Oct 30, 2012

Posted by in Literary Apologetics, Literature | 168 Comments

HP Lovecraft and Christian Thought

It seemed fitting at this time of year to take up a literary subject that’s often understandably—though I think unfortunately—neglected entirely by Christians: Horror fiction. I’m immediately aware of some well-founded hesitations that probably just sprang to many people’s minds. But I hope after a little digging and clarifying, some profound points of contact between two seemingly distant worlds will clarify themselves. For the sake of narrowing the field, and as an interesting place to start, I’m going to focus on a single figure who’s had massive, though oft unrecognized, cultural influence and who I think might be of particular interest to a Christian audience.

HP Lovecraft (1890 – 1937) was an American author born in Providence, Rhode Island, known for pioneering what’s long been referred to as “Weird Fiction.” In some circles, he’s thought of as both ‘America’s Horror Writer’ and the true progenitor of modern science fiction. He was hugely influenced by, and often classed with, Edgar Allen Poe. And Stephen King, the name most contemporary readers associate with the Horror genre, looks back to Lovecraft as an enormous influence and inspiration.

Lovecraft was also an atheist. More than that, he was a materialist. And, as he saw it, it was this distinct aspect of his worldview that guided the philosophy and aesthetics of his fiction. Aside from considering mankind to be not much more than a cosmic speck of dust, he also—as many have noted—just didn’t seem to like writing about people. So he wrote about gothic architecture, dark foggy forests, old houses with either rats scurrying in the walls or cities of alien creatures from eons past living on vast subterranean plains beneath them.

Convinced yet?

Why, exactly, would a Christian audience find the work of a staunch atheist who practically invented a distinct branch of Horror fiction to be of particular interest?

First let’s distinguish between different kinds of “Horror” literature. One is the gore-fest kind, in which the bloodiest, most gruesome set of occurrences wins the most points. The other is subtler, more psychological, and, in many cases, supernatural. It’s the ghost story kind, the mysterious-secret-in-the-basement kind. That’s HP Lovecraft’s brand. In fact, the first line of his treatise on the genre, “Supernatural Horror in Literature,” has become a go-to expression for describing the source of the genre’s power: “The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.”

This is where Lovecraft gets really interesting to me.

Though I didn’t recognize it, as such, until I first read that line, the idea of the unknown coupled with its ability to frighten permeates all of Lovecraft’s fiction. His theory on the literary power of this coupling—succinctly captured in that one statement—eventually got me digging around for a connection between the power of the unknown in Horror fiction and the power of the unknown in all kinds of fiction. But that, alas, is for another time. (A very big ‘another time.’) Here, I want to look at Lovecraft’s unique strain of spooky fiction, where he thinks its power comes from, how this theory of his intersects with Christian thought, and what can be immensely profitable—to anyone, Christian or otherwise—about reading him.

Seemingly unbeknownst to him, Lovecraft essentially redefined the genre of science fiction, creating a sub-genre sometimes referred to as “Cosmic Horror.” The way he did this is what’s interesting. His new vision—for the old, benevolent genre of the scientifically curious—continued the far flung speculations of the past but loosed them from their former underlying certainties: that God, or some sort of force for good, was at least somewhere in the backdrop of things and would ultimately ensure they came out all right. Hence, the “horror” piece of his sci-fi innovation. Much like the twentieth-century Existentialists, Lovecraft saw the universe as an absurdly disordered place with no inherent meaning and no underlying good, without even a reliable force (natural or otherwise) holding it all together. Lovecraft’s vision of mankind’s place in this universe is one of intensely precarious luck—so far. He was somewhat of an amateur astronomer in his younger years, and though he never took a professional avenue with his stargazing, his view of the cosmos was evidently altered by what he saw.

The sheer scope of creation seemed to intellectually overwhelm him and led to such thoughts as these (an epigraph kicking off his story, “The Haunter of the Dark”):

I have seen the dark universe yawning
Where the black planets roll without aim—
Where they roll in their horror unheeded,
Without knowledge or lustre or name.

He signed this short verse, “—Nemesis” (the Greek goddess who meted out divine punishment for hubris), a point whose greater significance will crystallize in a moment.

His study of the cosmos, and his contemplation on the limits of human understanding, also spawned this famous opening paragraph to his truly influential story, “The Call of Cthulhu:”

The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far. The sciences, each straining in its own direction, have hitherto harmed us little; but some day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the deadly light into the peace and safety of a new dark age.

Reflecting on that paragraph after first reading it, I thought: Yes. Yes, of course. What other conclusion could one draw from taking a sober, wide-angled view of the universe? If there is no God (or anything like God), then not only—as one Dostoyevsky character said—is everything “permitted,” but so too is everything unmoored, precarious, utterly teetering on the brink of obliteration.

Interestingly, though, for a materialist, Lovecraft seems to possess an unusual mistrust of the ultimate ends of “the sciences” and a profound lack of confidence in the autonomous human mind to either arrive at ultimate truths or to handle them once arrived at.

This turns out to be a critical link between Christians and those who share such a vision of the universe as Lovecraft’s—particularly those who also flock to the unique realm of literature that is “Supernatural Horror.” Here, then, is an area in which Christians can more deeply understand, and thus better converse with, those of a mindset that may seem separated from Christianity in every possible way.

More than that, Lovecraft is also interesting for his insights, in and of themselves. To people of a distinctly theist persuasion, this may sound odd. But yes, I do think Lovecraft has a particularly keen eye for certain truths. He sees a number of things clearly and deeply. Observing them, however, apart from the lens of Christ—the Word or “Logos,” the organizing principle that “upholds the universe,” and “in whom we live and move and have our being”—without such a lens, this penetrating sight gets truncated right at a certain point. It halts after its initial, bleak observations and—quite consistently, given its premise—acknowledges no higher, mitigating reality that makes a deeper kind of sense out of the potentially horrifying aspects of the universe.

I don’t mean to imply that Christianity automatically clarifies all mysteries and solves all unknown equations like some skeleton-key syllogism. That’s not the way of it, at all. In fact, I looked in depth at the very opposite idea in a previous post.

But regarding these Lovecraftian insights, I’m wondering if it’s as immediately odd to others as it is to me that an adamantly hard-nosed materialist not only attempted a serious treatise on “supernatural” literature but also specialized in writing it, himself.

It’s true that, in Lovecraft’s mind, the beastly grotesqueries he depicted—variously referred to as the Old Ones, the Great Old Ones, the Elder Gods, etc—were meant to be phenomena of strictly natural origin. But he saw such an immense gulf between the far reaches of possibility in the natural order and the human capacity for understanding such possibilities that it made for a frightening contrast: the bigness and power of the universe against the smallness and ignorance of humanity. He manifested these disturbing possibilities often in the assorted forms of these primeval ‘Gods’ who had no regard for mankind, except perhaps as a group of gnats buzzing around the domain where they had once ruled, in eons past—before whatever unexplained event(s) brought on their indefinite slumber.

The thing that’s ferociously interesting about this is that Lovecraft recognizes, and articulates (in his fiction especially), certain realities more incisively than do many of us theists who profess doctrinal convictions about them: both the frightening reality (or possibility to Lovecraft) of sentient beings with great power that exist in the universe but are not human, and the relative ignorance of an often over-confident, hubristic human race in the face of such large forces. This latter reality is compounded by another: the inability of the human mind to fully comprehend the deep things of existence.

Another great commonality, then, between Christians and readers and writers of Horror (not the gore-fest kind, but this subtle, supernatural kind) is a deep sense of, and response to, the realities of things unseen, unknown, things of deep mystery. Not the detective-story type of mystery—in which some all-clarifying answer exists, which people, right now, could fully comprehend if only given enough information—but the type of mystery referenced by the Apostle Paul who maintained that, right now, we “see through a glass darkly.”

Underlying all of this, however, is the strongest link between Christian thought and this fear-of-the-unknown aspect of Supernatural Horror… Death.

In an old interview with the BBC, JRR Tolkien argued part of his own theory about the function of fear in literature: “If you really come down to any large story that interests people or can hold their attention for a considerable amount of time—these stories, human stories, are practically always about one thing, aren’t they? Death. The inevitability of death.” Taking that idea a bit further, some Christian theologians have said that every fear mankind experiences in a fallen world is, at its root, a fear of death. The last enemy. And what, for a human, can be more unknown than the other side of the grave?

We Christians certainly believe a number of things about it, most significantly, that the Resurrection of the Son of God demonstrates the grave’s ultimate lack of power over those who are in the Son of God. As St. Paul triumphantly writes to the Corinthian church (seeing these same Lovecraftian horrors through the lens of the risen Christ), “Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?”

This raises an interesting point: If Christians do hold this view about the grave, and the other side of it, then the ultimate and deepest permutation of the fear of the unknown is essentially toothless.

For the Believer in Christ, Horror fiction is a genre not wholly without the virtue of tapping into profound realities. It recognizes many of the dark truths about living a fallen existence, the utter despair that would be ours but for an intervening God.

And as such, this distinct branch of literature can be an effective—and I think radically underutilized—means by which the Christian can relate to a fearful world.

 

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  1. Would the original Dracula fall into this or a similar genre?

    (btw Your blog is SUCH a find! thank you)

    • Garret Johnson says:

      Hi Lisa,

      That’s actually a REALLY interesting question. At first glance, I’d want to say yes, because I think Dracula would fall under the heading of Supernatural Horror. Also, Lovecraft was, from what I’ve gathered, definitely a fan of Bram Stoker and loved Dracula. You can see a bit of the style rubbing off on Lovecraft in stories like “At the Mountains of Madness” (a story that, in part, pieces together a horrific but subtly-building narrative through letters and journals, which is precisely the form of Dracula–an epistolary novel).

      Dracula is most often, however, categorized as “Gothic Horror.” This is the genre Lovecraft certainly STARTED OUT in (with stories like “The Music of Erich Zahn” or “The Rats in the Walls,” perhaps). But I think where Lovecraft truly carved out his own special niche was in moving beyond the more earth-bound Gothic (with its heavy reliance on traditional, religious, Heaven-and-Hell type backdrops for fear) and out into the Cosmic, utter unknown. He wanted to innovate by basically ditching previous categories of scary stories and taking the idea of Fear of the Unknown into untrodden territory. (This is why, at least partly, he created his own loose pantheon of ALMOST completely made-up “god”-ish creatures).

      Sorry if that’s a longer answer than you were looking for. But it’s actually quite an interesting thing to discuss. Thanks for the marvelous question!

      Garret

      P.S. Thanks for your comment about the blog! Glad you’re enjoying. It’s a great pleasure to be writing for it.

  2. I sure enjoyed reading this blog and viewing the Christian perspective from this position!It broadens the scope of what one was raised to believe and actually takes the “FEAR” out of the un-known & unusual!
    Thanks…. :)

    • Garret Johnson says:

      Wonderful!

      So glad you enjoyed it and got that from it!

      It really is encouraging to reconsider fear through the lens of Christ.

      (Hey don’t I know you from somewhere??? Like didn’t you change my diapers or something???)

      ;)

  3. Hahaha….Yesssss!

    And it is true, Greatness often evolves from “s m a l l” beginnings! :)

    Keep the faith…What a blessed work its producing!

    “..If you have faith like a grain of mustard seed,nothing will be impossible for you.” ~Matt.17:20
    Love you (son) xo :)

  4. William Brown says:

    I very much enjoyed this essay.
    I’m finding this blog to be fascinating. I love to explore the fundamental philosophical/ theological underpinnings in great literature. Over at ‘The Gospel Coalition’ blog I took part in study of Camus’ “The Stranger”, led by Leland Ryken, which was very enjoyable. It might be fun to do something like that here.

    Thanks for the good work,

    -Bill

    • Garret Johnson says:

      Really glad you enjoyed it, Bill.

      And I’m glad you find the blog, as a whole, fascinating. It’s a wonderful thing to be involved in. I’m a great fan of Dr. Ordway’s vision for it (and of all the wonderful stuff the other writers here produce!).

      Looking at the philosophical/ theological underpinnings of great lit (as you say) has long been a deep interest of mine. That project with The Gospel Coalition (who does some great stuff by the way) on Camus’ The Stranger sounds so interesting. Right up my alley. I’d love to get the link to that.

      I almost mentioned Camus in this piece about Lovecraft, but it wasn’t really central enough to the point here. Camus is a fascinating person to study, though. I’ve been intrigued by the thought of taking a close look at his short philosophical essay on the myth of Sisyphus, in this same type of way.

      On that point, is that what you meant by the idea of “doing something like that here”?

      Thanks for the comment.

      Cheers,
      Garret

      • Hi Garret,

        Thank you for the reply. Here’s a link to TGC Camus study: http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/tgc/2012/04/22/commending-the-classics-introducing-the-stranger/

        I am not recommending any specific format; more just the general idea of a book study. I think that a blog can be conducive to the sort of dialogue and give-and-take that can make a study fruitful.

        The Camus study was fun for me – t’s a short book and it as easy to keep up with a chapter a week. That allowed a lot of dialogue and a lot of in depth thinking. What a depressing book though! I learned a lot about Camus and about existentialism, which was valuable n understanding so much of the current zeitgeist.

        I thought of Shelley’s “Frankenstein” after reading the Lovecraft posts. What a great book with fascinating theological underpinnings.

        I’m excited about ‘Hieropraxis”. Literature and theology are two of my passions.

        God bless,

        –Bill

        Forest, VA

        • Garret Johnson says:

          Thanks for the link, William.

          I really enjoyed that commentary on The Stranger.

          I also particularly liked the little section called: “How to Read a Novel.” It essentially lays out the approach I was taking in this very post (emphasizing the value in gleaning insights from authors with different worldviews from ours), and what many of us here at Hieropraxis think about reading and engaging with literature.

          Much appreciated,
          Garret

  5. Daniel Gill says:

    You’re ignoring the fact that H. P. Lovecraft was not a Christian. He felt nothing for it. He felt for nature and the cosmos. Lovecraft was a pantheist. You’re mistaking Lovecraft’s materialism – the material of his dreams and consciousness, that animated his universe – with the empty materialism of pseudo-scientists. They are not the same thing!

    and your Bible that you appreciate so much was a desert religion exported to a winter climate. Lovecraft lived in desolation and poverty, and would never identify with the garden of eden, because it only comes 4 months of the year, and most of the rest of the year is in chilling darkness .

    • monkeylove says:

      All the points in your first paragraph are seen in the essay.

      All of the points in your second paragraph cannot be seen in the essay.

  6. I can think of another interesting analogy between HPL’s point of view and the Christian outlook. Even if the message is ultimately one of hope and salvation the presence of the Almighty in the Bible is always accompanied by a sense of terror. Thus the inevitable refrain associated with every revelation. Fear Not!

    Don’t be afraid.

    In fact one might be tempted to say the aspect that distinguishes a genuine revelation from the false is that it contains this moment of terror. One does not stare into the face of God and live. The difference is that Lovecraft’s gods don’t care if you are destroyed by the vision and wouldn’t notice if you were!

    • Garret Johnson says:

      Hi Ezra,

      Wow, yes, I think you hit the nail on the head. I like the dichotomy you note between the gods of the Lovecraftian (or “Cthulhu”) Mythos and the God of the Bible. Really insightful.

      Also, this brings up another great element of Lovecraft’s fiction, and a powerful one: the idea of the Sublime (as I see it, anyway). In fact, this is one of those other places in ‘great literature,’ as a whole, where I’ve seen a connection between the pervasive concept of the Unknown and the power of the story (or even the lyrical poem).

      I think back to Wordsworth, for example, and one of his poems in which the speaker is on a raft (as I recall), at twilight, looking back over his shoulder at the shadowy height of a mountain that seems to come alive and almost start pursuing him. Sublime terror is surely the way to describe that moment. Related might be Shelley’s “Mont Blanc:” the shadowy, mysterious peak that’s always shrouded in cloud and carries with it both a promise of potential, “ineffable” bliss and a sense of the terrifyingly unreachable.

      I like, however, the nuance you point out in true divine Sublimity that the Sublime in Lovecraft doesn’t have (although, you could perhaps argue that the Sublime in Lovecraft’s fiction is un-nuanced for his CHARACTERS, but retains its complexity for the reader…even if that’s not what Lovecraft consciously intended). The idea of the Sublime (to the Romantics, it seems, at least) possesses this dual-aspect of Terror-Awe. And the “awe” part of it can almost be worshipful. Indeed, it IS worshipful (and finds its full expression and nuance) in the God of the Bible. You can see it in the moments you mention (the moments of direct divine revelation), but I think you can also see it in things like the burning bush, or Mt. Sainai, itself, with its terrifying rumblings and the fact that the people (except for the Mediator) can’t even approach it, much less scale it.

      Great comment! Thanks for those insights.

  7. Garret,

    Thanks for being balanced and focusing on the subject. Lovecraft is indeed important, if not for the fact that many postmodern writers of Horror see him as their sole master. I like much of his work, and have read him since I was a boy. But his worldview is noxious, and dangerous, and should be handled like something poisonous… perhaps the same way St. Paul handled poisonous things…

    Supernatural literature is filled with authors who were Christians, and much of this literature is of the Horror genre. If I may soapbox for just a second: Can we, as Christians, stop calling ourselves “Christian writers?” Bram Stoker didn’t, nor did Arthur Machen, Charles Dickens, T. S. Eliot, Tolkien, George MacDonald… all masters of the art of storytelling, all highly recognized in the world of literature as such, and all Christians.

  8. Garret Johnson says:

    Hi Scathe,

    Thanks for the comment. I too have enjoyed much of Lovecraft’s work. One of the most consistently interesting things (which is getting increasingly less surprising to me) is how profoundly, and often, the eternal truths of God feature in the works of authors whose worldviews adamantly oppose even the idea of God. Lovecraft’s fiction is a prime example of this.

    And yes, I share your sentiments on the soapbox topic: Far too much effort has been made, I think, in some circles, to differentiate “Christian” authors (or stories) from “the rest,” or from everything else. I think both the Christian and non-Christian world lose something when this happens. Not least is the ability of either side to see value in literature that doesn’t fit the category it’s seeking. As I’ve mentioned elsewhere (and as my colleague Dr. Holly Ordway has also said), what truly makes good “Christian fiction” is just “good fiction.”

    • Garret,

      Thanks for your reply! I am truly glad to know that there are other Believers who have not bought into the “Christian Arts” game which, as you say, leaves both sides, and those in between, wanting. When I first began writing in the late 1970s, the Lord sent me a book to read: Addicted To Mediocrity. This work literally shaped my writing worldview, and you and I both are echoing what was said there so many decades ago now.

      Oh, in case you didn’t know, the man who is nearly solely responsible for the world knowing Lovecraft, August Derleth of Arkham House Press, was a Christian.

      • Garret Johnson says:

        Scathe,

        That book sounds interesting. One of my favorite things to see is when different people somehow arrive at the same truths by completely different paths. This, by the way, is one reason I think it’s always worth trying your hand at something that’s already ‘been done’ (especially if it’s something you’re really itching to do). Even if someone has already said it, or written it, or recorded it, chances are there’s someone else out there who needs to hear it in just the way YOU will say it.

        Also, yes I’m definitely familiar with Derleth and Arkham House (the small press created, as I recall, specifically to preserve Lovecraft’s works after his death). I had no idea about the man’s faith. Quite interesting! And (not surprisingly) I can’t say I would’ve been surprised to stumble across a fact like that. There’s a surprising amount in common with the trade of Supernatural Horror fiction and Christian Thought.

        Thanks again for the comment!

        • Garret,

          Rudolph Otto’s collection of essays titled ‘The Idea of the Holy’ explains in detail the connection between the studies of Horror and Terror, and Christian thought and praxis.

          I don’t think St. Paul ever suggested that seeing in a glass darkly couldn’t be interesting, and even fun, until we see face to Face, and know even as we are now known.

          And yes, ‘Addicted To Mediocrity’ is worth the perusal.

          • Garret Johnson says:

            Hi Scathe,

            Once again, wonderful suggestion on the book. I’m actually looking very forward to checking this one out. It intersects with another of my most enduring curiosities: The Unknown. From the idea of the “ineffable” in so much of Shelley’s poetry, to the Romantics’ general preoccupation with “the Sublime,” to the engine that drives all narrative literature (suspense, and the reader’s desire to know the unknown) to Lovecraft’s own speculations about the “Fear of the Unknown,” I’ve always been fascinated with what both draws people to (and frightens them about) the Unknown. I’m planning on writing more about it (and even teaching, sooner or later, on the subject as it relates to literature–fiction, especially) at some point. Otto’s book looks like a must-read if I plan on examining this at greater depth.

            Many thanks for pointing me to that.
            Garret

    • Not sure if you’ve seen this from ‘Touchstone’……

      http://www.touchstonemag.com/archives/article.php?id=20-02-044-b

      I read this today from the latest issue……

      http://www.touchstonemag.com/archives/issue.php?id=172

      Lost & Found in the Cosmos
      The Alternate & Alternative Worlds of H. P. Lovecraft & C. S. Lewis
      by C. R. Wiley

      Really superb, if you can get a hold of the magazine (you need to subscribe if you don’t!).
      Wiley has a rather less sanguine view of Lovecraft. It’s a fantastic article and delves into Lovecraft’s background and worldview. CS Lewis had a lot in common, but Wiley makes wonderful points in contrasting the two.

      –Wm. Brown

      Forest, VA

      • Thank you for that link, William. An insightful article on the new book by yet another applauder of Lovecraft. The following is from my essay ‘Horror Nunc’ found as a permanent page of my online quarterly HAUNTED MAGAZINE:

        “What is Horror then? Well, it certainly includes illnesses of the mind and brutal murder, and why wouldn’t it? But if Horror is only defined in that way, then what happens to the creepy ghost story of Henry James or Charles Dickens, the dire warning against witchcraft of Arthur Machen or Nathaniel Hawthorne, the quirky chiller of Ray Bradbury or Robert Bloch, and the ‘comedic horror’ of James Thurber or John Kendrick Bangs? These works fall by the wayside in favor of an atheistic narrow-mindedness that does nothing but asphyxiate a broad range of talent with its chthonic pagan drone issuing forth from no real love of the craft (*wink*). Lovecraft and his disciples, though some of them can actually write, might stop trying to interest us in their bleak (and false) caveman worldview of the origin of mankind. We–all of us–came from a bright and perfect place, and then dove, as one collective unit, into a darkness of our own accord–a gloom with which, despite received wisdom to the contrary, Lovecraft begins our history. He has some good stories, but to take his anthropological conclusions seriously is a serious error. He insists that no one who believes in the supernatural can write about it as effectively as one who merely imagines the supernatural disturbing something he calls ‘the natural order.’ That is a patently ridiculous statement and is made untenable by the presence of, among others, ‘weird fiction’ writers Arthur Machen, Charles Dickens, Bram Stoker, Hans Christian Anderson, J. R. R. Tolkien, Herman Melville, William Blake, Ray Bradbury, George MacDonald, T. S. Eliot, and Fyodor Dostoyevsky… all masters of their craft, and all professing Christians.”

        In my recent correspondence with Cthulhu Mythos author and editor Pierre Comtois, these words were said by Comtois concerning Lovecraft, and I find them poignant to the subject:

        “I think a lot of his fans today, many overly secular, are attracted by his outlier status. This is why there seems to be much resentment over August Derleth, who arguably was one of HPL’s closest friends when he was alive (although they never
        met) who was also an unapologetic Catholic who tried to bring order out of HPL’s Mythos universe by interpreting it in a kind of Old Testament patois. To the modern secularist fans, that was anathema and so for the last 30 years there has been a strong effort to trivialize Derleth and his contributions to the Mythos. I think too, secularist fans are fascinated by HPL’s eccentricities, his outlook on life, his solitariness, his
        sexlessness, his cool reserve, his frugality, his unbending self
        discipline, etc. but also his cosmicism and militant agnosticism which may seem quite up to date by modern standards. All of that sets him apart from other genre authors.”

        • Garret Johnson says:

          Thanks for adding that to the discussion, Scathe.

          I enjoyed the perspective. And I never would have thought to put James Thurber and “horror” in the same sentence! But now that you mention it, I can see where you get it.

          In classing such an array of authors together, you’re actually touching on an idea I’ve been interested in pursuing (in criticism, teaching, and even my own fiction) for some time now: how fear (particularly that of the unknown) pervades or at least plays a significant role in nearly all successful storytelling. I mentioned this in an earlier comment, so I won’t elaborate—except to say I’d add Raymond Carver and Cormac McCarthy and Flannery O’Connor and so many others to that list.

          Many thanks to you (and everyone else who’s posted here) for really invigorating this discussion. It’s been extremely fruitful.

          Garret

      • Garret Johnson says:

        Fascinating, William. Thanks again for the great links. It’s an interesting pairing for such a discussion (Lovecraft and Lewis), and one that makes a great of sense to me.

        I completely sympathize with Cordray’s read of Lovecraft (from the first link). I’m curious about the book he’s reviewing. And he brings up something I’ve often wondered about: the reason(s) behind Lovecraft’s enduring popularity. That little subject alone could warrant a book, I’m sure.

        Garret

  9. Excellent article. My sons and I play board games, such as Arkham Horror and Eldritch Horror (published by FantasyFlight Games), based on Lovecraftian Mythos. Intense, but definitely not the slash-fest of modern horror. Perhaps there is a distinction between horror and thriller?
    Have you heard of the lesser known Christian author of the Inklings, Charles Williams? Some consider him as the father of the supernatural thriller.

    • williamfrancisbrown says:

      Kirk,

      I’d guess that there are a few experts on Williams at Hieropraxis or Houston Baptist College. I’ve read most of his popular books myself. There are some fascinating stories about William’s life and interactions with CS Lewis and Tolkein in Humphry Carpenter’s bio. of The Inklings. Williams was certainly a huge influence on Lewis.

      • Hi Kirk (and William),

        Thank you very much!

        And yes, I’ve read several Charles Williams books. Descent into Hell and War in Heaven are the ones I remember most clearly. We actually had a Charles Williams reading group here at HBU a couple years ago (good stuff). As you very rightly point out, I’ve seen Williams’s novels described as “supernatural thrillers,” and I’d say it’s a good description. Also, like you, I’d say they bear GREAT resemblance to Lovecraft’s fiction. I actually mention this fact in a later article I wrote here: “Weird Fiction and Christianity: Strange Bedfellows”:

        http://www.hieropraxis.com/2013/05/weird-fiction-and-christianity-strange-bedfellows/

        And I recall a very enlightening moment related to this. I was reading War in Heaven for the first time when I found something that knocked my socks off. I trotted over to my colleague Dr. Ordway’s office, read a passage out loud (without identifying the author), and asked her to guess who wrote it…

        “Well that sounds like HP Lovecraft,” she said.

        “Nope,” I said. “Charles Williams.”

        We both smiled.

        As I say, it’s no accident that an intensely dedicated, deeply thoughtful, orthodox Christian would write fiction that bears such resemblance to Lovecraft’s particular kind. In fact, the parallel is so striking (and goes to my point so well) I’m inclined to include it if/when I write further on this topic.

        As far as Williams being the father of this sub-genre, that’s harder to say. He was certainly a very early practitioner of it, in the form that we think of—and his particular way of doing it perhaps started something new within the realm of supernatural literature (although he was writing at the same time as Lovecraft—as a side note, I’ve often wondered whether they read any of each other’s work). But these things usually develop so gradually, step by step, from one author and generation to another, that it’s pretty hard to pin down exactly where it started. Would be an interesting subject for research, though.

        Thanks for the thoughtful comments, gentlemen!
        Garret

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