In celebration of the life of HP Lovecraft and on the anniversary of his death, we asked our Trail of Cthulhu writers and a few others if they would write us a few hundred words on how Lovecraft has influenced them. Be it in life, their writing, careers, and of course, in gaming. Here is what they had to say.
The modern king of the Mythos, Kenneth Hite is the author of Trail of Cthulhu, Bookhounds of London, Night’s Black Agents, Tour De Lovecraft: The Tales, Cthulhu 101, Where the Deep Ones Are and so many more.
H.P. Lovecraft has scared the hell out of me since I was eleven years old. From the first moment I stumbled across “The Colour Out of Space” in the pulpy pages of a jut-jawed Campbell-esque Groff Conklin anthology, I have been seeing Lovecraft’s shadow everywhere. I have stalked the Old Gent through his stories, his juvenilia, his essays, his travelogues, his letters, his biographies, and his successors. But mostly, and always, I return to the stories. The ability to create a myth is not given to many individuals. The ability to make all reality into myth, to even fewer. In games, in essays, in criticism, in subcreation, and even in fiction (perish the thought!) I have tried to follow HPL down paths of adventurous expectancy for over thirty years now. Even — especially — when the light was very bad.
Jason is the award-winning author and designer of Fiasco, the Shab-al-Hiri Roach and Trail of Cthulhu adventures Many Fires and Black Drop.
Lovecraft didn’t make me a paranoid sky-watcher – I have Charles Fort to thank for that.
Lovecraft didn’t make me a slave to the fantastic – Edgar Rice Burroughs is the culprit there.
But his penchant for casually blending actual texts, objects and places with ones he made up out of whole cloth? His unrepentant use of real history and culture to further his own over-the-top literary goals? Oh, that’s all Lovecraft and I adore him for it. As a sheltered mid-Western teen, Lovecraft introduced me to bibliomania, tweedy scholarship and the power of mixing a tiny bit of fiction into a gallon of truth.
I devoured Lovecraft a little too young – every page was a struggle for me, but a rewarding one. I loved the way his fussy, repressed stylings let me do all the hard, satisfying work of imagining the scary stuff. I loved the mildew-y New England (I didn’t see the Atlantic Ocean for another decade, and the northeast for another two). As a weird little bookworm kid I loved his gleefully cruel handling of his protagonists, his unrepentant nihilism, the way humanity always lost – even when it won. In my pre-adolescent hubris I felt like I could relate to that.
Before Lovecraft I had consumed fiction uncritically – Burroughs’ racially dubious Martian taxonomies did not give me pause, and I read Animal Farm without a hint of allegory as a kid (it holds up pretty well). But when I encountered Lovecraft’s ideas about race and politics they provoked new, critical thoughts. Instead of going to the dictionary for the definition of rugose, I was going to the encyclopaedia for the entry on fascism. This was an epochal shift, one that came early for me, and I owe it to Lovecraft’s bad ideas. I know it caused a few grey hairs among my teachers.
So thanks, H.P. Lovecraft, for being difficult and mean-spirited. Thanks for broadening my horizons and helping to thrill and terrify me. I know it would make you deeply content to know that seventy-five years after your death, librarians are still gently steering precocious young readers away from your books, and those youngsters are finding them anyway.
Robin D. Laws
Robin barely needs an introduction but just incase you’ve been under a rock for the past few years… Robin D Laws is, among many other credits, the designer of the GUMSHOE system, and author of Ashen Stars and the Trail of Cthulhu scenario, The Repairer of Reputations, based on the story by Robert W Chambers and currently 25% off in our shop.
The central lesson I drew from Lovecraft was that the horror genre can, and thus ought to, be about more than whether a ghost scares you or if you can get away from that guy with a knife before he stabs you to death. Though scarcely lacking in visceral or physical frights, Lovecraft’s horror derives its lasting punch from existential concerns. If the universe is governed by nothing more orderly or human than the randomness of material law, what does that mean for our lofty aspirations, our sense of centrality—or for meaning itself?
That these feverish, Sartre-prefiguring nightmares should flow from the pen of a socially reticent, bigoted New England High Tory provides yet another example of the paradox between lasting art and the flawed, contradictory people who so often make it.
By forming from his disparate stories an invented mythology, and sharing it with other writers (complete internal consistency be damned), Lovecraft pioneered a staple element of geek0centric entertainment properties—the overarching continuity.
His prose style, despite its detractors, offers another lesson to writers today. Even with its excesses and mannerisms, it bubbles with energy and conviction. Long after the work of safer, more cautious successors has gone to molder eternally in the hitless corners of the universal e-text archive, his work will still be read, and readable.
Gareth is a prolific author of all things Lovecraft. His writing credits include The Laundry RPG, Arkham Detective Tales, and Invasive Procedures and Lorefinder, both 25% off in our shop.
I found Lovecraft through gaming.
It was 1994. My first gaming con. I signed up for something called ‘Call of Cthulhu’. I’d played D&D before, but this was different. No fighting, monsters we ran away from… and a mystery, a wonderful elusive mystery that we never solved. It didn’t feel like a game, it felt like a solemn duty. For three hours, we fought to stave off disaster, to hold back the darkness.
We failed and went deliciously, deliriously mad, and the Keeper of Arcane Lore sat back and smiled.
I’ve run a Call of Cthulhu game every year at that same con ever since (ok, since 1997, but close enough). Every year, I try to give the players that same vertiginous thrill, that same feeling of doomed urgency. Behind one of these doors is a book that’ll drive you mad, but contains the answers you need. Behind the other is a tentacled thing older than humanity. You’ve got to pick a door, and they’re both marked with an incomprehensible sigil that crawls when you look at it.
For me, Lovecraft’s writing has always been secondary. It’s great fun, and there are wonderful moments (that bit in Dreams in the Witch House where he realizes he’s being drawn towards a star? Brilliant!), but it’s the games he inspired that really make me dream.
Adam is one of our most successful authors. He takes Trail games from their humble 1930s setting and deposits them in the bleak hospitals of WW1 (Not So Quiet), the colonial streets and ships of 1760s London (Hell Fire) and the fighter planes of the Great War (the forthcoming Flying Coffins).
I honestly couldn’t say which came first, Lovecraft or the people he influenced. I was reading a lot of weird fiction then, and authors like Clark Ashton Smith, Fritz Leiber or Robert Bloch may have been my introduction to the Mythos. Or it might have been Batman. Who’s to say?
For all his faults (and there are one or two) Lovecraft created and refined a style of horror that still chills thousands, worldwide. His writing also inspired a branch of roleplaying that remains the definitive expression of the horror genre in the hobby. Those games have given me great pleasure, no matter which side of the Keeper’s screen I happened to sit on, and provided countless hours of catharsis.
I do not know which of the many facets of my writing is influenced by Lovecraft, nor do I care to know. It would be too much like seeing how they make the sausages. I will say this: that without Lovecraft, many writers who I now admire would not have created the works that thrilled me, which doubtless would have resulted in a much less interesting sausage.
Bill is the author of Castle Bravo, one of our most critically acclaimed adventures. It is available in print with his other adventure, the pulp tour-de-force, The Big Hoodoo in the collection, Out of Time.
I first encountered the work of H.P. Lovecraft the way that (I suspect) most people did in the 1980s: via the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Deities and Demi-Gods rule book. Creepy Erol Otus illustrations of Lovecraft’s nightmare mythos accompanied their AD&D stats, and I could not help but “borrow” them for my high-school Dungeons and Dragons campaign. The high-level PCs were scattered on a scavenger hunt across a multiverse of demi-planes called the Strange Paths, and made their way by separate courses to a climactic final battle against Great Cthulhu himself!
What is so appealing about Lovecraft’s Mythos? Speaking only for myself, I think it’s because of the continued relevance of its themes. Lovecraft had only to worry about loathsome human-Deep One hybrids; today there are bioengineered she-goats from whose udders comes spider-silk. And Lovecraft only imagined a seething nuclear chaos at the heart of the Universe, unaware that the mathematics of chaos is closer, immanent in the design of a leaf and the ebb and flow of predator/prey populations.
So my goal in writing Trail of Cthulhu adventures is to dig back to the science-horror roots of the genre, re-imagining them in light of the historical distance between Lovecraft’s time and our own. I want to get beyond kitschy homage and tap into the unsettling themes that tie Lovecraft to the conversation about science and humanity that murmurs under all our technological progress and prospects.
Paul Maclean, Yog-Sothoth
Like many people of my generation my first encounter with H.P. Lovecraft wasn’t through the gentleman’s stories but through Chaosium’s Call of Cthulhu roleplaying game. Back in the early 1980s it was seemingly just another in a long line of new RPGs; however playing Call of Cthulhu proved that it wasn’t just another D&D clone. Call of Cthulhu was such a different experience that the adverts at the back of the rule book for Arkham House editions of Lovecraft’s stories made me want to get them and read the sources to this unusual and entertaining game. I eventually managed to get hold of cheap paperback editions and read stories I’d not seen the like of before.
Years later I still read those books and have since read more on HPL the man. His stories were unusual as was the way he lived, to the extent there are now a myriad of studies on his life & works. What gripped me when I first read HPL’s stories (and still does) was his cosmological outlook on life and the universe – not just building a sense of horror but also one of wonder, something I still find endlessly fascinating.
Thank you HPL.
My interest in Lovecraft goes back to a Mammoth horror collection, where I first read The Whisperer in Darkness, followed up by Ashton Smith’s Abominations of Yondo, and then Lovecraft omnibuses. I was twelve and I can’t say I really understood what was going on, but I knew it was unlike anything I’d ever encountered, and that hasn’t changed. I’m afraid I was inclined against the Dream Quest, with what I refer to as its floaty disco cats, but I’ve been persuaded that it’s nonetheless a worthy setting for a new book. I didn’t run Call of Cthulhu in my youth, my only experience of running the mythos being the listings in the forbidden version of Deities and Demigods. I played CoC a few times, and it was like a dungeon crawl, except you don’t get experience points and you go mad and die at the end – not much like any Lovecraft I remembered, but fun anyway. It did seem a perfect fit for GUMSHOE though, and Charlie Krank of Chaosium magnanimously agreed to license it, and Ken to write it. I bet the Pelgrane’s Nest on it, and now here we are.
I’ve played a lot of Trail and a little Call since then, through Graham’s Purist adventures; Steve’s improvised London-based mash-ups and a few convention games. In any case, I am pleased with our small contribution to Lovecraft’s legacy. He was scornful of games, but always open to cooperation and he was a generous correspondent, so maybe he would have looked on contributions with tolerance.
We invite you all to tell us in the comments how Lovecraft has influenced you.