One of the greatest writers of weird fiction, some would the greatest, was born on August 20th, 1890. I am, of course, talking about H. P. Lovecraft. It’s also my mother-in-law’s birthday (Hi, June.), but we won’t go there. It’s just coincidence.
There will be a number of tributes posted today. I’m going to take a slightly different approach here. I first encountered Lovecraft in an anthology I read in the seventh grade. The story was “The Doom That Came to Sarnath.”* I never really took an interest in the Mythos stories in my teens and twenties. Only in my thirties and forties did I start delving into the stories Lovecraft is most known for.
I’ve had conversations with more than one person in which they said as they’ve grown older, they find Lovecraft more and more unreadable. In general, they are talking about his prose.
Curiously, I find the opposite. Maybe I’m reading different stories. There are a number of major stories I haven’t read yet, but I don’t have a problem with Lovecraft’s prose most of the time. It’s an old fashioned style, much more lush that what is standard today. Maybe I read too much Dickens in school or something, but I don’t have a huge problem with it. I appreciate his work more with each new story of his I read.
There seems to be two trends in both the sf field and literature in general. One is that an author had views on something that some people today find offensive. Or was just a white straight male. Therefore that author is bad.
The second is “the writing style is more complex than the
coloring books contemporary writing styles I’m used to. Therefore, since I have to work to read this author, they aren’t worth reading.” In my observation, the people making these kinds of statements tend to be pretty young and usually ignorant of anything of a cultural or historical nature that predates the year they turned ten.
I find both of these approaches, which have been applied to Lovecraft, to be flawed. For the first, an author’s work should be judged in the context of the time and culture in which it was written. Just because you find something objectionable in a work doesn’t mean the work is entirely without merit. And while I agree that reading for pleasure should first and foremost be fun, there is something to be gained by putting in some effort to read something from an earlier period. The threshold at which it’s not worth going on and you should put the book down is a subjective one, of course. But you shouldn’t not read something just because it will require you to concentrate.
For myself, I appreciate the construction of many of Lovecraft’s sentences. Maybe this is because I had exacting English teachers in school who did a fantastic job. (Our test on Hamlet was three days long in high school senior English. Hamlet in sophomore lit at college was breeze compared to high school.) Anyway, I realize that not everyone does appreciate Lovecraft’s prose. But for me that’s been one of the attractions to reading him.
I read “The Music of Eric Zann” last week. Quite enjoyed it. I’ll read another selection (“The Lurking Fear” maybe?) sometime this evening, probably after everyone else has gone to bed, and lift my glass in memory of The Gentleman From Providence.
*There was a second story I read about this time that I think was by Lovecraft, but I’ve not come across it again and don’t recall the title. The author may very well have been someone else. It was about a man living alone in house with no memory of his upbringing. He spends a great deal of time with books and knows what people look like in general. There’s no mirror in the house, so he’s never seen his image. One day he climbs the stairs in a tower in a part of the house he’s never visited and emerges from a hole at the base of a tree. (This is image that has caused the story to stick in my mind all these years.) Seeing lights in the distance, he discovers a party. Delighted at finding other people, he enters the house. Everyone flees in horror, screaming about a monster. He joins them in their flight, only to pass a mirror and realize he’s the monster. If anyone recognizes this story, please let me know the title and author if Lovecraft didn’t write it.