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The Curious Case of H. P. Lovecraft

The Curious Case of H. P. Lovecraft - Paul Roland ‘The Curious Case Of H.P. Lovecraft’ is both a biography and a literary analysis of the famous horror writer and his works. The facts of his life are shown and so are the plots of the stories, complete with commentary on the language used, the human characters and the non-human creatures. Writer Paul Roland also gives some idea of a tale’s success, both commercially and as art. Poor old H.P. had little commercial success in his lifetime but is well regarded as an artist posthumously.

Howard Phillips Lovecraft was born on 20th August 1890 into a reasonably wealthy family in Providence, Rhode Island, on the east coast of the United States. A spoilt childhood meant that he grew up believing he was entitled to the leisurely life of a gentleman. Unfortunately, his father died young and bad investments were made with the family fortune, which came from his mother’s side anyway. It dwindled slowly enough that he could just about survive on it and his meagre literary earnings helped a little. Luckily, he didn’t drink alcohol or take drugs and ate hardly anything.

His mother was of a nervous disposition and mollycoddled him. At the same time, she convinced him he was ugly. Lovecraft was very intelligent but inclined to be solitary as he found the raucous behaviour of other children strange. He read voraciously in his grandfather’s extensive library and learned to love Greek legends, ‘The Arabian Nights’ and the works of Lord Dunsany. He spent a lot of time on the Poe. Arthur Machen and M.R. James were significant influences. Perhaps it was his tastes in literature that led to his wild dreams of ‘night gaunts’ with flapping black wings that carried him over ancient, deserted cities abandoned by old gods or maybe he would have had them anyway. At any rate, he was not your average Joe.

A woman married him. I put it that way because he was not especially interested in ladies and she chased him, all the way to the altar in the end. Sonia Haft-Greene (1883-1972) was successful in the fashion industry, earning $10,000 dollars a year and was happy to keep Lovecraft in the style to which he was accustomed or better, while his talent flourished. Sonia loved him and believed he was a genius who would one day be recognised. She loved him even though she was a Jew and he was openly anti-Semitic. A remarkable woman and very attractive, too, by all accounts. Unfortunately, she fell on hard times and he could not get a job. When she had to move to Chicago to work, he stayed in New York for a while but soon enough moved back to Providence to live with his aunts. The separation became permanent. He didn’t seem to mind much. A strange character, possibly manic-depressive and almost certainly autistic. Yet he was a good friend to many, generous with his time and talent and even with his limited funds. He was also a gifted writer, as the many extracts herein demonstrate. I was pleased to read that my favourite Lovecraft story, ‘The Colour Out Of Space’, was also his favourite Lovecraft story. Clearly, he had good taste.

This is a wonderful book. The writing is informative and elegant and it’s obvious that Paul Roland is a huge fan. The appendices are nearly as good as the main text and include Lovecraft’s thoughts on how to write weird fiction and an essay about her time with him by his wife, Sonia. There is also an excellent section on Lovecraft adaptations in film, games and graphic novels with the best of each genre recommended by Roland. Chasing them all up might get expensive but I certainly intend to check out some. That said, the original stories are the best of Lovecraft and happily, I have them all.

When I finished this biography, I started reading one about Heinlein, a competent, confident successful man of his time, at the top of his chosen field of fiction for decades. One can hardly imagine two personalities more different than Heinlein and Lovecraft but I suspect that in a hundred years time Robert A. will be largely forgotten and H.P. will still be in print. Hell, he might even be on the school curriculum.

Eamonn Murphy
This review first appeared at https://www.sfcrowsnest.info/