Saturday, August 21, 2010

Lovecraftian Inspirations

There's a lot one could say on the occasion of the 120th anniversary of the birth of Howard Phillips Lovecraft, but the difficulty comes in finding something to say that others -- or oneself -- haven't already said on similar occasions in the past. In some sense, that's a testament to the huge debt we all owe the Old Gent: almost anything we say about him has already been said many times before, probably more eloquently and more originally than anything we can possibly say ourselves.

And yet I don't think that should stop us from making the effort, no matter how tritely or banally we might do so. I'm a firm believer in honoring the achievements of one's forebears, particularly those forebears on whom one's present efforts depend heavily. That's clearly the case with H.P. Lovecraft, without whose writings, I am quite convinced, this hobby we enjoy would be very different, not least of all because, like us, he inspired others to follow in his footsteps -- to take up pens or sit at typewriters (or computers) and give free rein to their imaginations. Among those writers who count HPL as an important influence is Fritz Leiber, whose Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser began their existence in a story ("The Adept's Gambit"), an early version of which Lovecraft himself read and critiqued. Imagine how just this little hobby of ours might have changed if Leiber had never taken up writing or had never created the Twain?

Ultimately, I think this is Lovecraft's greatest contribution to posterity -- his inspiration to others. Whatever his other virtues, HPL was a great friend, colleague, and mentor to his fellow writers, a trait he first developed during his days as an amateur journalist, where he made the acquaintance of many people who would become his lifelong comrades and where he found his Muse as a writer of weird fiction. It's in his tireless support and encouragement of others to create, as he did, that I find Lovecraft at his most admirable and it's here that I most hope to emulate him.

In remembering Lovecraft's time as an amateur journalist, I was reminded of an address he gave in 1921, entitled "What Amateurdom and I Have Done for Each Other," in which he discusses his joining the United Amateur Press Association and his activities since. I'm reminded of it, because HPL closes with a couple of paragraphs that, except for their specific details, could just as easily apply to my own feelings about my involvement in the online old school community. He wrote:
What Amateur Journalism has brought me is a circle of persons among whom I am not altogether alien -- persons who possess scholastic leanings, yet who are not as a body so arrogant with achievement that a struggler is frowned upon. In daily life one meets few of these -- one's accidental friends are either frankly unliterary or hopelessly "arrived" and academic. The more completely one is absorbed in his aspirations, the more one needs a circle of intellectual kin; so that amateurdom has an unique and perpetual function to fulfill. Today, whatever genuine friends I have are amateur journalists, sympathetic scholars, and writers I should never have known but for the United Amateur Press Association. They alone have furnished me with the incentive to explore broader and newer fields of thought, to ascertain what particular labours are best suited to me, and to give to my writings the care and finish demanded of all work destined for perusal by others than the author.

After all, these remarks form a confession rather than a statement, for they are the record of a most unequal exchange whereby I am the gainer. What I have given Amateur Journalism is regrettably little; what Amateur Journalism has given me is -- life itself.
I know exactly how Lovecraft felt, even if, in retrospect, it's clear that HPL gave to the world even more than he took from it. As a recipient of his inspirational largess, I can only say, "Thank you, Mr Lovecraft. For everything."

15 comments:

  1. Great 120th Birthday Presents to/from H. P. Lovecraft!

    Happy 120th. Birthday H.P.L.!

    Freebies released in celebration of H. P. Lovecraft's 120th. birthday on 20-August-2010, and to stir up excitement for the possible making of the Universal Studios 3D version of "At the Mountains of Madness" by Guillermo del Toro and James Cameron; and as a celebration by Will Hart of the 20th. anniversary of his being at Lovecraft's grave-side on his 100th. birthday.

    Released during the last few hours in MP3 Format on:
    http://cthulhuwho1.com
    (The audio companion to the CthulhuWho1 Flickr collections.)

    "Fungi from Yuggoth"
    H. P. Lovecraft's complete 36 sonnet set; in an all-new recording by William (Will) Hart; in single file, and multiple file versions. A dark poetry reading if there ever was one...

    "What If H. P. Lovecraft Had Lived Into The 1960's?"
    A 163 minute panel recording in six parts, of Professor Dirk W. Mosig, Professor Donald R. Burleson, J. Vernon Shea, Fritz Leiber, Jr., and S.T. Joshi at the 36th World Science Fiction Convention in Phoenix in 1978. A must-have for Lovecraftians!

    Plus, behind the scenes recordings including a live reading by Don Burleson of his darkly funny, "The Last Supper."

    And more audio goodies too!


    And there are now over 1200 Lovecraft, Cthulhu, and Providence related images for the taking at the CthulhuWho1 Flickr page at:
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/cthulhuwho1/collections/
    (The image companion site to the http://cthulhuwho1.com audio site.)


    All of the above items (and more to come) were created in honor of H. P. Lovecraft; but since he’s not here with us, it’s up to you, and everyone you can share them with to enjoy them!

    Will Hart
    aka CthulhuWho1
    aka California Cthulhu
    willhart-at-roadrunner-dot-com

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  2. "Whatever his other virtues, HPL was a great friend, colleague, and mentor to his fellow writers"

    Very true. I can savage him as a writer all day, as he's pretty much dreadful without any reservation in my book, but this definitely is so.

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  3. > I know exactly how Lovecraft felt, even if, in retrospect, it's clear that HPL gave to the world even more than he took from it.

    A fair enough observation, but were it not for private collectors and fans, HPL's writings might still be obscure works in ancient APAs and scattered letters that would more likely than not have been burnt.

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  4. A wonderful quote, and one I have never read. Where does this text appear?

    Substitute "Hobbyist Gaming" for "Amateur Journalist" and it takes on an apt parallel or analogy.

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  5. > A wonderful quote, and one I have never read. Where does this text appear?

    => http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lovecraft:_a_Biography

    > Substitute "Hobbyist Gaming" for "Amateur Journalist" and it takes on an apt parallel or analogy.

    "Amateur Journalist" is a rather quaint term (APAs didn't have to claim to be different from fanzines back then /jk/) that requires a degree of semantic shifting to bring it into more modern contexts, anyhow. :)

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  6. @ Will: Thank you for those links. "The Fungi from Yuggoth" alone makes my day.

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  7. @ irbyz - Hobbyist Gaming is a quaint term encompassing anything from a new Risk map up to a fantasy heartbreaker ; )

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  8. @B. Portly Esq. - True enough; good to be keeping up HPL's tradition, telling tales of cosmic horror and unearthly rites practiced in such quaint settings. First dibs on the Risk variant... ;)

    @James - it would be interesting conjecture HPL's thoughts on the professional focus which has been given to only a tiny section of his beloved assemblage of amateurs. Perhaps it's better for writers and fans to leave posterity to its own devices?

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  9. @ ibyz - I have no idea what you are talking about, do you?

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  10. @ B. Portly Esq. - of course, I do. Please ask more politely if you feel you must.

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  11. I know exactly how Lovecraft felt, even if, in retrospect, it's clear that HPL gave to the world even more than he took from it.

    The world really didn't give him a lot. While rereading The Shadow Over Innsmouth as a "mature" reader, the most horrific passage in the novella was the narrator's description of a "frugal lunch" composed of cheese crackers and ginger wafers. Just thinking of the borderline poverty that he lived in for much of his life scares me more than any tentacled beastie ever could.

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  12. @Scallop Skulled Skald - Pretty bad times for many people and not so easy to imagine on a day-to-day basis in most of our comfortable "Western" countries nowadays, I guess.

    However, there is also truth in the likes of http://www.wired.com/table_of_malcontents/2007/02/the_mysterious_/ ;
    <<
    In the last year or so of their marriage, Greene lived on the road, traveling for her job. She sent Lovecraft a weekly allowance that helped him pay for a tiny flat in the then-working class Brooklyn Heights. Greene slept there one or two days out of the month. During this time, Lovecraft claimed in letters that he was so poor that he lived for three days on one loaf of bread, one can of cold beans, and a hunk of cheese. But he never managed to get a job. He was essentially a house husband who occasionally sold a short story to Weird Tales.
    >>

    Difficult to set aside reputation (especially posthumous reputation) to get a picture of day-to-day reality at such a remove?

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  13. @ibyz - I posted my original reply to point out that HPL's quote has a conviction not unlike the many enthusiastic "amateurs" bring to gaming.
    Politeness aside, I'm sorry if your utterly incoherent and obviously rum-soaked mind can't grasp this. (That's an ad hominem attack, look that up on Wikipedia).
    Good day sir!

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  14. > Politeness aside, I'm sorry if your utterly incoherent and obviously rum-soaked mind can't grasp this. (That's an ad hominem attack, look that up on Wikipedia).

    "I have no idea what you are talking about, do you?" was already an ad hominem attack, if you wish to call it that. And no, I don't need to look it up on Wikipedia.
    And a good day to you, too. :)

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  15. Even the masters of satire at The Onion have posted a tribute to HPL:
    Mysterious Crate Arrives From London

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