The Horror Beyond: The Works of H.P Lovecraft
By: Joe Nash
“Like no other writers dead or alive, Lovecraft can infuse a reader with pure mind-numbing terror. His philosophy is simple: Man is lucky to be ignorant, because if he knew the truth of it would either destroy him or drive him mad. Once you read Lovecraft, you will never be the same again.”
- Stuart Gordon, Director
Howard Phillips Lovecraft was born in Providence, Rhode Island on August 20th, 1890 and died on March 15th, 1937. During his short life, Lovecraft dedicated much of his time and talents to writing. The works in which he is most known for would be, what scholars would come to commonly refer to as, “The C’thulhu Mythos” – a collection of stories and novellas regarding ancient ‘Elder Gods’ or ‘Great Old Ones’ and their horrific interactions with mankind.
Lovecraft also wrote for monetary income for such publications as The New Yorker, Collier’s, The Saturday Evening Post & The Atlantic Monthly to name but a few. He even ghostwrote a story for Harry Houdini at one point. Although writing mainstream for money was a necessity for Lovecraft, his passion was for writing ‘weird fiction’ as it was called at the time. He had written many of his notable works for such pulp magazines as “Weird Tales”, “Not At Night” and other such fantasy publications.
Lovecraft had created something, even to this day, as horrifying and incredible as to make one think that the man was either a madman or a genius. Actually, he was neither- upon his own admission in one of the thousands of correspondence letters between himself and a circle of other writers, notably Robert Bloch (‘Psycho’), August Derleth and Donald Wandrei. He was a writer with immense imagination and creativity regarding the esoteric.
His creations, some now over a century old, still amaze & astonish readers; influence film makers and inspire writers in their own works. Lovecraft has finally achieved a level of recognition that places him alongside such other great genre authors as Edgar Allen Poe (The Black Cat), H.G Wells (War of the Worlds), Mary Shelley (Frankenstein), Robert Louis Stevenson (The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr.Hyde) & Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (Sherlock Homes)…and rightfully so.
Mr. Lovecraft, I thank you for providing me years of entertainment and allowing me to play in your universe.
He had an affinity for colonial New England and held fears regarding its decadence, which feelings found their way into his fiction. The ancient seaports of Kingsport and Innsmouth; Arkham is an old city steeped in the traditions of witchcraft and now the site of the fictional “Miskatonic University”. It is within these fictional settings that generally reside the sensitive scholars, scientists and curious men who serve as narrators or protagonists of Lovecraft’s stories. At “Miskatonic University” some of them find access to one of the six known remaining copies of the “Necronomicon” – a strange and ancient book containing the secrets of a race older than mankind- the ‘Great Old Ones’. These creatures, invaders from other dimensions and other worlds, who once ruled the Earth but were vanquished, expelled by other strange cosmic forces and are constantly attempting to awaken, re-enter, or otherwise influence mankind into opening a doorway for them to return to exact revenge upon mankind. In some cases, these ‘Old Ones’ were merely imprisoned, as was the case with ‘Great C’thulhu’ in the sunken city of R’lyeh.(“The Call of C’thulhu”) Some were banished to depths beneath the Earth in regions of desert or under the polar caps (“At the Mountains of Madness”). These beings are still secretly worshipped by certain primitive peoples and signs of their presence can be found over the globe.
Other banished creatures such as “Dagon”, “Yog-Sothoth”, “Nyarlathotep”, “Pht’thya-l’y” among others also lie in wait alongside C’thulhu. Sometimes the “Great Old Ones” are water creatures referred to as “The Deep Ones”, such as “Dagon” , “C’thulhu” &“Pht’thya-l’y”, while others are entombed in great stone carved cities under artic ice like “S’gg’ha” & “Shoggoths”. Some are interdimensional and some, even more frighteningly, are incestuously created through the ages by certain interactions between humans and “The Old Ones” themselves (The Shadow Over Innsmouth). Nasty.
“When the stars are right” the “Great Old Ones” could return or awaken from their peculiar “dead, but dreaming” incarceration to wreak chaos upon our world. The blasphemous book, the “Necronomicon” contained incantations that could either aid their return or banish them back into the nameless, unfathomable abysses from whence they came.
In my opinion, one of the greatest and certainly most interesting creations of Lovecraft would be the abhorrent book of evil, the Necronomicon .The Necronomicon was of such nature that the few copies that remained had to be kept under lock & key at various locations around the world. Several of Lovecrafts stories describe that various copies of the book were kept in the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris and the Miskatonic University Library in the Rare Books Section among other such sites of academe.
Lovecraft stated that the original version was written by “the mad Arab” Abdul Alhazred in Damascus under the title “Al Azif” – an Arabic word referring to the strange sounds of the desert at night. From there, he states that various translations were made to Latin, Greek, German, and English – but most were destroyed, banned or mysteriously vanished, leaving just six copies existing today.
Lovecraft never delved into the book in any specificity, except on a couple of occasions within his short stories. Below is the longest ‘quote’ from Lovecrafts Necronomicon:
“Nor is it to be thought that man is either the oldest or the last of earth’s masters, or that the common bulk of life and substances walks alone. The Old Ones were, the Old Ones are, and the Old Ones shall be. They walk serene and primal, undimensioned and to us unseen. Yog-Sothoth knows the gate. Yog-Sothoth is the gate.
Yog-Sothoth is the key and guardian of the gate. Past, present, future, all are one in Yog-Sothoth. He knows where the Old Ones broke through of old, and where They shall break through again. He knows where They have trod earth’s fields, and where They
still tread them, and why no one can behold Them as They tread. By Their smell can men sometimes know them near, but of Their semblance can no man know, saving only in the features of those They have begotten on mankind; and of those are there many sorts, differing in likeness from man’s truest eidolon to that shape without sight or substance which is Them. They walk unseen and foul in lonely places where the Words have been spoken and the Rites howled through at their Seasons. The wind gibbers with Their voices, and the earth mutters with Their consciousness. They bend the forest and crush the city, yet may not forest or city behold the hand that smites. Kadath in the cold waste hath known Them, and what man knows Kadath? The ice desert of the South and the sunken isles of Ocean hold stones where Their seal is engraven, but who hath seen the deep frozen city or the sealed tower long garlanded with seaweed and barnacles? Great C’thulhu is Their cousin, yet can he spy Them only dimly.
Iä! Shub-Niggurath! As foulness shall ye know Them. Their hand is at your throats, yet ye see Them not; and Their habitation is even one with your guarded threshold. Yog-Sothoth is the key to the gate, whereby the spheres meet. Man rules now where They ruled once; They shall soon rule where man rules now. After summer is winter, and after winter summer. They wait patientand potent, for here shall They reign again.”
The best known quote and my personal favorite is:
"That is not dead which can eternal lie,
And with strange aeons even death may die."
The “Necronomicon” was an invention of Lovecraft. It never existed except in his stories. Despite many publishers, websites, and impersonators there is no real Necronomicon. This fact, however, doesn’t stop the claims of its existence in real life! Lovecraft himself readily admitted it’s a construct of his imagination and happily encouraged other writers to expand upon its mythology – along with other characters and places he had created. When asked in written correspondence about the books authenticity, Lovecraft responded with a small “History of the Necronomicon” short story – which some have taken as a genuine record of the infamously evil book! The book (in some form) has found its way into movies (Evil Dead series, Jason Goes to Hell, Necronomicon, and The Dunwich Horror), TV series and just about every kind of media that exists.
IT’S NOT ALL ABOUT UNPRONOUNCABLE NAMES
One thing about Lovecrafts writings is that he had a mastery of the English language, but that didn’t stop him! In his Mythos, as you have just read in the preceding paragraphs, there are some pretty strange and almost unpronounceable names & words in many of his imaginings. As a matter of fact, there has been many debates about how the hell do you say “C’thulhu”?!
Well, luckily you have me here to try and provide you with a primer on how to pronounce such unpronounceable words from the Lovecraft Mythos. Below is a simple phonetic pronunciation/description guide to a few of the recurring words. As always, these are my opinions as to their pronunciation – the debate will rage on.
“C’thulhu” : (Kuh-thool-hoo) One of the chief “Old Ones”.
“Iä!” : (ee-ya) Elder language exclamation word of some kind.
“Fhtagen” (fot-tog-in) An Elder language for the word “dreaming”.
“Shoggoth” : (shog-goth) An ancient shape shifting blob-thing.
“Y’ha-nthlei” : (ya-hant-tha-lay) A city of the “Old Ones”.
“R’lyeh” : (re-lie) Sunken stone city, tomb of C’thulhu.
“Shub-Niggurath” : (Sh-ub-nig-your-ath) referred to as "the Black Goat in the Woods with
a thousand young". Gross, huh?
“Azathoth": (Az-zat-hoth)- Very ancient "Elder God";Other names: "Nuclear Chaos"; "Daemon Sultan"; "Blind Idiot God"
Children: Nyarlahotep (son)
Nameless Mist (offspring)
Relatives: Yog-Sothoth (grandson)
Shub-Niggurath (grand daughter)
Wilbur Whately (great-grandson; product of human/Old Ones)
“Yog-Shothoth” : (yog-sha-thoth) An “Old One”, featured in "The Dunwich Horror".
“Umr At-Tawil” : (umm-are-at-tah-will) “Old One”, Guardian of the Gate.
MY FAVORITE LOVECRAFT STORIES
“The Call of Cthulhu” (1926)
An incredible tale of how the cosmic truth was pieced together by a man and his encounter with the abhorrent creature called C’thulhu. Sunken, ancient cities rising up in the Pacific, inbred cultists in the Louisiana swamps and a glimpse into Hell.
“The Whisperer in Darkness” (1930)
Indescribable creatures, monsters, and an investigation into the strange speech machine that leads the narrator down the path to chaos & madness.
“The Shadow Over Innsmouth” (1931)
This is a tale of a seaside town with an ancient & terrible secret. It’s a place where people are changing into something else, something that can live underwater with the “Deep Ones”.
“The Dreams in the Witch-House” (1932)
Ancient witchcraft brings time & space together for an boarder in a house. Space/time
“Herbert West-Reanimator” (1921)
A scientist creates a serum that can bring life back to the dead or is it something else? Grave robbing, science & zombies- what’s not to love? Yes, zombies, as it has been shown that if this story is not the first, its one of the first stories regarding zombies as reanimated corpses.
“The Lurking Fear” (1922)
Inbred cannibals living under an old mansion are discovered on Tempest Mountain. One guy gets his face chewed off…how’s that for 1922?!
“The Unnameable” (1923)
Two friends, sitting in a graveyard, are attacked by an indescribable horrific creature. Creepy, man, Why sit in a cemetery talking about monsters and not expect to get it?!
“Cool Air” (1926)
A shut-in renter discovers that pure will can sustain you after bodily death…all you need is a little cold air to keep you fresh. What happens when the fridge goes out?
“At the Mountains of Madness” (1931)
An expedition from Miskatonic finds more than they bargained for in Antarctica!
“From Beyond” (1934)
A scientist creates a “resonator” device that penetrates the mind and allows all within its sphere of influence to see & interact in another chaotic dimension, with disasterous results!
“The Statement of Randolph Carter” (1919)
Poor Carter, he appears in a lot of Lovecrafts stories and is always being subjected to unimaginable horrors.
“Pickmans Model” (1926)
A painter whose strange images seem so disturbing, they might be too real!
In all honesty, there’s not one single story that he’s written that I have not enjoyed. His writing style, even for its day, is unique and the subject matter is as fantastic as his descriptions of it! I would suggest reading Lovecraft to anyone interested in the horror/fantasy genres.
I was enthralled with Lovecrafts work upon my first exposure to it in 1984 and its been a great journey discovering more about him as I grow older. My understanding and comprehension of his work has increased as I've gotten older as well.
It is my sincere hope that a new, younger generation of readers, movie-makers, artisans of any kind will carry his work into the future to be preserved.
The button below will take you to the H.P. Lovecraft Archive, an invaluable resource regarding HPL; his writings, life, correspondences, a bestiary, etc. I highly recommend you to explore HPL!!