Theories abound about the origins of Lovecraft’s cosmic pessimism. One of them sees Lovecraft’s philosophy as wholly negative and appropriates a kind of language of blame, i.e., it assigns Lovecraft’s “depressing” views to unfortunate events in his “twisted, unhappy” childhood. I don’t think this is an accurate view, and I think that there is very little mystery about the origins of Lovecraft’s belief system.
H.P. Lovecraft was a staunch atheist from about the age of six onward, if not earlier, and a bit later he became just as staunch a materialist and science enthusiast. The “Death of God” came early for Lovecraft, and like millions of other modern people, he had his own reaction to it.
His first reaction was a sense of joy and freedom. Joy in the freedom from what he considered deep superstition and mainstream society’s insane over-valuation of the worth of the world and the human species.
His second reaction was a sense of Cosmicism – i.e., the sober consideration of the (probable) infinity of the non-human universe, unconscious of, and unconcerned with, ephemera such as humankind. Quite understandably, Lovecraft’s fiction reflects this conviction – which he saw as borne out by current science knowledge – of Man’s insignificance in the cosmos.
His third reaction was a sense of oppression, of being trapped in time and space, with the Weird Tale being his only means of escape from the matter that bound him. And I would venture the guess that almost all of us at one time or another – both believer and unbeliever alike – do experience a particularly human sense of alienation from the Cosmos-at-large: so Lovecraft was by no means alone in this feeling. But unlike most of us, he acted on it and expressed it in literature, letters, the Weird Tale, and poetry.
His fourth reaction was an attitude of rebellion against these spacetime constraints. His rebellion did not take the form of religion (which seeks to change perceived cosmic underpinnings from Indifferent to Caring), but in a stark atheistic materialism which seized on the apparently bleak reality revealed by physics and evolutionary theory – an atheism that attacked comforting religious ideas and formulated a Man-unfriendly, anti-religious cosmology and created a unique kind of literary pantheon and Anti-Myth mythos.
In all of the above, Lovecraft was only being human, and being true to his own authentic reactions to the new picture of an indifferent cosmos that was being revealed by biology and physics. Therefore, caution must be exercised in order to avoid putting too much influence on HPL’s “formative years” – his odd, miserable childhood, his absent, young-dying father, his sickly, anxiety-ridden and in later years mentally ill mother, etc. – in an attempt to portray his later adult views as somehow odd or morbid, because derived from his “unhappy childhood”. His adult views, on the contrary, are largely derived from his intellect and scientific knowledge, and not from (the supposed) cryptic horrors of his childhood and youth. It would be better to let HPL speak for himself – as he surely does in his hundreds of voluminous letters and essays.
More on Cosmicism can be found here: