Wednesday, August 22, 2007

This Just In From Roger Tudor!

This speculative post was seen and noted by Roger on newsgroups: soc.history.what-if ...
Date: 14 May 2006 10:58:20 -0700

Little-known fact: in 1917, soon after the US entered the First World War, H.P. Lovecraft tried to join the Army.
HPL was then 27 years old, bookish, otherworldly, and thin as a rail. But although he had suffered from a variety of illnesses all his life, he managed to pass the Army physical. (It seems likely that some of his problems were psychosomatic. Other hand, he may have had some subtle but real issue not detectable by the medicine of the time. It's really hard to tell.) They accepted him as a private in an artillery regiment.
When Lovecraft's mother found out, she went absolutely nuts, and pulled every string she could to get her son back out. She succeeded. HPL came back home, sat out the war, and didn't even consider leaving Providence until years later.
Of the Army episode, he said "It would either have killed me, or cured me."
Now: it was during these years that Lovecraft began his writing career. His first story was sold later in 1917. Not too likely that he'd have managed this on a troop transport headed for France.
Let's say HPL serves out the war, gets a glimpse of combat, survives. Although he does not like Army life _at all_, he manages. Soldiers have been made from stranger stuff. And the outcome is "cure" rather than "kill". He gets back to Providence in 1919 a very different man -- tough, sinewy, and far more worldly.
We could run with this, and imagine HPL becoming a surprisingly good soldier, taking up a military career, fighting in Europe or the Pacific a generation later... but no. One, I think it really is unlikely; and two, it's been done already, for Edgar Allen Poe. (Walter Jon Williams' excellent novella "No Spot of Ground". If you haven't read it yet, do so.)
No, *Lovecraft is happy to be out of the Army. But what will he do with himself now?
OTL, Lovecraft made his living as a freelance editor and ghost writer. His fiction writing was a hobby, done in his spare time; the bulk of his income came from rewriting other people's work. There are hundreds of thousands of words of journalism and fiction from the 1920s and '30s that are to some extent his work; but since he kept most of his clients confidential, we'll never know for sure.
Anyway. OTL, Lovecraft never made much of a living at his work. He was very competent, but he had no head for business, and refused to negotiate or haggle over price. TTL, a somewhat tougher *Lovecraft may be a little more practical. This might leave him more time for his own work.
Goodness only knows what direction his writing would take in this TL. Certain trends were probably fixed by 1917, and the war would likely do nothing to dent his Anglophilia, nor either his nihilistic conviction of the ultimate meaninglessness of human existence. On the other hand, a couple of years in the Army would probably put a dent in his snobbishness and racism, and might give him a bit of an ear for dialogue -- one thing he utterly lacked OTL.
-- I suppose there are really two AH questions here. One, what becomes of Lovecraft? And two, WI no Cthulhu Mythos? The Mythos was very much the product of Lovecraft's life OTL; the isolation and alienation that pervade the books were drawn from his very unusual circumstances. TTL he may produce works of equivalent interest and value, but I don't think they're going to be very close to the Cthulhu Mythos as we know them.
The Mythos has been hugely influential in fantasy and horror. Not sure if you could say it had much influence on mainstream literature or popular culture, though. In a no-CM TL, fantasy would be unrecognizable, and comic books and mainstream SF would be noticeably different, but I'm not sure the world at large would be changed much at all. Yes? No?
Doug M.

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