H. P. LOVECRAFT: Prophet of Humanism

By Price, Robert M. | The Humanist, July 2001 | Go to article overview

H. P. LOVECRAFT: Prophet of Humanism


Price, Robert M., The Humanist


When one encounters the name Howard Phillips Lovecraft, the first thing--if anything--that comes to mind is liable to be the word horror. And that is as it should be, since H. P. Lovecraft (or HPL, as he was and remains known) was first and foremost a writer of what he called weird fiction, most of it published in pulp magazines like Weird Tales during his lifetime (1890-1937). He is universally recognized as Edgar Allan Poe's greatest successor, and many consider him Poe's superior. As fellow fantasist Fritz Leiber pointed out, Lovecraft effected a Copernican revolution in the writing of horror fiction, combining the classic Gothic style and diction of Poe with the new terrors unleashed by modern science. Indeed, it is difficult to categorize HPL's work as either horror or science fiction, since it somehow seems to make each integral to the other.

One of Lovecraft's greatest creations was a vast system of artificial mythology, modeled variously on ancient Greek myth, modern Theosophical lore, and the Pegana tales of Lord Dunsany. According to this mythos, human beings are late arrivals in the cosmos and on planet Earth, both of which were ruled for aeons by massive superhuman, utterly unhuman beings collectively known as the Great Old Ones. Most are described as vaguely octopoid in design. With the passing of ages, these entities retired to hibernation or exile, but the time nears when they will return and take what is theirs once more. These revelations are usually uncovered by a scholarly protagonist who realizes, to his peril, that the claims of ancient scriptures and grimoires have a terrible basis in hitherto-unguessed scientific and historical fact.

Lovecraft's myth cycle, and especially the tales in which he set it forth, are powerfully effective for many readers, usually adolescent males who carry the interest in Lovecraft into adulthood and often into scholarly study (myself among them). So effective are these fictions that even in HPL's lifetime many readers felt sure he was the unwitting mouthpiece for actual occult entities, that his Cthulhu Mythos (as his disciple August Derleth dubbed it) was fact. And indeed one might be forgiven for inferring that Lovecraft was some kind of occultist. Some researchers even today try to document their assertion (totally groundless) that Lovecraft was connected--like Arthur Machen, whose work he admired--to the Order of the Golden Dawn. But Lovecraft disdained any and all credence in the supernatural.

Even as a boy HPL had thrown over the Baptist beliefs of his parents and stopped attending his Providence, Rhode Island, Sunday School. He playfully embraced classical paganism for a time as an extension of his precocious interest in The Iliad, The Odyssey, and The Aneid. After that, under the spell of One Thousand and One Arabian Nights, young Howard declared himself a devout Muslim, again a youthful pose, and took the name Abdul Alhazred, a name he would later use for the mad author of his fictitious Necronomicon, a potent book of magic and forbidden knowledge which many readers still insist existed outside of HPL's imagination.

What an irony that some of his most ardent fans insist on seeing Lovecraft as an occultist when he in fact advocated naturalism, being a mechanistic materialist, rationalist, and atheist! He crossed swords in his letters with religious friends and colleagues, albeit in a cordial manner. He had early on been a fiend for science, producing his own amateur chemistry and astronomy magazines at the tender age of nine. He read ancient and modern philosophy, biology, and psychology and was remarkably erudite despite his never having finished high school. And he dismissed Jehovah as having the same degree of reality as his own fictitious god Yog-Sothoth.

So how did Lovecraft reconcile his interest in supernatural horror fiction with his strictly scientific view of the world? Actually, there was no gap to bridge. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

H. P. LOVECRAFT: Prophet of Humanism
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.