Thro’ the ghoul-guarded gateways of slumber,
Past the wan-moon’d abysses of night,
I have liv’d o’er my lives without number,
I have sounded all things with my sight;
And I struggle and shriek ere the daybreak, being driven to madness with fright.
I have whirl’d with the earth at the dawning,
When the sky was a vaporous flame,
I have seen the dark universe yawning,
Where the black planets roll without aim;
Where they roll in their horror unheeded, without knowledge or lustre or name.
DESCRIPTION: In his poem “Nemesis,” Lovecraft describes his dreams as a nightmarish voyage through space and time.
CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “Nemesis.” The Ancient Track: The Complete Poetical Works of H. P. Lovecraft. Edited by S. T. Joshi, Hippocampus Press, 2013, pp. 46-8.
Contrary to what you may assume, I am not a pessimist but an indifferentist—that is, I don’t make the mistake of thinking that the resultant of the natural forces surrounding and governing organic life will have any connexion with the wishes or tastes of any part of that organic life-process. Pessimists are just as illogical as optimists; insomuch as both envisage the aims of mankind as unified, and as having a direct relationship (either of frustration or of fulfillment) to the inevitable flow of terrestrial motivation and events. That is—both schools retain in a vestigial way the primitive concept of a conscious teleology—of a cosmos which gives a damn one way or the other about the especial wants and ultimate welfare of mosquitoes, rats, lice, dogs, men, horses, pterodactyls, trees, fungi, dodos, or other forms of biological energy.
DESCRIPTION: In a letter to his friend James F. Morton, Lovecraft describes himself, not as an optimist or a pessimist, but as an “indifferentist,” someone who recognizes that the universe is indifferent to humanity’s welfare.
CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “To James F. Morton.” 30 Oct. 1929. Selected Letters. Edited by August Derleth and Donald Wandrei, vol. 3, Arkham House, 1971, pp. 39-55.
Life is a hideous thing, and from the background behind what we know of it peer daemoniacal hints of truth which make it sometimes a thousandfold more hideous. Science, already oppressive with its shocking revelations, will perhaps be the ultimate exterminator of our human species—if separate species we be—for its reserve of unguessed horrors could never be borne by mortal brains if loosed upon the world. If we knew what we are, we should do as Sir Arthur Jermyn did; and Arthur Jermyn soaked himself in oil and set fire to his clothing one night. No one placed the charred fragments in an urn or set a memorial to him who had been; for certain papers and certain boxed object were found, which made men wish to forget. Some who knew him do not admit that he ever existed.
DESCRIPTION: In a passage from the short story “Facts Concerning the Late Arthur Jermyn and His Family” (1920), Lovecraft claims that recent scientific discoveries, specifically those related to human evolution, reduce the elevated status of the human race to an intolerable level.
CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “Facts Concerning the Late Arthur Jermyn and His Family.” The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories. Edited by S. T. Joshi, Penguin Books, 1999, pp. 14-23.
Time, space, and natural law hold for me suggestions of intolerable bondage, and I can form no picture of emotional satisfaction which does not involve their defeat—especially the defeat of time, so that one may merge oneself with the whole historic stream and be wholly emancipated from the transient and the ephemeral.
DESCRIPTION: In a letter to his friend and fellow writer August Derleth, Lovecraft describes the sense of oppression he feels when contemplating the limitations imposed on humanity by natural law.
CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “To August Derleth.” 21 Nov. 1930. Selected Letters. Edited by August Derleth and Donald Wandrei, vol. 3, Arkham House, 1971, pp. 220-2.
Now all my tales are based on the fundamental premise that common human laws and interests and emotions have no validity or significance in the vast cosmos-at-large. To me there is nothing but puerility in a tale in which the human form—and the local human passions and conditions and standards—are depicted as native to other worlds or other universes. To achieve the essence of real externality, whether of time or space or dimension, one must forget that such things as organic life, good and evil, love and hate, and all such local attributes of a negligible and temporary race called mankind, have any existence at all.
DESCRIPTION: In a letter to editor Farnsworth Wright, Lovecraft describes the philosophy that inspires his fiction.
CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “To Farnsworth Wright.” 5 July 1927. Selected Letters. Edited by August Derleth and Donald Wandrei, vol. 2, Arkham House, 1968, pp. 149-51.
The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far. The sciences, each straining in its own direction, have hitherto harmed us little; but some day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the deadly light into the pace and safety of a new dark age.
DESCRIPTION: In a passage from the short story “The Call of Cthulhu” (1926), Lovecraft claims that, in the near future, humanity’s collective psyche will be unable to bear the revelations of science.
CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “The Call of Cthulhu.” The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories. Edited by S. T. Joshi, Penguin Books, 1999, pp. 139-69.
About romance and affection I never have felt the slightest interest; whereas the sky, with its tale of eternities past and to come, and its gorgeous panoply of whirling universes, has always held me enthralled. And in truth, is this not the natural attitude of an analytical mind? What is a beauteous nymph? Carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, a dash or two of phosphorus and other elements—all to decay soon. But what is the cosmos? What is the secret of time, space, and the things that lie beyond time and space?
DESCRIPTION: In a letter to his friend Rheinhart Kleiner, Lovecraft compares his lack of interest in romance to his fascination with science and scientific discovery.
CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “To Rheinhart Kleiner.” 23 Jan. 1920. Selected Letters. Edited by August Derleth and Donald Wandrei, vol. 1, Arkham House, 1965, pp. 106-7.
The general revolt of the sensitive mind against the tyranny of corporeal enclosure, restricted sense-equipment, and the laws of force, space, and causation, is a far keener and bitterer and better-founded one than any of the silly revolts of long-haired poseurs against isolated and specific instances of cosmic inevitability. But of course it does not take the form of personal petulance, because there is no convenient scape-goat to saddle the impersonal ill upon. Rather does it crop out as a pervasive sadness and unplaceable impatience, manifested in a love of strange dreams and an amusing eagerness to be galled by the quack cosmic pretensions of the various religious circuses. Well—in our day the quack circuses are wearing pretty thin despite the premature senilities of fat Chesterbellocs and affected Waste Land Shantih-dwellers, and the nostalgic and unmotivated “overbeliefs” of elderly and childhood-crippled physicists. The time has come when the normal revolt against time, space, and matter must assume a form not overtly incompatible with what is known of reality—when it must be gratified by images forming supplements rather than contradictions of the visible and measurable universe. And what, if not a form of non-supernatural cosmic art, is to pacify this sense of revolt—as well as gratify the cognate sense of curiosity?
DESCRIPTION: In a letter to his friend Frank Belknap Long, Lovecraft claims that, due to the decline of religious belief, weird fiction is now the only means left for sensitive people to “revolt against time, space, and matter” and satisfy their curiosity about the supernatural.
CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “To Frank Belknap Long.” Feb. 1931. Lord of a Visible World: An Autobiography in Letters. Edited by S. T. Joshi and David E. Schultz, Ohio University Press, 2000, pp. 257-60.
In accordance with your suggestion I am re-submitting “The Call of Cthulhu”, though possibly you will still think it a trifle too bizarre for a clientele who demand their weirdness in name only, and who like to keep both feet pretty solidly on the ground of the known and the familiar. As I said some time ago, I doubt if my work—and especially my later products—would “go” very well with the sort of readers whose reactions are represented in the “Eyrie”. The general trend of the yarns which seem to suit the public is that of essential normality of outlook and simplicity of point of view—with thoroughly conventional human values and motives predominating, and with brisk action of the best-seller type as an indispensable attribute. The weird element in such material does not extend far into the fabric—it is the artificial weirdness of the fireside tale and the Victorian ghost story, and remains external camouflage even in the seemingly wildest of the “interplanetary” concoctions. You can see this sort of thing at its best in Seabury Quinn, and at its worst in the general run of contributors. It is exactly what the majority want—for if they were to see a really weird tale they wouldn’t know what it’s all about. This is quite obvious from the way they object to the reprints, which in many cases have brought them the genuine article.
DESCRIPTION: In a letter to editor Farnsworth Wright, Lovecraft differentiates between his tales of supernatural horror and the superficially weird tales popular with readers.
CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “To Farnsworth Wright.” 5 July 1927. Lord of a Visible World: An Autobiography in Letters. Edited by S. T. Joshi and David E. Schultz, Ohio University Press, 2000, pp. 208-10.
I cannot think of the deep sea without shuddering at the nameless things that may at this very moment be crawling and floundering on its slimy bed, worshipping their ancient stone idols and carving their own detestable likenesses on submarine obelisks of water-soaked granite. I dream of a day when they may rise above the billows to draw down in their reeking talons the remnants of puny, war-exhausted mankind—of a day when the land shall sink, and the dark ocean floor shall ascend amidst universal pandemonium.
DESCRIPTION: In a passage from the short story “Dagon” (1917), the narrator expresses his fear that humanity will be overwhelmed by the “nameless things” he has discovered living beneath the sea.
CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “Dagon.” The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories. Edited by S. T. Joshi, Penguin Books, 1999, pp. 1-6.