Kage Baker had a deep respect for H. P. Lovecraft, whose birthday it is today. She wasn’t very fond of horror in general, but she had an enormous fondness for good writing by anybody. And she was always in support of American genre writers.
Those are the same reasons she admired Stephen King. She didn’t read much of their work, though, because both King and Lovecraft scared her out of her wits. That increased her respect for them but decreased the likelihood of her ever reading them – again. She had tried it, once.
When fantasy had its enormous re-blooming in the 1960’s and 70’s – after The Lord of the Rings was a unexpected cultural blockbuster – Lovecraft’s works were resurrected, ha ha, along with many other 19th and early 20th century fantasy writers. Kage read them then because we – Kage, Anne, Kimberly and I – were greedily reading all these “new” writers we could find. It was an overnight cornucopia! Haggard, McDonald, Lindsay, Mirlees, Eddison, Morris, Pratt, de Camp, Howard, and Kage’s lasting favourites: Lord Dunsany and Mervyn Peake.
As the 20th century trundled on, both modern fantasy and horror arose from their combined roots into separate genres. King became the standard-bearer for modern horror, and although Kage read his first few novels, he wrote too well for her peace of mind and ability to sleep. I remember when she was reading The Shining (once she wrenched it from my greedy hands): she couldn’t sleep until she’d put the book in a desk drawer. A locked drawer. In my room.
She kept reading fantasy, but it went down two different roads and Kage preferred the lesser path. She felt that most modern fantasy can be traced to influences by either J.R.R. Tolkien or C.S. Lewis – and she preferred the latter. Lord Dunsany predated Lewis, but she saw a similar spiritual approach; the American Mervyn Peake was definitely more of Lewis’ kidney than the Elder Edda-flavoured epics of Tolkien. Most everyone else, though, took up residence in the Tolkien camp.
Kage just about stopped reading fantasy altogether. McKillip, de Lint, Lee and lots of books that were technically juveniles (like Rowlings) she still read – heroic epics left her pretty cold. She was just beginning to appreciate writers like Neal Gaiman and China Melville – whom she especially saw as an intellectual heir to Peake – when she died.
A similar dichotomy grew up in horror: blood and steaming entrails vs chilling, unspeakable, wordless dread. After about 1980, Kage got her reports from the advancing edge of horror second-hand: i.e., she would listen to me tell her the plots. Only if the books were good writing on their own; sheer gore bored both of us, so I was never moved to share the modern blood-fests with her. She endured my re-telling every single King novel, though – and she read his essays on writing herself, and considered them excellent advice. But those were technical manuals.
Anyway, between busyness and queasiness, Kage wasn’t very fond of horror. However, no one can completely deny the weird and original charm of H. P. Lovecraft … and when we moved to Pismo Beach – a small, peculiar beach town in its own right – Kage began to assign strange stories to its environs. God and the Devil contested for souls along its beach; the Sea herself seduced local sailors from their wives, behind the wheel of a gleaming convertible. A sacred grove collected sacrifices along the borders of Pismo’s butterfly groves. The place was riddled with dimensional portals, giant apes roamed, and aliens were simply everywhere.
And finally, there was “Calamari Curls”. It’s my favourite Pismo Beach story, wherein a certain celebrity cthonic god breaks through the walls of human sanity in a local bar lounge. She wrote it in tribute to H. P. Lovecraft, and finished it on his birthday in 2004. Best of all – it’s based on a true story!!!
So, happy birthday, Howard Phillips Lovecraft, in the shadow of whichever mountains or fungoid gardens you now reside. I advise you, Dear Readers, to peruse one of his tales in honour of the anniversary today. He died too young, not even 50, in 1947.
At least, it is supposed he died. It’s the other date on his gravestone, at any rate.
Ah Lou-ah Lou-ah eh, ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn!