Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Lovecraft's Legacy

This is a blog, and not a book, so it is hard to do a coherent narrative.

Overall, I hope the last 2700+ posts show that Lovecraft's life had a pattern. In about 1911, after a near-death disease, he gave up any efforts at a career in science. He hung out with a few friends growing more politically morose. In 1914, he happened across amateur journalism, and he took to it - as we say in Kentucky - like a hog to slop.

Along the way, he created in a master-stroke with Dagon, thus creating the "weird tale". He spent the rest of his life perfecting it, and advocating to his small clutch of followers how it might be best done.

However, by as early as 1933, a young guard was forming and the new wave in fantasy fiction was going to be scientifiction. At first it dredged up some mix of Burroughs, Verne, and Wells pandering to "ray guns and babes" readers. Between 1933 and 1937, Lovecraft and Clark Ashton Smith took it on the chin as they were the older of the writers (Robert Howard died in 1936) of Weird Tales, and while Smith wavered trying to fit into the new mold, Lovecraft waded in with verve defending the genre he essentially created. Still, one by one, his followers deserted to be published (or they would have perished) in the new style pulp magazines.

His death in 1937 should have been the end of his legacy. Eventually someone would have found a few of his old works, much like they did Melville in the 1920's, and brought them back.

However, the old gent of Providence was a kind man and his friends loved him. They rallied, and Barlow, Wandrei, and Derleth managed to salvage virtually all of his work from the dust bin.

First, Barlow thought he was "in", but with the influence of Smith and Long, Derleth and Wandrei circled the wagons and took most of the efforts to preserve Lovecraft. Then, Derleth's personality took hold, and it became a one man show.

Historians debate whether Lovecraft would have survived without Derleth. It will never be settled, but Chrispy will weigh in with a simple - No. There was absolutely no one with incentive enough, desire enough, or will power enough (and God, did Derleth have will power) to fixate on Lovecraft and push him into the history books. As Paul was to Jesus, Derleth was to Lovecraft.

Even so, and even with a panoply of paperback books in the 1960's, Lovecraft might have been a mere marginal cult figure. Cthulhu might be cool, but he was no Conan. Howard had a gift of story telling, and it made it easy for the Sword and Sorcery guys - de Camp, Carter, etc. Lovecraft purposely separated story from protagonist.

Derleth tried to repair that in his bullish way when he added to the Mythos, much as Paul pushed the Cross and less the Prophet. It didn't seem to work. Much as Peter to Paul, purists rejected the Derleth duality and pantheon by wanting to scalp him, and everyone outside wondered what all the fuss was about. Yawn.

When Derleth died in 1971, it might again have been the end of Lovecraft. Several reminisce that even in school or college, they rarely came across anyone else who knew what a Lovecraft was. Chrispy certainly didn't (undergrad - 1974-1979). This was despite hundreds of thousands of Lovecraft and Lovecraft-included paperbacks in circulation.

A young man, Mr. S T Joshi and his friends, decided to do something about that, and the second wave of Lovecraft exploded. Instead of spending all the energy to preserve Lovecraft, as Derleth had, they moved to solidifying the historic and literary-critical position of HPL. This was certainly not easy to do for a man who was essentially a pulp writer with no significant popular characters.

In the late 20th century, the public fixated on strong heroic characters. Fleming's James Bond was iconic. Sherlock Holmes and Dracula were constantly reinvented. The West, and especially America, became video-centric, and as atention-focused as a moth to a flame.

After all these posts, I think Chrispy can finally figure out how the "golden age" of Lovecraft became main-stream. Vincent Starett said it long ago, HPL was his greatest, strangest creation. Virtually the entire efforts of Lovecraft fans has been to promote the work by promoting the man - Lovecraft as character.

Now it is the 21st century. Right before our eyes, the entire world is changing as radically as it did in the 1960's, and few are alive now that remember what it was like then. (I do, though I was a child). We are fast moving from a 20th century video-centric world to a socialized-network world. What does that even mean? I don't know, but ask Egypt and the Middle East. It is a new world.

Lovecraft is poised to either go global, or become marginalized. He may also become morphed into an unrecognizable icon as HPLoitation is set to occur. Already it has become difficult to tell Fortean from Lovecraftian, and occultists have reengineered through reinterpretation much of HPL's New York years.

Chrispy has spent several years now dredging up images and elements from the period between Whipple van Buren's rise in the 1850's through the early 21st century. That's 150 years we've slogged through together. It has been a helluva ride, folks.

Along the way, I've tried to use the new tools available to trace the Lovecraft trajectory, and bring out as many of the noble researcher-fans that impacted that trajectory by their own egos and their own agendas. Yet, in the scheme of things, perhaps no more than 1,000 "names" and 10,000 lesser-known or unnamed collectors were involved. We actually can categorize and index virtually everyone involved in this thing. It would be a simple computer program to model. Maybe I am a single datum, too.

Remember, the world was literally a much smaller - less populated - place previously. With pushing 7 BILLION people, 90% who have been alive less than 20 years, it is a world we have never seen before.

In those mouldy oldy days, a handful of people frequently made a huge impact on societal sub-cultures, Lovecraft's legacy included. It happeened frequently.

Not to take anything away from the energy of Derleth, but it was far easier for Derleth to seize Lovecraft's work and promote it nationally and internationally through a small number of editors and colleagues, than say, someone to do the same thing today for a Karl Edward Wagner (1945-1994).

Thus we summarize what has went on before in the hundreds of small essays and blog posts I've done.

Now, onward to December !

1 comment:

Shane Mangus said...

Great insights, as usual.


Blog Archive


Google Analytics