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H. P. Lovecraft: Man and Myth (Martin Schwarz)

 

H. P. Lovecraft: Man and Myth

Martin Schwarz

 

Why H. P. Lovecraft? Certainly not to find a coherent political world view or formula for action, nor is it a matter of reclaiming Lovecraft for the Right. But in the case of Lovecraft is one where once again the Left has deliberately overlooked the reactionary thoughts of a writer hey have taken up. Lovecraft, one of the cult writers of the Hippie generation, produced a “heathen” mythology which is one of the most original creations of the twentieth century.

 

The Man

 

“Nostalgia

Once every year, in autumn´s wistful glow,

The birds fly out over an ocean waste,

Calling and chattering in a joyous haste

To reach some land their inner memories know.

Great terraced gardens where bright blossoms blow,

And lines of mangoes luscious to the taste,

And temple-groves with branches interlaced

Over cool paths – all these their vague dreams shew.

 

They search the sea for marks of their old shore –

For the tall city, white and turreted –

But only empty waters stretch ahead,

So that at last they turn away once more.

Yet sunken deep where alien polyps throng,

The old towers miss their lost, remembered song.”

(Fungi from Yuggoth, XXIX)

Born in 1890 in Providence Rhode Island into an anglophile family, Lovecraft died in Providence in 1937 leaving behind 40 short stories and 12 longer works, for the most part first published posthumously. From 1917 to 1923 he was editor of the amateur journal “The Conservative”, nearly all of the articles for which he wrote himself. About his life there is little to say: not much travelling, many letters, a withdrawn personality, a failed marriage, no children, but numerous peculiar character traits which his biographers repeat ad nauseam. In respect of his approach to life Lovecraft himself declared in a letter three essential aspects which were crucial to him: his love of the weird and fantastic, his love of abstract truth and scientific logic and not least his love of the old and what remains from the past. This love for the permanent is typically conservative.

Lovecraft´s Romanticism, as expressed in his love of the fantastical, is something unfortunately lacking in right-wing conformists, or if it is there, then usually in a rather one-sided way without logic or imagination. Lovecraft´s uniqueness lies in his ability to bring together the three above-mentioned aspects, which as he himself said, accounts for his unusual taste. In view of the time in which he lived it is this too which accounts for his “views which seem to us so alien today” (Kalju Kirde): his sympathy for the British monarchy, for Mussolini, his interest in Huston Stewart Chamberlain, his belief in the superiority of the Nordic race, his contempt for mass democracy.

The too-facile view of Kirde, that Lovecraft “changed from being an extreme right-winger to a quasi liberal who ended up voting for Franklin D. Roosevelt”, reveals two mis-understandings, firstly Kirde´s; Kirde failed to perceive what Lovecraft´s primary aim was, namely the protection of culture so far as was possible under given circumstances, whether those circumstances were called King George, Mussolini or Roosevelt. The second misunderstanding was Lovecraft´s own: he sincerely supposed that FDR, of all people, represented the cultivated hegemony of the Anglo-Saxon intellectual combating the threat of the uncultivated masses.

Lovecraft´s cultural basis ensured that his English patriotism never sunk to chauvinism. A true friend of civilization, he has always wished that the Germans would be more German, the French more French, the Spanish more Spanish and so on, as he said himself. It goes without saying that such a view made him an opponent of American melting-pot patriotism. His pro-Britishness did not prevent his being a critic of the Great War, which he branded a crime against the white race in an article for “The Conservative”, July 1915 entitled “The Crime of the Century”.

 

The Myth

“The Book

 

The place was dark and dusty and half lost

In tangles of old alleys near the quays,

Reeking of strange things brought in from the seas,

And with queer curls of fog that west winds tossed.

Small lozenge panes, obscured by smoke and frost,

Just shewed the books, in piles like twisted trees,

Rotting from floor to roof – congeries

Of crumbling elder lore at little cost.

 

I entered, charmed and from a cobwebbed heap

Took up the nearest tome and thumbed it through,

Trembling at curious words that seemed to keep

Some secret, monstrous if one only knew.

Then, looking for some seller old in craft,

I could find nothing but a voice that laughed.”

(Fungi from Yuggoth, I)

In many of Lovecraft´s most significant stories, most of which are marked by autobiographical features, the hero, driven by a love for the fast, lights on the track of one of his forefathers, who has left a legacy in the form of a bundle of mysterious papers, or sometimes a strange painting or remote building. Lovecraft subtly portrays the hero´s gradual identification with his forefathers, which grows as he becomes initiated into strange customs or cults. This often results in travels to remote places, but often too through the hero conjures horror to appear within his own four wails.

With a mixture of limitless terror and even more compelling curiosity a civilization of sleeping Gods, of races which precede mankind in sunken megalithic cities, watchful beings from beyond the cosmos are discovered, those who have been only waiting that someone brings them to us, so as to thereby effect a return as lords of their erstwhile dominions. Cthulhu, Yog-Sothoth, Nyaralthotep (the faceless One), Shub-Niggurath (the goat with a thousand young ones) and many besides still have their hidden followers among stone-age tribes, central Asian monks and decadent Americans. A major role in Lovecraft´s works is filled by the writings which bear witness to the existence of these terrifying entities: among others the Book of Eibon the Pnakotic Manuscripts and, most famous of all, the “Necronomicon” of the “mad Arab” Abdul Alhazred.

Although there have been repeated publications of (obviously faked) books as the “Necronomicon”, the general opinion is that it was the product of Lovecraft´s imagination, an assumption which has yet to be disproved. But a sensational work, “Lovecraft – Schatzmeister des Verbotenen” (Lovecraft – Guardian of the Forbidden) by W.H. Müller has cast doubts on this view. Müller attempts to demonstrate that Lovecraft, like the heroes of his stories, was indeed the inheritor of a series of writings having come down to the Lovecraft family from the library of a magician konwon to all those familiar with the occult, John Dee (1527-1608). John Dee´s “Arabic Book” which he is supposed to have copied down from a book in the library of Rudolf the Second in Prague, is, according to this account, identical to the “Necronomicon”. Of course, the truth or otherwise concerning the passing down of an original to Lovecraft says nothing about the truth of otherwise of the book itself. But is worth noting that Lovecraft´s that Lovecraft´s implication in a story concerning John Dee´s link to the city of Dunwich seemed at the time pure speculation but was revealed in the seventies to have been quite correct. More precise investigation is needed concerning the links between the occult tradition which Dee came upon and the eminently political role of Dee in the building up of Elizabethan Imperialism and English Secret Service, also with the Dee´s links to the Rosicrucian movement (precursor of Freemasonry, itself closely linked to the British monarchy) and with Dee´s plan for the conquest of Greenland, the motives for which are obscure.

 

The Tradition

“Antarktos

 

Deep in my dream the great bird whispered queerly

Of the black cone amid the polar waste;

Pushing above the ice-sheet lone and drearly,

By storm-crazed aeons battered and defaced.

Hither no living earth-shapes take their courses,

And only pale auroras and faint suns

Glow on that pitted rock, whose primal sources

Are guessed at dimly by the Elder Ones.

 

If men should glimpse it, they would merely wonder

What tricky mound of Nature´s build they spied;

But the bird told of vaster parts, that under

The mile-deep ice-shroud crouch and brood and bide.

God help the dreamer whose mad visions shew

Those dead eyes set in crystal gulfs below!”

(Fungi from Yuggoth, XV)

In his Essay “Supernatural Horror in Literature”, Lovecraft not only paid homage to his literary models Edgar Allen Poe, E. T. A. Hoffmann and Arthur Machen, but also pointed to his sources: a secret religion, which stems from pre-Indo-European times, was the faith of the peoples of Europe for thousands of years, surviving despite the dominant Druidic, Greco-Roman and Christian faiths. A loathsome fertility rite, which escalated into a wild witches´ Sabbath. The existence of such a cult is indicated for example by the grotesque and dæmonic sculptures of the otherwise strict and solemn forms of the Gothic cathedrals. From this “underground” arose magicians and alchemists of the Renaissance such as Nostradamus, Trimethius, Dr. John Dee and Robert Fludd.

Although the Christian view, which condemns all Heathen legacy as evil, dominates here, Lovecraft´s work is in fact marked by an ambivalence towards the myths, which often allows this “Hyperborean” inheritance to come through. In the French New Right magazine “Éléments”, in an article entitled “Lovecraft, l´Hyperboréen”, an attempt was made to place Lovecraft in the same family as René Guénon and Julius Evola. Certainly “The Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath” with its grandiose portrayal of the onyx city respires the cool and elegant spirit of Tradition, arraigned against which in several stories is the sink of decadence, Innsmouth, an imbred population made up of the offspring of lustful mariners and sea monsters, the negative force of counter-Tradition. The eternal struggle between the Uranian power of light and the telluric forces of chaos is reflected in Lovecraft´s work. The weakness of the “Éléments” essay lies in the fact that it is based on the deviations of the Cthulhu myth by Arthur Derleth, the “Church Elder of the Lovecraft cult”.

In reality a division between supra-natural (transcendent) and subnatural (demonic) forces in Lovecraft´s stories is not so easy. The impressive portrayal of the city sunken below the Antarctic ice of the Pentagramm creatures (in “At the mountain of Madness”) shows both aspects: the higher and the lower. The ambivalence is Lovecraft´s. His Puritan upbringing and his Pagan inheritance are in conflict with each other and that is why the Elders appear in an ambivalent light. At one time they are the forces of chaos and dissolution, another time the forces of order and immorality. Often there are mergers of the upper and the lower regions, seldom a clear separation. Initiation and Counter-Initiation create a symbiosis. Perhaps the negative elements are only false trails and warnings to the uninitiated to keep away.

H. P. Lovecraft remains a puzzle. Is he really a representative of Tradition or just a talented writer, a scurrilous maverick or a twentieth century conservative?

 

“Continuity

There is in certain ancient things a trace

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

That outward eyes can never quite descry;

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.”

(Fungi from Yuggoth, XXXVI)

 

 

Sources:

Jacques Delort: Lovecraft, l´Hyperboréen. in: Éléments (Paris), n° 31, 8.1979

H. P. Lovecraft: Fungi from Yuggoth. West Warwick: Necronomicon Press 1990 (Third Edition)

H. P. Lovecraft: The Conservative. Edited by S. T. Joshi. West Warwick: Necronomicon Press 1990

H. P. Lovecraft: Unheimlicher Horror. Das übernatürliche Grauen in der Literatur. Frankfurt/Main / Berlin: Ullstein 1987

W. H. Müller: Lovecraft. Schatzmeister des Verbotenen. Bergen: Kersken-Canbaz Verlag 1993

Franz Rottensteiner (Ed.): Der Einsiedler von Providence. Lovecrafts ungewöhnliches Leben. Frankfurt/Main: Suhrkamp 1992

Franz Rottensteiner (Ed.): Ãœber H. P. Lovecraft. Frankfurt/Main: Suhrkamp 1984

 

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