Supernatural Horror in Literature by Howard Phillips Lovecraft

The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown. These facts few psychologists will dispute, and their admitted truth must establish for all time the genuineness and dignity of the weirdly horrible tale as a literary form. – H.P. Lovecraft

Skull imageA lot of people are familiar with H.P. Lovecraft’s fiction and his poetry, but I’d like to highlight one of his literary essays. It’s packed to the squamous gills with authors and titles of early works which influenced him. His theories on the anthropology of horror are the sort of weird and slightly racist things you might imagine from a white, conservative  author in the early Twentieth Century, but don’t be put off. Lovecraft knows his craft, and he deftly sorts the authors preceding him into those likely to be treasured for posterity, and those who will become curios for aficionados.

The essay also looks at the way stories of fear are constructed. It identifies authors skilled in particular literary techniques. This makes it intriguing for authors attempting to develop their style, or broaden it. It does not give lessons in technique, like the similar essays by Poe before and King after, but does provide a reading list so that authors can develop a foundation in others who have written in a similar style.

Lovecraft designates four of his contemporaries as masters of horror. In coming weeks we’ll look at each of these, starting tomorrow with MR James (who Lovecraft criticised for being prolix, which I find hysterical and James found offensive). Following this, we have Algernon Blackwood, Arthur Machen and Edward Plunkett, whose decision to write under Lord Dunsany was possibly one of the best branding choices since Mark Twain.

Supernatural Horror is Literature isn’t currently available in our collection, but it’s widely available on the web.