A World of Opiate Phantasy and Horror

I trust you will pardon the liberty taken by an absolute stranger in writing you, for I cannot refrain from expressing the appreciation aroused in me by your drawings and poetry, as shown me by my friend, Mr. Samuel Loveman, whom I am now visiting in Cleveland. Your book, containing matter only chronologically classifiable as juvenilia, impresses me as a work of the most distinguished genius; and makes me anxious to see the new volume which I understand is in course of preparation.

Of the drawings and water-colours I lack a vocabulary adequate to express my enthusiastic admiration. What a world of opiate phantasy and horror is here unveiled, and what an unique power and perspective must lie behind it! I speak with especial sincerity and enthusiasm, because my own especial tastes centre almost wholly around the grotesque and the arabesque. I have tried to write short stories and sketches affording glimpses into the unknown abysses of terror which leer beyond the boundaries of the known, but have never succeeded in evoking even a fraction of the stark hideousness conveyed by any one of your ghoulishly potent designs.

DESCRIPTION: In a letter to Clark Ashton Smith, a writer and poet who would, in time, become one of his closest friends, Lovecraft expresses his admiration for Smith’s weird poetry, which he enthusiastically describes as a “work of the most distinguished genius.”

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “To Clark Ashton Smith.” 12 Aug. 1922. Dawnward Spire, Lonely Hill: The Letters of H. P. Lovecraft and Clark Ashton Smith. Edited by David E. Schultz and S. T. Joshi, Hippocampus Press, 2017, p. 35.


Played Out

I may be as thoroughly played out as Blackwood now appears to be. I don’t know—and there’s nothing to do but experiment .… and keep as clear as possible of external criticisms and rebuffs. That’s why I don’t submit the Doorstep to Wright. For the present, then, I am a reader and appreciator rather than a writer. God knows I want a job—but I want it to be anything—elevator man, pickaxe artist, night-watchman, stevedore, what the hell—except writing. Anything except a parody on the only thing in life that means anything to me.

DESCRIPTION: In a letter to his fellow writer E. Hoffmann Price, Lovecraft expresses his dissatisfaction with his own writing.

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 Writer No More

[At the Mountains of Madness] was written in 1931—and its hostile reception by Wright and others to whom it was shewn probably did more than anything else to end my effective fictional career. The feeling that I had failed to crystallise the mood I was trying to crystallise robbed me in some subtle fashion of the ability to approach this kind of problem in the same way—or with the same degree of confidence and fertility.

DESCRIPTION: In a letter to fellow writer E. Hoffmann Price, Lovecraft claims that Farnsworth Wright’s rejection of his novella At the Mountains of Madness deprived him of the confidence he needed in order to write.

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “To E. Hoffmann Price.” 12 Feb. 1936. Selected Letters. Edited by August Derleth and James Turner, vol. 5, Arkham House, 1976, pp. 223-4.

A Cheap Puppet Show

In everything I do there is a certain concreteness, extravagance, or general crudeness which defeats the vague but insistent object I have in mind. I start out trying to find symbols expressive of a certain mood induced by a certain visual conception …, but when I come to put anything on paper the chosen symbols seem forced, awkward, childish, exaggerated, & essentially inexpressive. I have staged a cheap, melodramatic puppet-show without saying what I wanted to say in the first place.

DESCRIPTION: In a letter to fellow writer Clark Ashton Smith, Lovecraft expresses doubts about the value of his writing.

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “To Clark Ashton Smith.” 13 Dec. 1933. Selected Letters. Edited by August Derleth and James Turner, vol. 4, Arkham House, 1965, pp. 328-36.

Poe and Dunsany

About 1919 the discovery of Lord Dunsany—from whom I got the idea of the artificial pantheon and myth-background represented by “Cthulhu”, “Yog-Sothoth”, “Yuggoth”, etc.—gave a vast impetus to my weird writing; and I turned out material in greater volume than ever before or since. At that time I had no thought or hope of professional publication; but the founding of Weird Tales in 1923 opened up an outlet of considerable steadiness. My stories of the 1920 period reflect a good deal of my two chief models, Poe and Dunsany, and are in general too strongly inclined to extravagance and overcolouring to be of much serious literary value.

DESCRIPTION: In his essay “Some Notes on a Nonentity,” Lovecraft describes his early tales, which were heavily influenced by Edgar Allan Poe and Lord Dunsany, as too baroque “to be of much serious literary value.”

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “Some Notes on a Nonentity.” Collected Essays. Edited by S. T. Joshi, vol. 5, Hippocampus Press, 2006, pp. 207-11.

The Serious Writing of Fantasy

Atmosphere, not action, is the great desideratum of weird fiction. Indeed, all that a wonder story can ever be is a vivid picture of a certain type of human mood. The moment it tries to be anything else it becomes cheap, puerile, and unconvincing. Prime emphasis should be given to subtle suggestion—imperceptible hints and touches of selective associative detail which express shadings of moods and build up a vague illusion of the strange reality of the unreal. Avoid bald catalogues of incredible happenings which can have no substance or meaning apart from a sustaining cloud of colour and symbolism.

These are the rules or standards which I have followed—consciously or unconsciously—ever since I first attempted the serious writing of fantasy. That my results are successful may well be disputed—but I feel at least sure that, had I ignored the considerations mentioned in the last few paragraphs, they would have been much worse than they are.

DESCRIPTION: In his essay “Notes on Writing Weird Fiction,” Lovecraft describes the weird tale as a “vivid picture of a certain type of human mood” sustained by atmospheric writing and the subtle use of suggestion.

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

Trying to Improve

I have tried to improve and subtilise my tales with the passing of years, but have not made the progress I wish. Some of my efforts have been cited in the O’Brien and O. Henry annuals, and a few have enjoyed reprinting in anthologies; but all proposals for a published collection have come to nothing. It is possible that one or two short tales may be issued as separate brochures before long. I never write when I cannot be spontaneous—expressing a mood already existing and demanding crystallisation. Some of my tales involve actual dreams I have experienced. My speed and manner of writing vary widely in different cases, but I always work best at night. Of my products, my favourites are “The Colour out of Space” and “The Music of Erich Zann”, in the order named. I doubt if I could ever succeed well in the ordinary kind of science fiction.

DESCRIPTION: In his essay “Some Notes on a Nonentity,” Lovecraft describes his dissatisfaction with his own writing and his rate of improvement.

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “Some Notes on a Nonentity.” Collected Essays. Edited by S. T. Joshi, vol. 5, Hippocampus Press, 2006, pp. 207-11.