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Sean Wallace
Posted on Sunday, February 27, 2005 - 10:32 am:   

Is anyone as surprised as me at the recent resurgence and acceptance of Lovecraft in the mainstream?
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Will Ludwigsen
Posted on Sunday, February 27, 2005 - 01:07 pm:   

When I first read Lovecraft in college, it was via a set of battered old Arkham House editions in the university library that were as dusty and yellowed as the Necronomicon.

The other day, I saw what I think was a Penguin classics edition of Lovecraft with the mainstream literature, and I thought we've come a long way.

I wonder what mainstream professors and teachers use Lovecraft to discuss or demonstrate. He'd be an interesting figure to discuss as a reaction for or against modernism, to be sure--or maybe a voice of clarity and intelligence that rose out of pop culture pulp magazines.

I remember during my undergraduate years that most professors studying Poe considered Lovecraft to be the literary equivalent of his retarded younger brother.

I'm surprised that he's found such a foothold in the current mainstream for two reasons: he's hard to read, and he writes about how almost all human activity is but a mousy squeak in an ambivalent universe. Neither sits well with current audiences.

On the other hand, maybe that's why he's getting popular: he's the counter point!

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Theodora Goss
Posted on Sunday, February 27, 2005 - 06:59 pm:   

Will:

I teach Lovecraft's "The Outsider." It fits really well into the history of gothic fiction: you look into a mirror and find out that, gasp, you're a monster! (Or walking corpse, or whatever sort of horror. . .) It actually works well with Jane Eyre looking into a mirror and seeing Rochester's wife, Dorian Gray looking at his painting and seeing his diseased self, the mirroring in "William Wilson," and a whole history of mirror- and portrait-scenes.

Funny to think that the aspects you focused on make him very much part of modernism: he's hard to read (like, um, Joyce and Eliot), and he writes about the irrelevance of human activity (we are all dustmotes in an incomprehensible universe), a very modern position.

I read Lovecraft in college too, and I think it's great that he's now an up-and-coming "classic American writer." Weird, but great. And I think he deserves it. (But I don't think it would have happened without the scholarship of some devotees, like Joshi.)
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Sean Wallace
Posted on Sunday, February 27, 2005 - 11:04 pm:   

How do students usually respond to Lovecraft's fiction?
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Jerem Lassen
Posted on Monday, February 28, 2005 - 09:20 am:   

Dirda's article on Lovecraft, online at The Weekly Standard.
http://www.weeklystandard.com/Content/Public/Articles/000/000/005/285tmhfa.asp

A bit more insightful then the recent Salon article covering the same angle.

I love Dirda, and its NOT just because he wrote the introduction for Jorkens Vol. 3

:-)

-jl
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MarcL
Posted on Monday, February 28, 2005 - 02:17 pm:   

I just added the American Library edition of Lovecraft's Tales to my shelf. It's the first new collection of old HPL stories I have bought in many years, but it felt like a significant event. This gives Lovecraft the sort of (unnecessary, yet still touching) respectability that would let an HPL collection sit in my Dad's high-falutin-litry bookcase without looking totally out of place.

The only other book I own in the AL series is the Poe collection.

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ben peek
Posted on Tuesday, March 01, 2005 - 05:08 am:   

with my experience of teaching lovecraft, students don't dig it by and large. the language of it is a turn off, but i'm also willing to add that the fault is partly mine because i don't like lovecraft. get a teacher who loves something, and you'll be able to bring them round on it nine times out of ten, i reckon. however, with that said, i teach leiber's OUR LADY OF DARKNESS, a book i adore, and by and large, students dislike it for the same reasons as the lovecraft. that being that the language turns them off.
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Robert Devereux
Posted on Tuesday, March 01, 2005 - 09:04 am:   

I felt the language is part of what makes Lovecraft interesting. He's not a great writer. Instead, the writing makes it seem authentic - not like the work of a writer, but like the work of a normal person who encountered something frightening and who can't quite describe it properly.
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des
Posted on Tuesday, March 01, 2005 - 10:31 am:   

Brilliant, Robert. I'd thought this, I think, but couldn't quite articulate it.
des
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Byron Bailey
Posted on Tuesday, March 01, 2005 - 10:58 am:   

I'm glad to hear Lovecraft at least in some circles is getting more acceptanced but in a graduate literary theory class where I had to write a paper using one of the theorists in the class, I picked Plato to explicate Lovecraft's "Mountains of Madness" and the professor wouldn't accept it after I turned it in because Lovecraft wasn't "literature" no matter how much literary research on Lovecraft I pointed out. I was left scrambling to write and research a new paper (Christine de Pisan and the Wife of Bath's Tale) in a matter of a day. My grade for that paper had a lot to be desired.

This class was only about 2-3 years ago so I think we have a ways to go, still.
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MarcL
Posted on Tuesday, March 01, 2005 - 01:10 pm:   

Robert,
I have to take issue with "He's not a great writer," and I'm not exactly sure you mean what it sounds like you're saying. He was a great writer. The reason we remember him today is because of his writing. It's not just language, it's the whole package, the whole way of thinking about story that happens before and during the writing process, as well as in revision. Pacing, structure, the subtle details in contrast to the shrieking finales, are evidence of his greatness as a writer. Certain things did not interest him--for instance, development of dramatic scenes featuring sympathetic characters speaking compelling and realistic dialog. These "deficiencies" make it hard for some readers to get into Lovecraft, but they're part and parcel of what he did as a writer. It seems to me that he came to understand his limitations and the range of his voice, and having done so, he honed it and polished and practiced till it sang. Evidence of this is in the clear self-parody of several late stories. He matured and developed steadily throughout his life. His final works especially are wonderfully written--in short, great by any definition of the word.
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MarcL
Posted on Tuesday, March 01, 2005 - 01:24 pm:   

Ben,

This is OT, but I was honored to be allowed to write an essay on OUR LADY OF DARKNESS for Stephen Jones's forthcoming HORROR: ANOTHER 100 BEST BOOKS. Steve said it was the single-most requested title that people wanted to write about, so it is well-loved by many. I narrowly edged out the competition because I lived in San Francisco and knew Leiber (I visited him while he was living in the apartment featured in the book). And to bring this back on topic, one of my most thrilling moments was sitting in that apartment while Fritz let me browse through his copy of the original THE OUTSIDER, which he had annotated heavily over the years. That particular edition, wherever it resides these days, is one of the world's great treasures.
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ben peek
Posted on Tuesday, March 01, 2005 - 04:12 pm:   

marc--

even i'm slightly jealous that you got to write about the book. you get all the nicest gigs :-)

(with meeting the man, however, i'd skip. i hear he was quite nice, but i don't like meeting authors whose work i really admire. there's always the chance that they'll have an off day and the work'll be ruined.)
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MarcL
Posted on Tuesday, March 01, 2005 - 09:26 pm:   

Fritz was the perfect gentlemen...everything you'd imagine. He was my living literary hero. One night at Dark Carnival Tad Williams and I just sat with him and told him how much he meant to us. He's missed.
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des
Posted on Tuesday, March 01, 2005 - 11:48 pm:   

I'm proud to have a copy of 'Our Lady of Darkness' signed for me by FL at the 1978 World SF Convention in UK. I look forward to reading the essay in BEST 100. (I'm doing Elizabeth Bowen in that book).

As to HPL being a "great writer", the *end* result of content/form is certainly that.
And I've always seen him as a 'literary' figure since I started reading him in the Sixties.
des
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MarcL
Posted on Wednesday, March 02, 2005 - 12:21 am:   

My copy is unsigned. Sniff.

I wonder if anyone is doing Marjorie Bowen? There were just too many books to choose, and so many good ones already taken in the last collection. My three choices were the Leiber, Blood Meridian, or The One Safe Place. That was narrowed down from Lullaby and The Books of Blood (vols 1-3). So much of this comes down to the mood you're in when trying to figure out how to tackle a wish-list.

I think Lovecraft's heavy emphasis on descriptive passages makes him slow going for many readers. I tried to read DREAM-QUEST to my oldest at one point, since I thought she'd like the rich dreaminess of it...but she couldn't get past the fact that there was no dialog whatsoever.
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Theodora Goss
Posted on Thursday, March 03, 2005 - 02:44 pm:   

I loved the Dirda article! Thanks for the link, Jerem.

My students responded to Lovecraft pretty much the way they responded to everything else we read, but we read him after Shelley, Machen, Poe, Wilde, and other 19th century writers. He has a 19th century style, so I don't think it stood out. And the level of difficulty wasn't that different. I taught Tolkien's "On Fairy Stories" and Freud's "The Uncanny" that semester, and those the students found very difficult. So I think it depends in part on the context.

If they let me teach a class focused on fantasy again, I'll probably do more Lovecraft, in the same semester as Dracula.
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Robert Devereux
Posted on Friday, March 04, 2005 - 07:16 am:   

I'm looking forward to Michel Houellebecq's Lovecraft book (he had a nice article in The Believer a few months ago).

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