- The Cthulhian Face of E.A.P.
Like some hellish force inexplicably reawakening after eons of hateful, brooding sleep, heralded by blasphemous, nauseating tremors and the deranged,. . . H. P. Lovecraft has been inhuman shrieks of his frenzied worshippers having a moment. His tales of horror are now canonized as high literature in editions from Penguin Classics and the Library of America. Philosophers have weighed in on the significance of his "weird" fiction—with its anxious and loquacious narrators circling around the discovery of maddening realities from other dimensions, such as the ancient gods slumbering beneath the ocean in his most famous tale, "The Call of Cthulhu"—while critics have traced his impact from Steven King and H. R. Geiger to the TV series True Detective, Stranger Things, and Game of Thrones, the latter with its "Cthulhoid religion of the Drowned God."1
The new attention to Lovecraft makes his relationship to his most important and most often acknowledged precursor, Edgar Allan Poe, interesting in new ways. The Lovecraftian Poe: Essays on Influence, Reception, Interpretation, and Transformation, a collection edited by Sean Moreland in a series edited by Barbara Cantalupo, capitalizes on the Lovecraft revival to make clear the pro-found debts Lovecraft and his followers owed to Poe. Its contributors are critics and literary historians (including major interpreters of Lovecraft) as well as authors of horror fiction. The work dissects the many strange growths deriving from the cross-pollination of their influences and the combined (and gleefully unhealthy) cultural impact of the authors whom S. T. Joshi, Lovecraft's prolific biographer and defender, calls in the book's preface "the two leading writers of weird or supernatural fiction in American literature and perhaps in all literature" [ix].
The book is a valuable contribution; it is the first to concentrate on the relation between these two enormously influential authors. It will be immensely useful for scholars of horror, of decadent and speculative fiction and sci-fi, and of Lovecraft. For readers of Poe it efficiently introduces Lovecraft and many of the conversations around him, making clear the strong points of contact between the two—beyond the chance parallels of their brief, often unhappy [End Page E3] lives—such as a shared attitude of proud if fallen nobility, their curious domestic relations and cult followings, and their connections to the city of Providence, where Poe spent time in 1848 in tortured pursuit of Sarah Helen whitman and where Lovecraft spent most of his life.
Poe's influence was early and lasting. Lovecraft distilled from him a writing that keeps the reader moving forward with breathless wonder and terror toward unthinkable revelations:
When I was seven I encountered Poe—which fixed my taste for all time, so far as the subject matter and mood of fiction are concerned. Somehow I cannot become truly interested in anything which does not suggest incredible marvels just around the corner—glorious and ethereal cities of golden roofs and marble terraces beyond the sunset, or vague, dim cosmic presences clawing ominously at the thin rim where the known universe meets the outer and fathomless abyss. The world and all its inhabitants impress me as immeasurably insignificant, so that I always crave intimations of larger and subtler symmetries than these which concern mankind. [Lovecraft in Moreland, xix]
In these few lines Lovecraft skips across the wide and varied landscape of Poe's works: the sinuous journey of the voyager in "The Domain of Arnheim," the supernatural scratchings from a dark beyond of "The Black Cat" and "The Raven," the "many things in hell" heard by the narrator of "The Tell-Tale Heart" [Works, 3:792]. He hints at the uncountable expanses and sublime symmetries of the universe in Poe's spirit colloquies and in Eureka, as well as the signature formula of cosmic intimation in Poe's breakthrough tale of nautical discovery and shipwreck, "MS. Found in a Bottle": "It is evident that we are hurrying onwards to some exciting knowledge—some never-to-be-imparted secret, whose attainment...