H.P. Lovecraft died obscure, but his cosmic nightmares are woven into the fabric of modern horror.
Philip Eil reports on how the memory of such a grossly bigoted writer can thrive in the 21st century.
Lovecraft ranks among the most tchotchke-fied writers in the world. Board Games. Coins. Corsets. Christmas wreaths. Dice. Dresses. Keychains. License-plate frames. Mugs. Phone cases. Plush toys. Posters. Ties. Enterprising fans have stamped the name "Cthulhu" (Lovecraft's most famous creation; a towering, malevolent, multi-tentacled deity) or other Lovecraftian gibberish on nearly every imaginable consumer product. … apps and movies and podcasts. It's a bar in New York City called Lovecraft. It's a parody musical called "A Shoggoth on the Roof." It's a celebrity fan club that includes Guillermo Del Toro, Neil Gaiman, Junot Diaz, and Joyce Carol Oates. It's Lovecraft festivals in Stockholm, Sweden; Lyon, France; Portland, Oregon; and Providence.
The distance between us and him lets us triangulate a shared point of cosmic mystery, perhaps—something perfectly timed for space-age scientific paranoia to fill its sails. But the overdeveloped sense of irony required to be comfortable with the bullshit means it's experienced mostly as parody.
His overappreciated genius is summed up perfectly by a pithy remark, whose authorship I'm unsure of, but I have a hunch it's Wendy Pini or Laura Miller: "Lovecraft's only scary if you're scared of the same things he is."