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Lovecraft season December 21, 2013

Posted by sjroby in Book reviews, Lovecraft.

For me, Christmas is Lovecraft season.

It was the Yuletide, that men call Christmas though they know in their hearts it is older than Bethlehem and Babylon, older than Memphis and mankind. It was the Yuletide, and I had come at last to the ancient sea town where my people had dwelt and kept festival in the elder time when festival was forbidden; where also they had commanded their sons to keep festival once every century, that the memory of primal secrets might not be forgotten.(H.P. Lovecraft, “The Festival“)

I believe it was autumn when first I encountered the name of H.P. Lovecraft. It was October 1975 and I was 12 and we were moving from North Bay, Ontario, to Edmonton, Alberta. One of the books I remember reading on that trip was Tolkien: A Look Behind the Lord of the Rings by Lin Carter. I’d discovered Tolkien earlier that year after discovering fantasy as a genre through CS Lewis, Alan Garner, and Lloyd Alexander, so this was a book I needed to read. (Unlike, as I learned later, any of Lin Carter’s original fiction. He was an essential figure in the development of the fantasy genre in the late 1960s and early 1970s as an editor, but as a writer of fiction he was a great fanboy.) Anyway, in his chapter on epic fantasy novels to read after Tolkien (and at the time he was writing, there really weren’t many at all) he included Lovecraft’s The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath. I didn’t act on the recommendation.

It was probably summer when next I read about Lovecraft, in the forewords and afterwords to some collections of Robert E. Howard stories in 1978. Lovecraft was mentioned as one of Howard’s peers and friends, along with Clark Ashton Smith, the third of the Three Musketeers of Weird Tales.

It was autumn when I next knowingly encountered Lovecraft, by way of the “adult illustrated fantasy magazine” Heavy Metal, in 1979. Their October issue was a Lovecraft special with an adaptation of “The Dubwich Horror” and a number of more tenuously Lovecraftian tales. I was getting pretty darn intrigued by now.

So then came Christmas of 1979, and with some Christmas present cash in my pocket, I went to my favourite books and comics emporium, Hobbit’s Fantasy Shoppe, and bought my first Lovecraft book.

And it looked like it might have been a mistake.

The book was The Doom That Came to Sarnath and Other Stories. The introduction talked about how Lovecraft changed horror with his Cthulhu Mythos and his classic stories, and this book was the other stuff that didn’t matter so much, his less essential stories. But I kept on reading, and I loved it. I bought more Lovecraftian stuff including my introduction to mythos stories written by others, the second volume of Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos. (Bought, as I recall, the same day I bought the LP of Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols.) I had not only a new writer to obsess over, but a whole new subgenre as well. There was no looking back.

A few years later I remembered that “The Festival” was set at Christmas time, and I started a tradition of reading it every other Christmas or so, strengthening the Christmas connection. So this year I’ve ordered a few more Lovecraftian/mythos anthologies to keep the link alive.

And today I read the pdf of what’s supposed to be the screenplay of Guillermo del Toro’s unproduced At the Mountains of Madness. Antarctica! Snow! Ice! Another reason for the season. Too bad it isn’t very good or faithful to Lovecraft’s original. It’s a remake of John Carpenter’s The Thing with bits and pieces of two different Lovecraft stories. Just as well, then.

Thoughts for possible future ramblings:

What made Lovecraft different as a horror writer, and what do would-be imitators and followers get wrong?
Remember when Del Rey created epic fantasy as a successful publishing genre?



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