Friday, August 20, 2021

"Thou are not gone ..."

It had long been my practice here to commemorate the births of writers whose work has been influential on both myself and the hobby of roleplaying more generally. When I returned to Grognardia last year, I failed to do this, largely due to the forgetfulness of middle age (and simply being out of the practice of regular blogging). This being the 131st anniversary of the birth of Howard Philips Lovecraft, it seemed appropriate to re-dedicate myself to this tradition today.

There are a couple of reasons why I chose to do so. First, and most obviously, it was simply convenient. Lovecraft's birthday just happened to be at hand and so it made sense to take advantage of it. Second, and more importantly, Lovecraft's influence looms large in the hobby, so large in fact that many don't even realize the creative debt they owe to the "Old Gent." In my estimation, Lovecraft is just as important as J.R.R. Tolkien when it comes to his contributions to the cauldron of concepts out of which contemporary fantasy arose. 

Without HPL, there'd be no (or at least fewer) tentacled monstrosities from beyond space time or blasphemous tomes containing truths Man was not meant to know to cite just two rather superficial examples of ideas he either created or popularized. More significant, I think, are his themes, such as the insignificance of mankind, the vastness of the uncaring universe, and the double edged sword of scientific knowledge, most of which have infiltrated our popular culture to the point where few give them much thought anymore. All of us in this hobby are Lovecraft's intellectual descendants to one degree or another, no matter how much we might deny it.

Though today is the anniversary of Lovecraft's birth, I nevertheless find myself on this occasion thinking instead of Clark Ashton Smith's elegy "To Howard Phillips Lovecraft," written just thirteen days after HPL's death in 1937. While I find the whole poem quite poignant, I have always been particularly moved by several lines toward the end that grasp at something similar to the overall point of this post.

Lo! in this little interim of days
How far thy feet are sped
Upon the fabulous and mooted ways
Where walk the mythic dead!
For us the grief, for us the mystery. . . .
And yet thou art not gone
Nor given wholly unto dream and dust:
For, even upon
This lonely western hill of Averoigne
Thy flesh had never visited,
I meet some wise and sentient wraith of thee,
Some undeparting presence, gracious and august.
More luminous for thee the vernal grass,
More magically dark the Druid stone,
And in the mind thou art forever shown
As in a magic glass;
And from the spirit's page thy runes can never pass.


  1. I intensely dislike the modern trend of criticizing HPL (who was undeniably suffering from a variety of mental health issues that went undiagnosed and untreated for his entire life) for his personal failings as though he were a resident of the 21st century. Nice to see someone recognizing the very real importance of his literary contributions.

    So, we are getting a post next week to celebrate Jack Vance's birth as well? August 28, 1916 - would have been 105 if he was still with us.

    1. Re: Lovecraft

      I could not agree more. What you wrote here is close to my own opinion on the matter.

      And, yes, I do plan to commemorate Jack Vance next week.

    2. The way I see it, "Lovecraft was a very flawed person, albeit in ways that weren't unusual for his time and place" and "Lovecraft was a brilliant writer who left the literary world far richer for his presence in it, and his work has absolutely earned every word of its praise" are two thoughts that are capable of coexisting.

  2. Happy Birthday HPL!
    Definitely a big influence on my own tastes in horror and fantasy.
    Eternal thanks to my middle school English teacher, Mr. Windham, who recommended him to me.

  3. I don't believe I've ever seen that poem by CAS; I'll have to look up the complete version. Thank you, and Happy Birthday, HPL!