presents... Interesting Motherfucker: (noun)
An individual exhibiting such uniqueness or individuality that he or she will cause a roomful of bar cronies to exclaim, "That's one interesting motherfucker!" Actual sexual relations with one's mother are not required.

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H.P. Lovecraft

By Wil Forbis

For close to a decade, every time October and its Halloween festivities have rolled around, I've thought to myself, "Now! Now is the perfect time for an H.P. Lovecraft Interesting Motherfucker!" But each time I looked to the Lords of the trans-dimensional dreamscapes for scholarly inspiration I came up empty. I simply could not find the right spark, the right creative impetus to author an essay about a man who might well be the preeminent horror writer of the 20th century. And thus the Lovecraft legacy was denied what could be its brightest beacon: the official acid logic seal of approval.

But this Halloween is different. As the millions of people who dutifully follow my writings are aware, I've spent much of the past year studying the disciplines of psychology and neuroscience, particularly as they relate to human perception. And I've realized that many of the themes I stumble upon over and over in such reading --- the fundamental limitations of our ability to perceive the components of our universe, the realization that we will never know everything --- are the themes of Lovecraft. Lovecraft's writing is rich with instances of fearsome entities of indescribable appearance --- the ghostly creatures from "The Colour Out Of Space," for example. The stories in his Cthulhu Mythos speak of great demon gods who exist outside the boundaries of human senses and have the ability to madden or destroy humanity. Lovecraft's numerous stories about characters damned by their genetics tap into a primal fear of forms of evil which exist only on the microscopic level of cells and DNA. In the same way that Freud postulated theories about the unseeable, unknowable human consciousness, in the same manner that the physicists and chemists of Lovecraft's day sought to define the laws of nature, Lovecraft's fiction sought to provide some definition of things that could not be explained.

But perhaps I'm getting ahead of myself. There may be a few uneducated peons among you who are unaware of who Lovecraft was. That is certainly a shame, for the story of Lovecraft's life is almost as twisted and disturbing as his strange tales.

Young Howard Phillips Lovecraft was born in 1890 in Providence, Rhode Island. (The Northeast with its foggy vistas and proximity to the fishing industry would be a frequent fixture in his fiction.) When Lovecraft was three, his father, a traveling salesman, went insane and was institutionalized for the rest of his life. The cause of the mental break is now largely understood to be syphilis.

The child Lovecraft's difficulties did not end there. In his teens, the surviving Lovecraft family, now accompanied by two aunts, fell into poverty and were forced to leave the lodgings of their noble family home. Lovecraft himself had a nervous breakdown as a teenager and never received a high school diploma. For the years of his late teens to early 20s he had little contact with anyone other than his mother (always a recipe for sound mind and stature!) He was buried in the art of writing, primarily poetry and critical essays, but ultimately working up to the genre of "weird fiction." As he neared 30, he began to get published in the pulp periodicals of the day.

However, in 1919, Lovecraft's mother was also committed to a mental hospital and died two years later. Deprived of his mother's affections, Lovecraft did what any neurotic mama's boy would do -- he married an older woman. The pair moved to New York, but were soon struggling financially and eventually separated. H.P. moved back to Providence and continued writing until his early death from a variety of ailments in 1937.

Over the course of his career, Lovecraft produced quite a volume of material. Like Arthur Conan Doyle, H.P. worked primarily in the short story vein, but produced some longer works (his Antarctic tale, "At the Mountains of Madness" stands as a good example) as well as reams of personal correspondences with other writers which have recently drawn much interest. While many of his tales were not even published in his lifetime, his ouvre has had an undeniable influence on horror writing from the 1940s to modern day. Stephen King, Clive Barker, and Joyce Carol Oates have all nodded towards his influence. Additionally, many of his works have been translated to film, primarily via the interest of director Stuart Gordon. And, even today, Lovecraft's work is still published. A visit to the horror section of any modern bookstore is sure to turn up recent releases of his material.


Before taking a look at some of Lovecraft's stories, we should get one thing out of the way: his writing was... uh, verbose, to say the least. In particular, his use of adjectives (often adjectives he himself invented) made his text seem bulky and overloaded. Take, for example, this sample from "The Lurking Fear" (referenced in this Salon article.):

Shrieking, slithering, torrential shadows of red viscous madness chasing one another through endless, ensanguined corridors of purple fulgurous sky … formless phantasms and kaleidoscopic mutations of a ghoulish, remembered scenes; forests of monstrous overnourished oaks with serpent roots twisting and sucking unnamable juices from an earth verminous with millions of cannibal devils; mound-like tentacles groping from underground nuclei of polypous perversion … insane lightning over malignant ivied walls and daemon arcades choked with fungous vegetation …

That's probably enough to turn off a lot of readers curious about his work; indeed, it did me some 20 years ago when I made an initial foray. I've always considered Lovecraft's language something you have to get past in order to arrive at some genuinely creepy stories containing twists and turns that have become part of the horror lexicon since being first fertilized by his pen.

Such as...? For me, "The Color Out Of Space," is always worth a mention. A strange asteroid lands on a stretch of northeastern farmland. Before the eyes of observers the asteroid melts away into... something... an amorphous fog of light that can only be described as an analogue of color (right away we're getting into H.P.'s recurring theme of elements beyond the limits of human perception.) Initially, the color seems to promote a boon of crops. But it is soon realized that the strange force is mutating plants, then animals, and ultimately the human family who live on the land. (If this sounds familiar, it might be because the story was clearly the impetus for the segment of the movie "Creepshow" in which the film's screenwriter, Stephen King, plays a farming hillbilly who is similarly corrupted by a falling meteorite.)

"The Shadow over Innsmouth" is one of Lovecraft's longer pieces and also among his best. A young man travels to a strange coastal town in Massachusetts. There, he realizes that the town's inhabitants are, as your grandmother might say, "not quite right." When our hero is forced to spend the night in Innsmouth, he discovers that the townspeople are the offspring of both the human denizens of the area and strange aquatic fish people. As might be suspected, the fish mutants are up to no good, but the narrator escapes with his life. As the years go by, he comes to realize that he has more than just a passing connection to the town, and that the terrifying connection is literally found in his bloodline! (Much of the plot to "the Shadow over Innsmouth" was utilized in the Stuart Gordon directed film "Dagon.")

"The Dunwich Horror" (made into a film of the same name) is classic Lovecraft, and it features a recurring villain of his: a horrible, often gigantic beast, contained somewhere in the dank recesses of a mansion or beneath the earth. It also ties into what are referred to as the "Cthulhu mythos" --- a series of tales (later expanded by other authors) revolving around the existence of a collection of horrifying nonhuman entities whose presence is often beyond human detection. In the story, a strange, beastly and deformed young man and his grandfather tend to... something... in the depths of their house. After both characters leave the mortal plane, the creature escapes and wrecks havoc. The horror is only intensified when the local townspeople realize exactly what the creature is!

What is likely Lovecraft's ultimate work --- certainly the piece that cemented his reputation in pop culture --- is the novella "The Call of Cthulhu." Written in 1926, the story follows a strange narrative form, gluing together various reports from across the globe and recent history. First we hear of a figurine of a hideous octopus headed creature sculpted by an artist with tormented dreams. We discover that during the same period the sculptor was beset by nightmares, there was an increase in maniacal and hysterical behavior throughout the world. From there, we learn of reports from the recent past, in which authorities in New Orleans and Greenland stumbled across demonic cults engaged in ritualized worship of a strange creature called Cthulhu. Cthulhu's worshipers claim that the monster/God is ancient beyond years and lies sleeping beneath the sea, waiting for time to again walk the earth. From there, we learn of a sailing ship which comes across a strange island --- a risen city --- described as, "abnormal, non-Euclidian, and loathsomely redolent of spheres and dimensions apart from ours." Is this the city of R'lyeh, the home of the now awakened Cthulhu?

You'll have to read the story find out.

If you're the quick thinking intellect that I know most acid logic readers are, you're doubtless seeing some recurring themes here. Lovecraft was focused on the idea of man's obsolescence, the notion that man was damned to be merely a passive observer of the machinations of the universe. For the most part, humans don't really fight the evil in Lovecraft stories, they merely do their best to avoid it (and usually that's not even enough.) More than a few Lovecraft tales end with the protagonist resigning himself to personal defeat, and the likely doom of the human race as a whole.

What spurred this pessimistic view? Lovecraft was a writer of his era -- the 20 century. The science of his day was making clear that the universe was both infinitely bigger and microscopically smaller than had been heretofore considered. It was an era of discovery that drastically called into question man's importance in the grand scheme of things. Indeed, it questioned man's ability to even understand the universe around him. There were atomic structures too small to be seen by the human eye, sounds beyond the detection of human ears. There were invisible forces --- electricity, magnetism, radiation --- that could only be detected by specialized tools. Lovecraft asked the question, "what if there are things out there that we cannot see and THEY'RE REALLY REALLY HORRIBLE?" He postulated the existence of realities connected to, but separate from our own, populated with creatures who could affect our fates on a whim --- creatures entirely indifferent to our laughable notions of mercy and morality. He conceived of C'thulhu, the dark God whose name could barely be understood by human ears, whose physical presence would overwhelm human eyes. Lovecraft's stories spoke of the limits of the human sensory experience. But he argued that these limits were a good thing --- they prevented us from seeing how terrifying the universe(s) we live in really is. He stated...

The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far. The sciences, each straining in its own direction, have hitherto harmed us little; but some day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the light into the peace and safety of a new dark age.

A new dark age. That's some heavy shit.


Go here for another acid logic Lovecraft article: Dark Truths: Science in the Era of H.P. Lovecraft

Wil Forbis writes many strange and amusing things for a variety of top secret organizations like Entertainment Weekly.

View Wil's Acid Logic web log!

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Additional H.P. Lovecraftstuff:
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