H.P. LOVECRAFT: MADNESS RIDESTHE STAR-WINDBy Leigh Blackmore
"This is the hour when moonstruck poets know What fungi sprout in Yuggoth, and what scents And tints of flowers fill Nithon's continents,Such as in no earthly garden blow.Yet for each dream these winds to us convey, A dozen or more of ours they sweep away!"
These lines from one of the sonnets in Lovecraft's famed sequence FUNGI FROM YUGGOTH aretypical of Lovecraft's lifelong passion for peering into the unknown and capturing with his pen theessence of horrors undreamed of by most men. But who was this dreamer from Providence, oftenreferred to as 'his own most fantastic creation'?Howard Phillips Lovecraft was born in 1890 in Providence, Rhode Island and was a precocious child whoquickly absorbed most of the learning in his grandfather's library. He read by the age of 4, composedHomeric epics at 7, and became deeply erudite in a diversity of intellectual and aesthetic disciplinesbefore he was out of his teens. A complex character, he is noted for his Anglophilia, his aversion toextreme of cold, his fondness for ice-cream and cheese, and a multiplicity of other somewhat 'eccentric'habits and mannerisms. His health was always bad, and as a reclusive, deep-thinking and naturally'bookish' type, he has often been labelled 'neurotic'. Who else would stay awake all night to avoiddisturbing a cat which had fallen asleep on his knee, or prowl the streets once walked by Poe as hesearched for fictional inspiration during the dark hours, only to work all day in his study with the shadesdrawn? That Lovecraft was a unique and fascinating character there is no doubt, but he was not neurotic.He was a highly individual philosophic thinker, and a prolific epistolarian - he wrote more letters thananyone else in the history of world literature - and the evidence of his letters alone is enough to show ushow well aware he was of his own faults, and how mentally keen he remained during his short life. Whoelse but Lovecraft, indeed, would minutely detail the course of his illness as he lay on his deathbed?His early literary career included an involvement as writer and editor for the two largest amateur pressassociations in the USA, and much of his non-fiction output stems from this period. He also wrote muchpoetry, and a considerable group of stories influenced by his literary idol, Lord Dunsany. However, themain basis for his fame today rests with the relatively small output of fiction commonly known as the talesof the 'Cthulhu Mythos', although this term has not much practical application. S.T. Joshi in his recentstudy of Lovecraft for Starmont House divides them into the 'New England' tales and the 'LovecraftMythos' tales. Labels aside, these tales may be numbered among the finest horror stories in the Englishlanguage.They include "The Colour Out of Space", about an extraterrestrial life-form which brings corruption anddeath to a lonely New England farmhouse; "The Rats in the Walls", a grim tale of ancestral degeneracy;"The Outsider", a Poe-esque piece resonant with psychological darkness; "The Shadow Out of Time",about an aeon-old prehuman race and its contacts with Earth; and many others. The centralpreoccupation of these tales is the idea that monstrous, alien forces are lurking at the perimeters of man's world - forces which are constantly threatening to engulf him and his puny civilisation, whether theybe subterrene ("The Lurking Fear", "Pickman's Model"), sub-oceanic ("The Shadow Over Innsmouth","The Call of Cthulhu") or extraterrestrial ("The Haunter of the Dark", "The Dunwich Horror"). Lovecraftinvented a gallery of beings inimical to man - Cthulhu, Nyarlathotep, Yog-Sothoth and others - and a hostof blasphemous, forbidden tomes with which men seek to either conjure up or ward off these beings. Soconvincingly did he create these, and the mythical milieu of Arkham, Innsmouth, Dunwich, Kingsport andMiskatonic University within which many of the tales are set, that readers have often been fooled intothinking them real. There are many, for instance, who have sought Lovecraft's mythical tome THE