Neither Edgar Allan Poe nor H. P. Lovecraft lived to see fifty. I began the task of trying to publish fiction when I was a year beyond Lovecraft’s demise. I’ve kept up a more or less steady trickle since then, and I wonder, from my perspective of advanced age from either of their perspectives, what their stories would’ve been like had they lived to tell the tale. Many of us grow up with grim imaginations. Perhaps because we no longer have to flee predators (apart from the occasional bear in the neighborhood) our minds periodically revisit that unfinished business of natural terror. As we get older, however, life begins to wear on you. It wore pretty heavily on both Poe and Lovecraft, of course, without getting to advanced age. But what if they had?
Lovecraft was born just five years before my grandfather. Had he lived to my grandfather’s age, with that additional five years, we would’ve overlapped. I probably still wouldn’t have discovered him then, however, unless one of those weird tricks of life occurred when someone messes with the space-time continuum. I wonder what kinds of tales an older Poe or Lovecraft would’ve written. I know this is mere speculation, but considering the impact of their respective oeuvres, it is worth wondering. Of course, it could have been some kind of personal hidden knowledge that they wouldn’t live long that led to their performance. I wouldn’t make bold to compare myself to either of them, but I know the pressures of limited time before the daily commute often produced some good work for me. Knowing time is limited seems to be the key.
The traditional advice for writers is to put your protagonists on the edge of a cliff. Then throw rocks at them. Perhaps this is because human experience so often feels like a challenge. Most of us have been living under extreme stress since 2016. The coronavirus has added to that stress, and the senseless killing of African-Americans just for being people has raised the tension even more. I would hope that, apart from a truer sense of justice, that some good writing will have emerged from all of this. None of it will be from Poe or Lovecraft, of course, but they may have shown us the way regardless. I am curious how they would have responded to this internet-tied world filled with showy, inept politicians and the heartless treatment of human beings in the midst of a pandemic. It sounds like a world from which they might’ve produced some strange fiction indeed.