was compared to Bosch and Lovecraft. I knew who Bosch was, as I'd discovered 'The Garden of Earthly Delights' in an encyclopaedia we had at home (Bosch I suppose is another figure who's haunted my imagination for years, but I'll leave that for another post). Intrigued, I set out to track down books by this Lovecraft fellow. At that time, Lovecraft was out of print in the UK, so I had to frequent second-hand bookshops. I used to trawl all of them in my home town. (Back then, we had about half a dozen places to try for second hand books. All those shops are gone now.) The first one I ever found was The Tomb, the late 60s/early 70s paperback from Panther (pictured above). 

   It's a collection of minor stories, culled from the larger collection Dagon and Other Stories (Arkham House, 1965). Despite being minor, it did contain a few gems, principally 'The Festival', which has always remained one of my favourite Lovecraft stories. When the things fly out of the darkness at the end, I could see the connection with Bosch. (I won't say any more, in case you haven't read it. I don't want to spoil the ending!) The other Lovecrafts I got from this period were all stories in anthologies: 'The Colour out of Space' and 'The Haunter of the Dark' came to me this way; they remain possibly my two favourite Lovecraft stories for their haunting depictions of rural and urban environments respectively. (Indeed, there is a 'Haunter of the Dark' church a ten-minute walk from where I'm writing this.) When Lovecraft was republished in the UK by Grafton/Granada (AKA HarperCollins), that was tremendously exciting, as it meant I could get to read the bulk of his work, but it kind of spoiled the book-hunting in obscure bookshops. (For a while, at least.) 

   Another key book for me was Philip Shreffler's H. P. Lovecraft Companion, which explained that many of Lovecraft's stories were set in actual places that still exist. That set me off on a long trail of research and, to cut a long story short, I shot a documentary about Lovecraft - inspired by Shreffler's book, and Lin Carter's Lovecraft: A Look Behind the Cthulhu Mythos, from which I got the phrase 'The Last Disciple', which became the film's title. We managed to track down Frank Belknap Long, who actually knew Lovecraft (as opposed to being one of Lovecraft's man correspondents), biographer L. Sprague de Camp, Colin Wilson, Ramsey Campbell, Stuart Gordon, and the lady who was married to the real-life Charles Dexter Ward. Despite this roster of stars, the film was never fully finished for want of funds (sanity was also in short supply. The work-in-progress received one screening, at the Lovecraft Centenary conference in Providence, and has never been screened again. I have been wondering whether my recently-completed PhD in filmmaking might somehow enable me to finish the Lovecraft film in some way... 

   The film's real theme, perhaps, was why do people read Lovecraft? What turns us into fans? Despite the trauma of making the film, I still reread Lovecraft, and am working my way slowly through the Collected Letters. And to this day, certain churches - especially those with blackened brickwork, and/or looking deserted - always remind me of 'The Haunter of the Dark'. It's become a reflex. Maybe that's what writing that really chimes with you does: it becomes not just a story that you've read, but a part of your life, a part of the way you experience the world.

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