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Musing for the day: H.P. Lovecraft isn’t scary

June 17, 2013

Let me preface this by saying that I’ve never yet read a “horror story” or seen a “horror movie” that I actually found scary. I’ve read and seen some that I’ve enjoyed. I’ve found a few of them quite suspenseful. Occasionally, one that surprises me. But I’ve never yet felt fear when reading a story or watching a movie that was ostensibly intended to evoke that emotion.

Image Credit: Jonathan de Wald. Originally posted at:

So, I get to thinking about H.P. Lovecraft’s body of work from time to time (at least his work that I’ve read), and here’s a conclusion I’ve come to. If ever his work was considered “scary”, it should have ceased to be after 1945. In fact, he’s lucky (as lucky as a dead guy can be) to even be considered relevant by anyone after August 9, 1945.

Yes, I realize that his work has had an enormous influence on many a speculative fiction writer from the 1920’s through today, including Stephen King, Joss Whedon and Neil Gaiman. Yes, I realize that he was a bigoted, racist douchebag, and that much of his Mythos work is an analogy for the perceived displacement of the white male’s dominance in society. That’s all besides the point.

Here’s the gist of Lovecraft’s “Mythos” as I understand it. Humanity is insignificant, both to the world and the universe. In fact, humanity’s existence may even be an aberration. The things that are significant are powerful aliens, either extraterrestrial or extra dimensional. At some point in the future, one or more of these alien beings is coming back to our world and either bringing a load of BBQ sauce with them, or enslaving humanity, or both. Because these beings are so beyond our understanding, exposure to them or any agency of theirs erodes pieces of our fragile human minds, leading inevitably to insanity. Hopelessness and inevitability in the face of this “cosmic horror” is a major component of the intended scary factor.

This stuff was all groundbreaking for its time in the 1920’s and 30’s, and it’s all still good conceptual fuel for other writers today. But also keep in mind that it was all written before 1937. That’s when Lovecraft died. You seriously have to wonder, if the man had lived to see World War II, especially if he had been alive to read the newspapers after the dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, how would his world view and his writings have changed?

After World War II and the advent of nuclear weapons, it was pretty clear to every semi-educated adult (and should still be) that the greatest threat to humanity’s survival is humanity. Today, though widespread nuclear destruction seems extremely unlikely, the rise of violent religious extremism (from monotheists, not worshippers of Nyarlothotep) should still drive this point home. H.P. Lovecraft’s stories of alien gods really should no longer have any potential to inspire actual fear.

So what do you think? Am I just talking out of my ass? Have I got the great H.P. Lovecraft all wrong? Sound off in the credits and let me know if you have an opinion.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. relsden permalink
    July 19, 2013 11:07 pm

    You know, I never really considered what good old H.P. would have thought about WW2 but now that you mention it… Yes, he would have been first in line to get fitted for a snazzy uniform I think.

    I found his writings to be well… The horror is in how incomprehensible they are. They are inscrutable. It’s sort of the point I suppose but it is horror/terror/anomie operating on a level that doesn’t register in any visceral way. The dull headache that forms behind your brow when reading Lovecraft is, in a sense, the dread presence of the Great Old Ones made manifest. Only the truth is that it isn’t an Elder God driving you mad, it’s H.P. with his tomb-dry, spidery prose.

    Not the sort of thing I ever revisit for fun, but he’s more of a tone painter than a story teller. Anyway, enjoyed the post.

    Liked by 1 person

    • August 21, 2013 4:58 pm

      Hey Rel,
      I’ve been neglecting my blog for so long, that I overlooked your comment. Thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts.


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