Howard Phillips Lovecraft was born in Providence, United States, 20 August 1890 – and died on 15 March 1937. Better known as H. P. Lovecraft, he was an American writer of horror and science fiction novels and short stories. He is considered a great innovator of the horror story, to which he contributed his own mythology (the Cthulhu myths), developed in collaboration with other authors and still in use today.
His work is a classic of cosmic horror, a trend that departs from the traditional themes of supernatural horror (Satanism, ghosts), incorporating elements of science fiction (alien races, time travel, existence of other dimensions). Lovecraft also wrote poetry, essays and epistolary literature. He is considered one of the most influential authors of the 20th century in the genre of fantasy literature.
From an early age, Lovecraft already had different tendencies from other boys of his age. His mother, who would not let him play with his friends because she considered them “lower class”, isolated him from others and told him that he was really ugly and would never amount to anything. With such a depressing environment and so little support from his parents, it became normal for little Howard to make the dark woods and caves his playground. There, all alone, he would let his imagination run wild, thinking of fairies and aliens (elements that he would later capture in his novels, of course). While the other children were playing fights or sports, he was engaged in historical re-enactments or reading.
– Of course, the young Lovecraft always loved literature: He could recite poetry at the age of two, read at the age of three and write at the age of six. By the age of five he had already read an adaptation of the “Iliad” and “The Thousand and One Nights”. His favourite genre was crime, a hobby that led him to set up a detective agency called “Providence Detective Agency” (Providence was his birthplace) at the age of thirteen. However, he soon tired of this game and returned to literature.
The Lovecraftian scholar Rafael Llopis wrote of the author: “Brought up in a holy fear of the human race (except for “good families” of Anglo-Saxon origin), he believed that no one is capable of understanding or loving anyone and he felt a foreigner in his homeland. For him “human thought […] is perhaps the funniest and most discouraging spectacle on the globe”.
– It is said that when he began to discover the classical mythology of the Romans and Greeks, he built altars to gods such as Artemis, Apollo and Saturn. All of this was influenced by these works that fascinated him so much. It was from them that Lovecraft drew the inspiration for many of his mythological creatures.
– When he was only 16 years old, he had in mind to commit suicide, due to the death of his grandfather, one of the relatives with whom he was most in contact. Lovecraft lived as a hermit, living only with his mother, and thinking of studying astronomy. However, he never achieved that goal, since, unfortunately for him (and fortunately for all reading enthusiasts), he was very bad at mathematics.
The Penguin Encyclopedia of Horror and the Supernatural says of the Providence writer: “Some have criticised his work for its bombastic, adjective-heavy style, but the harmony and balance in his best stories fully justify that practice as deliberate. He was thoroughly trained in this genre, appropriating its resources, manipulating them at will and pushing them to their limits with convincing ease. Lovecraft devoted great attention to the aesthetics of horror literature, as numerous passages in his letters attest. The long essay Supernatural Horror in Literature (1927, revised 1936) represents a competent exposition of the principles of the supernatural story, demonstrating a thorough mastery of the subject. In it he sought to define the peculiar appeal of the horror story, in which “there must be present a certain atmosphere of unexpected deadly terror of unknown external forces”, and described the evolution of the Gothic novel through the works of Walpole, Radcliffe, Lewis and Maturin”.
– Throughout his youth he would acquire the traits he would retain for the rest of his life. For example, he declared himself an atheist when he was only 5 years old, influenced by the literature he was reading; he developed a strong racism (it is believed that this aspect was strengthened when, while living in New York, he did not get a job while some immigrants did); he was afraid of the sea, he hated it, possibly due to an intoxication he suffered from fish as a child (in fact, if we look at it closely, most of his monsters come from the sea); he hated the light, in fact at night is when he was most active, when he read, wrote and walked; and he distrusted the human race, despite being a pacifist, so he thought that war was something that should accompany mankind to its end (perhaps as the cause of its end).
– Even at the age of 37, his depressive personality and habits became even more pronounced. He loved to wander alone at night, visiting cemeteries, as if he were a ghost. He loved solitude, its ghostly and terrifying atmosphere. During this period he published some of his most important works, coinciding with one of his most emotionally sad periods.
– He also began to feel a strange sensitivity to low temperatures (an aspect that probably stemmed from his unhealthy character). He found it very uncomfortable, almost unbearable, to be in a place where the temperature was below 20º.
– During his last years his sickliness increased, and he became severely malnourished. Lovecraft died on 15 March 1937, from intestinal cancer.
“That which can lie eternally is not dead,
and with strange aeons even death may die.”
– It should also be noted, as a final curiosity, that Lovecraft never published a book, always sending short stories to newspapers and magazines. It took almost thirty years after his death for Lovecraft’s work to be recognised and for books of his works to be published. This was made possible by a group of writers helped by Howard, a group called “The Lovecraft Circle”. Thanks to his followers, his works have survived to the present day.