rockford illinois entertainment guide
Date: 08/20/2007
The Strange Sound of Cthulhu - Music Inspired by the Writings of H. P. Lovecraft
by Gary Hill
Those drawn to this book through their interest in the author H.P. Lovecraft will surely need no introduction to him or his work, but for those whose interest in music has brought them here, a brief introduction will be in order. There have been many biographies and critical analyses of his work published, so that will not be the purpose of this segment. One should view this more as an introduction to who the man was, what his overall contribution to literature has been and an overview of some of the music that has been constructed in the image of his creations. If you want to follow up your quest for more information I highly recommend S.T. Joshi’s H.P. Lovecraft: A Life. I say this based on the quality of the book, and the suggestion is in no way influenced by Joshi’s contribution in the form of the foreword to this book. Indeed, his biography is regarded by most as the ultimate work on Lovecraft’s life.
Howard Phillips Lovecraft was born on August 20th, 1890 in Providence, Rhode Island. He was raised in an aristocratic family whose failing wealth did not truly fit his upbringing. This would, in fact, become one of the nearly crippling paradoxes of his life. He regarded himself as one of the “elite class,” although his monetary situation throughout the majority of his existence certainly did not live up to those standards. This was especially true during his adult life; while growing up he definitely did not want for much. This disparity caused him to miss many opportunities at financial success, and lead to his living a fairly meager existence in his later years.
As a child Lovecraft developed a love of reading early. According to S.T. Joshi in the H.P. Lovecraft Centennial Guidebook, “he was reciting poetry at age two, reading at age three, and writing at age six or seven.”1 His first great literary interest came in the form of The Arabian Nights at the age of five. Soon he had also discovered Bulfinch’s Age of Fable. With that book came a quest for Greek mythology and he made his way through children’s editions of the Iliad and Odyssey. Another piece of importance to Lovecraft’s formative literary interest was “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.” This pursuit was brought to life through Lovecraft’s own creation of literary works on an almost professional level at a very early age. S.T. Joshi’s aforementioned biography documents numerous publications that the young writer produced and apparently sold during his childhood. According to Joshi, there were catalogs and price lists of these stories and poems.
Of course, while all of the previously listed literary works influenced Lovecraft, from most people’s way of thinking there is one writer whose work held more power with him than any other. That man was Edgar Allen Poe. Of this influence H.P.L. wrote, “Then I struck EDGAR ALLEN POE!! It was my downfall, and at the age of eight I saw blue firmament of Argos and Sicily darkened by the miasmal exhalation of tomb.”
Due to health problems Lovecraft missed much school, but his learning was not hampered because of it. In fact, the time at home allowed him much room to do reading on his own, and by the age of eight he had discovered what was to be another life long love, science. A definite example of this love is the fact that the first instance of Lovecraft’s published work was not to be in the fiction vein, but instead a letter in the The Providence Sunday Journal that focused on astronomy. This letter was published in 1906. That appearance prompted him to begin writing regular columns, first in The Pawtuxet Valley Gleaner on the subject. He later continued this occupation in other publications.
Lovecraft never graduated from High School. This was not due to a lack of academic ability, but rather due to suffering a nervous breakdown, which caused him to withdraw from school in 1908. That particular incident was but the latest in a series of similar episodes that befell the young man. This one was to be the beginning of five years of virtual solitude for him. His only occupation at that time was his continued interest in astronomy and in writing poetry. The year 1913 would, however, find the end to his self-imposed exile.
Finding the stories of Fred Jackson in the Argosy to be particularly offensive, Lovecraft created a poem lambasting the writer. When it appeared in the magazine it sparked a feud of words between Lovecraft and Jackson’s fans. H.P. continued his side of the argument in the form of poetry. As Joshi describes it, Lovecraft’s were “almost always in rollicking heroic couplets reminiscent of Dryden and Pope.” In a rather unique turn of events, these letters caught the interest of Edward F. Daas. Daas was the President of the United Amateur Press Association. He invited Lovecraft to join the group, which H.P.L. did in 1914.
Lovecraft himself later described this event in the following way. “In 1914, when the kindly hand of amateurdom was first extended to me, I was as close to the state of vegetation as any animal well can be... With the advent of the United I obtained a renewed will to live; a renewed sense of existence as other than a superfluous weight; and found a sphere in which I could feel that my efforts were not wholly futile. For the first time I could imagine that my clumsy gropings after art were a little more than faint cries lost in the unlistening world.”
Indeed, it was through his association with this group that he began to publish his own paper and contributed to numerous works of poetry and essays to various journals. He eventually became President of this organization, and later a rival group. It was to be quite a while before he would again write fiction, though. As mentioned earlier he had penned quite a few works in his younger days, and at the insistence of some of his writing colleagues decided to once again try his hand at the form in 1917. That year saw the creation of both “The Tomb” and “Dagon.” Although poetry and non-fiction would remain the bulk of his work for several years, those stories began a slow, but steady journey into the world of fictional literature for the writer.
1923 saw the first publication of many Lovecraft stories in the new magazine Weird Tales (begun the same year) - aforementioned “Dagon.” Stories of the unusual were to be the most successful output of the rest of Lovecraft’s career, although he did have a large number of other professional outlets. He found work as both an editor and a ghostwriter. Perhaps his most notable excursion in this vein was his writing for the famous magician Harry Houdini. He also served as a mentor to a wide number of younger writers including August Derleth, Robert Bloch and Fritz Leiber.
By the time of his death (due to cancer) on March 15th, 1937, Lovecraft had amassed a large number of stories in print, but he never lived to see a collection containing only his stories. Neither did he finish the novel that he had considered writing for years. One of his strongest points, though, was a huge network of fellow writers and correspondents throughout the world with whom he had continued friendships until the end. Many of these relationships were conducted at a distance, communication being in the form of letters (Lovecraft often wrote up to 40 pages in one missive) sent by mail.

Gary Hill is a local writer (and actually a writer for this very site) and one of his newest ventures has been the book The Strange Sound of Cthulhu – Music Inspired by the Writings of H. P. Lovecraft. In honor of the one year anniversary (on August 20th) of the publication of the book, Hill has agreed to allow us to present an excerpt from the first chapter of the book (never before available in its entirety online) as the first entry in our new BeetLit section.
The book is available at or also at Amazon and other online retailers and can be special ordered into most brick and mortar stores
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