Strange Flesh: The Use of Lovecraftian Archetypes In Queer Fiction - Introduction
In the summer of 1926 in Red Hook, New York, a young writer by the name of Howard Phillips Lovecraft penned one of the most memorable monsters in all fiction - the great “Cthulhu.” In his short story “The Call of Cthulhu” Lovecraft explored themes of despair, forbidden knowledge and the unbearable, searing reality of humanity’s insignificance in comparison to the cosmos.
Although initially rejected by Weird Tales, Lovecraft’s magazine of choice, it went on to become so influential in the realms of horror and science fiction, that today, it can be seen as a founding text of these genres, from ALIEN to Hellboy and beyond. Shortly after his death in 1937, Lovecraft’s story would inspire what would become known as “The Cthulhu Mythos” – a collection of horror and scifi tales that revolved around the monstrous creations of his short stories, connected together within a pantheon of Great Old Ones, Outer Gods, Elder Gods and many other aliens, cults, magic books and unspeakable horrors.
Contributors to this mythos have ranged from authors such as August Derleth a long-time friend and “apprentice” of Lovecraft, to Robert Bloch, Clark Ashton Smith, Fritz Lieber and more recently such celebrated figures as Stephen King and Ramsey Campbell.
Born as a side effect of Lovecraft’s original works and the sharing of his universe with other writers a sub-genre of horror fiction - Lovecraftian horror – was created. Whereas all Cthulhu Mythos stories would be considered Lovecraftian, not all Lovecraftian horrors necessarily need take place within the Cthulhu universe. This is because, while Cthulhu stories are controlled by similar plot and character pieces, Lovecraftian horror concerns itself mostly with the philosophical aspects of Lovecraft’s writings.
While Cthulhu stories reference reoccurring books, characters, gods and places, Lovecraftian stories are more to do with archetypes, atmospheres, themes and motifs.
Lovecraft himself, much like the characters in his stories, was an outsider. He did not get along well with many people; he was, by all accounts, a difficult man, plagued by nightmares and crippling fears. Though these likely fed his works of fiction, now considered as staples in horror literature, Lovecraft never saw his success. He died young and he died afraid.
When analysing his work, one may, therefore, have the sense of Lovecraft the man stirring beneath the surface of the text. This Lovecraft was a man of his times, constricted by the prejudices, fears and bigotries of the 20’s and 30’s. Reading his work, one will, for example find thinly veiled racism and homophobia throughout. H.P. Lovecraft was a conservative man, a traditionalist who believed that what he viewed as obsession with sex in his day in age was part of a greater degradation of society as a whole. Blinded by these views, he failed to see his own prejudices, he writes:
“If the dog and bitch promiscuity of the earliest “new moralists” could be excused on the ground that our normal disgust is only “old fashioned prejudice”, it is not remarkable that nauseous and abnormal sodomy should make an equal claim. Next will come incest – people will clamour for “warmer, freer, more wholesome” relations betwixt brothers and sisters, parents and children and finally bestiality… the frantic maenad and the black goat of the Sabbat… will be justified and praised as something “honest” and progressive”. Who shall define the absolute validity of our disgust at any or all of these “new freedoms” present and future? What is the line betwixt “irrational and archaic prejudice” and a sound aesthetic standard? Echo alone answers. Unlike you, I find that most sexual letting down is also accompanied by a corresponding letdown in other spheres – honour, general taste in living, etc. It is also undeniable that a loosening of erotic standards has a strong connexion with the decay of nations and cultures. But what is to come, will come.” (Lovecraft, 2008)
However, despite these views, Lovecraft’s influence on horror is undeniable, and ironically his very fears of cultural and sexual others helped pave the way for a genre that became peopled by the very things its progenitor abhorred.
This series aims to look at Lovecraftian horror, its archetypes, themes, and tropes, before turning to review and discuss the fledgling genre of “Queer Horror” and how the homophobic fears of Lovecraft in the 20’s and 30’s has ironically created a fantastic space for LGBTQ writers to tell their stories. This irony is explored through an initial examination of Lovecraft’s views of sexuality before considering one of his most famous stories “The Shadow over Innsmouth.” Against this backdrop I next review four modern pieces of Lovecraftian horror that span across multiple media forms. These modern examples are: “Mysterium Tremendum” a short story by Laird Barron; “Providence” a graphic novel series by acclaimed writer of The Watchmen – Alan Moore; “The Glittering World” a dark fantasy/supernatural horror novel by Robert Levy, and finally “Cthulhu” an independent horror film by director Daniel Gildark.
Lovecraft, H. P. (2008). Essential solitude: The letters of H.P. Lovecraft and August Derleth (p. 553). New York, NY: Hippocampus Press.