My Reason for Writing

My reason for writing stories is to give myself the satisfaction of visualising more clearly and detailedly and stably the vague, elusive, fragmentary impressions of wonder, beauty, and adventurous expectancy which are conveyed to me by certain sights (scenic, architectural, atmospheric, etc.), ideas, occurrences, and images encountered in art and literature. I choose weird stories because they suit my inclination best—one of my strongest and most persistent wishes being to achieve, momentarily, the illusion of some strange suspension or violation of the galling limitations of time, space, and natural law which for ever imprison us and frustrate our curiosity about the infinite cosmic spaces beyond the radius of our sight and analysis. These stories frequently emphasise the element of horror because fear is our deepest and strongest emotion, and the one which best lends itself to the creation of nature-defying illusions. Horror and the unknown or the strange are always closely connected, so that it is hard to create a convincing picture of shattered natural law or cosmic alienage or “outsideness” without laying stress on the emotion of fear. The reason why time plays a great part in so many of my tales is that this element looms up in my mind as the most profoundly dramatic and grimly terrible thing in the universe. Conflict with time seems to me the most potent and fruitful theme in all human expression.

DESCRIPTION: In his essay “Notes on Writing Weird Fiction,” Lovecraft states that he writes supernatural horror because he finds the limitations of natural law “galling” and thus enjoys exploring an alternative reality in which they have been suspended.

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

The Embroidered Robes of Myth

Perhaps it was natural for him to dream a new name; for he was the last of his family, and alone among the indifferent millions of London, so there were not many to speak to him and remind him who he had been. His money and lands were gone, and he did not care for the ways of people about him, but preferred to dream and write of his dreams. What he wrote was laughed at by those to whom he shewed it, so that after a time he kept his writings to himself, and finally ceased to write. The more he withdrew from the world about him, the more wonderful became his dreams; and it would have been quite futile to try to describe them on paper. Kuranes was not modern, and did not think like others who wrote. Whilst they strove to strip from life its embroidered robes of myth, and to shew in naked ugliness the foul thing that is reality, Kuranes sought for beauty alone. When truth and experience failed to reveal it, he sought it in fancy and illusion, and found it on his very doorstep, amid the nebulous memories of childhood tales and dreams.

DESCRIPTION: In this passage from the short story “Celephaïs” (1920), the narrator describes how Kuranes, by distancing himself from modern civilization, finds beauty and meaning in his dreams.

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “Celephaïs.” The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories. Edited by S. T. Joshi, Penguin Books, 1999, pp. 24-30.

The Oldest and Strongest Emotion

The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown. These facts few psychologists will dispute, and their admitted truth must establish for all time the genuineness and dignity of the weirdly horrible tale as a literary form. Against it are discharged all the shafts of a materialistic sophistication which clings to frequently felt emotions and external events, and of a naively insipid idealism which deprecates the aesthetic motive and calls for a didactic literature to uplift the reader toward a suitable degree of smirking optimism. But in spite of all this opposition the weird tale has survived, developed, and attained remarkable heights of perfection; founded as it is on a profound and elementary principle whose appeal, if not always universal, must necessarily be poignant and permanent to minds of the requisite sensitiveness.

DESCRIPTION: In his essay “Supernatural Horror in Literature,” Lovecraft claims that the weird tale, despite the objections of its critics, is a legitimate form of artistic expression.

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “Supernatural Horror in Literature.” Collected Essays. Edited by S. T. Joshi, vol. 2, Hippocampus Press, 2004, pp. 82-125.

Robert E. Howard

Well—take Bob Howard. There’s a bird whose basic mentality seems to me to be just about the good respectable citizen’s bank cashier, medium shopkeeper, ordinary lawyer, stockbroker, high school teacher, prosperous farmer, pulp fictionist, skilled mechanic, successful salesman, responsible government clerk, routine army or navy officer up to a colonel, etc. average—bright and keen, accurate and retentive, but not profound or analytical—yet who is at the same time one of the most eminently interesting beings I know. Two-Gun is interesting because he has refused to let his thoughts and feelings be standardised. He remains himself. He couldn’t—today—solve a quadratic equation, and probably thinks that Santayana is a brand of coffee—but he has a set of emotions which he has moulded and directed in uniquely harmonious patterns, and from which proceed his marvelous outbursts of historic retrospection and geographical description (in letters), and his vivid, energised and spontaneous pictures of a prehistoric world of battle in fiction …. pictures which insist on remaining distinctive and self-expressive despite all outward concessions to the stultifying pulp ideal. It is, therefore, piquant and enjoyable to exchange ideas with Two-Gun or to read his stories. He is of about the same intelligence as Seabury Quinn—but Yuggoth, what a difference!

DESCRIPTION: In a letter to his friend Kenneth Sterling, Lovecraft describes his impression of Robert E. Howard and his writing.

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “To Kenneth Sterling.” 14 Dec. 1935. Lord of a Visible World: An Autobiography in Letters. Edited by S. T. Joshi and David E. Schultz, Ohio University Press, 2000, p. 253.

Escaping Life

There is no field other than the weird in which I have any aptitude or inclination for fictional composition. Life has never interested me so much as the escape from life.

DESCRIPTION: In a letter to his friend J. Vernon Shea, Lovecraft explains why he writes weird fiction as opposed to literary fiction.

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “To J. Vernon Shea.” 7 Aug. 1931. Selected Letters. Edited by August Derleth and Donald Wandrei, vol. 3, Arkham House, 1971, pp. 394-6.

A Negligible and Temporary Race

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.

Reading James Joyce

There is no more true sense and artistick discrimination in a modern coxcomb’s praise of Jurgen or Ulysses … than there is in a small boy’s praise of the dirty words which a bigger boy has dared to chalk up on the back wall of the stable.

DESCRIPTION: In a letter to his friend Frank Belknap Long, Lovecraft ridicules the praise being given to James Joyce and other modernists, whom he considers vulgar.

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “To Frank Belknap Long.” 8 Jan. 1924. Selected Letters. Edited by August Derleth and Donald Wandrei, vol. 1, Arkham House, 1965, pp. 281-5.

Ode to Dunsany

The hours of night unheeded fly,
And in the grate the embers fade;
Vast shadows one by one pass by
In silent daemon cavalcade.

But still the magic volume holds
The raptur’d eye in realms apart,
And fulgent sorcery enfolds
The willing mind and eager heart.

The lonely room no more is there—
For to the sight in pomp appear
Temples and cities pois’d in air,
And blazing glories—sphere on sphere.

DESCRIPTION: In his poem “On Reading Lord Dunsany’s Book of Wonder,” Lovecraft describes the sense of awe he experiences when reading Lord Dunsany’s works.

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “On Reading Lord Dunsany’s Book of Wonder.” The Ancient Track: The Complete Poetical Works of H. P. Lovecraft. Edited by S. T. Joshi, Hippocampus Press, 2013, pp. 70-1.

True Style

I refuse to be taken in by the goddamn bunk of this aera just as totally as I refused to fall for the pompous, polite bull of Victorianism—and one of the chief fallacies of the present is that smoothness, even when involving no sacrifice of directness, is a defect. The best prose is vigorous, direct, unadorn’d, and closely related (as is the best verse) to the language of actual discourse; but it has its natural rhythms and smoothness just as good oral speech has. There has never been any prose as good as that of the early eighteenth century, and anyone who thinks he can improve upon Swift, Steele, and Addison is a blockhead.

DESCRIPTION: In a letter to his friend Maurice W. Moe, Lovecraft defends eighteenth-century prose against contemporary critics.

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “To Maurice W. Moe.” 26 Mar. 1932. Selected Letters. Edited by August Derleth and James Turner, vol. 4, Arkham House, 1965, pp. 31-3.

The Tyranny of Corporeal Enclosure

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.