Wednesday, August 20, 2008
On this day in 1890, Howard Phillips Lovecraft was born in Providence, Rhode Island. Perhaps the finest practitioner of the "weird tale" ever to have put word to the page, his influence on the subsequent development of horror, fantasy, and science fiction is incalculable. Even during his lifetime, Lovecraft's ideas were widely disseminated, as his colleagues in the pulps borrowed and expanded upon his imaginary mythology. After his death, thanks to his many admirers and imitators, his ideas were disseminated wider still and are now part of the common pool from which numerous genres draw inspiration. This, of course, includes roleplaying games, including not just the explicitly Lovecraftian Call of Cthulhu, but also Dungeons & Dragons and many others. Had "Grandpa Theobald" (as he sometimes whimsically styled himself in letters) never lived, the course of several genres of literature, not to mention the popular media they spawned, would be very different indeed.
As I noted in a previous post, Lovecraft has been a powerful influence on my conception of horror and fantasy. Most of my D&D campaigns include Lovecraftian elements and, while Lovecraft's worldview is about as contrary to my own as any, I still find something powerful in his writing that speaks to me on many levels. Like him, I have strong antiquarian tastes and I recoil at many aspects of the modern age. I also can't help but feel an aversion to the popularization of Lovecraft and the Cthulhu Mythos. When you can buy stuffed versions of the Great Old One in a Santa hat, I hope I can be forgiven for feeling that H.P. wouldn't have been pleased at how his work has been treated. I understand that this is all evidence of many people's affection for Lovecraft and his stories. After all, there'd be no stuffed Cthulhus at all if people didn't love his work. Still, I'm uncomfortable with the way the Mythos has been reduced to a geekish jest in many quarters. But then I'm inclined to treat authors and ideas I like with a fair degree of reverence, so maybe I'm constitutionally ill disposed to find it all in good fun.
Of course, even Lovecraft smiled on occasion and so today shall I. I owe the old gent a great deal and it's only fitting I should remember him on the day of his birth. I encourage others to do the same. Chances are that anyone who's reading this blog owes him a lot as well.