Stephen King vs. H.P. Lovecraft

Stephen King and H.P. Lovecraft (most famously known for the cthulhu mythos) are two of my all time favorite authors. They are similar in the sense that they are both extremely famous horror writers who are widely acknowledged as masters of their craft and legends in the horror genre. However, it occurred to me the other day that the similarity ends there. Within the horror genre, they are at absolute opposite ends of the spectrum.

Mr. King’s genius is in capturing the “every man”. He is so good at capturing a slice of life, painting a picture that is so ordinary, that you’re absolutely sure it could be you. The horror is that it could happen, really honest to god could happen, and close to home too. When you read a Stephen King story, you kind of feel like the story was written by a nice guy, a friend of yours, to whom you can relate.

H. P. Lovecraft

Lovecraft is the opposite. Somehow he’s able to capture something so awesome and alien that your mind shudders to comprehend it. Lovecraft’s horror relies on a sense of majesty, a sense of wonder. The horror is that it’s so big and alien that there’s absolutely nothing you could do about it. In fact, there’s nothing anyone could do. Lovecraft doesn’t disrupt suburban “every man” utopia by bringing the story into your home, he destroys your home, the world, and everything in it. When you read an H.P. Lovecraft story, you kind of feel like the story was written by an alien in human skin, or, best case scenario, a strangely lucid lunatic.

King’s heroes are every men as well, the duty usually falling to kids, housewives, or middle-aged, small town sheriffs. Lovecraft has no heroes. In a Lovecraft story, you’re the hero if you survive, period (with or without sanity intact). That’s really the best you can hope for.

So both are frightening for their own, very different reasons and I wonder if anybody enjoys both ends of the spectrum as much as I do?

I guess the take away is that the horror genre is as wide and deep as the tentacle of great H’chtelegoth himself.

Cthulu Dreaming

The other night I had a dream.

We were on a cruise. I don’t know where we were going, but we were deep out in the ocean, far from land. After we had been at sea for a few days, there was going to be some sort of special event in the evening. We put Evie and Oliver to bed and apparently left them there by themselves, and Sara, Rachael and I went out to the deck for the big event.

It started at about sundown and everybody got in a big group and started chanting and doing other weird things. It got very dark, both because the sun went down and because ominous clouds rolled in to cover the sky. As the chanting and dancing went on, we quickly realized that we had somehow gotten mixed up in some kind of cult ship, and we were the only ones on board who weren’t part of it.

Before anybody noticed that we weren’t participating, we snuck inside, where we could watch out the window. The chanting and dancing were getting frantic and a huge storm started up out of nowhere. The howling wind tossed black waves over the side of the boat and things were visible only by the lightning that split the air so frequently, it was almost constant. However, inside where we were, it was safe and dry.

“The other people are going to be swept off the boat!” I thought, but even as I thought it, I realized that they wouldn’t be. They were protected by whatever ritual they were preforming. The storm was summoned by them.

Suddenly a wave of fear passed over me like nothing I had ever felt before. Something was coming up from the very depths of the ocean. The cultists were summoning one of the Great Old Ones from below.

I grabbed Sara and Rachael’s hands and started pulling them as far away from the deck as I could. They struggled against me because they also knew something awful was happening and they had a terrible curiosity to see what it was. Even as I ran, I too wanted to turn and look, but I knew that if we even glimpsed whatever was coming, we would either become a slave to it like the cultists, or we would be driven mad.

Finally the thing was upon us and we crashed down in a corner. The storm was so loud we couldn’t hear what was going on on the deck. I pulled on Sara and Rachael’s hands to keep them crouching down and facing the wall. I held Sara’s eyes with mine and I screamed, “Don’t you dare look away!”

Because I wasn’t paying as much attention to Rachael, she kept struggling to get up and look, and I had to keep pulling her back down. Again I was tempted to look myself, but I resisted. When the lightning flashed I could see the shadows of enormous tentacles played out on the wall, bigger than the boat itself. I thought it would sink us, but it didn’t.

Finally, the thing went away and it was quiet.

I could see right away that none of the cultists were missing or dead. They all returned to sort of normal, cheery people and started up a party which was some sort of Hawaiian themed luau. They still didn’t realize that we had not participated in their ritual, but I knew they would eventually figure it out. I had to get us off the boat before then. In the meantime I had to smile and laugh and pretend like I was totally on board with Elder-Squid worship.

After a long time I got a hold of a pair of jet skis that we were going to use to escape from the ship. Just as we were preparing, Evie and Oliver woke up. Sara grabbed Oliver and I picked up Evie. We were running to the side of the boat to escape when Evie said to me, “Daddy, there’s something on me!”

I looked and both of the kids had some sort of fungus growing on them.

My stomach sunk and I knew this was related to the previous night’s activities. I didn’t know if it was some sort of plague that lived at the bottom of the ocean, some sort of spore the creature had brought to the surface with it, or if it was some kind of punishment from the dark god for not participating. But I knew it would be fatal, and it would be swift. I knew at that moment that there was no point in leaving the boat.

Evie didn’t seem to be in any discomfort, so I pretended to be cheerful. Inside though I was being torn apart, because I knew I was going to watch the kids die, followed by Sara and Rachael. I wished that I didn’t have to die last and I was filled with despair that all of my efforts to save them were in vain. We might as well have been driven mad by the Old One if we were going to die anyway.

The only chance we had was to play along as cultists and see if they knew of a cure to what we had. It was a dangerous game though, because we didn’t want to let on that we weren’t part of their group. For all I knew, the very fact that we had this stuff was proof that we hadn’t participated.

As I went from person to person trying to delve for information, I started to notice that they were changing. Little patches of slime here, a crusty barnacle there. They were transforming into some kind of sea creatures. Eventually I realized that they knew this was happening, and they were happy about it. That had been the whole point all along.

With horror I realized that the fungus growing on Evie and Oliver was part of the same process. Even though we hadn’t joined in, we were going to meet the same fate.

I woke up then and it actually worked out pretty good because the volume on the monitor was off and Evie was just yelling that the butterfly lights were on.

Quick, call Cthulu, we’re going for ice cream!

If you’re not doing anything this Saturday, why not check out the H.P. Lovecraft Memorial and Ice Cream Social. (Get it? Irony.) And the coolest part? It’s right in my neighborhood. Here are the particulars:

Start: 08/22/2009 2:00 pm

Location: 57th Street Books, 1301 E. 57th Street, Chicago, IL 60637

The stars are right for the return of the H.P. Lovecraft Memorial Ice Cream Social! Hear tales of unspeakable horror, see (and possibly win) forbidden tomes and strange artifacts, and partake of frozen confections colder than the howling void!

Unfortunately, I won’t be able to attend, but H.P. Lovecraft is one of my all time favorites and can’t be beat for sheer creepiness. So if you’re in the neighborhood, why not stop in and have some ice cream in celebration?