Sunday, February 15, 2015

What made H.P. Lovecraft unique?

H.P. Lovecraft was a bundle of unusual, somewhat conflicting traits:

"The period during which weird fiction arose was unique, and Lovecraft and his fiction represented that uniqueness. Lovecraft was a patrician: a man born out of his time who lived his life as an English gentleman. At the same time, he was a rationalist, an atheist, and a learned man of scientific bent, with a love for astronomy and the hard sciences. These seemingly incongruous worldviews, rather than hindering him creatively, were what made him so powerful a writer."
Many readers may be surprised to learn that Lovecraft was an atheist. 

However, Lovecraft was not one of those atheists who waxes hubristic about the power of human reason. He was no Carl Sagan or Ayn Rand. Quite the contrary, in fact:

"Prior to Lovecraft, the gods were looking out for us. Literary heroes were likely to survive because the gods were benevolent. Lovecraft changed that – he wrote of the indifference of the cosmos and the insignificance of man. Despite several thousand years of religious belief and the inherent hubris of humanity, Lovecraft posited that humankind, instead of being unique and the masters of all we see, was, in fact, insignificant when compared to the backdrop of the larger universe.  
Religious writings have argued that we are the center of the universe, but science has argued otherwise, and Lovecraft’s fiction falls squarely on the side of science. To Lovecraft, we are not the center of the universe; our impact on a cold and unforgiving universe is infinitesimal."

Lovecraft, in fact, doesn't seem to have much of a moral compass, aside from the cautionary dictum, "Watch out for the Old Ones".

Don't get me wrong: Lovecraft's stories are entertaining (to a point). But their basically nihilistic view of the universe and humankind also limits their scope. 

Lovecraft may have been an interesting author. Few would describe him as an inspiring one.