Happy Birthday, H.P. Lovecraft!

H. P. Lovecraft

Today is H. P. Lovecraft’s 122nd birthday.  Born in Providence, Rhode Island, HPL would go on to completely change the field of weird fiction.  His influence is virtually everywhere today from music to films to comics to literature to games to toys and much, much more.

My good friend Annie Riordan has a great article about all the stuff we wouldn’t have if it hadn’t been for HPL.  Go read it here because she says it all a lot better than I could.

Lots of people will be posting about HPL’s life and works today so I’ll let them handle that.  What I want to talk about is what HPL meant to me.

When I was in high school in 1978, I wasn’t having a particularly good time.  I was bullied a lot and didn’t really have a lot of friends.  I spent most of my time alone either reading or drawing or watching TV.  One day, I was in the school library (where I spent virtually all of my time when I wasn’t in class), idly flipping through the card catalog, looking for something to read.  I’d always had an interest in horror (both movies and literature) as well as true crime which meant that I would have been at home with the Addams Family.  Anyway, this was back in the day when we didn’t have computer catalogs that can search the entire library in seconds.  If you wanted something, you had to look it up in the card catalog or just meander through the stacks until something caught your attention.

I was flipping through cards when I came upon this entry:

“Lovecraft, H.P. (1890-1937)

THE HAUNTER OF THE DARK AND OTHER STORIES”

This sounded interesting so I wrote down the name, title and call number and went into the stacks.  I’d never heard that name before and, in my ignorance, felt sure that it must be some kind of pen-name.  Surely that couldn’t be his real name.

This is the book that I found:

This is not the actual copy I read but one I bought years later because it was my first HPL book.

“Well, this is weird,” I thought so I took the book home.  I read it through three times before finally, reluctantly returning it to the school library.  The first story in the book was “The Outsider”.  When I reached that terminal climax, “… a cold and unyielding surface of polished glass”, I just held the book down in amazement.  Even though HPL would consider this to be one of his lesser stories, it had an amazing impact on me.  The story, narrated by someone who is forgotten and apart from not just humanity but life itself showed me that this was an author who understood me, who knew what it was like to be an “outsider”.

The Phillips Family Plot at Swan Point Cemetary in Providence, RI.

The next story in the book was “The Rats in the Walls” and I was instantly hooked.  I’d never know anyone who had written like Lovecraft and, until that point, I never knew that anyone could.  The next stories went by in a fevered dream; “Pickman’s Model”, “The Call of Cthulhu”, “The Dunwich Horror”, “The Whisperer in Darkness”, “The Colour Out of Space”, “The Haunter of the Dark”, “The Thing on the Doorstep”, and “The Music of Erich Zann” were devoured eagerly.

I could no longer be stopped.

I made it my mission to find out more about this “H. P. Lovecraft” and read everything he had written.  Back in those days, it was a lot harder.  There was no Amazon so I had to haunt used book stores and check the Books In Print references for titles.  Eventually, I discovered Arkham House and when that first box arrived with copies of DAGON AND OTHER MACABRE TALES, THE DUNWICH HORROR AND OTHERS, AT THE MOUNTAINS OF MADNESS, THE HORROR IN THE MUSEUM, I was happier than I’d probably ever been in my adolescence.

To say that those books had an impact on me would be to vastly understate the event.  Finally, I had found an author who wrote the way that I felt and his view of man’s insignificance to the cosmos aligned with my own.  Eventually, I discovered that there was a magazine devoted exclusively to Lovecraft called, fittingly, LOVECRAFT STUDIES, published by Necronomicon Press in Rhode Island (I was living Connecticut at the time) and I ordered copies of those.  Shortly after, I began corresponding with the editor of the magazine, S. T. Joshi, who eventually invited me to visit him in Providence and meet others of similar ilk.

Close up of the family marker.

That was my first exposure to others who also enjoyed the writings of Lovecraft.  During that first visit, I met not only S.T., but Marc Michaud (publisher of Necronomicon Press), Jason Eckhardt (artist for Necronomicon Press), Bob Price (writer/editor/publisher of CRYPT OF CTHULHU) and Don & Mollie Burleson (Lovecraft scholars and writers).  As odd as it may seem, I was finally accepted.  I was a member of a group who shared my interests and didn’t think I was weird or ‘odd’.  Through Lovecraft and these friends I gained the confidence I never had before.  It gave me the confidence to become a writer myself.

None of which would have happened if I hadn’t found that slip in the card catalog back in 1978.  For all the great stories, I thank you, H.P.L., but I thank you mostly for helping me realize that I wasn’t alone in the universe and for all the friends and great people I’ve met through the years simply by saying, “Have you read H. P. Lovecraft?”

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About Sam Gafford
My name is Sam Gafford and I've been doing critical work on William Hope Hodgson for many years. I wrote the article "Writing Backwards: The Novels of William Hope Hodgson" in which I presented evidence that WHH wrote his novels in the reverse order in which they were published. I've recently written an article on Hodgson's confrontation with Houdini and am currently working on a book length study of WHH.

One Response to Happy Birthday, H.P. Lovecraft!

  1. Ronny says:

    Nice. Though embarrassment collapses upon me when I realize that all the Cthulhu sitings I came across yesterday were because of his birthday. How did I miss such a thing, and how could I see all those posts everywhere and not make the connection? My geek cred is quickly shrinking!

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