A Lot of Things You Love Were Influenced By Lovecraft
HP Lovecraft is one of those writers that’s so influential that they’re almost ubiquitous, which is just pretentious-jerk speak for “you’re totally familiar with his works, even if you’re not familiar with the guy.” For example, you’ve hard of Batman, right?
If so, you probably know that most of his villains end up at Arkham Asylum — a notoriously low-security establishment. What you probably don’t know is that “Arkham” gets its name from a fictional city in Massachusetts that Lovecraft invented as a setting for many of his stories…
…Or maybe you just watch a lot of South Park. They make C’thulu jokes a lot, actually — but some of them are pretty subtle. – Fact 1 was brought to you by Ranker
He rarely went out in public during daylight
Lovecraft would only leave the house after sunset, staying up late to study science and astronomy and to read and write. He would routinely sleep late into the day, developing the pale and gaunt bearing he is now known for. Lovecraft’s mother reportedly called him “grotesque” during his childhood and warned him to hide inside so people couldn’t see him. In 1926, he wrote:
“I am essentially a recluse who will have very little to do with people wherever he may be. I think that most people only make me nervous – that only by accident, and in extremely small quantities, would I ever be likely to come across people who wouldn’t.”
He really didn’t like sex
After his death, Sonia Lovecraft told a Lovecraft scholar that he was a virgin when they married in 1924, aged 34. Before their marriage, Lovecraft reportedly bought numerous books about sex and studied them in order to perform on their wedding night. Sonia later said she had to initiate all sexual activity, saying:
“The very mention of the word sex seemed to upset him. He did, however, make the statement once that if a man cannot be or is not married at the greatest height of his sex-desire, which in his case, he said, was at age 19, he became somewhat unappreciative of it after he passed thirty. I was somewhat shocked but held my peace.”
When he died of cancer of the small intestine in 1937, Lovecraft was buried in Swan Point Cemetery and listed on his mother’s family’s monument. This wasn’t enough for Lovecraft’s fans: in 1977, a group funded and installed a separate headstone. His body isn’t actually buried under the headstone, it’s buried nearby. On Oct. 13, 1997, someone apparently tried to dig up Lovecraft’s body, not knowing it wasn’t under the headstone. They dug down about 3 feet before giving up.
Both of Lovecraft’s parents died in the same mental institution
Winfield Scott Lovecraft was committed to Butler Hospital after being diagnosed with psychosis when H.P. Lovecraft was only three years old. He died in 1898, when H.P. was eight. His mother was later committed to Butler in 1919. She remained in close correspondence with her son for two years, until she died of complications after surgery. – Facts 4 & 5 were brought to you by Dark Corner
M.R. James (b. 1862) is perhaps one of the most understated writers of odd ghost stories of all time. Many of his stories take place at Oxbridge and other places with a very English feel, reflecting the life of the author himself. James also catalogued medieval manuscripts (see below), for which he was well-respected during his lifetime.
I’ve collected some excellent articles and put them together here – I hope you enjoy them!
Montague Rhodes James was born in 1862 in GoodnestoneParsonage, Kent, where his father was the curate, and died in 1936. He developed a taste for old books from a precocious age and was fonder of reading dusty volumes in the library than playing with the other children. He studied at Eton and then at King’s College, Cambridge, where he became assistant in Classical archaeology at the Fitzwilliam museum…He was elected a Fellow of King’s after writing his dissertation The Apocalypse of St. Peter, and after that, he lectured in divinity, eventually becoming dean of the college in 1889. He was a distinguished medievalist and wrote a large amount of reviews, translations, monographs, articles and works on bibliography, palaeography, antiquarian issues, and often edited volumes for specialized bibliographical and historical societies. He was a brilliant linguist and biblical scholar, and he was exceptionally gifted, which, along with his unusually keen memory and hard work, enabled him to write many pioneering studies. – Walk Awhile
James’s incredible detail finds a balance in those ambiguous ghouls to which the reader is invited to apply their own dreadful colour. Many of M.R. James’s ghost stories were written to be read aloud as Christmas Eve entertainment to select gatherings of friends at Cambridge. They were subsequently published as: Ghost Stories of an Antiquary, More Ghost Stories of an Antiquary, A Thin Ghostand Others, and A Warning to the Curious. – A Thin Ghost
Earlier this year, I published a post about one of my favourite James stories, The Mezzotint; a classic story of a picture of a house which has within it the souls of the once living! It reminds me of the story of the girl who gets trapped in a painting, grows old and dies in Roald Dahl’s The Witches. That’s always been my favourite part of the book (and wonderful film).
It is no coincidence that Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol features more ghosts than carols, or that the 1963 Andy Williams song It’s The Most Wonderful Time of the Year promises “scary ghost stories”. Christmas was once the time for sharing tales of the spooks we now usually associate with Halloween. Our traditional festive celebrations owe much to the Victorians’ plundering of pagan symbolism – whether the still-fertile appearance of evergreens and holly, the bearded god Odin’s habit of climbing down chimneys, or spectres at the fireside. As the Winter Solstice approached and daylight died away, the ancients thought that the barrier between the living and the dead became slender, so supernatural tales abounded. (James) became a noted medieval scholar before returning to Eton to serve as Provost. He was a devout Anglican, and a profoundly conservative individual, much as one might expect of a man who went from parsonage to school, university then back to school. – BBC Arts
Something feels right about pushing things off kilter, beside a warm fire, for the safe thrill of having your flesh creep. James wanted his creatures to be ghastly. I think he’d have had no truck with sad, longing ghosts yet to be released to heaven. There is something implacably horrible about his monsters, with their black matted hair, teeth and nails. The recent trend for more human vampires is an interesting one, but for me it’s exciting enough that they just want to drink your blood and watch you die for the fun of it. – Mark Gatiss
Every year I’m drawn back to Montague Rhodes James – his quietly creepy prose hints so effectively at what lurks just beyond the light of the hearth. A fellow whom I have never met but whose work continues to exert a heavy influence upon me. – The Guardian
Every reader of M R James’s peerlessly unpleasant ghost stories will have his or her favourite moment of that paradoxical, delighted, wriggling horror that their author sought to instil. For some, it is the scene in “O Whistle, and I’ll Come to You, My Lad” (1904), in which a sceptical don on a golfing holiday is stalked through his dreams by a blind, shuffling figure in white that eventually rises from the spare bed in his room and thrusts into his face “a horrible, an intensely horrible face of crumpled linen”. For others, it is the episode in “The Diary of Mr Poynter” (1919), where the protagonist rests his hand absently on what he takes to be the head of his pet spaniel and finds that “what he had been touching” — not the dog, but a man-shaped figure on all fours covered with hair — “rose to meet him”. And perhaps the most intimate of these shivers comes in “Casting the Runes” (1911), in which the unlucky protagonist, woken in the night, reaches under his pillow for his watch, only for his questing hand to encounter “a mouth, with teeth, and with hair about it, and, he declares, not the mouth of a human being”. That readers in the iPad age should still be so horrified by these tales of haunted Edwardian bibliophiles, antebellum Oxbridge dons and ghoulish local revenants would doubtless have come as a surprise to their author… His ghost stories were designed as pleasant trifles, and mostly composed at lightning speed on Christmas evenings between 1892 and 1935 for a coterie of colleagues, friends and choirboys at King’s. Their author quoted with approval the comment of the fat boy in The Pickwick Papers, who ghoulishly advertised that “I wants to make your flesh creep.” Although they share densely imagined roots in local and national history and geography, the stories did not, as James wrote in the introduction to his first collection, “make any very exalted claim. If any of them succeed in causing their readers to feel pleasantly uncomfortable while walking along a solitary road at nightfall, or sitting over a dying fire in the small hours, my purpose in writing them will have been attained.” – The Telegraph
I hope you have a supernatural festive period, full of shrieks of laughter and terror!
A dystopian coming-of-age tale that doubles as a paean to the author’s home town. Review by Catherine Taylor – Financial Times
2. Radiance – by Catherynne M Valente
Severin Unck’s father is a famous director of Gothic romances in an alternate 1986 in which talking movies are still a daring innovation due to the patent-hoarding Edison family. Rebelling against her father’s films of passion, intrigue, and spirits from beyond, Severin starts making documentaries, traveling through space and investigating the levitator cults of Neptune and the lawless saloons of Mars. For this is not our solar system, but one drawn from classic science fiction in which all the planets are inhabited and we travel through space on beautiful rockets. Severin is a realist in a fantastic universe. – Macmillan Publishers
The Black Swamp is as inhospitable as it sounds, which carry off several of the children and leave the parents too weak to work – Independent
4. How to Measure a Cow – by Margaret Forster
Margaret Forster’s tale of a woman on the run is quietly compelling – The Sunday Times
5. Small Town Talk – by Barney Hoskyns
How a reclusive Bob Dylan led a rock’n’roll takeover of rural Woodstock in the 1960s – The Sunday Times
6. States of Mind – edited by Anna Faherty
“Why do most of us feel that we are something more than molecules?”, asks Mark Haddon, author of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, in his engaging introduction to this compelling collection drawn from literature, science, philosophy and art ranging back 500 years and tackling the thorny question of what consciousness actually is. “We are made of the same raw materials as bacteria, as earth, as rock, as the great dark nebulae of dust that swim between the stars, as the stars themselves”, writes Haddon, introducing extracts that explore how the sense of being made of something immaterial, too, has long haunted humans. – The Guardian
7. The Life and the Adventures of a Haunted Convict – by Austin Reed
I speak from experience when I say that embarking on a biographical work about Arthur Conan Doyle is a challenge. The principal challenge is how to make your book original. Every biographical work on Doyle will contain material that has appeared elsewhere. What makes new books stand out is how they present what we already know, what new items are presented and how the author interprets what they present. – Doyleockian
9. The Man I Became – by Peter Verhelst
The premise of the book is as bold as it is intriguing: The Man I Became is narrated in the first-person by a gorilla. The inevitably confusion and flood of questions that arise with this statement are mostly all addressed through the 120 pages of the novella, but Verhelst also uses this quasi-absurdist plot to grapple with contemporary social issues. Written in a sparse, succinct literary style that fits snugly in the Peirene canon of stylish but provocative translated fiction, The Man I Became is a book that jolts its reader and forces you to think. – Bookish Ramblings
10. In Flagrante Two – by Chris Killip
Made in the northeast of England between 1973 and 1985, the book showed marginalized communities on the edge of change; seacoal gatherers, fishermen and other working class communities are shown struggling in environments that are expressively harsh. There is the wildness of the Northumberland coastline, driving blizzards brought from Siberia across the ferocious waves of the North Sea, the chimneys and cranes of the region’s industrial landmarks, and the rubble of neighborhoods destroyed in the name of urban development. It’s an unrelentingly gritty backdrop. – Photo-Eye