llustration by mygrimmbrother
Ten things you should know about HP Lovecraft
Howard Phillips Lovecraft was born on this day in 1890. We celebrate his birthday with 10 titbits about the father of weird and wonderful horror
Wednesday 20 August 2014 14.22 BST
1. Both his mother and father were separately committed to the same mental institution
Winfield Scott Lovecraft was committed to Butler Hospital after being diagnosed with psychosis when HP Lovecraft was only three years old. He died in 1898, when HP was eight. To this day, rumours persist that Winfield had syphilis, but neither HP nor his mother ever displayed symptoms.
Sarah Susan Phillips Lovecraft was later committed to Butler in 1919. She remained in close correspondence with her son for two years, until she died of complications after surgery.
2. He wanted to be a professional astronomer but never finished high school
As a sickly child, Lovecraft only attended school sporadically and was essentially self-educated. He was drawn to astronomy and chemistry, and the writings of gothic authors such as Edgar Allan Poe. Due to what he termed a “nervous breakdown”, Lovecraft never finished high school and instead only dabbled informally in his passions.
3. He rarely went out in public during daylight
Lovecraft would only leave the house after sunset, staying up late to study science and astronomy and to read and write. He would routinely sleep late into the day, developing the pale and gaunt bearing he is now known for. Lovecraft’s mother reportedly called him “grotesque” during his childhood and warned him to hide inside so people couldn’t see him. In 1926, he wrote:
I am essentially a recluse who will have very little to do with people wherever he may be. I think that most people only make me nervous - that only by accident, and in extremely small quantities, would I ever be likely to come across people who wouldn’t.
4. He was best buddies with Harry Houdini
In 1924, Lovecraft was asked by the editor of Weird Tales to ghostwrite a column by magician Harry Houdini. After hearing from Houdini his apparently true tale about being kidnapped by an Egyptian tour guide and encountering the deity who inspired the Great Sphinx of Giza, Lovecraft concluded it was complete rubbish - but settled for a big advance and wrote the story. “Under the Pyramids” was published later that year, much to Houdini’s delight, who kept seeking out work for Lovecraft until his death in 1926.
5. He wrote an estimated 100,000 letters in his lifetime
If this figure is correct, it would place HP Lovecraft as second only to French writer Voltaire. Lovecraft regularly wrote to friends, family and enthusiastic amateur writers, many of whom adopted themes, style and even characters from his work. His most regular correspondents were fellow writers Robert Bloch (author of Psycho), Henry Kuttner (The Dark World), Robert E Howard (Conan the Barbarian) and the poet Samuel Loveman.
6. He really didn’t like sex
After his death, Sonia Lovecraft told a Lovecraft scholar that he was a virgin when they married in 1924, aged 34. Before their marriage, Lovecraft reportedly bought numerous books about sex and studied them in order to perform on their wedding night. Sonia later said she had to initiate all sexual activity, saying:
The very mention of the word sex seemed to upset him. He did, however, make the statement once that if a man cannot be or is not married at the greatest height of his sex-desire, which in his case, he said, was at age 19, he became somewhat unappreciative of it after he passed thirty. I was somewhat shocked but held my peace.
7. He suffered night terrors
No, not nightmares: HP Lovecraft began experiencing the parasomnia ‘night terrors’ from the age of six. Night terrors cause the sufferer to physically move or scream to escape waking dreams, and are estimated to affect 3% of adults. HP dreamed of what he called “nightgaunts” which later appeared in his books as thin, black, and faceless humanoids that tickle their victims into submission.
Lovecraft’s affliction fed into his dreamlike, nightmarish prose, but also fuelled it. In a 1918 letter, he wrote:
Do you realise that to many men it makes a vast and profound difference whether or not the things about them are as they appear?... If TRUTH amounts to nothing, then we must regard the phantasma of our slumbers just as seriously as the events of our daily lives...
8. He inspired Batman, Black Sabbath, South Park and more
Or Batman’s city, at least. Batman puts his dastardly criminals away in Arkham Asylum, Arkham being the name of the fictional city HP Lovecraft created as a setting for many of his stories. Cthulu appeared in an episode of South Parkand killed Justin Bieber. Black Sabbath’s album Behind the Wall of Sleep is named for a Lovecraft short story. The Book of the Dead, discovered in a cabin in Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead films, is based on Lovecraft’s Necronomicon. Today you can find the Necronomicon in all good bookstores, without unleashing a zombie apocalypse.
9. HP Lovecraft isn’t buried under his headstone
Lovecraft died of cancer of the small intestine in 1937. In keeping with his lifelong fascination with science, he kept a detailed diary of his eventually mortal illness. When he died, Lovecraft was buried in Swan Point Cemetery and listed on his mother’s family’s monument. This wasn’t enough for Lovecraft’s fans: in 1977, a group funded and installed a separate headstone. In 1997, a particularly avid fan attempted to dig up Lovecraft’s corpse under the headstone, but gave up after finding nothing from digging three feet.
10. Cthulhu is pronounced ‘khlul-loo’ (because we’ve all wondered at some point)
In a 1934 letter to amateur writer Duane W Rimel, Lovecraft explained how to pronounce the name of his alien creation:
The name of the hellish entity was invented by beings whose vocal organs were not like man’s, hence it has no relation to the human speech equipment. The syllables were determined by a physiological equipment wholly unlike ours, hence could never be uttered perfectly by human throats... The actual sound – as nearly as any human organs could imitate it or human letters record it – may be taken as something like Khlûl’-hloo, with the first syllable pronounced gutturally and very thickly. The u is about like that in full; and the first syllable is not unlike klul in sound, hence the h represents the guttural thickness.
HP Lovecraft / A brief survey of the short story
HP Lovecraft / Quote
Ten things you should know about HP Lovecraft