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H.P. Lovecraft: The Religious Origins of Terror in the 21st Century

Howard Phillips Lovecraft died a complete stranger but his shadow has continued to grow to the point that today he is considered one of the most influential horror writers of all time. What has hardly been said until recently is the enormous influence that the teaching of the Puritan preachers and the Bible itself had on his fantastic universe.

Article by Pablo Fernández from Barcelona on Thursday, December 23rd 2021 ·.·★ Reading takes 15 minutes or 2995 words.

H.P. Lovecraft traveled very little and in his stories he used to mix real names and events with those he himself imagined. He even invented a reference book like the ′Necronomicon,′ which some novice readers keep searching bookstores unsuccessfully! But let′s start at the beginning, as he did in the story ′The Strange House in the Fog′:

′In 1639 thousands of settlers from southern England and the Channel Islands reached the shores of the United States. On the banks of the Miskatonic River in northeastern Massachusetts, where New England myth and legends mingle with ancient rumors of unheard of beings and forbidden cults, the small town of Kingsport was built just off the coast. The city was a thriving freight port, but as the years passed and the advent of modernity, its people became sullen and sinister.

Kingsport was the fictional name Lovecraft assigned to the town of Marblehead when he had not yet visited it. Despite the enormous interest that the city aroused in him and the fact that it is only a few kilometers from Providence, Lovecraft was not a friend of travel. The city of Providence, Rhode Island, which is where H.P. Lovecraft is also a port city three hours from New York City. It was one of the oldest Saxon settlers on the American continent and its name is an explicit reference to ′the merciful sovereignty of God.′ It was founded by the Baptist and Puritan Reverend Roger Williams in 1636, upon arrival from London - like many thousands of other emigrants who have followed him to this day. It is surprising that countries like the United States of America now have so many objections to emigration.

The Reverend George Phillips by his side landed in Salem, Massachusetts, on June 12, 1630, just ten years after the arrival of the famous first ship, the Mayflower. There he founded the Watertown and First Congregational Church and became known for a singular tolerance that was not exactly the one that has made the city of Salem famous. Four generations of illustrious Baptists had passed when one of the descendants of that Reverend George Phillips, Sarah Susan Phillips, fathered the famous Howard Phillips Lovecraft in her womb. By then there was nothing his family was so proud of as his pristine family tree.

Migrants and the birth of a nation

Susan could take comfort in knowing that her future husband Winfield Scott Lovecraft had a family tree that matched hers. Her grandfather Joseph Lovecraft had come from Devonshire, southern England, in 1847. It was financial difficulties that had led them to emigrate, but they also flaunted their Anglican faith and European good manners. She was actually barely able to take advantage of those advantages. In fact, she saw very little of him among the many business trips he took on and before she actually bought her own house, before HP Lovecraft was three years old, her husband was hospitalized with syphilis and terrible bouts of hallucinations. They kept him locked up until he died five years later.

It is difficult to imagine a more traumatic situation for a mother and her young son. If those circumstances helped them in something, it was undoubtedly the opportunity to start living in the house of her grandparents. That huge building at 454 Angell Street was an inexhaustible source of pampering and fed the thirst for surprises and knowledge of her for years. While the servants did the housework, her mother painted, her grandmother Rhoby introduced her to astronomy, her uncle-in-law taught him the Greek alphabet, and her aunts helped her explore the classics in the vast library of the penthouse. The best memories of her, however, would be kept from her grandfather Whipple, who brought him gifts from her travels in Europe, read horror stories to her, and helped her face her fear of the dark.

At the age of seven, during Christmas 1897 and after seeing William Shakespeare′s play Cymbeline, H.P. Lovecraft couldn′t stop playing it over and over at home. When her mother suggests that she take dance classes so that she can socialize with other boys, H.P. Lovecraft then replied with a phrase from Cicero: ′Nemo fere saltat sobrius, nisi forte insanit!′ - which means something like ′Nobody dances sober, unless they are crazy.′ When young H.P. Lovecraft wanted to realize, he just found the courage to join the school, much less collaborate with his teachers.

The Puritans and the terrible hands of God

His grandfather Whipple Van Buren Phillips became a very successful businessman since he invented his own sewing machine and had an excellent relationship with the rest of the city of Providence. He was the founder of the Freemason Ionic Lodge No. 28 Masonic Lodge and a member of many institutions, including the Methodist congregation for which he opened the doors of his house with the objective of having his meetings held there. Kurt Oystein Slatten′s thesis on the influence of Puritan preaching is no nonsense. All cosmicism as a philosophical current created by H.P. Lovecraft, is based after all on one of the most recognizable and particular Puritan doctrines, which is the singular insignificance of the human being.

Anyone who reads H.P. Lovecraft understands from the beginning that he is not facing a regular writer, not even common among horror writers who influenced him like Mary Shelley, Lord Dunsany or Edgar Allan Poe. The protagonists of H.P. Lovecraft seldom have any relevance in the face of supernatural powers and men are nothing more than insects next to the gods, whose intentions are the indifference or complete annihilation of humanity. Famous sermons like ′Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God′ by preachers like Jonathan Edwards are inevitable references when analyzing the work of H.P. Lovecraft, but it′s hard to imagine that he knew the Puritans in his own family. It′s more likely that he did it in works like Nathaniel Hawthorne′s.

It was well known since between February 1692 and May 1693 fourteen women had been hanged in Salem, Massachusetts, accused of witchcraft. Nathaniel Hawthorne was the great-great-grandson of the only judge who had not repented of these crimes and had become popular in his own day for signing books like ′The Scarlet Letter.′ His stories in general placed a strong emphasis on the greatness of the British heritage in America and the evil inherent in the human being, at the same time that he criticized Puritan morality and taught complex psychological systems, so it is not surprising that your work will capture the attention of HP Lovecraft.

The search for the god that failed

The theologian and journalist from Madrid José de Segovia has talked a lot about how it is not always correct to say that atheism is a rational position that he does not believe in. Atheism is often at its core the form of protest adopted by many who have suffered a traumatic experience and literally do not want to believe. H.P. Lovecraft in particular says that he began to doubt the God they believed in in his family, after the disappointment of discovering that Santa Claus did not exist. That discovery led him, according to himself, to Greek mythology and the pantheon of Hindu gods, to which he assures that he applied a scientific method to end up proving the nonexistence of all gods.

H.P. Lovecraft continued the search for him in the Solar System as well. His mother gave him a telescope and after several analyzes he made public his belief that he had found traces of life on Mars. When he went to give a presentation to the Boys Club of First Baptist Church, H.P. Lovecraft had already rectified and was quite embarrassed to come across experts he admired such as Professor Upton there. His grandfather then made a wrong investment and the ruin began to deteriorate all of his comfort space. First the servants disappeared, then the furniture and finally his own grandfather′s, who died after suffering a collapse in the house of one of his employees and made it inevitable that they would have to sell the house. The new home was just a few feet away and had five bedrooms, an attic, and a basement, but H.P. Lovecraft never came to terms with that loss.

His usual nightmares, depressions and nervous breakdowns increased. He blamed his mother for her lack of affection or her religious upbringing for forcing him to feign faith. He explained the deterioration of the nation as the effect of immigrants from Africa, Asia or southern Europe, whom he disqualifies with grotesque adjectives especially when he tries to seek employment during his stay in New York. The most intimate texts of H.P. Lovecraft, however, are often reminiscent of Síren Kierkegaard, Franz Kafka or Albert Camus. ′The oldest and most intense emotion of humanity is fear - said H.P. Lovecraft - and the oldest and most intense of fears is fear of the unknown.′ The nightmares described in his works of fiction are actually almost exact reproductions of those he had in person: the caves, the sea or the gods were not for him but containers of unknown threats.

Objections and textual criticism of the Bible

H.P. Lovecraft never wrote a single book with his own work. He worked as a ghostwriter for authors like the illusionist Harry Houdini and sold just a few of his own stories to low-circulation magazines like Weird Tales for no more than $ 500 each. He dedicated most of his time since he was a child, yes, to write different self-published newsletters and around 100,000 letters to his friends, letters where he is not necessarily objective in fact, but where at least he was objective in relation to what he wanted others to interpret from his work. Despite much that has been said, H.P. Lovecraft was not always sure of his atheism and in his correspondence he also flirted with agnosticism.

When in his letters he speaks of Christ, he gives signs of having read ′The Golden Branch′ by James George Frazer or the work of some disciples of Sigmund Freud, assuring that there is no historical evidence that Christ existed. That theory had been accepted by many in the eighteenth century but had ceased to be taken seriously in its own time and no academic dares to uphold it today. Science fiction writer H.G. Wells already recognized it in his own day. It must be said in favor of H.P. Lovecraft what he wrote to his friend Lee Baldwin on February 16, 1935: that while he did not have sufficient evidence that it existed, he also did not have ′evidence that it did not exist.′

There is also no evidence that H.P. Lovecraft read the novel ′Moby Dick′ by Herman Melville, but he did read that four months after trying to buy it he wrote the first draft of ′The Call of Cthulhu.′ H.P. Lovecraft had already outlined part of this deity in Doven′s work, but meeting this white and irreducible sea creature could give him a new push. Several generations of artists such as Jorge Luís Borges, Stephen King or Guillermo del Toro confirm that his style and his stories are of unprecedented value. You may more or less like his baroque descriptions of monsters or his long monologues in the form of scientific reports, but his works are capable of reaching places that very few others have been able to reach. There is in his work a work of anatomy that no one has done with more beauty and detail than he, probably because of the honesty with which he wanted to reflect his own feelings.

Christ and the Call of Cthulhu

Famous games and music groups such as Iron Maiden, Metallica or Cradle of Filth have also paid their well-deserved tribute to H.P. Lovecraft. Cthulhu′s tentacles dominate the shelves of bookstores and merchandise stores in a way that no character in ′The Lord of the Rings′ does. We have a store dedicated only to this character in Barcelona! Recently there are also not a few who have analyzed the similarities between Christ and this aquatic god called Cthulhu. To begin with, the name itself. H.P. Lovecraft gave it to him so that it could not be pronounced. An idea that follows the same line in which Christ made himself known as the Lord, which is the name that the Jews used to avoid pronouncing the name of JHV.

Cthulhu is worshiped by a heterogeneous community of different races, who await his return to receive redemption from him and enjoy his kingdom. ′With the passage of strange eons, even death can die′ - writes in the story a confident H.P. Lovecraft. The big difference between Cthulhu and Christ is obviously love. For the apostle John, one of Christ′s disciples, God is literally love and a love not merely theoretical or from a distance - but a love that necessarily shows itself through concrete and personal actions. That is why unlike Cthulhu, Christ is not continually asleep. Christ approaches people not as a monstrous mixture of octopus and dragon, but as a baby of a human being, with the same risks but also with the added capacity of being able to love personally and pay with his death for the possibility of giving them life.

The expression ′do not fear′ is repeated 365 times in the Bible, but how can we not be afraid when we know our fragility? According to the same first century Jewish writer, it is that love of Christ that ′casts out all fear.′ Fear in the Bible is not described exactly in the terms in which it is described by H.P. Lovecraft, although it certainly serves as the basis for creating your own caricature of him. A fascinating cartoon that speaks first of all about how little religion alone can help without the love of Christ. ′Because God so loved the world′ -said the same author- ′that he gave his only begotten son, so that everyone who believes in him may not lose himself but have eternal life.′ Isn′t that good news to celebrate?

This is an short translation of the original article published in Spanish by Entrelíneas: Revista de Arte as H.P. Lovecraft: Los orígenes religiosos del terror en el Siglo XXI

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