My First Word of the Discovery

When Lake had satisfied the first keen edge of his curiosity he scribbled a message in his notebook and had young Moulton run back to the camp to dispatch it by wireless. This was my first word of the discovery, and it told of the identification of early shells, bones of ganoids and placoderms, remnants of labyrinthodonts and thecodonts, great mososaur skull fragments, dinosaur vertebrae and armour-plates, pterodactyl teeth and wing-bones, archaeopteryx debris, Miocene sharks’ teeth, primitive bird-skulls, and skulls, vertebrae, and other bones of archaic mammals such as palaeotheres, xiphodons, dinocerases, eohippi, oreodons, and titanotheres. There was nothing as recent as a mastodon, elephant, true camel, deer, or bovine animal; hence Lake concluded that the last deposits had occurred during the Oligocene age, and that the hollowed stratum had lain in its present dried, dead, and inaccessible state for at least thirty million years.

DESCRIPTION: In a passage from the novella At the Mountains of Madness (1931), Lovecraft describes, using scientific terminology, Lake’s discoveries in Antarctica.

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “At the Mountains of Madness.” The Thing on the Doorstep and Other Weird Stories. Edited by S. T. Joshi, Penguin Books, 2001, pp. 246-340.

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.

Dime-Novel Theatricalism

A good interplanetary story must have realistic human characters; not the stock scientists, villainous assistants, invincible heroes, and lovely scientist’s-daughter heroines of the usual trash of this sort. Indeed, there is no reason why there should be any “villain”, “hero”, or “heroine” at all. These artificial character-types belong wholly to artificial plot-forms, and have no place in serious fiction of any kind. The function of the story is to express a certain human mood of wonder and liberation, and any tawdry dragging-in of dime-novel theatricalism is both out of place and injurious. No stock romance is wanted. We must select only such characters (not necessarily stalwart or dashing or youthful or beautiful or picturesque characters)  as would naturally be involved in the events to be depicted, and they must behave exactly as real persons would behave if confronted with the given marvels. The tone of the whole thing must be realism, not romance.

DESCRIPTION: In his essay “Some Notes on Interplanetary Fiction,” Lovecraft argues that science-fiction writers should, when developing characters, eschew romance in favor of realism.

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

Early Attempts at Fiction

Regarding early reading, I am able to say that our tastes in childhood were even more similar than you imagine. When I was about twelve I became greatly interested in science, specialising in geography, (later to be displaced by astronomy), & being a Verne enthusiast. In those days I used to write fiction, & many of my tales showed the literary influence of the immortal Jules. I wrote one story about that side of the moon which is forever turned away from us—using, for fictional purposes—the Hansen theory that air & water still exist there as the result of an abnormal centre of gravity in the moon. I hardly need add that the theory is really exploded—I even was aware of that fact at the time—but I desired to compose a “thriller”. Some day I may take up fiction in the amateur press—revealing a side of my nature hitherto concealed from the United. When I write stories, Edgar Allan Poe is my model. I never choose normal subjects, & frequently deal with the supernatural. Only four persons in the association have seen any of my fiction—these being Misses Ballou & Hepner, & Messrs. Fritter & Geo. Schilling. The story they saw is my unpublished credential—”The Alchemist,” which, having been sent to Miss Ballou, then Secretary, was shown to Miss Hepner & Mr. Fritter. Later I sent Schilling a revised copy for publication in a paper he was finally forced to abandon. The tale was written 11 years ago, yet is my latest attempt at fiction.

DESCRIPTION: In a letter to his friend Rheinhart Kleiner, Lovecraft describes his early attempts at writing fiction.

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “To Rheinhart Kleiner.” 20 Jan. 1916. Letters to Rheinhart Kleiner. Edited by S. T. Joshi and David E. Schultz, Hippocampus Press, 2005, p. 29.

The Death of Two-Gun Bob

It is hard to describe precisely what made his stories stand out so—but the real secret is that he was in every one of them, whether they were ostensibly commercial or not. He was greater than any profit-seeking policy he could adopt—for even when he outwardly made concessions to the mammon-guided editors he had an internal force and sincerity which broke through the surface and put the imprint of his personality on everything he wrote. Seldom or never did he set down a lifeless stock character or situation and leave it as such. Before he got through with it, it always took on some tinge of vitality and reality in spite of editorial orders—always drew something from his own first-hand experience and knowledge of life instead of from the barbarism of desiccated pulpish standbys. He was almost alone in his ability to create real emotions of fear and of dread suspense. Contrast his “Black Canaan” with the pallid synthetic pap comprising the rest of the current issue of W T. Bloch and Derleth are clever enough technically—but for stark, living fear …. The actual smell and feel and darkness and brooding terror and impending doom that inhere in that nighted, moss-hung jungle ….. what other writer is even in the running with R E H? No author can excel unless he takes his work very seriously and puts himself whole-heartedly into it—and Two-Gun did just that, even when he claimed and consciously believed that he didn’t. And this is the giant whom Fate had to snatch away whilst hundreds of insincere hacks continue to concoct phony ghosts and vampires and space-ships and occult detectives!

DESCRIPTION: In a letter to his friend and fellow writer E. Hoffmann Price, Lovecraft describes the authenticity and sincerity inherent in Robert E. Howard’s fiction.

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “To E. Hoffmann Price.” 20 June 1936. Lord of a Visible World: An Autobiography in Letters. Edited by S. T. Joshi and David E. Schultz, Ohio University Press, 2000, pp. 337-9.

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.