I’ve been putting the books I’ve read on Goodreads – partially to show off, but mainly to get recommendations on other books I may want to read. One of the authors who keeps coming up in the recommendations is H.P. Lovecraft.
I realise this is controversial, but I don’t like Lovecraft. I find (a) I can’t really sympathise with his lead characters who all seem self absorbed and over intellectual and (b) his way of creating atmosphere is to describe lots of things as unknowable. His basic message is that the universe is at best uncaring and at worst malign – and there is nothing much we can do about it.
Contrast Lovecraft with my favourite writer of horror stories – Fritz Leiber. Leiber’s main characters are flawed – often mirroring his own problems with alcoholism. Like Lovecraft’s characters they often endure the horrors of the universe rather than defeat them, but they normally manage to pull some lesser and more human triumphs out of their encounters with evil. The basic outlook is therefore optimistic rather than pessimistic.
Leiber is often credited (with some truth) with pioneering urban horrors. His malign beings are creations of the modern world – the smog ghost, the black gondolier of the oil fields, the succubus of advertising. They are not dark demons from hell or destroying aliens from other dimensions. they are the personifications of our own failings. Often they will relate to the devils in side out own heads from our Jungian Ids or all too human frailties. They are here and now and inside all of us, which is why his characters suffer but ultimately overcome in some way, and why we can sympathise with them.
In Lovecraft’s world, shit happens. In Leiber’s we have to get our shit together.
Leiber was very influenced by Lovecraft in his early days as a writer and did write some Mythos stories, but as he became his own man he drew on his own experiences to be a much more human and humane writer than Lovecraft. Perhaps that is why it is easier to pastiche Lovecraft than Leiber. It’s easier to write scenery than psychodrama.