History can be a funny thing. Take the way it treats some people. H. P. Lovecraft wasn’t famous in his lifetime. In fact, his isn’t exactly a household name even now. His creation Cthulhu lurks grandly in the internet, and even Lovecraft himself is finding mention in some literature courses, despite his lack of literary finesse. Yet, fiction is being written about him. I just finished Jonathan L. Howard’s new novel, Carter and Lovecraft. While H. P. doesn’t appear as an acting character in the novel, he is related to one of the protagonists in a way that is essential to the story’s plot. I won’t give away any spoilers here, but the novel takes over where Lovecraft, the non-fictional character, left off.
Lovecraft, famously, was an atheist. Nevertheless he spun a mythic world of Old Gods that has become canonical in its own right. His stories veritably teem with religious themes as well as monsters. In fact, in Howard’s treatment of the mythos, the religious elements still show up. As I’ve noted before, one need not be a theist to be a capable theologian. Fiction like that of Lovecraft, or that of Howard, inherently holds a kind of numinous quality. In fact, fiction frequently does. In reading, we allow ourselves to be drawn into another world. What could be more religious than that? The beliefs of the writer, it seems, may not ultimately matter.
At one point, at least, in Carter and Lovecraft the sentiment becomes explicit. One of the characters contemplates starting his own religion, only to realize that he’d have to write a holy book. That, he decides, would be a lot of work. As one who dabbles in various forms of literary art, I can take his point. There is something wondrously exhausting about giving birth to words. And those words make worlds. When you stop to think about it, that’s kind of a religious thing to do. I’d recommend Carter and Lovecraft to H. P. L. fans. It’s not a Cthulhu-fest, but it is an enjoyable, compelling tale that raises questions which, if not handled carefully, will quickly turn theological.