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His stories tended to portray entire worlds or supernatural elements that exist outside human society and which humanity is powerless to confront. They were influenced by Bierce and Chambers, as well as Lovecraft’s own occult beliefs.
What is Lovecraft?
Lovecraft is a turn-of-the-20th-century author who was a central figure in the creation of a sprawling, vast horror subgenre that would eventually become known as Weird Fiction. He created an entire mythos based on cosmic entities with names like Cthulhu, the Deep Ones, and the Mi-Go, and his works explore themes of insignificance, futility, and the limits of sanity and understanding.
Lovecraft was a contributor to pulp magazine Weird Tales, and he became incredibly influential within his niche community of genre writers. He was an outspoken racist, and his prejudice is frequently regarded with apologia, disbelief, or merely as a flaw within an otherwise great man.
This debate is particularly pronounced within the overlapping circles of science fiction and fantasy, where stories about white genocide and the idea that there is a master race are commonplace. Nevertheless, Lovecraft’s themes remain relevant for today’s readers, and his writing has had a profound impact on modern culture.
The Cthulhu Mythos
A large part of Lovecraft’s legacy has been the Cthulhu Mythos, a shared fictional universe that contains a myriad of gods, monsters, and alien species. It has inspired countless horror writers and is the basis for a number of role playing games.
The Mythos features a series of cosmic entities that are hostile to humankind, known as the Great Old Ones. The most famous of these is the tentacled deity, Cthulhu, which appears in the story The Call of Cthulhu. Its narrator investigates a clay relief that depicts an octopus, dragon, and human merged together and discovers a lost city with geometrically impossible architecture.
The other members of the Cthulhu Mythos are not generally portrayed as being either good or evil. However, the cult deity Azathoth is considered to be the most powerful and dominant member of the Great Old Ones. His avatar, Nyarlathotep, fulfills Azathoth’s random urges and interacts more with humans on a non-fatal basis than any other Great Old One.
The Weird Fiction genre
The genre of weird fiction is a broad category that reaches across literary traditions. It is a darkly democratic genre, one that eschews fixed tropes and instant archetypal associations in favor of a more inclusive search for the inexplicable. Many of these stories explore the concept of atavism, or a return to a more animalistic state, whether it be in pre-human hominids or modern humans rediscovering their wild animal nature.
This darkly nebulous genre shares characteristics with both horror and speculative fiction, but is also more literary than either. China Mieville, Neil Gaiman and Jeff VanderMeer are just a few of the writers who have contributed to the genre in recent years. It’s important to note that this is not the same as bizarro fiction, though there are some authors (Nicole Cushing and Molly Tanzer, for example) who have written both types of work. Bizarro uses elements of absurdism and grotesque humor, while weird fiction focuses more on the uncanny.
Lovecraft’s stories were a huge influence on modern horror writers. His characters often teetered on the edge of mental breakdown, whether because they’ve just escaped an asylum or they have been confronted with incomprehensible cosmic horrors that are beyond their understanding. His nihilistic philosophy also inspired many of his creations, such as Cthulhu and the Great Old Ones, beings of unthinkable power.
The occult is another major theme in Lovecraft’s works, and many of his characters are cultists or worshippers of strange alien beings. He wrote stories that include mystical rites and rituals, as well as a cryptic language like Necronomicon.
His evocative vocabulary and deep, lush writing style have led him to have an undeniable impact on modern culture, especially within the realm of horror fiction. His mythology has helped inspire countless movies and novels, including The Call of Cthulhu, Dunwich Horror, and Shadow over Innsmouth. His characters, ranging from cultists to devil-worshippers, have made their way into film and video games.