"We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas
of infinity, and it was not
meant that we should voyage far."--H. P. Lovecraft (1928)
"The known is finite, the unknown infinite; intellectually we stand on an islet in the midst of
a limitless ocean beyond comprehension. Our business in every generation is to reclaim a little
more land". --T.H. Huxley (1887)
An influence? (Note the difference in each quote's sentiments.)
An Interview with Timo Airaksinen
the Peter Lang catalog's description of The Philosophy of H. P. Lovecraft:
(1890-1937) was a great horror writer, correspondent, and philosopher. . . The main themes
[according to this book] are value nihilism, cosmicism, the language of the unsayable, and the
tension between science and magic. Special attention is paid to Lovecraft's style, which is shown
to be an essential aspect of his creativity."
Having learned of the publication of Professor Timo Airaksinen's The Philosophy of H. P.
Lovecraft--of which I gave pre-publication notice in previous issues--I sent an e-mail to the
author, who kindly answered my questions.
SW: How did you become interested in HPL, and what
prompted you to write a book of philosophy
TA: I read his stories, and I just started writing my book. I had earlier published a book on the
Marquis de Sade (Routledge) and I thought I could do another similar book.
SW: Were you influenced by H.P. Lovecraft: The Decline of the West by S.T. Joshi, whose book
deals with philosophy?
TA: I do not think so. I read most of Joshi's volume though.
SW: Has Lovecraft, in your view, made any contribution to philosophy?
TA: Not to philosophy as an academic discipline. But if Philosophy means a certain kind of
reflective approach to life - yes. HPL's world-view is very deep, moving, and thought-provoking.
SW: How do you rate his creative intelligence?
TA: I admire it immensely. It has also its tragic qualities, in the sense that he was never a successful
writer in his life-time. But certainly his mythology is very creative and his letters very intelligent.
His prejudices, and faults, are massive too, and this should not be forgotten.
SW: Do you still read Lovecraft, and if so, is it his philosophy or narrative skill or what that continues
to attract you?
TA: Yes, I certainly read him still. His narrative skill and the implications of his monsters. I find it
all emotionally fascinating. When I read, I don't think philosophy.
SW: What Lovecraft stories do you particularly like and why?
TA: "The Haunter of the Dark" is my favourite, also "The Outsider" is good and of course "The Call
of Cthulhu." Also "The Colour out of Space" (its philosophy of science). But I don't like his
dreamland stories at all. They simply do not appeal to me. I like those I mentioned because they
create a possible world where I can place myself and live a strange new life. HPL's visions are mad
and terrifying in a very pleasant way.
SW: Do you any major criticisms of him?
TA: I don't like to criticise him at all. His best stories are as good as horror stories can be. And as
I said, I don't read his dreamland stuff.
Do you see a link between Lovecraft and the Marquis de Sade, about whom
you have also written?
TA: Not really, except that both are outsiders. If there is a link, it should be spelled out very
carefully and subtly. Both are strange and somehow disturbing figures, enigmatic and metaphysical
characters. They are no ordinary men.
SW: In Finland is Lovecraft regarded as a serious writer, and is he popular there?
TA: HPL is popular in Finland, and he is taken to be a serious writer by those who read fantasy, scifi
and horror. He is greatly admired. His stories are also translated into Finnish.*
SW: Are you aware that a Lovecraft fandom exists in the USA?
TA: Yes, I know - but I really do not know much about how it works. I subscribe to Lovecraft
Studies, and the Necronomicon Press catalogues provide some extra information about it. But tell
me more about it, please.
SW: Is there anything else that you might wish to add or expand upon?
TA: I don't think so. Thanks for writing to me.
SW: Paljon kiitoksia. (Thanks.)
TA: Eipä kestä. Kiitos itsellesi!
*As a supplement to Professor Airaksinen's remarks,
I have found the following Finnish
Lovecraft titles cataloged in the Helsinki University library. None is older than 1989 and the newest
is 1999; it is as if the Finns have become recent Lovecraft enthusiasts.
Alkemisti ja muita kertomuksia
Temppeli, Nimetön kaupunki ja muita kertomuksia
There is also a book in Finnish about HPL:
Merkilliset kirjoitukset : novelleja, artikkeleita, filosofiaa [Strange writings: short stories, articles,
philosophy] by S. Albert Kivinen. The work also appears to discuss the philosopher Norman
am heavily persuaded that with the book and critic industry Lovecraft is
less popular in Britain than
he is in the U. S., which isn't all that much, though I hope Scott is right that we may be on the
"brink" of a recognition of him as a figure that belongs to world. Actually, such European countries
as France and some Spanish countries already grant this recognition; it is chiefly the English-
speaking world that is reluctant. I have little empiric evidence, and my conclusion has a lot of
speculation to it. As one example, the London bookstore Forbidden Planet, surely the flagship
fantasy store of the nation, had no author label on the shelves as it did under the works of King and
Lumley. There was a stand of Lovecraft books set aside, with plenty of Cthulhu Mythos material
and Chaosium on display. Yet is not the connection between him and the contemporary Cthulhu
Mythos authors tenuous? A fondness of the Cthulhoid world does not demand a similar regard for
HPL, and (I dare say) there are fans who have read very little of HPL but love his universe as it has
been re-interpreted and sanitized. The Mythos has outgrown him, or grown away from him, so I see
his books as definitely less popular than the books about it. Chris' bibliography, given prominence
in the store (in its own stand, I think) testifies how fertile and inspirational this world is.
On Being Scared
Blair Witch Project is bound for a place in the horror movie canon.
As it unfolded
several influences appeared to my mind. In The Texas Chainsaw Massacre the beginning has those
eerie photographic flashes of various cadavers, and that sets the mood for what is to come. Its entire
low budget style is consanguineous with the latter film, though I imagine the majority of cheapies
perforce are limited in this way. There is one interesting detour that I'll mention. The atmosphere
of menace was intense throughout the earlier film until the heroine was captured by the deviant
family and put in real jeopardy. Then tension eased, even though the character was now worse off.
Until then you are at the mercy of the suspense, which binds you to the possibilities of the
unimaginable, while with the woman's capture you have the luxury of at least saying, "this is the
worst." At any event, the capture of the heroine was a new, more comforting stage of emotion in
which the movie changed gears. That doesn't happen here. The ending, while never achieving a
climax of piling horrors, also does not let up, does not change gears to concrete terrors. There was
no closure. The movie did not pull me in, thank god, the way Jaws did in making me feel at sea, yet
I experienced some of its malignity.
The movie has several literary underpinnings. When, as the three film makers trek through
the woods, they happen upon artifacts of small rock piles, I thought of Karl Edward Wagner's award-
winning "Sticks," which identity was clenched when the group later discovers stick figures. "Sticks"
most unsettling scene is from the beginning (implicit terror) rather than the end (explicit terror).
"Sticks'" terror is so much more in the discovery of the sticks because credulity is not so strained--is
not theatrical in the way the ending is--and the circumstance is based on a true experience of Lee
Brown Coye's. Or does the terror come from a reader's imagination that is given just enough to feed
on to make it uneasy until this leaks away as the story grows more explicit? The most explicit horror
in the The Blair Witch Project--the contents in the cloth--is not sufficient to lessen the tension of
what has happened before and after.
A more obvious similarity to "Sticks" is the discovery of the sticks. In the most richly outre
scene artifacts are found hanging from trees, including a largish human form. One character uses the
term "voodoo," but I doubt that is a way the viewer should go.
There is another literary horror element that is obvious enough to be overlooked. The success
of the movie comes partially from the first person narration, so familiar to Lovecraftians. This is
literary, however. With the rare exception of The Lady in the Lake, mainstream movies are not shot
from a character's literal viewpoint. This one does it--from three characters' points, really--though
it is not a mainstream production, despite appealing to the mainstream public. Like the "premature"
ending of "Dagon" or The House on the Borderland, the story is taped until the death (?) of the
central narrator/videotaper. Having established the technical rule of self-filming, the movie's
approach is used ingeniously and refreshingly, partly because this is undiscovered territory for most
Like the "papers discovered" ploy ("The Call of Cthulhu" or, again, The House on the
Borderland) this movie has used the documentary model to work its mischief. The very loose
narrative structure--as in life, what happens to the characters appears haphazard--and a sense of
unrehearsed behavior support verisimilitude. This sense of reality is abetted by a superstitious
cosmos, either godless or with too many gods. In movies there is the "comforting" god's eye camera,
a guiding intelligence. But here there is an aloneness, the camera in the hands of its subject.
The film's potency comes from its suggestiveness through a mondo framework. This is the
filming of a documentary, so the "reality" of the witch is established by interviewing earwitnesses
to oral tradition. Presenting what the viewer needs to know in this fashion is as about as graceful a
means as could be. With both actors and audience in on this knowledge, the plunge into the
unknown--the Maryland woods--allows the segue to the supernatural. These kids are fish out of
water. Gussied up with hiking gear, they appear well-prepared, but in ability and temperament they
are not. They have the city dweller's ignorance and misunderstanding of the country, historically
commemorated in etymologies of "heathen" and "yokel." They are city greenhorns in a habitat with
unknown rules, a place "'beyond, whar things ain't like they be here,'" as Ammi says of the alien
"colour." Using the horror convention of not being able to escape and applying it to the actuality of
lost people walking in circles is shrewd. A person with some wood savvy could avoid this
predicament by following any of the streams, which are pointedly in evidence. But how many of us
think wisely and act foolishly when confronted with such a circumstance?
Added to this normal feeling of alienage upon being isolated in the wilderness is the
atmospheric layer of the supernatural. When in the unknown and unfamiliar a yielding to the
irrational is easy. This double assault of terror offers no chance for surcease. I can tell myself--at
least at first--that the incidents can be explicable, but I must grant that I remain lost so that comfort,
and eventually hope, eludes me. This is a setting tilled for the supernatural scares, for nature is
played as indifferent or malevolent (either arguably a Lovecraftian view in his horror stories).
There has never been a movie that has for so long and with such obsessiveness depicted
people under extreme terror, terror both real and phantasmal. The most terrible scene in the movie
occurs on the last night, when Heather makes the equivalent of a death bed confession to the camera,
apologizing both for those she has mislead and for other actions. She is completely demoralized and
cowed. This a remarkable, detailed depiction of pure human terror, and it's an ugly and piteous
sight. Some of the atmosphere is a consequence of the protagonists' deteriorating tolerance for one
another and their forlorn condition. In this they are subjects, but also objects of fear.
I didn't like the non-stop word pollution of the characters. Beside the offensiveness of
obscenity it shows a lack of imaginativeness on the part of the writers and actors, who made up a lot
of their dialogue. Can't think of anything to say? Put in an obscenity. Well, it did match the ugly
behavior on display. Granted, these people became more and more anxious, but from almost the
beginning they were kvetching and snapping at one another. The hatefulness of the three people
made for repulsion that was unrelated to the horror.
With its self-filming, primitive budget, and cinema verite this is an art film that uses the
horror movie dress to make it accessible, so it has caught on with the great public.
R. Alain: Some of Litersky's
defects must be laid to the lack--or the inexpertness--of a copy editor,
which other writers are blessed with. While many of your corrections have a compelling interest, a
part seem mean-spirited; for example, that Derleth masturbated over a bridge, which may have had
a bearing on a tour to children he gave years later, does not make his latter action less kindly, so why
juxtapose the two circumstances? Even if all your corrections of her statements are valid, hers bids
to be the chief book biography available on him, and by this fact it has to be a standard that the
general reader will consult. There may be few people who have your qualifications to write the
deserved biography, but like other people I know who have the facts, you regrettably do not choose
to put them in a form that can be widely disseminated, i.e., a published book. Finally, people can
be a combination of bastard and saint, and Derleth is a candidate; though his flaws are on display,
there remains "the good oft interred with the bones."
John: Derleth's various notes on Arkham House, you write, "are what Derleth wanted his public to
know about his venture." Unless one believes there is a cold, clinical reportage, isn't this true of most
folks writing a history of their business or lives? Most of us are big or little propagandists. Inclusions
or revisions could be the result of sputtering memory, which is a subjective thing any way. I note that
the Arkham House checklist in the reprinted article ends with Fungi from Yuggoth, which never was
published by the firm in a separate cover.
Scott: Your review of The Fantastic Worlds of H. P. Lovecraft has at least temporarily convinced
me not to buy the title, what with some of your intelligent reservations. I agree completely with your
tasking John Brunner for believing his taste more "substantial" than Leiber, et al. because he had a
Background in . . . ENGLISH. *** So, HPL reviewed Clark Ashton Smith's poetry book. Interesting,
but the best review--best written, most insightful--was by Alfred Galpin. After the battery of reviews
I was stirred to dip into Smith's Selected Poems, which I have scarcely glanced upon since I got it
15? 20? years ago. I liked what I read.
Ben: I see you have a story translated into French. It is in a book that Robert Price edited, The
Dunwich Cycle, its French title being, logically, Le Cycle de Dunwich.
A lot of Lee Brown Coye's work
is available online. A number of illustrations are from Lovecraft's 3
Tales of Horror. Unfortunately, some of the accompanying text is in
error ("The Color Out of Space," etc.)*** Freuds Schlüssel zur
Dichtung [Freud's Key to Poetry] : Drei Beispiele: Rilke, Lovecraft, Bernd by Peter Priskil
(Ahriman 1996) has on its cover a large portrait of Freud and smaller ones of HPL and Rilke *** An
H. P. Lovecraft Message Board began this July. *** There is information about forthcoming and forthcome books from Fedogan and Bremer, which site is overseen by Charles McKee books. *** In a book review discussing "the inscrutable and
enigmatic H. C. Artmann (b. 1921) . . . Austria's poet extraordinaire" Thomas H. Falk mentions that
among Artmann's over fifty translations are those "of the English [sic] horror stories by Howard
Philips Lovecraft." The poet "continues to enjoy a considerable popularity with the reading public,
despite his sometimes seemingly incomprehensible writings." (World Literature Today, Winter 1996
v70 n1 p181) *** The quotation already discussed above ("We live on a placid island of ignorance.
. .") also appears in Clifford Pickover's The Keys to Infinity, a 1995 book about the mysteries and
problems of the infinite. *** Kenneth Silverman, whose previous biographies have included Poe and
Cotton Mather (which won the Pulitzer), wrote a book (1996) entitled Houdini!: The Career of
Ehrich Weiss. Lovecraft appears and is quoted. *** Random House brought out a book of stories this
year by Michael Chabon with the title Werewolves in Their Youth. The final story, "In the Black
Mill" was called by The Atlantic Monthly "an imitation of H. P. Lovecraft." *** In Critical Inquiry
(Winter 1997) the article "Literature and Life" by Gilles Deleuze has in it the following: "Writing
is inseparable from becoming. . . . These becomings . . . may coexist at every level, following the
doorways, thresholds, and zones that make up the entire universe, as in H. P. Lovecraft's powerful
oeuvre" (p. 225). I don't know what has been said, but I nonetheless present it. *** One of the
characters in a play complains about an unpleasant mansion: "Those creepy kids from previous
marriages living in the cellar like something out of H. P. Lovecraft." (See The Chemistry of Change
by Marlane Meyer published in American Theatre, September 1998.) *** The April 1998 issue of
Yale Review has an article, "The Flight from Enchantment: Ornament as a Threat to Reason and
Reality" by James Trilling. He writes of the representation of chaos, "In H. P. Lovecraft's short novel
At the Mountains of Madness (1936), for example, chaos is danger and the failure of control,
incarnated in the Shoggoths." *** I reported in my last 'icaster of a copyright wrangle between a
Conan doll and a possible imitator. I now refer to a brief article in the 26 July 1999 issue of
Publishers Weekly (p. 27) about toying with various fantasy figures. The article "Alice in 3D" by
Karen Raugust tells of the company Toy Vault planning to bring out some Alice in Wonderland
figures. They have already produced characters from J.R.R. Tolkien's LOTR and The Hobbit. At this
point I would typically make a sarcastic crack along the lines of "what next? Lovecraft figures?" I
will not and instead quote from part of the last sentence in the article: "Toy Vault . . .is in final
negotiations for H.P. Lovecraft's Cthulhu stories." *** Perhaps ten years back I noted evidence of
ancient cannibalism in that part of England (or Wales?) where "The Rats in the Walls" was placed.
News allied to this has recently appeared, the headline reading "Scientists uncover proof of
cannibalism by Neanderthals" in the invaluable Nando Times (30 September 1999). The article
states "These were Neanderthals, and they butchered six fellow people just like they did deer - the
first real proof, say scientists, that Neanderthals practiced cannibalism." Lovecraft writes in his story
of skeletons clutching one another "with cannibal intent" and whose skulls "were mostly lower than
the Piltdown man in the scale of evolution."
Lovecraft and the Civil War
I was at a site (Ancestors.com(?)) that allowed me access to Civil War
enlistment records and
I typed in "Lovecraft." I was gratified to retrieve two records, one for a Sidney J. and another for
Silas J. I was later somewhat enervated upon learning from the exceptional Stern Fathers 'neath the
Mold--whose title seems from hunger--that this and much, much else was covered on the family,
which resided in Rochester, New York. Compared with the online record, the book has a few
discrepancies and omissions. Squires has an enlistment date for Sidney as August, 1862, while the
online record adds the date as the thirtieth. According to him, Sidney enlisted in I Company, with
the enlistment record stating K Company. Before I go on I'll say that Squires is surely the more
reliable; the online record gives Sidney's age as "42" when it should be 24. It could be the fault of
the original recorder, but I suspect a contemporary typo. Silas' August date is likewise left out of
Squires, but the record supplies the 27th. I infer that, perhaps, Silas influenced Sidney to join.
Squires say Silas was "not yet eighteen years of age" when he died (p. 16), while the enlistment
record gives his age as 18. Maybe Silas lied about his age, if one had to be 18 to join the Union.
This has been the 28th issue of The Criticaster (October 1999, mailing 108) by Steve Walker.
The Criticaster: 29
The Limbonaut: 1