Very few writers can truly be called unique; American horror stylist H.P. Lovecraft is surely one who can. Lovecraft, never a success in his own lifetime, and barely more than a cult figure since, is nevertheless one of the most influential writers of the 20th century. The same can be said of the writer whose work in turn most influenced Lovecraft, Edgar Allan Poe. Poe’s work was perhaps a little wider read than Lovecraft’s ever was during their respective lifetimes, but Poe’s nevertheless was derided and belittled while he was still around to hear such things. Only in France, for some reason, was Poe truly celebrated, and outside of that it’s been the sad fate of these men to only achieve their true worth after their deaths.
|Lovecraft's grave marker in Providence, Rhode Island. Like many other fans, I left a quarter as a token of respect.|
If you don’t know Lovecraft’s work, a few titles will begin to give you the idea: The Shadow out of Time, The Dunwich Horror, At the Mountains of Madness, The Dreams in the Witch House. But these are no conventional horror tales; Lovecraft not only created a style all of his own, he also created an entire occult mythology for the world in which some of his tales are set. His pantheon of hideous ancient gods; the Old Ones, Cthulhu being the most notable, are painted as being horrible dark influences on humanity from times before our imagining and places beyond our understanding.
Lovecraft created his own corner of New England; Arkham, Dunwich, Innsmouth, the Miskatonic river as the diabolic centre of unnameable terrors and lurking creatures, drawing upon (modern) America’s oldest places as his inspiration for twisted versions of reality. Here, we find decrepit houses touching eaves across foetid alleyways, we find unknown and unknowable things sliming their ways from murky harbours, and time and time again, we find madness. Madness was one of Lovevcraft’s recurring themes. His own father was confined to a mental hospital when Lovecraft was just three years old, possibly suffering with General Paralysis of the Insane (as it was known then) – the tertiary stages of a syphilitic infection. It’s hard not to see this as a direct influence on the writer, a writer whose own life was riddled by ill health and strange behavioural issues.
In coming to write the section of The Ghosts of Heaven known as The Easiest Room in Hell, I decided I wanted to pay homage to a writer whose work I have always enjoyed. This part of the book is set in an insane asylum on Long Island, New York in the 1920s, and features a poet who has gone mad. His name (and Lovecraft fans will know why) is Charles Dexter. Dexter spends his days writing a novel in his head, much to the confusion of his doctors. He strikes up a friendship with a newly arrived Dr James, who hasn’t heard of the poet before. When he learns about his writing, he gets hold of a copy of Dexter’s poetry collection, On Drowning, and reads one of the mad poet’s poems. And here then, was a chance for me to let rip and write some Lovecraftiana of my own; the poem called...
Sea-found, wind-worn and wild;
the land will lose.
Here are places so old as to defy memory;
The point, the creek, the inlet.
The old tide mills, dilapidated,
were but a blink in the eye of time.
And there are older things here,
things which the oyster boats dredge from the deep.
There on the headland;
and the asylum boneyard,
where the land-borne dead are corrupted,
harmless bodies are sucked of life;
in the cemetery.
Graves grow from the soil;
the black fingernails of the monstrosity beneath.
It lies far down, under the ground, under the sea,
pushing an arm up,
up to the air
a hand with a thousand fingers; and every fingernail a grave.
Deep in the sea, at the other end of the arm
sits its heart-brain,
this being from beyond the stars, from the beginning of time:
its mashy form quivers inside the shell
and resonates its thought-waves across the world
in ancient reverberation.
Spiral-set shell mind,
It blows a soundless horn to us all, a warning:
I am coming.