June 18, 2013
Given the cosmic horror themes my current D&D campaign is about use, I felt it prudent to read up on Bloch, Howard, Smith, and of course Lovecraft. These men built on a fairly recent tradition of cosmic horror that would not really hit until decades later.
Having re-familiarized myself with these works, I feel I should point out how influential they have been in MANY areas of popular culture.
There are, of course, the films that are direct adaptations of Lovecraft’s world. I’ve reviewed Whisperer in Darkness and talked about how “Call of Cthulhu” is good for college courses. Of course, there are also the Gordon films (Re-Animator, From Beyond, and Dagon, and “Dreams in the Witch-House), but there are also the films that borrowed from the central concepts of Lovecraft’s vision.
I Ain’t Afraid of No Ghost
Sure, the Ghostbusters, well, uhm… busted ghosts. But the big bad in the first film is Gozer, an extradimensional being that seeks to destroy the world. The dead rising are a byproduct of its impending arrival.
Lovecraft was not a believer in the supernatural, despite modern pop belief in the contrary. His stories, even those that dealt with magic, made it seem more like an advanced form of super-science, an understanding beyond that which we know. The titular witch in “Dreams in the Witch-House” wasn’t a student of potions and astrology. She learned to manipulate space and time as a scientist would learn to mix different chemicals.
H. G. Wells made the concept of alien invasion a reality with War of the Worlds. It’s a classic, but Lovecraft was the one who came up with the idea of aliens as truly horrible, and ALIEN, entities. Name a story in the mythos. Any story. Odds are that the beasties and nasties are not so much earth-bound horrors as they are alien “gods” from other worlds. Even if they are creatures from Earth, they likely have a connection to alien entities. Such a premise has caught on with others.
In Hellboy, for example, the ultimate evil is the alien monstrosities just waiting to be released. In The Thing, the titular, well… thing… is an alien shapeshifter that, aside from its origin, would not be out of place in a fantasy horror story. In Buffy the Vampire Slayer, they eventually made vampires into demons that were actually creatures from other dimensions.
Today, you can type the name of any show, movie, or book, and find terabytes of stories written by a host of fans from all over the world. Flame wars can erupt at the slightest provocation.
Well, Lovecraft encouraged such behavior.
What we call the Cthulhu Mythos, the collected mythology of alien horrors, is actually written by several different authors. Lovecraft himself borrowed terms and characters from other writers such as Ambrose Bierce. Years of authors borrowing from each other, building a common mythology, has led to retcons, inconsistencies, and a massive library of stories… and fans wouldn’t have it any other way.
It’s also why some people think things like the Necronomicon are real. So many authors mentioned it that it MUST have some sort of real-world analogue.
There you have it. Lovecraft and others, I’m sure, are the unsung heroes of modern fantasy and horror. I’m not saying they’re the only ones responsible, but Lovecraftian horror had a serious impact on pop culture. It took decades, sure, but we’ve embraced these stories. We often use them for comedic effect, such South Park‘s take on Cthulhu himself or even the Unspeakable Vault of Doom. The truth is that the giants like Stephen King and Clive Barker owe much of their inspiration to the works of the early weird fantasy writers.
And I think they deserve more respect and recognition.