Howard Phillips Lovecraft was an American author of fantasy, horror
and science fiction, noted for combining these three genres within
single narratives. Lovecraft's readership was limited during his
life, but his works have become highly important and influential
among writers and fans of modern horror fiction.
Lovecraft was born on 20 August 1890 at 9:00 am in his family
home at 194 (now 454) Angell Street in Providence, Rhode Island.
He was the only child of Winfield Scott Lovecraft, a traveling
salesman of jewelry and precious metals, and Sarah Susan Phillips
Lovecraft, who could trace her ancestry in America back to the
Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1630. Unusual for the time, both of
his parents were in their thirties when they married and it was
the first marriage for both.
Lovecraft was three, his father became acutely psychotic at a
hotel in Chicago, Illinois where he was on a business trip and
was brought back to Butler Hospital in Providence, where he remained
for the rest of his life. His affliction was general paresis and
may have been caused by syphilis.
was thereafter raised by his mother, two aunts (Lillian Delora
Phillips and Annie Emeline Phillips), and his grandfather, Whipple
Van Buren Phillips, with whom Lovecraft and his female relatives
lived until Phillips' death. Lovecraft was a child prodigy, reciting
poetry at age two and writing complete poems by six. His grandfather
encouraged his reading, providing him with classics such as The
Arabian Nights, Bulfinch's Age of Fable, and children's versions
of The Iliad and The Odyssey. His grandfather also stirred young
Howard's interest in the weird by telling him original tales of
was frequently ill as a child and was said by his biographer (L.
Sprague de Camp) to have suffered from a rare disease known as
poikilothermism. However, his more recent biographer S.T. Joshi
has noted that poikilothermism is not a disease but a description
of the physiology of certain animals, and that there is no evidence
that Lovecraft was actually poikilothermic. He attended school
only sporadically but he read much. He produced several hectographed
publications with a limited circulation beginning in 1899 with
The Scientific Gazette.
Van Buren Phillips died in 1904, and the family was subsequently
impoverished by mismanagement of his property and money. The family
was forced to move down the street to 598 Angell Street, accommodations
which were much smaller and less comfortable. Lovecraft was deeply
affected by the loss of his home and birthplace and even contemplated
suicide for a time. He suffered a nervous breakdown in 1908, as
a result of which he never received his high school diploma. This
failure to complete his education — his hopes of ever entering
Brown University dashed — nagged at him for the rest of
his life, and he in fact maintained that he was a high school
wrote fiction as a youth, but then set it aside for some time
in favour of poetry and essays, before returning to fiction in
1917 with more polished stories such as The Tomb and Dagon. The
latter was his first professionally published work, appearing
in Weird Tales in 1923. Also around this time he began to build
up his huge network of correspondents. His lengthy and frequent
missives would make him one of the great letter writers of the
century. Among his correspondents were the young Forrest J. Ackerman,
Robert Bloch (Psycho) and Robert E. Howard (Conan the Barbarian
mother also was committed to the Butler Hospital, where she died
from surgical complications on May 21, 1921.
after, he attended an amateur journalist convention where he met
Sonia Greene. She was of Ukrainian Jewish ancestry, and, having
been born in 1883, seven years older than Lovecraft. They married
in 1924, and the couple moved to the Borough of Brooklyn in New
York City. Lovecraft's aunts may have been unhappy with this arrangement.
himself rather disliked New York life. A few years later he and
Greene agreed to an amicable divorce, and he returned to Providence
to live with his aunts during their remaining years. Due to the
unhappiness of their marriage, some biographers have speculated
that Lovecraft could have been asexual, though Greene is often
quoted as referring to him as "an adequately excellent lover".
in Providence, Lovecraft lived in a "spacious brown Victorian
wooden house" at 10 Barnes Street until 1933. (This is the
address given as the home of Dr. Willett in The Case of Charles
Dexter Ward.) The period after his return to Providence—the
last decade of his life—was Lovecraft's most prolific. During
this time period he produced almost all of his best known short
stories for the leading pulp publications of the day (primarily
Weird Tales) as well as longer efforts like The Case of Charles
Dexter Ward and At the Mountains of Madness. He frequently revised
work for other authors and did a large amount of ghost-writing.
his best writing efforts, however, he grew ever poorer. He was
forced to move to smaller and meaner lodgings with his surviving
aunt. He was also deeply affected by Robert E. Howard's suicide.
In 1936 he was diagnosed with cancer of the intestine and he also
suffered from malnutrition. He lived in constant pain until his
death the following year (1937) in Providence, Rhode Island.
grave in Swan Point Cemetery in Providence is occasionally marked
with graffiti quoting his famous phrase from The Call of Cthulhu
(originally from The Nameless City):
is not dead which can eternal lie,
with strange aeons even death may die."
was listed along with his parents on the Phillips family monument.
That was not enough for his fans, so in 1977 a group of individuals
pitched in to buy him a headstone of his own. They chose a plain
block of granite, on which they had inscribed Lovecraft's name,
the dates of his birth and death and the phrase, "I AM PROVIDENCE,"
a line from one of his personal letters.
of Lovecraft's work
Lovecraft's fiction has been grouped into three categories by
some critics. While Lovecraft did not refer to these categories
himself, he did once write, "There are my 'Poe' pieces and
my 'Dunsany pieces' — but alas — where are my Lovecraft
Macabre stories (approximately 1905–1920)
2. Dream-Cycle stories (approximately 1920–1927)
3. Cthulhu Mythos stories (approximately 1925–1935)
critics see little difference between the Dream-Cycle and the
Mythos, often pointing to the recurring Necronomicon and subsequent
"gods". A frequently given explanation is that the Dream-Cycle
belongs more to the genre of fantasy, while the Mythos is science
of Lovecraft's work was directly inspired by his nightmares, and
it is perhaps this direct insight into the subconscious and its
symbolism that helps to account for their continuing resonance
and popularity. All these interests naturally led to his deep
affection for the works of Edgar Allan Poe, who heavily influenced
his earliest macabre stories and writing style. Lovecraft's discovery
of the stories of Lord Dunsany moved his writing in a new direction,
resulting in a series of imitative fantasies in a "Dreamlands"
was probably the influence of Arthur Machen, with his carefully
constructed tales concerning the survival of ancient evil, and
his mystic beliefs in hidden mysteries which lay behind reality,
that finally helped inspire Lovecraft to find his own voice from
1923 onwards. This took on a dark tone with the creation of what
is today often called the Cthulhu Mythos, a pantheon of alien
extra-dimensional deities and horrors which predate mankind, and
which are hinted at in aeon-old myths and legends. The strangeness
of the mythos' style may have been influenced, and was certainly
foreshadowed, by the paintings of Hieronymus Bosch.
term "Cthulhu Mythos" was coined by Lovecraft's correspondent
and fellow author, August Derleth, after Lovecraft's death; Lovecraft
jocularly referred to his artificial mythology as "Yog-Sothothery".
His stories created one of the most influential plot devices in
all of horror: the Necronomicon, the secret grimoire written by
the mad Arab Abdul Alhazred. The resonance and strength of the
Mythos concept have led some to believe that Lovecraft had based
it on actual myth, and faux editions of the Necronomicon have
also been published over the years.
prose is somewhat antiquarian. He was fond of heavy use of unfamiliar
adjectives such as "eldritch", "rugose", "noisome",
"squamous", and "cyclopean", and of attempts
to transcribe dialect speech which have been criticized as inaccurate.
His works also featured British English (he was an admitted Anglophile),
and he sometimes made use of anachronistic spellings, such as
"compleat/complete" and "lanthorn/lantern".
was a prolific letter writer, inscribing multiple pages to his
group of correspondents in small longhand. He sometimes dated
his letters 200 years before the current date, which would have
put the writing back in U.S. colonial times, before the American
Revolution that offended his Anglophilia. He explained that he
thought that the 18th and 20th centuries were the best; the former
being a period of noble grace, and the latter a century of science.
In his view, the 19th century, particularly the Victorian era,
was a "mistake".
influence in popular culture
Beyond direct adaptation, Lovecraft and his stories have had a
profound impact on popular culture, and has been praised by many
modern writers of horror, science fiction, and fantasy. Much of
his influence is secondary, as he was a friend, inspiration, and
correspondent to many authors who would gain fame through their
creations, such as Conan the Barbarian creator Robert E. Howard
and Robert Bloch, author of Psycho.
later creators of horror writing, films and art were influenced
by Lovecraft, including author and artist Clive Barker, film director
John Carpenter, game designer Sandy Petersen, and artist H. R.
Giger. Many authors have written stories that are explicitly set
in the same "universe" as Lovecraft's original stories.
pastiches are common. For more examples of references to and uses
of the Mythos in popular culture, see Cthulhu Mythos in popular
"universe" is so distinctive that he is an eponym for
strange creatures and settings. Lovecraftian horror may mean a
story that references the Mythos, or that is simply too bizarre
to be classified as normal horror. Examples include beings with
hideous and completely unnatural features (innumerable sets of
eyes, far too many limbs) or architecture or geography of inhuman
or alien design (such as the city of R'lyeh, which makes use of
non-Euclidian geometry in its architecture). Lovecraftian horror
stands in contrast to the predominantly humanoid and anthropomorphic
designs in mainstream horror and mythology.
also held responsibility for the invention of the philosophy "Cosmicism"
which was reflected in many works beyond his own, such as "The
Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy," John Carpenter's "In
the Mouth of Madness," and games like "Eternal Darkness,
class, and sex
The racist, classist and sexist themes in much of Lovecraft's
writing evoke strong reactions in many modern readers. Lovecraft
was an avowed Anglophile, and held English culture to be the pinnacle
of civilization, with the descendants of the English in America
as something of a second-class offshoot, and everyone else below
them (see, for example, his poem An American to Mother England).
Lovecraft's writing showed a distinct disinclination towards mixing
with other ethnic groups, reverence for birth-issued social status,
and a preference for traditional social roles for women.
ethnic, class, and sexual stereotypes are frequently encountered
in Lovecraft's work. A typical example of this sentiment is found
in the name of the black cat "Nigger-Man" in his tale
The Rats in the Walls, which was actually the name he gave to
his real-life cat. The narrator in "The Rats in the Walls"
expresses sentiments which could be considered hostile towards
Jews (although several of Lovecraft's closer friends and correspondents
were Jewish), Italians, and Poles. Racist views can also be found
in his poetry, particularly in On the Creation of Niggers, and
New England Fallen (both 1912).
critics have decried Lovecraft's presumed white supremacism, particularly
in the treatment of immigrants and African-Americans. However,
Lovecraft does not spare even northern European ethnic groups
from his onslaught of negative ethnic stereotyping. The degenerate
descendants of Dutch immigrants in the Catskill Mountains, "who
correspond exactly to the decadent element of white trash in the
South," (Beyond the Wall of Sleep, 1919) are common targets.
Temple presents a stereotypically arrogant and coldly murderous
Prussian aristocrat, a U-boat captain in World War I who makes
frequent references to his "iron German will," supremely
rational Prussian mental powers, and the insignificance of human
life compared to the need to glorify the Fatherland.
the best example of his classist views can be found in the short
story "Cool Air" (1926): the (presumably Anglo-Saxon)
narrator speaks disparagingly of the poor Hispanics of his neighborhood,
but he worshipfully respects the wealthy and aristocratic Spaniard
Dr. Muñoz, "a man of birth, cultivation, and discrimination."
drew upon the history of his own ethnic group for the environment
of much of his work, and his love for Anglo-Saxon history and
culture is often-times repeated in his work (such as King Kuranes'
nostalgia for England in "The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath").
Characteristically, this history is viewed sardonically.
major Lovecraftian theme is the individual who finds that his
lineage is accursed or interbred with a non-human strain. Important
examples are "Facts Concerning the Late Arthur Jermyn and
His Family" (1920), "The Rats in the Walls" (1923),
and "The Shadow over Innsmouth" (1931). This theme may
represent concerns relating to Lovecraft's own family history,
particularly the death of his father due to what Lovecraft must
have suspected to be a syphilitic disorder.
expressed racist and ethnocentric beliefs in his personal correspondence.
Lovecraft married a woman of Ukrainian Jewish ancestry, Sonia
Greene, who later said she had to repeatedly remind Lovecraft
of her background when he would make anti-Semitic remarks.
in Lovecraft's fiction are rare, and the few leading female characters
in his stories — like Astenath Waite in "The Thing
on the Doorstep" and Lavinia Whateley in "The Dunwich
Horror" — often turn out to be agents of some evil,
blunt expressions of his views on race, class, and sex may shock
the early 21st century reader, but his attitudes and the frankness
with which he expressed them were not at all unusual during Lovecraft's
lifetime. Eugenics laws and bans of miscegenation were passed
in many states, while racial segregation was legally enforced
throughout much of the country.
movement to restrict immigration was successful during this time
as well. The depth of Lovecraft's feelings on these issues was
unusual, however. "Whenever we found ourselves in the racially
mixed crowds which characterize New York," Greene wrote after
her divorce from Lovecraft, "Howard would become livid with
rage. He seemed almost to lose his mind."
of the work
The definitive editions (specifically At the Mountains of Madness
and Other Novels, Dagon and Other Macabre Tales, The Dunwich Horror
and Others, and The Horror in the Museum and Other Revisions)
of his prose fiction are published by Arkham House, a publisher
originally started with the intent of publishing the work of Lovecraft,
but which has since published a considerable amount of other literature
as well. In 2005 the prestigious Library of America canonized
Lovecraft with a volume of his stories edited by Peter Straub.
poetry is collected in The Ancient Track: The Complete Poetical
Works of H. P. Lovecraft, while much of his juvenilia, various
essays on philosophical, political and literary topics, antiquarian
travelogues, and other things, can be found in Miscellaneous Writings.
Lovecraft's essay "Supernatural Horror in Literature",
first published in 1927, is a historical survey of horror literature
available with endnotes as The Annotated Supernatural Horror in
Despite the fact that Lovecraft is mostly known for his works
of weird fiction, the bulk of Lovecraft's writing mainly consists
of voluminous letters about a variety of topics, from weird fiction
and art criticism to politics and history. S. T. Joshi estimates
that Lovecraft wrote about 87,500 letters from 1912 until his
death in 1937 — one famous letter from November 9, 1929
to Woodburn Harris being 70 pages in length.
was not a very active letter-writer in youth. In 1931 he admitted:
"In youth I scarcely did any letter-writing - thanking anybody
for a present was so much of an ordeal that I would rather have
written a two hundred fifty-line pastoral or a twenty-page treatise
on the rings of Saturn." (SL 3.369–70). The initial
interest in letters stemmed from his correspondence with his cousin
Phillips Gamwell but even more important was his involvement in
the amateur journalism movement, which was responsible for the
enormous number of letters Lovecraft produced.
clearly states that his contact to numerous different people through
letter-writing was one of the main factors in broadening his view
of the world: "I found myself opened up to dozens of points
of view which would otherwise never have occurred to me. My understanding
and sympathies were enlarged, and many of my social, political,
and economic views were modified as a consequence of increased
knowledge." (SL 4.389).
there are four publishing houses that have released letters from
Lovecraft — Arkham House with its five-volume edition Selected
Letters being the most prominent. Other publishers are Hippocampus
Press (Letters to Alfred Galpin et al.), Night Shade Books (Mysteries
of Time and Spirit: The Letters of H. P. Lovecraft and Donald
Wandrei et al.) and Necronomicon Press (Letters to Samuel Loveman
and Vincent Starrett et al).
There is no little controversy over the copyright status of many
of Lovecraft's works, especially his later works. All works published
in the US before 1923 are public domain. However, there is some
disagreement over who exactly owns or owned the copyrights and
whether the copyrights for the majority of Lovecraft's works published
post-1923 - including such prominent pieces as The Call of Cthulhu
and At the Mountains of Madness - have now expired.
center over whether copyrights for Lovecraft's works were ever
renewed under the terms of the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976 for
works created prior to January 1, 1978. If Lovecraft's work had
been renewed they would be eligible for protection for 75-95 years
after the author's death, according to the Sonny Bono Copyright
Term Extension Act of 1998.
means the copyrights would not expire on some of Lovecraft's works
until 2019 at the earliest, providing that no further laws extend
the periods of copyrights within the US. Similarly, the European
Union Directive on harmonising the term of copyright protection
of 1993 extended the copyrights to 70 years after the author's
those Berne Convention countries who have implemented only the
minimum copyright period, copyright expires 50 years after the
protégés and part owners of Arkham House, August
Derleth and Donald Wandrei, often claimed copyrights over Lovecraft's
works. On October 9, 1947, Derleth purchased all rights to Weird
Tales. However, since April 1926 at the latest, Lovecraft had
reserved all second printing rights to stories published in Weird
Tales. Hence, Weird Tales may only have owned the rights to at
most six of Lovecraft's tales. Again, even if Derleth did obtain
the copyrights to Lovecraft's tales no evidence as yet has been
found that the copyrights were renewed.
Lovecraft scholar S. T. Joshi concludes in his biography, H.P.
Lovecraft: A Life, that Derleth's claims are "almost certainly
fictitious" and that most of Lovecraft's works published
in the amateur press are most likely now in the public domain.
The copyright for Lovecraft's works would have been inherited
by the only surviving heir of his 1912 will: Lovecraft's aunt,
herself perished in 1941 and the copyrights then passed to her
remaining descendants, Ethel Phillips Morrish and Edna Lewis.
Morrish and Lewis then signed a document, sometimes referred to
as the Morrish-Lewis gift, permitting Arkham House to republish
Lovecraft's works but retaining the copyrights for themselves.
Searches of the Library of Congress have failed to find any evidence
that these copyrights were then renewed after the 28-year period
and, hence, it is likely that these works are now in the public
to an essay by Peter Ruber, the current editor of Arkham House,
called "The Un-Demonizing of August Derleth", certain
letters obtained in June 1998 detail the Derleth-Wandrei acquisition
of Lovecraft's estate. It is unclear whether these letters contradict
Joshi's views on Lovecraft's copyrights.
publishers of the Call of Cthulhu role-playing game, have a trademark
on several Lovecraftian phrases and creations, including "The
Call of Cthulhu", for use in game products. Another RPG publisher,
TSR, Inc., original publisher of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons,
included in one of that game's earlier supplements, Deities &
Demigods, a section on the Cthulhu Mythos; TSR, Inc. was later
forced to remove this section from subsequent editions because
of Chaosium's trademark.
of the legal disagreements surrounding Lovecraft's works, Lovecraft
himself was extremely generous with his own works and actively
encouraged others to borrow ideas from his stories, particularly
with regard to his Cthulhu mythos. By "wide citation"
he hoped to give his works an "air of verisimilitude"
and actively encouraged other writers to reference his creations,
such as the Necronomicon, Cthulhu and Yog-Sothoth. After his death,
many writers have contributed stories and enriched the shared
mythology of the Cthulhu Mythos, as well as making numerous references
to his work (see Cthulhu Mythos in popular culture).
featured in Lovecraft stories
Lovecraft drew extensively from his native New England for settings
in his fiction. Numerous real historical locations are mentioned,
and several fictional New England locations make frequent appearances.
Copp's Hill, Boston, Massachusetts
Red Line (MBTA)
Pawtuxet (not extant)
Many locations within his hometown of Providence, Rhode Island,
including the (then purportedly haunted) Halsey House, Prospect
Terrace, and Brown University's John Hay Library and John Carter
Miskatonic University in the fictional Arkham, Massachusetts