Epic Fantasy: Quandaries and Questions

Lovecraftian Horror

Searchers after horror haunt strange, far places.

H. P. Lovecraft

Let me say this about Lovecraft; the man was a racist, paranoid, shamble of a man. I do not like him. This is undeniable and now that I have established it, I will do my best to avoid the topic. However, I cannot deny his contributions to writing horror and fantasy. So pull up a chair, pour a cup of some mother-loving tea and let’s talk about why this fearful son of Providence Rhode Island’s style of writing fantastical horror was so effective.

The first part of what makes the Lovecraftian mythos so effectively creepy is that it played with the fact that the universe is really big; it’s freaking massive and there’s no possible way that we could know what goes on in all of it. This is why Lovecraftian and Cosmic horror are used interchangeably; they both utilize this fear of the unknown, of the uncertain. The darkness that we could never possibly understand. There are always unanswered questions, some of which never get solved. What was in the meteor and why did one bit stay behind? Is Cthulu going to come back from the steamship to the face?

The second part of what makes Lovecraft’s horror is the well, the fish. In most horror, it’s the blood and bone that’s creepy, murder and vampires and zombies. In Lovecraftian horror, it’s fish and ooze, slime and muck and strange fish people that want to take over the surface world. The ocean and space are two of the final frontiers that we don’t fully understand yet, with the other being the distant past, and that understanding was even smaller in Lovecraft’s time and I can’t blame him for being kind of scared of it. 

The third thing I’m going to talk about today is Lovecraft’s protagonists are mostly distant to the action, either physically or emotionally. We never get a first-hand account, or when we do, there’s usually the old drunk man of exposition. Or it’s a story being told that’s already happened. There’s this distance between us and the actual horror. It’s not close enough to be truly terrifying, but it’s not far enough to not be scary.

In the end, if you want to write Lovecraftian horror, take the factor of the unknown is scary, ramp it up to 200, add a spooky fish and some goop, a distant protagonist and then you have it.

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