Saturday, August 20, 2011
Of course, many of these ideas predated Lovecraft or were further popularized by his imitators. Indeed, I think it likely that the vast majority of the stories and story elements deemed "Lovecraftian" are nothing of the sort, based as they are on very superficial readings of the Old Gent's writings.This includes the Call of Cthulhu RPG, which, while a very fine game and one of my favorites, nevertheless owes an equal debt to August Derleth as it does to H.P. Lovecraft (not that there's anything wrong with that).
I'm sure some of this superficiality stems from the intellectual laziness to which we all are prone, but I think most of it has its origin in the difficulty in really coming to grips with the philosophy and worldview that underlie Lovecraft's stories. HPL is sometimes called a "nihilist" or a "pessimist," but I don't think either label is an accurate one. The alien entities Lovecraft describes are not malevolent. They may engage in activities detrimental to man, but it is not through any ill will toward him, or at least no more ill will than when man inadvertently destroys a nest of ants when building a skyscraper. Lovecraft takes no pleasure in this reality; he does not celebrate it. He is completely indifferent to it, presenting it simply as a brute fact, albeit one with far reaching implications for man's self-image.
That most of us should recoil from this fact is not surprising, as it runs counter to long-held beliefs about the place of man in the cosmos. That's why, I think, so few of the works called "Lovecraftian" nowadays really deserve the sobriquet. I can count on one hand the number of books, movies, or RPGs that really embrace a Lovecraftian worldview and, even then, that worldview is often tempered with an instinctive hope for human transcendence that, to HPL, is utterly unwarranted. It's little wonder, then, that pop culture has chosen to defang Lovecraft, reducing his conceptions to catch phrases and nerd totems rather than grappling with the worrisome possibility that he just may be right.
Speaking as someone who does not think Lovecaft is right, I nevertheless wish that more effort was made, in books, movies, and games that lay claim to his legacy, to address the questions that he raises. That's my 121st birthday wish for him: that Lovecraft might be understood on his own terms rather than through lenses and categories alien to him. It's a tall order, especially given the vapidity of the term "Lovecraftian" these days, but I think it's a worthwhile endeavor nonetheless and a fine way to honor one of the forefathers of this hobby we all share.