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H.P. Lovecraft: Rationalist, Mystic

Horror writer and man of letters H.P. Lovecraft made much of his stoic materialism, as do many of his fans, including his chief biographer, S.T. Joshi.  It is always comforting to share a life view with writers one admires, so it is not unnatural that so many Lovecraft followers find in him a champion of their own reductionist materialism.

However, Lovecraft was not an entirely happy materialist.  In his letters he affirms that the negation of the scientific, natural law he defends elsewhere is really his only reason for writing.  It brings him a certain satisfaction, and in his own words expresses his sense of cosmic revolt.  On the one hand, Lovecraft is intellectually a skeptic; on the other, his skepticism chafes – to the extent he must do something about it – namely, write “weird tales,” cosmic and supernatural horror stories.  Of course, no human being is a gray, uniform creature:  all of us are at the same time a universe and a multiverse.  Lovecraft was no exception.  What he was in his rational function is counterbalanced by what he was in his emotional and poetic character.  His mind was rationalistic, his soul mystic.

HPL was always something of a nature mystic.  This is affirmed not only in his letters.  It is embedded in his literature.  The central passages of The Whisperer in Darkness, The Colour Out of Space and The Dunwich Horror entire are unthinkable without Lovecraft’s loving description of New England hills, farms, mountains and woods, its dark brooks that never see the glint of sunlight, its swollen trees flourishing in wild forest belts.  Here his cosmic stoicism gives way to unabashed affection and a celebration of primal mystery.  If the world was not made for man, it can with some probity be said, rural New England was made for Lovecraft.

This is not all.  On rare occasions, HPL, like a Taoist (or even Camus on a good day) seemed to sense a meaning hidden in things.  Like many mystics, he cannot name what it is, but it fascinates, lures, tantalizes.

I cannot tell why some things hold for me

A sense of unplumbed marvels to befall,

Or of a rift in the horizon’s wall

Opening to worlds where only gods can be.

There is a breathless, vague expectancy..

It is in sunsets and strange city spires,

Old villages and woods and misty downs,

South winds, the sea, low hills, and lighted towns,

Old gardens, half-heard songs, and the moon’s fires.

But though its lure alone makes life worth living,

None gains or guesses what it hints at giving.

And:

There is in certain ancient things a grace

Of some dim essence – more than form or weight;

A tenuous aether, indeterminate,

Yet linked with all the laws of time and space.

A faint, veiled sign of continuities…

Of locked dimensions harbouring years gone by,

And out of reach except for hidden keys.

It moves me most when slanting sunbeams glow

On old farm buildings set against a hill,

And paint with life the shapes which linger still

From centuries less a dream than this we know.

In that strange light I feel I am not far

From the fixt mass whose sides the ages are.

With Lovecraft, we too might wonder at the veiled Mystery, forever established, eon-encircled… and about what hidden keys might open it to us.  The rift in the horizon beckons.

[Quotations from Lovecraft, H.P., Fungi from Yuggoth & Other Poems, Ballantine Books, NY: 1971, pp. 137-138.]

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