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I Have Finished Reading All of Lovecraft's Fiction

It's been almost a year since my last update on this guy, but I have finally finished reading all of H.P. Lovecraft's fictional works.

So, now that I've reached the end, what have I learned that I couldn't have gained from an afternoon on Wikipedia and/or SparkNotes?

Context.  That's what I've learned.

I remember when I first tried to read Lovecraft over ten years ago and I couldn't even get through the first paragraph.  The overly-complex sentence structure and lavish attention to detail in his word soup put me off immediately and I chucked his works into the mental bin where I keep all the other works of literature that strike me as dense and hard to read.  In my oft-failing grey matter, this translates to "18th century books by rich white dudes."

But Lovecraft isn't that old.  He was a contemporary of John Steinbeck, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Agatha Christie.  His writing was complex by design, not by circumstance.

And that's where the context comes handy.  For some reason - probably immaturity - I never paid much attention to it before when I read books written before the 1950s.  I lumped them all together and never thought about literature as an expression of a single voice in a particular time.

Lovecraft wasn't exemplary of the '20s and '30s - he was an aberration.  He was a self-admitted Edgar Allen Poe fanboy, a guy in love with the world of yesteryear - a simpler time when it was acceptable to openly despise other races and try to subjugate them - who tried in vain to recreate the tropes and diction of his predecessors.  He eschewed the tongue of modern writers in an effort to mimic the purple prose from an era he thought superior to his own.

Whether he succeeded or not is a topic for another day, I think, but knowing that Lovecraft was basically just a prototype for the gothic English major type gives his work a richer sense of romanticism and nostalgia, as well as a more tragic underpinning.  You realize that he was chasing the impossible, and that if he ever stopped to accept that the world was changing, he might be able to clean up some of his muddled thoughts and make a valid point about tradition.  Instead, he's kind of like a grumpy old man got stuck in the body of a twenty year-old nerd.

This ends up creating so many levels of irony if you happen to read Lovecraft side-by-side with Poe and some interstitial works.  (By chance, I happened to be reading Poe, Lovecraft, and Arthur Conan Doyle concurrently, and that's when I finally started to get a better grasp of their respective styles.)  Lovecraft never got the language of 19th and 18th century literature quite right - even Poe, his most precious love affair, was much more concise even if it seems alien or erudite to a reader from today.  Lovecraft comes out like verbal vomit by comparison, a slew of compound-complex sentences that ramble and miss the mark, desperately in need of an editor.

I guess what I'm saying is that Lovecraft was an Internet fan-fic weirdo before they were invented.

I would go so far as to say that Lovecraft succeeded despite himself.  His best ideas and creepiest works seem to have been stumbled onto ass-first while he was trying to figure out another way to work the phrase "eldritch foeter" into his story.  Somewhere along the line, he must have become self-aware of his own futile attempts to recreate Poe's artistry, so he started to self-insert himself into stories (yup, definitely a fan-fic writer) as doomed protagonists who have a desperate fascination with the past.

When you look at his works with the right context, you see a sobering self-deconstruction from a guy who knew he could only be but a pale imitation of his hero, a guy who knew his writing was a morbid, ineffectual, cosmic joke.  And that's the biggest irony of all: the metaphor he constructed (cosmic cruelty) became a literal horror in his stories and ended up being a genuine contribution to literature. Through poor imitation of classic literature came one of the biggest innovations in modern horror.

Lovecraft's works are imperfect.  I'm tempted to revise them on my own and present the world with an abridged set of stories, but that's more than a tad arrogant.  More than that, I kinda wish I was around to talk to the guy personally.  Look past the racism, look past the introverted creepy nerd, look past the immaturity and everything else:  Lovecraft was a legitimately great writer too stuck in his own headspace for decades to allow himself to improve.

Can you imagine what he would've been like if he got past that hurdle and tried to actually connect with other people?  Instead of being a curiosity for fans of pulp fiction and horror, he'd be studied as closely today as any of the other greats.

Oh, well.  An almost-was is sometimes as enjoyable as a once-was.  Congrats to the man on the mark he left behind, and here's hoping the next Lovecraft loosens up before he dies young.

All the Other Nonsense That Got Pushed Off the Main Page (Post Archive)