Yesterday was the 125th birthday of that cantankerous Old Gent from Providence himself, HP Lovecraft. Today, just about everyone I know is at the NecronomiCon in Providence, a convention celebrating the works and influence of one of the most important writers in the history of weird fiction, even as debates continue to rage within the genre about his racism, and various other problematic aspects of his life and work.
My name is one that is, I think, pretty closely tied to Lovecraft’s, whether I want it to be or not. Of the fifty-plus stories that I’ve published or sold to various places over the years, more a dozen have been in explicitly Lovecraft-themed publications, the most recent being Ross Lockhart’s Cthulhu Fhtagn! which was just released from Word Horde. In October I’ll be attending my third consecutive HP Lovecraft Film Festival as a guest. I don’t guess I get to deny that I’m a Lovecraftian writer, but at the same time, I’ve worked very hard to avoid dipping more than just the very tips of my toes into what I think of as the Mythos, instead taking cues from Lovecraft’s themes, the atmosphere of his tales, and running with those.
For last year’s HPLFF, I drove from Kansas City to Portland, picking up fellow guest and good friend Jesse Bullington on the way. During the long drive through countryside that was at turns bleak and beautiful, we talked of many things, and one of the topics that came up was “Why Lovecraft?” What was it about the man that made his legacy endure, while others were, if not forgotten, then certainly not remembered with such fervor by so many? I hypothesized that Lovecraft’s lasting influence had a lot to do with the fact that he was a kind of crossroads where many prior traditions of weird and supernatural fiction intersected, and from whence they then spread out again to go their various new directions. It’s a thought that I expanded upon a bit for my contribution to last year’s online DelToroCon.
Like a lot of people–maybe most people, in this day and age–Lovecraft was essentially my introduction to weird fiction. I came to Lovecraft by way of Stephen King, whose obvious homages to him in stories like “Jerusalem’s Lot” led me inexorably to checking out the work of the Old Gent himself. From there, Lovecraft was both the key and the door to an entire pantheon, not of hideous and ancient god-monsters, but of other writers of weird and spectral fiction both before and since.
On that same long car ride with Jesse, while acknowledging that I was considered a Lovecraftian writer, I said that, in a more perfect–or perhaps simply more accurate–world, I would instead be known as a Bensonian writer, or a Jamesian one (MR, not Henry), or a Hodgsonian or a Wellmanian one, and so on. Lovecraft was my introduction to that world, and as such he will always have a place in my DNA, but as far as the shape that my own writing has taken, there are hordes of other names that share at least equal blame in making me the creator that I am today. Jean Ray, Fritz Leiber, Roger Zelazny, Richard Matheson, Clive Barker, and countless others all threw their particular influences into the mix. And of course none of that is even mentioning movies, which have had a huge impact on my imagination and my writing, or the person who is undoubtedly my greatest influence, Mike Mignola.
Mignola has a story that he tells in interviews, about how it was reading Dracula that made him really realize that all he wanted to do was draw and tell stories about monsters. My similar clarifying moment came about as a result of reading Mignola’s own work on his ever-expanding Hellboy universe. The fact that Mignola–like Lovecraft–proved to be a portal through which I discovered many of the other writers and creators who have most influenced me was icing on the cake.
So here’s to you, Mr. Lovecraft. If you’re not already chilling with the ghouls in the Dreamlands, may our continued excavations leave you and all your forebears and descendants restless in your graves.