Wednesday, November 26, 2014

H. P. Lovecraft, Really?

As I continue to gnash my teeth over Stephen King’s latest “worldwide best-seller,” Revival, I come across a review of The New Annotated H. P. Lovecraft. Howard Phillips Lovecraft (to his parents) grew up to become what King calls “The twentieth century’s greatest practitioner of the classic horror tale.”

Although grew up may not be the right term. Reviewer Stefan Kanfer writes (and I excerpt):

“According to Leslie Klinger, editor of the elephantine New Annotated H. P. Lovecraft (weighing in at five pounds), Howard the boy never developed into Howard the man. . . . 

Howard Phillips Lovecraft 
was the one who opened the crypt.

“Raised by his grandparents, Howard became a brilliant but sickly child who lived almost entirely in his head. As an adolescent he rejected religions of any kind, studied astronomy and chemistry on his own, and slowly worked out the mythologies of alien and malevolent spirits that were to characterize his oeuvre.

“Howard rarely went out in daytime. Workers on the nightshift in Providence soon became familiar with the pale, long-faced walker. Back in his room, he wrote stories that found their way into small magazines devoted to the weird and the occult. . . .

“Howard despised minorities, as well as those he considered ‘mongrels.’ Indeed, during a sojourn in New York City, he described the populace as ‘an Asiatic hell’s huddle of the world’s cowed, broken, inartistic, & unfit.’ It’s a wonder not only that the man married, but that he chose a woman of Jewish and Ukrainian ancestry. It’s no wonder that the marriage didn’t last. . . . 

“Predictably, many heavy metal, punk, and post-punk musicians have based songs on Lovecraft’s work . . . More than a score of video games have tumbled from the Lovecraft inkwell, and every year, new graphic novels salute the guru of the ghastly.

“Stephen King, Peter Straub, Anne Rice, Dean Koontz, and scores of other genre writers have acknowledged a profound debt to the nerdy isolate, driving readers to his work. Fair enough. For Howard Phillips Lovecraft was the one who opened the crypt. New talents followed—and found the celebrity that eluded him in life.”

I hope you’re still with me, because I have a couple of points to make.

1. If this is King’s great exemplar, then as I already wrote, I want nothing more to do with King. Despite what highfalutin’ critics often say, I think it is important not to separate a writer’s life from a writer’s output.

“By their fruits” says something to me not only about the fruit tree but about the fruit. Sick tree, soul-sickening fruit.

That is why I think you can’t go wrong reading the writings of saints (e.g. John Henry Newman) and people like saints (e.g. Dorothy Day). Good tree, healthy fruit.

2. The last time I was in a crypt, it was the burial place of St. James the Apostle. I didn’t need that crypt opened, and surely not by HPL. My heart opened simply by being there.

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