What makes a story Lovecraftian, part Two, All sorts of Critters

This is going to be the most intuitive for anyone who is a serious Lovecraftian fan, but it is something I’ve heard repeatedly from any editor or publisher of Lovecraftian fiction or gaming scenarios. The fact that it is repeated so often indicates that there are people out there who don’t get this point. A monster alone does not make a Lovecraftian story. Particularly if the only thing to recommend it as Lovecraftian is that it has tentacles. Some people inevitably create a horror story and put in a complicated monster and present it as a Lovecraftian story.

Now I readily concede we read stories in which monsters can exist with some level of glee, and a well written horror story with a monster can be very entertaining..but that doesn’t necessarily make it Lovecraftian. Even attempts to categorize Loveraftian themes to a point, handled without the somewhat nihilistic viewpoint discussed in part one can fall short of being truly Lovecraftian.

Back to monsters before I get back to that. Looking at Lovecraft’s own fiction, several of his own works that do meet the primary Lovecraftian criterion feature no ‘monsters’ as such. Thing on the Doorstep, Charles Dexter Ward, while we have monstrous characters and actions, no real monsters show up (Though something monstrous is hinted at in Charles Dexter Ward). In Lurking Fear and Rats in the Walls, we have monsters of sorts, present and past, but they all are of human stock, degenerated but human regardless. So a monster is not necessary at all, but the theme is the key.

Some of the best Lovecraftian movies are either monster free or monster light, but that is a matter for part three.

Graham Masterton wrote two novels Manitou and Revenge of the Manitou (I have subsequently discovered that there were later books in this ‘series’ that I had been unaware of, but I have not, sadly, read them having just become aware of them), that actually do borrow from Lovecraftian themes, with a villain that, as memory serves me, comes from the works of August Derleth Lovecraft ‘collaberation’ The lurker at the Threshold, and presents it intruding into modern times (modern at the time at least). I have to say that while he brings up the concepts, they are countered by forces that fall more into the “Derlethian” mode than anything Lovecraftian, which I would tend to refer to as “Lovecraft Light”.

At this point, a brief diversion into this concept, the Lovecraft Light. Derleth’s writing took Lovecraftian ideas and presented a less nihilistic tone to his stories and began a trend to ‘sytemizing’ and ‘categorizing’ the entities of the Cthulhu Mythos, carried on by Lumley and Carter among others for some time, trying to make them come across as more understandable entities, almost flying in the face of how they were being presented in the days when Lovecraft, Bloch and Howard were throwing it together at the beginning. Some of the stories were more successful than others in execution and concept, but they presented ideas that to some extent mitigated aspects of the Mythos and these are elements that are either removed or downplayed. Though, granted, creations from these attempts are included in the Mythos in games, and as I said, some of the stories are more successful than others, and it can be debated (and often is) how Lovecraftian they are. But there is a grey area, which ultimately is part of the fun.

In a field where the idea is the unknowable…the boundaries of it fight easy classification. Which is appropriate.

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