The King of Weird

H.P. Lovecraft: A Life

by S.T. Joshi
Necromonicon Press, 704 pp., $20.00 (paper)

At the Mountains of Madness & Other Novels

edited by S.T. Joshi
Arkham House, 458 pp., $19.95

Dagon and Other Macabre Tales

edited by S.T. Joshi
Arkham House, 444 pp., $19.95

Miscellaneous Writings

edited by S.T. Joshi
Arkham House, 568 pp., $29.95

Selected Letters Vol. I: 1911-1924

edited by S.T. Joshi
Arkham House, (out of print)

Selected Letters Vol. II: 1925-1929

edited by S.T. Joshi
Arkham House, $10.00

Selected Letters Vol. III: 1929-1931

edited by S.T. Joshi
Arkham House

Selected Letters Vol. IV: 1932-1934

edited by S.T. Joshi
Arkham House, $12.50

Selected Letters Vol. V: 1934-1937

edited by S.T. Joshi
Arkham House, $12.50
H. P. Lovecraft
H. P. Lovecraft; drawing by David Levine

1.

“Though in many of its aspects this visible world seems formed in love, the invisible spheres were formed in fright.”

—Herman Melville, Moby Dick

How mysterious, how unknowable and infinitely beyond their control must have seemed the vast wilderness of the New World to the seventeenth-century Puritan settlers! The inscrutable silence of Nature—the tragic ambiguity of human nature with its predilection for what Christians call “original sin,” inherited from our first parents Adam and Eve. When Nature is so vast, man’s need for control—for “settling” the wilderness—becomes obsessive. And how powerful the temptation to project mankind’s divided self onto the very silence of Nature.

It was the intention of those English Protestants known as Puritans to “purify” the Church of England by eradicating everything in the Church that seemed to have no Biblical justification. The more radical Puritans, “Separatists” and eventually “Pilgrims,” settled Plymouth, Massachusetts, in the 1620s; others who followed in subsequent years were less zealous about defining themselves as “Separatists.” Yet all were characterized by the intransigence of their faith; their fierce sense of moral rectitude and self-righteousness. The intolerant theology of the New England Puritans could not have failed to breed paranoia, if not madness, in the sensitive among them. Consider, for instance, the Covenant of Grace, which taught that only those men and women upon whom God sheds His grace are saved, because this allows them to believe in Christ; those excluded from God’s grace lack the power to believe in a Savior, thus are not only not saved, but damned. We never had a chance! those so excluded might cry out of the bowels of Hell. We were doomed from the start. The extreme gothic sensibility springs from such paradoxes: that the loving, paternal God and His son Jesus are nonetheless willful tyrants; “good” is inextricably bound up with the capacity to punish; one may wish to believe oneself free but in fact all human activities are determined, from the perspective of the deity, long before one’s birth.

It comes as no surprise, then, that the very titles of celebrated Puritan works of the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries strike a chord of anxiety. The Spiritual Conflict, The Holy War, Day of Doom, Thirsty Sinner, Groans of the Damned, The Wonders of the Invisible World, Man Knows Not His Time, Repentant Sinners and Their Ministers, Memorable Providences Relating to Witchcraft and Possessions—these might be the titles of lurid works of gothic fiction, not didactic sermons, prose pieces, and poetry. The great Puritan poet Edward Taylor was also a minister; much of Taylor’s subtle, intricately wrought metaphysical verse dwells upon God’s love and terror, and man’s insignificance in the face of God’s omnipotence: “My will is your Design.” Here is the gothic predilection for investing all things, even the most seemingly innocuous (weather, insects), with cosmological meaning. Is there nothing in the gothic…


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