I, like many metalheads I’d imagine, was first introduced to HP Lovecraft by The Call of Ktulu and The Thing That Should Not Be by Metallica. Back then I knew nothing of the man, just that he was some bloke who years and years ago wrote scary stories. His grave was also depicted on the cover of Live After Death by Iron Maiden, which was pretty cool. I wasn’t a big reader back then so never sort out any of his works. What a young fool I was.
It was some years later (more than I’d like to admit) when I first read anything written by him. The Dunwich Horror was my first taste, and since that initial dipping of my toe into Cthulhu’s depths, I was hooked.
I binge-read pretty much everything after that, finishing one story then immediately diving straight into the next. Before I knew it, my answer for the work computer’s security question – what is your favourite author? – was, well you can guess.
But what was it about these tales that so encapsulated me? Well, they’re bloody scary, for one.
Stories about demons and possessions and so on can be scary in their own way, but we all (well, some of us) know that the subject matter is made up, so the scare factor wavers somewhat. Not believing in a fiery underworld that you’ll burn in for eternity makes it more difficult to be frightened by the descriptions of one in a work of fiction. You don’t need to have read the Bible to know the general gist of Hell. It’s everywhere, from popular culture to Religious Education lessons at school. So when you read a story about Hell and demons, you already know most things about them.
It’s kind of the same with zombies, vampires, and werewolves, too. Most people know how to kill each of the three creatures from countless references in film and TV. Not that we’ve ever needed to try, I can’t remember a single case reported about any of them. So as with the Hell example, to me they just aren’t that likely to happen, and so aren’t that scary. Although I must admit I have read some truly awesome zombie-type stories in the past that scared the excrement out of me, but this doesn’t fit in with my argument here so I won’t mention them. OK, I just did, ignore that!
But how about the thought that there’s a big monster alien beast with the power to destroy your mind and/or self just by you looking at it? And this alien lives miles under water in an unexplored area of the ocean, or hidden away in the frozen lands of Antarctica. I’m no explorer, but I wouldn’t find it too hard to imagine that not every single acre of this planet has been visited by human beings. So the thought that there may be something horrific lying in wait there isn’t that ridiculous.
We can’t definitively say that there aren’t these great gods, monsters, or mythical beings of all sorts and kinds, yet to be discovered. OK, some may say you can’t prove that there’s no such thing as the Devil, but science has sort of argued quite convincingly against it, but that’s for another time.
Anyway, I know I’m preaching to the converted here. That first reason for my Lovecraft-love could be applied to pretty much any cosmic horror story. So what else is there?
There are many tales of horror out there, both short ones and novel length ones, where the beginning of the story is merely the set up; getting the know the characters, the location, and so on. And that’s cool, in order for the horrors that await the characters to be well, horrific, you need to know enough about them to care when they are mutilated beyond recognition, or whatever.
But Lovecraft’s set ups draw you in from the very first sentence. An example would go a little like this;
I am truly fucked. There’s some bad shit gone down and I am truly shit scared of everything around me. And all these proper bad things that I’ve seen will surely mean the end for me and possibly all of humanity. Now I will explain in details you may not fully appreciate how these terrible events have unfolded. Shit, what was that noise?
Straight away you’re hooked. You sort of already know how the story will end, so you spend your time reading just waiting for the mortal shit to hit the cosmic fan. Part of you wishes that everything will work out OK in the end, but the fact that you know it won’t makes it all the more enjoyable and cathartic. Most of the time you’re more scared than the poor narrator who is desperately trying to make a permanent record of their last moments whilst keeping their sanity.
Things are often described as ‘indescribable’ in many of Lovecraft’s stories. Narrators describe things that are so ‘not of this world’ that it is beyond our understanding to try and comprehend them. It would be easy enough to leave it there and let the reader’s dark imagination fill in the blanks. But no, we have detailed descriptions, as best as the narrator can provide anyway, turning our own imagined beasts into monsters much more deadly and horrific. Our minds conjure up something a lot more terrifying than could be described simply with words.
And now we get on to the endings. There’s pretty much two endings in Lovecraft tales. 1. They die. 2. They go insane. OK then, there’s three. 3. The go insane, and then they die.
These are always my favourite endings to horror stories. For me, they need to end on a downer, otherwise they are happy stories with a scary middle. For my thoughts and ramblings on endings in horror stories you can always click your little finger on this right here.
Luckily I’m not the only one who feels this way about these awesome stories. We all know the great following these weird tales have amassed, and how they are constantly being updated or having influence on modern stories. And long may it continue (this is where you raise your glass, if you have one, and say ‘here, here’).
A friend of a friend once said to me, “Wow, you like Lovecraft? What a surprise. He’s a crap writer. I read The Call of Cthulhu and it was OK, but nothing special.” I say friend of a friend, because let’s be honest, who wants to be friends with someone like that? I sneered at him and hoped, just hoped that the Ancient Ones would rise up from their depths and sort him out. And you never know, they might just do that!
Photo credit: Daniel Mennerich via VisualHunt.com / CC BY-NC-ND
Photo credit: mugley via Visualhunt / CC BY-NC-SA