Authors: H.P. Lovecraft
THE OTHER GODS AND MORE UNEARTHLY TALES
H. P. LOVECRAFT
Introduction by Jeffrey Andrew Weinstock
Introduction and Suggested Reading
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LL OF US, INSISTS THE FICTION OF
H. P. L
OVECRAFT, ARE LIKE CHILDREN
lost in the woods at night with only a flashlight to
illuminate our way. We think we are safe and know where we are going, but lurking just beyond the perimeter of the flashlight’s weak glow are horrors beyond description—monsters and
gods, demons and ghosts. We think we know where we are going, but we are lost in the woods, the monsters are hungry . . . and our flashlight is dying. This is H. P. Lovecraft’s signature
achievement—his creation of “cosmic horror,” stories describing a universe full of ominous powers and forces lurking just out of sight with the capacity to wipe out humanity.
Collected in this volume are spine-tingling tales showing us that below the ground and at the top of mountain peaks lurk nameless gods and ghouls, powerful and horrific. In cemeteries and desert
wastes and swampy bogs, the evidence of past civilizations remains waiting to be uncovered, ominously portending mankind’s own inglorious future conclusion. Even more disconcerting in
Lovecraft’s fictional world is that one need not even leave home to come face-to-face with the cataclysmic revelation of man’s insignificance. Monsters not only skulk in underground
crypts and exotic foreign lands, but swarm all around us, just out of sight. Ignorance, insists Lovecraft in his fiction, is ultimately bliss because true knowledge of humanity’s
precariousness and inconsequentiality in the larger scheme of things is too horrific for the mind to comprehend unscathed. To realize just what lurks beyond the flashlight’s weak glow is to
go mad—as so many of Lovecraft’s narrators ultimately do.
Like his narrators, Lovecraft’s own life was not untouched by mental instability, depression, and insanity. Howard Phillips Lovecraft, the final descendent of an old New England family,
was born on August 20, 1890, at the family home in Providence, Rhode Island. His mother, Sarah Susan Phillips Lovecraft, could trace her family tree back to the seventeenth century, while his
father, Winfield Scott Lovecraft, could trace his back even further to the Middle Ages in England. In 1893, Lovecraft’s father, a traveling salesman plagued by what Lovecraft scholar S. T.
Joshi refers to as a “sexual obsession” related to his wife being raped, suffered a psychological breakdown while on the road in Chicago and had to be confined to Butler Hospital in
Providence (an insane asylum) where he suffered from paranoia, dementia, and delusions of grandeur before dying five years later of what was most likely tertiary syphilis.
Lovecraft’s mother, traumatized by her husband’s condition, grew increasingly mentally unstable and suffered a psychological breakdown herself in 1919. In
1921 she passed away due to complications from gallbladder surgery.
The gothic quality of Lovecraft’s family life was matched by and perhaps carried over into his own interest in the macabre. In his father’s absence, Lovecraft found a substitute in
his maternal grandfather, Whipple Van Buren Phillips, who entertained him with gothic tales of his own invention and introduced the young boy to children’s versions of the classics, including
. A precocious reader, Lovecraft was apparently mesmerized by the
at age five (which led to his inventing for himself the name Abdul Alhazred, a figure
subsequently incorporated into his fiction as the “mad Arab” and author of the book of forbidden occult knowledge,
), and then transfixed at age six by
The Rime of the Ancient Mariner
(likely the edition containing magnificently gloomy illustrations by Gustav Doré)—a work that was clearly among the principle
literary influences shaping Lovecraft’s taste for weird fiction and one that is arguably reflected in “The White Ship,” an early tale included in this volume. Of even greater
significance to Lovecraft’s artistic development was his discovery of Edgar Allan Poe in 1898. In typically arabesque prose, Lovecraft reflected on Poe’s influence, writing. “It
was my downfall, and at the age of eight I was the blue firmament of Argos and Sicily darkened by the miasmal exhalations of the tomb!”
Later in his life, the fantasy tales of Irish author Lord Dunsany would also exercise considerable influence on his artistic development.
Lovecraft himself suffered from a variety of health-related concerns—likely largely psychosomatic—and suffered a psychological breakdown of his own (the first of several) in 1898 at
the tender age of eight. His official schooling as a result of his health issues was sporadic, but he compensated for his lack of formal education through voracious reading with particular
interests in chemistry and astronomy; indeed, in his teenage years he produced his own scientific journals for circulation among family and friends. His first print publication in fact was related
to astronomy: in 1906, at the age of sixteen, he wrote a letter to the editor of the
Providence Sunday Journal
correcting an astrologer’s statement about the orbit of Mars. He
subsequently wrote columns on astronomy for both a local rural newspaper and the
Providence Sunday Journal
. In 1908, he suffered another nervous breakdown, this time leading to his
withdrawal from high school altogether after having finished only three years and without a diploma. The next five years he spent doing little but studying astronomy, writing a bit of poetry, and
taking some correspondence courses.
What brought Lovecraft out of his shell was his association with the United Amateur Press Association (UAPA)—a relatively small group of amateur journalists who published journals and
circulated them among themselves in the 1910s and 1920s. Lovecraft, who found the UAPA to be an encouraging venue in which to explore his literary interests, contributed poetry and essays to UAPA
journals and published thirteen issues of his own journal, the
a periodical that reflected his own conservative cultural views. In 1916, his first published story,
“The Alchemist,” appeared in the
, but it was not until six years later that he broke into professional fiction (at the age of thirty-one) with the publication of
“Herbert West—Reanimator” (one of several stories to be adapted after Lovecraft’s death into lackluster horror films) in a semi-professional publication called
As Lovecraft moved beyond amateur magazines into the world of professional publications, the principle venue for his work became the celebrated “pulp” magazine
which was founded in 1923 and published the early work of such notable authors as Ray Bradbury, Fritz Leiber, Henry Kuttner, C. L. Moore, and Theodore Sturgeon. Lovecraft became a fixture in
to such an extent that he was apparently offered the editorship of the magazine in 1924, a position that would have necessitated his relocation from New York to Chicago. For
better or worse—likely worse, at least for Lovecraft—he rejected the offer, choosing to remain in New York with Sonia Haft Greene, a widowed Russian Jew seven years his senior, whom he
married in March 1924 after a two-year courtship.
Lovecraft’s ill-fated marriage to Sonia is one of the more perplexing episodes in his life, given his notorious and frankly indefensible anti-Semitism. The only explanation critics have
been able to suggest is that, flattered by her attentions, Lovecraft found Sonia secular and acculturated enough to allow him to overlook her religious background. However, while he may have been
able to put aside concerns about her religious background, other troubles for the couple began soon after their wedding as Sonia was let go from a lucrative executive job at a New York department
store and the two quickly found themselves subject to pressing financial concerns. Sonia attempted to open a hat shop but failed and then experienced health problems leading to a stay at a New
Jersey sanitarium; Lovecraft tried to earn a living through a combination of writing, ghostwriting, and editing the work of others, supplemented by unsuccessful stints working for other businesses
including a collection agency and a lamp-testing company. It is hard to say whether their relationship would have lasted had money not been such a pressing matter. As things stand, however, Sonia
moved to the Midwest in 1925 to pursue several job opportunities and, after that, returned to New York only occasionally. The couple never lived together again and Sonia ultimately filed divorce
papers in 1929 (papers which Lovecraft never actually signed).
After Sonia’s departure, the depressed Lovecraft moved into a single apartment near the Brooklyn slum known as Red Hook and his fiction from the period—such as “The Horror at
Red Hook” and “He” included here—reflects his sense of loneliness and despondency in a city full of what he perceived as ominous foreigners. Then in 1926 in order to
preserve his sanity, he abandoned New York altogether and returned to Providence, the place of his birth. Since his mother had died five years earlier, Lovecraft moved in with his two maternal
aunts. This transition touched off the most fertile period in Lovecraft’s creative life: in a nine-month period between 1926 and 1927, he produced several of his best known and most
celebrated works, including “The Call of Cthulhu” and “The Colour Out of Space,” and the novels
The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath
The Case of Charles Dexter
Despite his best efforts, Lovecraft lamentably found it difficult to sell his increasingly lengthy and complicated later work and his revision efforts for others brought in diminishing returns.
While he nurtured the careers of many young writers, including August Derleth, Robert Bloch, and Fritz Leiber, becoming in the process one of the most prolific letter writers of the twentieth
century (and producing a body of correspondence that Joshi speculates may one day be recognized as his greatest achievement
), his final years
were plagued by poverty and hardship. In 1936, Lovecraft was saddened by the suicide of his correspondent Robert E. Howard, author of the Conan the Barbarian stories, and he himself succumbed to
intestinal cancer on March 10, 1937, at the age of forty-seven, having never seen a true book publication of his work.