A Singular Giant

The relatively slight recognition hitherto accorded Lord Dunsany, who is perhaps the most unique, original, and richly imaginative of living authors, forms an amusing commentary on the natural stupidity of mankind. Conservatives view him with patronage because he does not concern himself with the hoary fallacies and artificialities which constitute their supreme values. Radicals slight him because his work does not display that chaotic defiance of taste which to them is the sole identifying mark of authentic modern disillusion. And yet one might hardly err in claiming that he should have the homage of both rather than of neither; for surely if any man has extracted and combined the residue of true art in older and newer schools alike, it is this singular giant in whom the classic, the Hebraic, and Nordic, and the Irish aesthetic traditions are so curiously and admirably combined.


DESCRIPTION: In his essay “Lord Dunsany and His Work,” which Lovecraft wrote more than three years after reading Lord Dunsany, he claims that the Anglo-Irish author deserves more recognition than he has received, for his work combines both traditional and experimental forms.

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “Lord Dunsany and His Work.” Collected Essays. Edited by S. T. Joshi, vol. 2, Hippocampus Press, 2004, pp. 56-62.

The Prison-House of the Known

While my chosen form of story-writing is obviously a special and perhaps a narrow one, it is none the less a persistent and permanent type of expression, as old as literature itself. There will always be a small percentage of persons who feel a burning curiosity about unknown outer space, and a burning desire to escape from the prison-house of the known and the real into those enchanted lands of incredible adventure and infinite possibilities which dreams open up to us, and which things like deep woods, fantastic urban towers, and flaming sunsets momentarily suggest. These persons include great authors as well as insignificant amateurs like myself—Dunsany, Poe, Arthur Machen, M. R. James, Algernon Blackwood, and Walter de la Mare being typical masters in this field.


DESCRIPTION: In his essay “Notes on Writing Weird Fiction,” Lovecraft describes weird fiction as an unpopular yet “persistent and permanent type of expression,” which appeals primarily to those curious about the unknown.

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “Notes on Writing Weird Fiction.” Collected Essays. Edited by S. T. Joshi, vol. 2, Hippocampus Press, 2004, pp. 175-8.

From Inner Egypt Came

And at the last from inner Egypt came
The strange dark One to whom the fellahs bowed;
Silent and lean and cryptically proud,
And wrapped in fabrics red as sunset flame.
Throngs pressed around, frantic for his commands,
But leaving, could not tell what they had heard;
While through the nations spread the awestruck word
That wild beasts followed him and licked his hands.

Soon from the sea a noxious birth began;
Forgotten lands with weedy spires of gold;
The ground was cleft, and mad auroras rolled
Down on the quaking citadels of man.
Then, crushing what he chanced to mould in play,
The idiot Chaos blew Earth’s dust away.


DESCRIPTION: In his poem “Nyarlathotep,” Lovecraft describes the arrival of a strange, enigmatic messiah, whose coming signals the end of the world.

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “Nyarlathotep.” The Ancient Track: The Complete Poetical Works of H. P. Lovecraft. Edited by S. T. Joshi, Hippocampus Press, 2013, pp. 88-9.

A Widespread Misconception

Despite the current flood of stories dealing with other worlds and universes, and with intrepid flights to and from them through cosmic space, it is probably no exaggeration to say that not more than a half-dozen of these things, including the novels of H. G. Wells, have even the slightest shadow of a claim to artistic seriousness or literary rank. Insincerity, conventionality, triteness, artificiality, false emotion, and puerile extravagance reign triumphant throughout this overcrowded genre, so that none but its rarest products can possibly claim a truly adult status. And the spectacle of such persistent hollowness had led many to ask whether, indeed, any fabric of real literature can ever grow out of the given subject-matter.

The present commentator does not believe that the idea of space-travel and other worlds is inherently unsuited to literary use. It is, rather, his opinion that the omnipresent cheapening and misuse of that idea is the result of a widespread misconception; a misconception which extends to other departments of weird and science fiction as well. This fallacy is the notion that any account of impossible, improbable, or inconceivable phenomena can be successfully presented as a commonplace narrative of objective acts and conventional emotions in the ordinary tone and manner of popular romance. Such a presentation will often “get by” with immature readers, but it will never approach even remotely the field of aesthetic merit.


DESCRIPTION: In his essay “Some Notes on Interplanetary Fiction,” Lovecraft argues that science-fiction writers who present incredible phenomena as if they were ordinary occurrences degrade the genre.

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “Some Notes on Interplanetary Fiction.” Collected Essays. Edited by S. T. Joshi, vol. 2, Hippocampus Press, 2004, pp. 178-82.

 

Awake Me Not

Dear Mother:—
If, as you start toward Lillie’s festive spread,
You find me snoring loudly in my bed,
Awake me not, for I would fain repose,
And thro’ the day in quiet slumbers doze.
But lest I starve, for lack of food to eat,
Leave here a dish of Quaker Puffed Wheat,
Or breakfast biscuit, which, it matters not,
To break my fast when out of bed I’ve got.
And if to supper you perchance should stay,
Thus to complete a glorious festive day,
Announce the fact to me by Telephone,
That whilst you eat, I may prepare my own.


DESCRIPTION: In his poem “To His Mother on Thanksgiving,” Lovecraft requests that his mother refrain from waking him before she leaves for Thanksgiving dinner.

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “To His Mother on Thanksgiving.” The Ancient Track: The Complete Poetical Works of H. P. Lovecraft. Edited by S. T. Joshi, Hippocampus Press, 2013, p. 425.

Better under the Table Than under the Ground

Young Harry, propp’d up just as straight as he’s able,
Will soon lose his wig and slip under the table;
But fill up your goblets and pass ’em around—
Better under the table than under the ground!
So revel and chaff
As ye thirstily quaff:
Under six feet of dirt ’tis less easy to laugh!


DESCRIPTION: In this passage from the short story “The Tomb” (1917), Jervas Dudley recites the eighteenth-century drinking song that he sang in front of his family at breakfast.  

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “The Tomb.” The Thing on the Doorstep and Other Weird Stories. Edited by S. T. Joshi, Penguin Books, 2001, pp. 1-10.