The Blagger's Guide To... HP Lovecraft

Happy deathday to the father of modern horror
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The Independent Culture

*This Thursday marks the 75th anniversary of the death of Howard Phillips Lovecraft – better known to his legion of fans as HP. He was born on 20 August, 1890, in Providence, Rhode Island, and was a sickly, lonesome child who was badly affected by the death of his father. He suffered acute night terrors and developed an interest in astronomy, two disparate threads that came together when he began writing the type of "cosmic horror" fiction with which his name has become synonymous, largely through the pulp Weird Tales magazine in the 1920s. He lived with his mother until her death in 1921, when he briefly married.

*Lovecraft is regarded more as a writer of ideas than a dazzling wordsmith. One reader apparently wrote to the magazine Astounding Stories, which published his novel At the Mountains of Madness (one of only three full-length Lovecraft works) in 1931: "Are you in such dire straits that you must print this kind of drivel?" The French novelist Michel Houellebecq admitted in his otherwise glowing 2005 biography, Lovecraft: Against the World, Against Life: "'There is something not really literary about Lovecraft's work." Famous fans of the man who they say invented modern horror, however, include Stephen King, Joyce Carol Oates and Jorge Luis Borges.

*Lovecraft developed what later became known as the Cthulhu Mythos, set around his fictional New England towns including Dunwich, Innsmouth and Arkham. He envisaged a cosmic war between the Elder Gods and the Great Old Ones such as dread Cthulhu, a slimy, tentacled, winged giant. He also created the Necronomicon – a fictional grimoire that many people since have believed to be real.

*Complaints of clunky writing pale against the other accusation regularly levelled at Lovecraft – that of racism. Lovecraft scholar Bruce Lord said: "Early apologists viewed Lovecraft's racism as an unimportant element that occasionally surfaced in the background of his literature; today it is viewed as a key element in understanding Lovecraft's fiction and the nature of the world he created with it." Biographer S T Joshi added: "I find Lovecraft's racism disappointing not merely because he expressed it so frequently ... but because this was one area where he refused to modify his thinking in the light of new evidence."

*Lovecraft makes the leap into fiction himself, becoming a character in several other books. Most recently, the writer Bruce Brown has penned two graphic novels for children, featuring a young Howard Lovecraft getting embroiled in Cthulhoid adventures – The Frozen Kingdom (2010) and The Undersea Kingdom (to be published in early April), both from Arcana Studios. HP appears in Ray Bradbury's story "The Exiles", Richard A Lupoff's Lovecraft's Book, and an Image Comics series, "The Strange Adventures of HP Lovecraft".

*Lovecraft might be more of a household name today had the Hellboy director Guillermo Del Toro's plan for a $150m 3D adaptation of At the Mountains of Madness, starring Tom Cruise, not hit the buffers last year over studio concerns about the classification it would receive. Other Lovecraft adaptations which have made it to the big screen include The Haunted Palace (1963), based on The Case of Charles Dexter Ward, the 1985 schlock-horror Re-Animator, based very loosely on Herbert West – Reanimator and two recent movies lovingly made by the HP Lovecraft Historical Society, The Call of Cthulhu and The Whisperer in Darkness.