A Last Defense against the Dark: Folklore, Horror, and the Uses of Tradition in the Works of H. P. Lovecraft
Abstract

American horror writer H. P. Lovecraft (1890–1937) was dedicated to the concept of tradition, including its documentation, preservation, use in literature, and reinvention as an adaptation to changing times. He spent much of his adult life traveling through eastern North America, researching and writing about the folklore and material culture of "colonial" sites and advocating historic preservation. This essay places Lovecraft in the context of folklorists and historic preservationists who sought "authentic" American traditions in the early twentieth century, and it examines Lovecraft's use and creation of "folklore" and the influence of travel writing in his fiction. Lovecraft was motivated by a fear of cultural loss in the face of growing moral, racial, and scientific chaos, but his racist, anti-modernist ideology transformed during his lifetime into an exploration of biological, cultural, and aesthetic hybridity. His changing attitude toward tradition presaged the broader twentieth-century transformation of this concept, from a static and vanishing embodiment of the past to a dynamic phenomenon that must be self-consciously manipulated to give meaning to the present. Although in some ways profoundly conservative, Lovecraft's ideas and writings continue to influence such twentieth-century phenomena as heavy metal music and Neo-Paganism.


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