Why I Am Terrified of Squid: On H.P. Lovecraft

I’m currently rereading some of H.P. Lovecrafts short stories, which I first encountered a few years ago. Despite his cult success his work is still not really appreciated by the mainstream which makes it – in my view – even more interesting. What’s not to like about stories which revolve around creepy sounds and movements in the dark, alien activity, or terrifying monsters from the past?

Lovecraft’s characters are often haunted by the past, not just metaphorically, but also literally. Lavinia of The Dunwich Horror has a mysterious encounter with a non-human entity and her resulting son (or is there another one?) completely disrupts her life. Lovecraft’s monsters are often hidden, long-gone, or invisible. While this can be frustrating, it also means that they kickstart you imagination. Apart from comparing it to a train, Lovecraft does not really describe the monster which lurks in the dark holes beneath Antartica in At the Mountains of Madness. He leaves it up to the reader to imagine what it looks like, making the story more rather than less terrifying.

In cult circles Lovecraft is most famous for inventing Chtulu, a non-human and godlike creature which is described in most detail in The Call of Chtulu. Apparently Lovecraft disliked seafood, which could explain why Chtulu’s head is consistedly described as squidlike. In any case, my own opinion about the creatures has never been the same since I first read about Chtulu. I witnessed someone eat calamares yesterday and it was, wel… creepy.

One may read Lovecraft’s work as a dark carnival of mad scientists, grotesque monsters and maybe even reflections of his xenophobia. I for my part like the big questions his work poses: are we alone in the universe? What do gods look like? What if they do not like us? What does humanity actually mean?

There are many cheap paperback editions available for those who want to discover the man’s work. I highly recommend this documentary as an introduction. It features various eminent horror writers and film directors, including Neil Gaiman and Guillermo del Toro, who discuss the impact Lovecraft’s stories have had on their own work. It also offers an intriguing overview of the life of this rather mysterious writer. Most importantly: it made me run to my local bookshop and discover Lovecraft’s universe once more.

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