Sunday, February 27, 2005

That eldritch power

Let me briefly note this review essay in The Weekly Standard about the work of H. P. Lovecraft. Lovecraft was the author of numerous strange tales in the 1920's and 30's, and he has retained a devoted following. The writer of this piece, Michael Dirda, says:
But it now seems beyond dispute that H.P. Lovecraft is the most important American writer of weird fiction in the twentieth century--and one of the century's most influential writers of any kind of fiction. His admirers range from the Argentine fabulist Jorge Luis Borges to such contemporary masters of darkness as Stephen King and Neil Gaiman. Each year winners of the "World Fantasy Award" take home a trophy modeled on Lovecraft's gaunt, lantern-jawed face. Nearly every author of supernatural fiction and dark fantasy sooner or later tries his hand at a Lovecraftian homage or pastiche.
When reading Lovecraft -- particularly, as a friend of mine noted to me, when reading several Lovecraft stories in a row -- it is sometimes hard not to smile at some of the vocabulary he uses. "Nacreous" and "eldritch" are two of his favorites words. But these words do have their effect, helping to lead the reader outside the bubble of normality into the weird and terrifying spaces beyond. And Dirda points out that Lovecraft had finer instruments as well:
To convey this pervasive uneasiness, his most powerful word is often nothing more fancy than "too": "The trees grew too quickly, and their trunks were too big for any healthy New England wood. There was too much silence in the dim alleys between them, and the floor was too soft with the dank moss and mattings of infinite years of decay."
I have never thought of Lovecraft as a really great writer, yet he is a memorable one and has a large place in my own imagination. He is probably not for everyone, but I am not surprised that he has influenced writers as disparate as Stephen King and Jorge Luis Borges. My own favorite Lovecraft stories are longer, later ones like "The Call of Cthulhu" and "At the Mountains of Madness", which I re-read every couple of years. Though I would not like to live in the Lovecraft cosmos, I do pay it an occasional visit, to draw a few breaths of that cold, queerly perfumed and unsettling air.


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