Howard Phillips Lovecraft was an odd soul. He was born in 1890 and lived 47 years only to die in sickness and poverty, questioning the merits of his work. In hindsight, Lovecraft is considered one of the masters of the horror genre. During his lifetime, however, he struggled to sell his stories and novellas to Weird Tales.
The first thing you notice when reading Lovecraft is the descriptive quality of his writing. Although it can feel plodding at times, it forces the reader to slow down and enter the terror of the situation. Any page will yield an example of this. Here’s the beginning of The Outsider:
Unhappy is he to whom the memories of childhood bring only fear and sadness. Wretched is he who looks back upon lone hours in vast and dismal chambers with brown hangings and maddening rows of antique books, or upon awed watches in twilight groves of grotesque, gigantic, and vine-encumbered trees that silently wave twisted branches far aloft. (164)
If you are willing to exit the furious pace of modern storytelling to enter Lovecraft’s high-resolution stories, the details will linger in your mind.
Lovecraft’s stories share a common theme: terror at the inconceivably other. He continually relates the mind-shattering terror one feels when one encounters cosmic beings that dwarf the categories of our human minds. For Lovecraft, humans are insignificant in the grand scale of the cosmos.
I can’t help but process Lovecraft’s themes in light of my Christian worldview. He was right—the cosmos is grander than we can possibly understand. A Judeo-Christian reflection on this leads to poetry:
When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars, which you have set in place,
what is man that you are mindful of him,
and the son of man that you care for him? (Psalm 8:3-4 ESV)
Where Lovecraft differs from Christianity is not the scale of cosmic otherness: it’s that for Christians, the Other is invested personally in humanity.
—H. P. Lovecraft, The Complete Fiction (New York: Barnes & Noble, 2008).