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The World of HP Lovecraft

Howard Phillips Lovecraft, noted author and journalist, was born in 1890. H. P. Lovecraft, as he became known, worked for a number of years as an investigative reporter, specializing in the bizarre and the fantastic. Although he uncovered quite a number of unusual events, such as the infamous Dunwich Horror of 1928, and was instrumental in arranging the publication of certain events taking place during the course of the first Miskatonic University Antarctic Expedition (At the Mountains of Madness), Lovecraft's tendency toward lurid prose eventually led him to make his name as an author of horror fiction. Claims that Lovecraft based his stories on events which he had discovered or heard about as a reporter are, of course, utterly ludicrous.

Lovecraft's stories generally followed a particular pattern: innocent person stumbles onto to something unusual and investigates; innocent person dies, disappears, or goes insane; friend or relative of the person picks up the investigations and uncovers something absolutely horrendous, saving the world along the way or, at least, demonstrating how but for mere chance the world would have been destroyed. Lovecraft is perhaps best known for his terrifying Call of Cthulhu, the story of a dead sea-monster god who lies buried beneath the Pacific Ocean, waiting to arise again. That certain degenerates in the Louisiana Bayou and various inbred island tribes do worship such a god is merely an example of Lovecraft using reality to add verisimilitude to his story. Appropriately enough, Lovecraft's entire pantheon of dark gods came to be named the Cthulhu Mythos after this story.

Unlike most mythologies, Lovecraft's world was not one of good versus evil. Rather, the discovery that drove most of Lovecraft's investigators insane was that the universe, and gods that populated it, were shockingly indifferent to mankind. That the Great Old Ones sought to take possession of the Earth was not out of malice but simply because they had once ruled the planet. Some cosmic accident had taken the Earth from their realms and allowed mankind to evolve. Someday, though, the Great Old Ones would return and plunge the Earth into the void. The events of the Dunwich Horror were purportedly such an effort on their part, although all the actions portrayed, both good and evil, were performed by men.

Lovecraft's scholarly background and familiarity with a variety of languages enabled him to develop some impressive backgrounds for his stories. Fluent in Latin, he was able to study the dreaded and abhorred Necronomicon of the Mad Arab, Abdul al-Hazrd. The Necronomicon was originally written in Arabic in the year AD 730, at that time titled al-Azif. The word "azif" apparently represents the sounds of demons in the night. The book was translated into Greek in the year 950 by Theodorous Philetas, at which time it acquired the title of Necronomicon. After being used for many foul and blasphemous sorceries, all known copies were burnt by the Patriarch Michael in the year 1050. Despite this, Olauf Wormius's Latin translation was made in AD 1228, probably from the Greek, as all evidence points to the Arabic being lost. The book was rigidly suppressed by Pope Gregory IX in AD 1232.

An unknown number of copies of the Latin translation were later printed in the 15th and 17th centuries. Other than slight variances in type style and ink, these copies are identical. Rumours abound that a Greek copy was printed in Italy between 1500 and 1550, but no sign of this copy has been seen since the burning of a certain Salem man's library in 1692. An English translation was made by Dr. Dee in the 18th century, although its accuracy is questionable. Of the Latin texts now extant, one is known to be under lock and key in the British Museum, while another is in the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris. 17th century editions are in the Widener Library at Harvard, at Miskatonic University in Arkham, and in the library of Buenos Aires. Numerous other copies exist in secret, and a 15th century edition is rumoured to form part of the library of a celebrated American millionaire. It is unknown whether this person is still alive, or, indeed, who he is. A still vaguer rumour credits the preservation of a Greek text in the Salem family of Pickman; but if it does exist, it vanished with the noted artist Robert Upton Pickman, who disappeared in 1926. No copies of the original Arabic are known to have survived to this day, although there is a vague account of a secret copy appearing in San Francisco in the early days of the present century, but later perishing in fire.

Other books mentioned in the Lovecraft canon include the Comte d'Erlette's blasphemous Cultes des Ghoules, the unspeakable Unaussprechlichen Kulten of von Juntz, the chilling Cultes des Est, Ludwig Prinn's horrific Vermiis Mysteriis, the hellish Book of Dzyan, the demonaical Libre Eibonis, and the mysterious and sanity-shattering Pnakotic Manuscripts.

An interesting characteristic of Lovecraft's work is that goodness and nobility counted for little in defeating the dark forces arrayed against mankind. Frequently, Lovecraft's characters, no matter how noble, would be forced to resort to the same black magic used by their foes. This represents a radical departure from more traditional Christian views which would have it that goodness and virture are sufficient to overcome evil. While it is entirely unknown what would have happened if Lovecraft's heroes had not succumbed to temptation, we can but imagine. It is important to remember that in Lovecraft's canon, there are no "good" gods, who care about mankind and will protect humanity from the depredations of the Great Old Ones. Nothing is free in Lovecraft's world; there is a price to be paid for everything, be it your life, your sanity, or your soul.

Welcome to the world of H. P. Lovecraft. May you survive the weekend with your soul and your sanity intact.

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