A Stranger in this Century

For although nepenthe has calmed me, I know always that I am an outsider; a stranger in this century and among those who are still men. This I have known ever since I stretched out my fingers to the abomination within that great gilded frame; stretched out my fingers and touched a cold and unyielding surface of polished glass.

DESCRIPTION: In a passage from the short story “The Outsider” (1921), the narrator sees himself in a mirror for the first time and realizes that he is monstrous.

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “The Outsider.” The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories. Edited by S. T. Joshi, Penguin Books, 1999, pp. 43-9.

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.

Life is Hideous

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.

A Highly Dangerous Character

Joe Slater, who came to the institution in the vigilant custody of four state policemen, and who was described as a highly dangerous character, certainly presented no evidence of his perilous disposition when first I beheld him. Though well above the middle stature, and of somewhat brawny frame, he was given an absurd appearance of harmless stupidity by the pale, sleepy blueness of his small watery eyes, the scantiness of his neglected and never-shaven growth of yellow beard, and the listless drooping of his heavy nether lip. His age was unknown, since among his kind neither family records nor permanent family ties exist; but from the baldness of his head in front, and from the decayed condition of his teeth, the head surgeon wrote him down as a man of about forty.

From the medical and court documents we learned all that could be gathered of his case. This man, a vagabond, hunter, and trapper, had always been strange in the eyes of his primitive associates. He had habitually slept at night beyond the ordinary time, and upon waking would often talk of unknown things in a manner so bizarre as to inspire fear even in the hearts of an unimaginative populace. Not that his form of language was at all unusual, for he never spoke save in the debased patois of his environment; but the tone and tenor of his utterances were of such mysterious wildness, that none might listen without apprehension. He himself was generally as terrified and baffled as his auditors, and within an hour after awakening would forget all that he had said, or at least all that had caused him to say what he did; relapsing into a bovine, half-amiable normality like that of the other hill-dwellers.

DESCRIPTION: In this passage from the short story “Beyond the Wall of Sleep” (1919), the narrator describes Joe Slater, a “vagabond, hunter, and trapper” from the backwoods.

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “Beyond the Wall of Sleep.” The Thing on the Doorstep and Other Weird Stories. Edited by S. T. Joshi, Penguin Books, 2001, pp. 11-20.

The Wrongs of the Masses

In accordance with this attitude, I am distinctly opposed to visibly arrogant and arbitrary extremes of government—but this is simply because I wish the safety of an artistic and intellectual civilisation to be secure, not because I have any sympathy with the coarse-grained herd who would menace the civilisation if not placated by sops. Surely you can see the profound and abysmal difference between this emotional attitude and the emotional attitude of the democratic reformer who becomes wildly excited over the “wrongs of the masses”. This reformer has uppermost in his mind the welfare of those masses themselves—he feels with them, takes up a mental-emotional point of view as one of them, regards their advancement as his prime objective independently of anything else, and would willingly sacrifice the finest fruits of the civilisation for the sake of stuffing their bellies and giving them two cinema shows instead of one per day. I, on the other hand, don’t give a hang about the masses except so far as I think deliberate cruelty is coarse and unaesthetic—be it toward horses, oxen, undeveloped men, dogs, niggers, or poultry.

DESCRIPTION: In a letter to his friend Woodburn Harris, Lovecraft claims that contemporary reformers care only about the daily needs of Americans while he, in comparison, cares only about the “safety of an artistic and intellectual civilisation.”

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “To Woodburn Harris.” 25 Feb. 1929. Lord of a Visible World: An Autobiography in Letters. Edited by S. T. Joshi and David E. Schultz, Ohio University Press, 2000, pp. 226-9.

The Harlem Smoke

For that visitor was neither Italian nor policeman. Looming hideously against the spectral moon was a gigantic misshapen thing not to be imagined save in nightmares—a glass-eyed, ink-black apparition nearly on all fours, covered with bits of mould, leaves, and vines, foul with caked blood, and having between its glistening teeth a snow-white, terrible, cylindrical object terminating in a tiny hand.

DESCRIPTION: In a passage from the short story “Herbert West—Reanimator” (1922), Lovecraft describes, in racist terms, the resurrected corpse of an African-American boxer.

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “Herbert West—Reanimator.” The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories. Edited by S. T. Joshi, Penguin Books, 1999, pp. 50-80.

Man’s Utter Insignificance

Of the various conceptions brought before the human mind by the advance of Science, what can be compared in strangeness and magnitude with that of eternity and infinity, as presented by modern astronomy? Nothing more deeply disturbs our settled egotism and self-importance than the realisation of man’s utter insignificance which comes with knowledge of his position in time and space.

DESCRIPTION: In his essay “Time and Space,” Lovecraft explains cosmicism, the view that the size and age of the universe render humanity insignificant.

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “Time and Space.” Collected Essays. Edited by S. T. Joshi, vol. 5, Hippocampus Press, 2006, pp. 30-1. (Lovecraft 30).

The Maddening Rigidity of Cosmic Law

However—the crucial thing is my lack of interest in ordinary life. No one ever wrote a story yet without some real emotional drive behind it—and I have not that drive except where violations of the natural order …. defiances and evasions of time, space, and cosmic law …. are concerned. Just why this is so I haven’t the slightest idea—it simply is so. I am interested only in broad pageants—historic streams—orders of biological, chemical, physical, and astronomical organisation—and the only conflict which has any deep emotional significance to me is that of the principle of freedom or irregularity or adventurous opportunity against the eternal and maddening rigidity of cosmic law …. especially the laws of time. Individuals and their fortunes within natural law move me very little. They are all momentary trifles bound from a common nothingness toward another common nothingness. Only the cosmic framework itself—or such individuals as symbolise principles (or defiances of principles) of the cosmic framework—can gain a deep grip on my imagination and set it to work creating. In other words, the only “heroes” I can write about are phenomena. The cosmos is such a closely-locked round of fatality—with everything prearranged—that nothing impresses me as really dramatic except some sudden and abnormal violation of that relentless inevitability …. something which cannot exist, but which can be imagined as existing. Hence the type of thing I try to write. Naturally, I am aware that this forms a very limited special field so far as mankind en masse is concerned; but I believe (as pointed out in that Recluse article) that the field is an authentic one despite its subordinate nature. This protest against natural law, and tendency to weave visions of escape from orderly nature, are characteristic and eternal factors in human psychology, even though very small ones. They exist as permanent realities, and have always expressed themselves in a typical form of art from the earliest fireside folk tales and ballads to the latest achievements of Blackwood or Machen or de la Mare or Dunsany. That art exists—whether the majority like it or not. It is small and limited, but real—and there is no reason why its practitioners should be ashamed of it.

DESCRIPTION: In a letter to his fellow writer E. Hoffmann Price, Lovecraft claims that he writes about supernatural horror because human dramas do not inspire him.

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “To E. Hoffmann Price.” 15 Aug. 1934. Selected Letters. Edited by August Derleth and James Turner, vol. 5, Arkham House, 1976, pp. 17-20.

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.