Inspiration from Lovecraft for fiction writers

Here I dig up yet another letter from HPL, to E. Hoffmann Price, from 1936:

Glad you found the Mts. of Madness readable. That was my attempt to pin down the vague feelings regarding the lethal, desolate white south which have haunted me ever since I was ten years old. It was written in 1931 — and its hostile reception by Wright and others to whom it was shown probably did more than anything else to end my effective fictional career.

I read with great interest and appreciation your careful analysis of the recent alleged story, and must thank you for the time, energy, and attention given to what is essentially only a trifle. I realised from the outset that the thing is a failure — as everything since the Mts. of Madness has been. I simply lack whatever it is that enables a real artist to convey his mood. The sole purpose of this attempt was to crystallise (a) the feeling of strangeness in a distant view, and (b) the feeling of latent horror in an old, deserted edifice. Evidently I did neither. I don’t know why I kept the thing after destroying dozens of similar attempts without shewing them during the past few years — but now and then one has a streak of ego. However, I don’t know that there’s much use in further experimentation. I’m farther from doing what I want to do than I was 20 years ago. The peculiar faculty which Blackwood and Dunsany possess simply isn’t mine.

Peace and prayer–

Abdul Alhazred

Now, for those who don’t know, At the Mountains of Madness is almost certainly one of the greatest stories of ‘weird’ fiction of all time. The story concerns an Antarctic expedition and the discovery by that expedition of a massive mountain range and, beyond this range, an eons-old city built by some unfathomable ancient, alien race.

It is quite shocking to read Lovecraft describe his failure to “crystallise (a) the feeling of strangeness in a distant view, and (b) the feeling of latent horror in an old, deserted edifice,” since Mountains masters both of these feelings more than any other story I know.

As a fiction writer, I find letters like these somewhat inspirational. I tend to be very hard on my own work, and easily discouraged by magazine rejections, and it’s oddly nice to see that even masters of their field like Lovecraft have similar feelings.

I guess there are two lessons here: (1) An author tends to be his own harshest critic, and (2) magazine editors are not necessarily the ultimate arbiters of good fiction.

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2 Responses to Inspiration from Lovecraft for fiction writers

  1. Nullifidian says:

    It sounds as if Lovecraft was inspired by Ernest Shackleton’s crossing of the Transantarctic Mountains during his ill-fated expedition. The story is told in Shackleton’s own book South! as well as Capt. F.A. Worsley’s Endurance.

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