Academic journal article Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts

St. Lovecraft

Academic journal article Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts

St. Lovecraft

Article excerpt

Lovecraft, H. P. The Classic Horror Stories. Roger Luckhurst, ed. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2013. 487 pp. Paperback. ISBN 9780199639571. $24.95.

Harman, Graham. Weird Realism: Lovecraft and Philosophy. Winchester, UK: Zero Books, 2012. 268 pp. Paperback. ISBN 9781780992525. $24.95.

Woodard, Ben. Slime Dynamics: Generation, Mutation, and the Creep of Life. Winchester, UK: Zero Books, 2012. 77 pp. Paperback. ISBN 9781780992488. $14.95.

Simmons, David, ed. New Critical Essays on H.P. Lovecraft. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013. 259 pp. Hardback. ISBN 9781137332240. $90.00.

Callaghan, Gavin. H. P. Lovecraft's Dark Arcadia: The Satire, Symbology and Contradiction. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2013. 288 pp. Paperback. ISBN 9780786470792. $40.00.

It is a truism of literary history that the title of genius is often posthumously awarded. That establishment of literary merit is dependent on shifting standards and expectations is clearly being demonstrated today by the on-going literary canonization of H. P. Lovecraft, an author who mainly published in pulp magazines of the 1930s and 1940s and died, like his idol Edgar Allan Poe, impoverished and little known. It is safe to say that few people outside of fellow amateur journalists and consumers of American fantasy and horror pulp magazines knew of Lovecraft's existence during his short career and, where notice was taken by the literary establishment, it was savage. In 1945, Lovecraft's work was lambasted by the "Dean of American Critics," Edmund Wilson himself. In a review of Lovecraft's writing for The New Yorker titled "Tales of the Marvellous and the Ridiculous," Wilson effectively trashed Lovecraft, calling his fiction "hack-work" that ought to have been left in the pulps and stating, "The only real horror in most of these fictions is the horror of bad taste and bad art" (47). While Wilson does acknowledge occasional "traces of more serious emotions and interests" in Lovecraft's work, he is particularly galled by Lovecraft as a stylist:

One of Lovecraft's worst faults is his incessant effort to work up the expectations of the reader by sprinkling his stories with such adjectives as "horrible," "terrible," "frightful," "awesome," "eerie," "weird," "forbidden," "unhallowed," "unholy," "blasphemous," "hellish" and "infernal." Surely one of the primary rules for writing an effective tale of horror is never to use any of these words--especially if you are, at the end, to produce an invisible whistling octopus. (48)

Wilson concludes his review by lumping together Lovecraft and his fans with another franchise enjoying a new lease on life in the twenty-first century: "the Lovecraft cult, I fear, is on even a more infantile level than the Baker Street Irregulars and the cult of Sherlock Holmes" (49).

But one man's infantile cult is another person's raison d'etre and today Lovecraft's cultural prominence is virtually inescapable. From new editions of his work to Facebook memes to homages from high profile figures such as Stephen King, Guillermo del Toro, and Neil Gaiman, Lovecraft seems to be everywhere. There is however an important difference between the elevation of figures such as Walt Whitman and Herman Melville who enjoyed similar posthumous rehabilitation and Lovecraft's reversal of fortunes: whereas the writers of the so-called American Renaissance were celebrated by a coterie of intellectuals, Lovecraft has been taken up by both the ivory tower (still grudgingly) and popular culture (avidly). Put another way, while generations of college students have had to be convinced that Moby Dick is worth reading, Lovecraft and his work sell with or without an academic seal of approval. Five recent publications--yet another collection of Lovecraft's work, two works of philosophy, and two works of literary criticism--speak to the on-going canonization of Lovecraft and begin to suggest explanations for his emergent star status. …

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