LoveCrafts – A History of Weird Fiction
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Almost all Lovecraft stories feature characters who isolate themselves from society with some academic interest (literature, science, astronomy). This detachment leads them to discover secrets that they are powerless to stop and often pay for with their lives or sanity.
Lovecraft was hugely influential in the development of a genre called Weird Fiction. This was a style of writing that was codified by pulp magazines like the popular Weird Tales in the ’20s and ’50s, and included a hugely important group of writers and readers. Lovecraft drew on specific historical fears and elaborated them into a fictional universe of cosmic horror, forbidden knowledge, and hidden dangers.
Many of his stories feature doomed explorers who travel to far-flung places in search of forbidden books or lost cities. This reflects the influence of pulp-era 19th century writers like Jules Verne, and it also plays into the themes of the Mythos. This is because the discovery of forbidden knowledge reveals secrets that undermine reality and renders life more fragile than previously thought. This is classic paranoia, where everyday events are hints of an unknown and terrible threat. It may even be a secret that is beyond the scope of human reason.
The Great Old Ones
The Great Old Ones are huge alien creatures that rule the multiverse. They are more powerful than the Outer Gods but not as intelligent or benevolent. They violate the natural laws of space and time and are usually indifferent to humans or even unaware of them. They also view each other with hostility. Some Great Old Ones, like Cthulhu, appear as a single massive monstrous being while others have many different forms.
Lovecraft’s stories portray them as mind numbing horrors filled with tentacles and madness. In his early work he used supernatural elements to depict them but later on, after the death of his friend and mentor August Derleth, he started to use fewer of these. He instead favored non-supernatural cosmic beings and phenomena that are not based on the laws of our own space-time continuum. This trend is most evident in his eponymous 1920 prose poem The Call of Cthulhu.
The Outer Gods
In the Cthulhu Mythos, the Outer Gods are the overarching antagonists. They are creatures who represent fundamental aspects of existence, including time. Like the Great Old Ones, they are so vast and alien that they are impossible for human beings to understand.
These powerful cosmic deities exist beyond Earth and its solar system, exerting their influence from a galactic perspective. They are distinct from alien but godlike creatures such as the Chthonians, Deep Ones, and Elder Things. They also differ from the lesser Outer Gods, such as Azathoth, Nyarlathotep, and Yog-Sothoth.
Lovecraft didn’t explicitly distinguish these entities from the Great Old Ones, and his own version of them differed somewhat from August Derleth’s. But both approaches are rooted in specific historical fears that were playing out in his own time. For example, the narrators of most of Lovecraft’s stories end up going mad, or worse, realizing that they are related to, or slowly becoming, the monster they fear.
The Cthulhu Mythos
The first story Lovecraft wrote to fully realize and make full use of these concepts was called “The Call of Cthulhu.” It introduced the reader to the Great Old Ones, a group of powerful ancient creatures who once ruled Earth but are now aquiescent in death-like sleep. The most recognizable member of this god-like pantheon is Cthulhu, a giant tentacled creature that lurks in the seabed city R’lyeh. Other members of this group include Hastur, Shub-Niggurath and Yog-Sothoth.
Lovecraft’s protagonists in his stories never achieve a gnosis or mystical realization that would allow them to overcome the power of these ominous and malevolent beings. Instead, their efforts are merely to survive and avoid becoming one of their number. These are not monsters waiting to be slain; they are avatars of a horror beyond human imagination. This is why they are called “cosmic horror.”