Greetings Reader! Welcome back to Crazy Book Genres! In honor of the Halloween Season, it is only fitting to highlight the Lovecraftian Horror Genre, also known as Cosmic Horror. Sit back and relax…if you can…as we journey through the history and specifics that make up this classic genre.
A Bit of Lovecraft History
This genre was pioneered by H.P. Lovecraft in the 20th Century. The genre is an echo of his preoccupation with ominous subjects, such as mental decline and looming fears of death. This preoccupation could be attributed to his father’s psychotic break, which occurred when Lovecraft was only three years old. In Lovecraft’s younger years, he was often ill both psychologically and physically. Presumably, he suffered from night terrors, social anxiety, and agoraphobia. Even though he was unable to consistently attend school due to his state, he was an avid reader. Presumably, his large intake of the gothic horror genre and his mental state contributed to Lovecraft’s infatuation with cryptic, esoteric topics. This manifested itself as a willingness to plunge into the darkness that we refer to as the supernatural.
Please note that this material can be triggering for certain demographics of people.
Components of the Genre
Lovecraftian Horror is characterized by the incorporation of “ancient, powerful, uncaring beings or deities that challenge the characters’ sense of reality and exist beyond our human comprehension. “ The genre challenges and subverts feelings about what we believe about the world. What is chilling about this genre is that transcends reason, and it harps upon the human’s natural inclination to fear what cannot see. Lovecraft’s narratives create a destabilized sense of self; they contort and conflict with previous notions of what is believed to be “real.” The genre is also built on the premise that the universe is somewhat malevolent, as the characters in his stories interacted with formidable characters with an ability to inflict strong fear and dread responses in their subjects.
An example of common thematic material for the Lovecraft Horror Genre is reflected in Lovecraft’s infamous story Call of Cthulhu. In this short story, a tentacled monster is said to summon subjects into a dark lair and has the capacity to penetrate the victims’ minds. As mentioned in an article by CBR, a key element of the genre is: “the mental deterioration of cosmic horror stories’ main characters.” Additionally, the genre postulates the idea that the cosmos is inherently unknowable and humans are irrelevant in the broader context of the universe.
Lovecraftian Horror Genre Recommendations
A perfect example of the genre is the book entitled Lovecraft Country by Matt Ruff. The novel is now being adapted into a series for HBO. The book is a fusion of the Lovecraft genre and allegories about the experience of racism in the Jim Crow South.
In The Ballad of Black Tom by Victor Lavalle:
“LaValle cleverly subverts Lovecraft’s Cthulhu mythos by imbuing a black man with the power to summon the Old Ones, and creates genuine chills with his evocation of the monstrous Sleeping King, an echo of Lovecraft’s Dagon… [The Ballad of Black Tom] has a satisfying slingshot ending.”Elizabeth Hand for Fantasy & ScienceFiction
Another shining example is The Hollow Places by T. Kingfisher. This novel is about a woman who uncovers a portal in her home, which evokes “madness and terror.”
Critique of H.P. Lovecraft
Although Lovecraft’s work has irrefutably influenced the horror genre, he is a contentious figure as his work has been criticized for reinforcing racist and antisemitic views. His legacy is associated with his deliberate villainization of those who are not of Anglo-Saxon race and those who are not of English descent. Present-day writers working within the Lovecraftian horror genre are currently pushing against his narratives, as writers of color, such as Octavia E. Butler, work with similar motifs in fantasy and science fiction.
Lovecraftian Horror is definitely directed at a certain audience. If you are the type to have nightmares and paranoia, definitely be cautious with this material. It is haunting and could definitely be shocking for sensitive individuals.
For more relevant information related to the horror genre, click here!
Browse these recommendations and more on our Bookshop Horror Bookshelf.