HP Lovecraft Biography by Joseph Wrzos

H.P. LovecraftThe finest modern master of weird fiction since Poe, Howard Phillips Lovecraft (1890-1937) had less than auspicious origins. Born in Rhode Island, where he spent most of his forty-six years, Lovecraft was only two when his father died in a mental home, and he himself was none too robust as a child. Due to "headaches" and other ailments, he missed a lot of school, and only managed to complete two-and-a-half years of high school (where he discovered Poe and developed a lifelong interest in the sciences) before a "nervous collapse" forced him to withdraw.

Although Lovecraft's formal education may have been limited, during the following years he more than made up for it. Eagerly reading through his maternal grandfather's richly-stocked library, he began a course of self-study that over the years would help to make him one of the most learned pulp writers in the field. For on those family library shelves, he found such classic works as Bulfinch's AGE OF FABLE, THE ARABIAN NIGHTS, and, a genre he particularly enjoyed, sensational Gothic thrillers. All this imaginative reading soon served him well when he tried his own hand at writing, with early Poe-inspired tales like "The Mysterious Ship" and "The Mystery of the Graveyard."

In the following years, he became something of a recluse, staying in his room by day (writing verse, essays, articles) and venturing forth only by night to take long walks about historic Providence. His development as a writer took an important leap forward in 1913 when, as a result of a fan letter he sent to ARGOSY (a long-running adventure pulp), he was invited to join the United Amateur Press Association. Despite his preference for solitude, he accepted the invitation.

From then on his tendency towards seclusion became a thing of the past. He began corresponding with other amateur writers and editors, and soon contributed his own articles, essays and poetry to these non-profit journals. At one point he even edited and published one of his own journals, THE CONSERVATIVE.

All this early apprentice work, of course, helped to sharpen his own writing skills. By the 1920's he started to sell to the pulps, primarily to WEIRD TALES which published not only his now famous "Mythos" stories (such as "The Whisperer in Darkness" and "The Dreams in the Witch-House") but many of his classic "straight" horror stories as well. For example, "The Outsider" (whose narrator is the last to learn that he's really a "ghoulish thing" newly risen from the grave), and "In the Vault" (in which a tightfisted tailor finds himself locked in a tomb, and being "gnawed upon" by a corpse).

In the 1930's, he would go on to write a good many popular horror stories, among them the inspired SHADOW OUT OF TIME and AT THE MOUNTAINS OF MADNESS (both first published in ASTOUNDING STORIES), which many consider to be major advances in his "Mythos" cycle.

But though he had begun to reach his peak as a fantasist in this period, somewhat unexpectedly, Lovecraft's health began to decline, and he died in 1937 of intestinal cancer. He left behind an innovative and important body of pulp fantasy writing, but one destined, or so it seemed, to fade from memory, as the pulps themselves did two decades later.

Throughout his career, Lovecraft, mostly through his voluminous correspondence, had made many new contacts and friends in the pulp world, in the process gathering about himself an important "circle" of fellow pulp writers. Authors such as Clark Ashton Smith, Frank Belknap Long, Henry Kuttner, and Robert Bloch, all benefitted from their mentor's advice, encouragement and friendship, and hoped to keep his memory alive.

So it isn't surprising that shortly after Lovecraft's death, two of his most devoted pulp colleagues, August Derleth and Donald Wandrei, (both of whom would also achieve considerable literary reputations later on) combined forces and formed a publishing house. They issued THE OUTSIDER AND OTHERS (1939) and BEYOND THE WALL OF SLEEP (1943), two hefty (and now exceedingly rare) collections of Lovecraft's major writings, which otherwise might still be "lost" in the crumbling pulps where they first saw print.

Small-press publishing outlets like Arkham House and, increasingly, the larger mass paperback publishers, continued to bring out new collections and reprints making it possible for new generations of readers, with a taste for the macabre, to relish the horror stories of a master practitioner.

Furthermore, Lovecraft's fiction has been picked up by other media as well, some of his stories and ideas having been successfully adapted for radio, film, television, cd-rom, and even role-playing games. And, keeping up with the times, he can also be found on the Internet, where websites and newsgroups meticulously examine every aspect of his life and work. In fact, in some quarters, Lovecraft has even begun to achieve something of a "cult" status. A posthumous honor which, if he only knew of it, no doubt would have astonished, or more likely have amused, the old pulpster from Providence.

Copyright 2006 Joseph Wrzos. All Rights Reserved. Used by Permission.

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