Since I first discovered H. P. Lovecraft, I believe that I have read all his published fiction. Most recently a multi-year marathon took me through the S. T. Joshi editions published by Penguin Classics. Reading those editions led to a natural curiosity about S. T. Joshi; H. P. Lovecraft is still an author struggling for respectability, although the internet has brought him great fame. The literary elite consider many genre writers as gauche, and those who read them decidedly low-brow. When I saw that Joshi had written a book entitled The Weird Tale (the genre designation preferred by Lovecraft), I decided to learn more. Joshi, I had known from his webpage, is an ardent atheist, but also a true admirer of Lovecraft’s craft. Since I’ve tried my faltering hand at fiction a time or two, generally having even less success than Providence, I wanted to see what Joshi had to say.
Few things are as inspirational as reading about writing. Those of us compelled to do it find it an endless source of fascination. What drives us to it? We don’t know. Where do the ideas come from? We can only guess. Why do we do it? We must. And so, it is clear, also felt the authors surveyed in Joshi’s fine little book. Although the names of Arthur Machen, Lord Dunsany, Algernon Blackwood, M. R. James, and Ambrose Bierce mostly just tickled some remote tendrils of synapses in my skull, this study was the first real knowledge I had of any of them. While some patterns emerge, there is a notable diversity of background to the writers of the weird. One element that Joshi doesn’t fail to notice is their religious conviction, or lack thereof. In many ways this is odd, but in others it feels perfectly natural. Many materialists count creativity as the predetermined motion of particles and energy that evolution makes inevitable. The writers, however, refuse strictly to conform.
Lovecraft was an atheist and mostly a materialist. Joshi is puzzled, however, when Lovecraft seems to call this certainty into question. I’m not. Lovecraft did not believe in God, but he invented gods. How difficult it must be for a creative mind to dabble in the divine and simply walk away at the end of the day. Lovecraft was no stranger to peculiar residues that clung to the unwary and the bizarre transformations that could occur under the aegis of misplaced belief. But like the narrator of many of his tales, at the end he too knew he’d been affected. I don’t mean anything as crass as deathbed conversion. Rather, like all those who are truly intelligent, we must admit that there are some things we just don’t know. Cthulhu may not be slumbering beneath the sea but many will not sleep easily at night with their closet doors open. To expect anything less of Lovecraft, to me, seems just too weird.