An Animated Introduction to H.P. Lovecraft and How He Invented a New Gothic Horror

Howard Phillips Love­craft died in obscu­ri­ty at the age of 46, but he left behind a body of work for­mi­da­ble enough that even today’s read­ers approach it only with great trep­i­da­tion. They do so not so much because of its size, though Love­craft did man­age to write a fair bit, but because of what it dares to con­tem­plate — or rather, because of its deep roots in the things mere humans dare not con­tem­plate. Born in 1890, Love­craft grew up on hor­ror of the Goth­ic vari­ety. But by the time he began writ­ing his own in the year 1919, “World War I had cast a long shad­ow over the arts. Peo­ple had seen real hor­rors, and were no longer fright­ened of fan­tas­ti­cal folk­lore. Love­craft sought to invent a new kind of ter­ror, one that respond­ed to the rapid sci­en­tif­ic progress of the era.”

Those words come from the TED-Ed les­son above, “Titan of Ter­ror: the Dark Imag­i­na­tion of H.P. Love­craft.” Writ­ten and nar­rat­ed by Sil­via Moreno-Gar­cía, a writer of sci­ence fic­tion and edi­tor of sev­er­al books on Love­craft’s work, the video offers a four-minute primer on how this “weird fic­tion” per­ma­nent­ly upped the ante for all writ­ers who sought to instill fear and dread into the hearts of their read­ers.

“Like then-recent dis­cov­er­ies of sub­atom­ic par­ti­cles or X‑rays,” Moreno-Gar­cía says, “the forces in Love­craft’s fic­tion were pow­er­ful, yet often invis­i­ble and inde­scrib­able. Rather than rec­og­niz­able mon­sters, graph­ic vio­lence, or star­tling shocks, the ter­ror or ‘Love­craft­ian’ hor­ror lies in what’s not direct­ly por­trayed — but instead left to the dark depths of our imag­i­na­tion.”

Hence the cast of unspeak­able “dark mas­ters” beneath the placid New Eng­land sur­face of Love­craft’s sto­ries. Yog-Sothoth, “who froths as pri­mal slime in nuclear chaos beyond the nether­most out­posts of space and time”; “the blind, idiot god Aza­thoth, whose destruc­tive impuls­es are stalled only by the ‘mad­den­ing beat­ing of vile drums and the thin monot­o­nous whine of accursed flutes’ ”; and of course Love­craft’s “infa­mous blend of drag­on and octo­pus, Cthul­hu”: even those who have nev­er read Love­craft may well have heard of them. And as any­one who has read Love­craft knows, we who have only heard of them, these beings “who exist beyond our con­cep­tions of real­i­ty, their true forms as inscrutable as their motives,” should count them­selves lucky — far luck­i­er, cer­tain­ly, than the humans Love­craft puts face-to-face with them.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

H.P. Lovecraft’s Clas­sic Hor­ror Sto­ries Free Online: Down­load Audio Books, eBooks & More

H.P. Lovecraft’s Mon­ster Draw­ings: Cthul­hu & Oth­er Crea­tures from the “Bound­less and Hideous Unknown”

H.P. Love­craft Gives Five Tips for Writ­ing a Hor­ror Sto­ry, or Any Piece of “Weird Fic­tion”

H.P. Love­craft High­lights the 20 “Types of Mis­takes” Young Writ­ers Make

H.P. Love­craft Writes “Waste Paper: A Poem of Pro­found Insignif­i­cance,” a Dev­as­tat­ing Par­o­dy of T.S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land” (1923)

Love­craft: Fear of the Unknown (Free Doc­u­men­tary)

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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