"That is not dead which can eternal lie. And with strange aeons even death may die."--The Necronomicon
Loving Lovecraft and Cuddling Cthulhu (How I Spent My Early Twenties Believing in The Great Old Ones and The Necronomicon)
By Nickolas Cook
The Black Glove Magazine
First off, just so you know, this isn’t going to be another dry impersonal history of Lovecraft and his various legendary writing disciples.
The only history contained herein this editorial will be personal history, and how I was affected and influenced by one of the greatest horror authors who ever lived.
I can still remember the first time I fell (Horror)head over heels in love with Howard Phillips Lovecraft and his Cthulhu Mythos, and strangely enough, it wasn't even through Lovecraft that I "discovered" them. A friend of mine, Clayton Townsend, who had such a huge impact on me, first as a horror reader, and then later, as a horror writer, gave me a copy of a book which I still consider one of the best collections of Mythos fiction ever published, Ramsey Campbell's "Cold Print" from 1985, an amazing collection of horrifying, chilling stories in the vein of Lovecraft and his early fellow Mythos writers, authors such as August Derleth and Robert Bloch. But even then, Campbell was taking the mythos to whole new level of cosmic and psychological terror. No one living, at that time, was writing anything near as literate and frightening as Campbell, with the exceptions of Thomas Ligotti and Peter Straub.
So, having said that, it really should go without saying that Ramsey Campbell still is required reading for anyone serious about writing great horror fiction.
The man is a genius. No exaggeration, folks. He's just simply one of the greatest living masters of this genre. He deserves every single award he's ever won in this industry, including the many World Fantasy, Bram Stoker and British Fantasy awards he's received in his long brilliant career as writer, editor and critic. And at the risk of running off at the keyboard in this editorial about another author altogether, I implore you to get any and everything Ramsey Campbell you can, sit down and read it; and if you're a writer, especially a horror writer, learn from his work. He's a great model for any aspiring craftsperson in this industry. I met him in 2004, at the Phoenix, AZ. World Horror Convention. He was one of the nicest people I've ever met. He even remembered me when we met again in 2005 at the next World Horror Convention. Yeah, I know. He was probably just being nice, but what a great guy to at least make an effort to make a friend and fellow horror scribe feel like he was one of the gang.
And don't let that kindly smile fool you...he is a man who understands personal Hell as a reality. His childhood was not bright sun and flowers--as if you couldn't tell by the insidious nature of his fiction, the way the normal can suddenly implode around one and leave you struggling in a world that is no longer recognizable. It's easy to see he has dealt with madness on many levels.
But back to Lovecraft lovin'...
So, after my friend Clay gave me this book, along with some other choice books from the likes of Joe R. Lansdale ("By Bizarre Hands"), Charles L. Grant ("The Hour of the Ox-Run Dead") and a collection from David J. Schow ("Seeing Red"), it was like being thrown headlong into Horror Fiction 101. Up to that point, I hadn't been real serious about branching away from the bestseller horror stuff. Stephen King, Dean Koontz and John Saul were my mainstay horror picks until that time. Sure, I had read a few things earlier in my life which had stuck with me. "The Dark" by James Herbert, "Wolfen" by Whitley Streiber, "Floating Dragon" by Peter Straub and "The Cellar" by Richard Laymon are a few very strong remembrances and influences from childhood that come immediately to mind. But even at age 22, I still had yet to dig into the really esoteric, lesser known horror authors and their fantastic works. I had started writing by the time I was 13, but I didn't get a lot of encouragement, so I hadn't stuck with it, and I was still playing at the idea of writing this stuff for real.
Even now, as silly as it may sound to some of you, I think there must have been some greater power at work when Clay handed me that stack of incredible books and implored me to read them, and I still believe that same dark cosmic power must have been at work when I actually did as he told me and started with Campbell's "Cold Print".
Clay had this very cool thing he did with most of the books he gave me: he would hand write short essays about the stories, authors and/or history of horror on these little sticky notes and put them at the beginning of whichever stories he felt were especially great, or had something new to say in the genre. I still have every book the guy gave me, with all those cool little mini-essays still marvelously intact within their pages. Sometimes I go back and read through them, and think how lucky I am to have had such a friend in my life, such an influence that pushed me and encouraged me when I needed it the most. Not everyone gets that sort of person in their life. Thank the gods, both light and dark, for Clay.
Our friendship lasted several years, during which we both became serious about writing as a career. We even started a fairly successful little writing group in our hometown of Fernandina Beach, Florida, which at one point had a couple dozen members of varying ages and skill, that met once a week for a few months. During this time, he went through a crappy marriage, the birth of his two children with her, and eventually a nasty divorce; while I went through two girlfriends, a marriage; I moved four hundred miles away to Orlando, to pursue a phantom screenwriting career for horror films; went through my own divorce, and eventually moved even further away to Tucson, Arizona (2,200 miles from home) to marry my best friend and soul mate.
Through that all these things me and Clay had the writing, the books and we had Lovecraft--the one hugely unifying force that super-glued two absolutely disparate personalities together, to the point that we sometimes read the same books and stories without knowing what the other was doing, and even sometimes wrote very similar stories, again, without prior consultation. I still think it eerie how close our passion for horror fiction, especially H.P. Lovecraft, and his Cthulhuian creations, brought we two brothers of the blood soaked pen together.
And I still believe my having "discovered" Lovecraft through Ramsey Campbell's "Cold Print" when I did truly informed me as a writer from that day forward. It was because of the powerful influence of those "cosmic horrors" that I began the first true step to becoming a real horror writer. Yes, you know it...I copied the be-jesus out of Lovecraft's style, cribbing him unmercifully as so many others did before me. I know it's a horror tradition practiced even today.
Right now, there's undoubtedly scores and scores of young Horrorhead author wannabes out there who are writing in that stilted, clinical, high-handed Lovecraftian style, going apeshit with the largest, dustiest dictionary/thesaurus they can lay their sweaty, shaky hands upon. It has been said that imitation is the greatest form of flattery. If that's so, then Lovecraft has to be the most flattered horror author in the genre.
Most of us move on from this phase, having learned both what made Lovecraft classic and what makes his style so stifling and unrealistic. And if you don't which is which yet, then you're either just beginning this particular phase of your writing evolution, or you're hopelessly mired in the swamp that the Cthulhuian Mythos can become, if you're not careful to eventual carry on to other movements and other styles (even other imitative phases). Or, if it's possible, you've never read any of Lovecraft or his disciples...
But I refuse to contemplate any self-proclaimed Horrorhead who hasn't at least dipped his or her toe into the Cthulhu Mythos pool. I mean, hell, even if you've only stuck with the most accessible of the mainstream horror, then surely you must've at least read Stephen King or Peter Straub stories in which they riff on the cosmic horror master. And I won't even start naming names of the lesser known (but still extraordinarily talented) horror, fantasy and science fiction writers who've added their own inkings to the Mythos Cycle. I won't, mostly because we don't have all day. If you're interested in finding just a handful of such talents, there are plenty of resources, both in print and online, with which you may do so.
For now, let's start wrapping this up, shall we?
I started this editorial with the rather pithy title above, a joking little smartass dig. Mostly it was an almost unconscious attempt to perhaps keep myself from sounding so serious about something about which I am most very earnest, and that's Lovecraft's tremendous influence on my own craft and evolution. Maybe I’m a little embarrassed by how much my own writer’s evolution owes to a craftsman whom more than a few too-cool-for-school horror professionals have decided isn’t worthy of their respect and take every opportunity to make disdainful and disrespectful cracks about everything from the man’s descriptive powers to how he dressed. Sometimes, if you squeak loudly enough, you get thrown in with the rest of the rats, whether it’s fair or not.
But I have to ask myself: Where would I be without having fallen for his overly descriptive clinically stilted stories of ancient god monsters who want to enslave mankind and take back a world which they once held when the dinosaurs roamed the planet? Where would more than a few bestselling horror writers be? Or for that matter, where would the entire genre be? To me, that's like asking where would we be without Poe, Hawthorne, Universal Monsters, Lon Chaney, Bela Lugosi, Boris Karloff, Hammer Studios, Famous Monsters of Filmland, AIP, Vincent Price, those 42nd Street Grindhouse theaters, drive-ins, slasher movies, Romero's undead movies, Fangoria Magazine or Stephen King; because even the most short sighted of industry pros have to admit Lovecraft's tremendous importance and influence on all things horror. His weight and bearing on the entire genre is as important as all of those things above...maybe even all of those things above combined, depending on whom you're speaking with about the man and his works. It's true he has some serious racist comments in his works, and it's pretty clear he was a man who some rather emotionally crippling views on the fairer sex--hell, read the various descriptions he uses to give his readers a vague idea of what exactly makes his creations so terrifying. Tentacle sex, anyone? I'm not here to defend his antiquated views on women or other races; but I think any intelligent person has to at least concede he was a product of his time, cultural pressures and social environment.
Personally, I prefer to read his stories without doing an in depth psychological examination of the man. To do so truly does his genre-defining catalogue of work very little justice. Besides, any author can't help but yell his own personal emotional and psychological horrors, stupidities and prejudices in just about anything he puts to paper. I'd hate to see an expert do a psychological breakdown of some of my own stories, especially "A SOFT PINK MELODY", "JESUS' GHOSTS" or "BLIND BOY". Talk about your issues...sheesh. And I think the best horror authors in the history of the genre do put themselves, body and soul, into their work. It's the only way some of us survive this world, or can contemplate the darkness at the end of the tunnel, the final dying of the light, as it were.
In any case, I think it easy enough to say that, without Lovecraft's particularly, and peculiarly, personal cosmic terrors we would be a poorer fiction for those "things which go bump in the night". In his case, and perhaps most telling and fitting, Lovecraft's "night" just happens to be the entire known universe.
Fitting and telling, indeed.
Besides, ask yourself this disturbing question: What if everything Lovecraft wrote was based on real life events, on real life horrors, cosmic terrors that truly are attempting to break back through to our world?
Think about that tonight, as you're lying in bed, in the dark, and the cold wind is blowing outside your window, and the world feels less safe, less sure, all around you. Think about those Great Old Ones tap-tap-tapping at our species' chamber door. Think about what waits for us in the unknowable depths of space and time. Can you really say Cthulhu and his hellish brethren don't exist?
The Black Glove Magazine