Without a Rhode Island Horror Writer, There Might Not Have Been a Stephen King

By Russell DeSimone

The tradition of Halloween on October 31 comes from the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain, the Celtic New Year, celebrated on November 1 because that was the end of summer and harvest time (life) and the beginning of winter (death). It was also the time for ghosts to return to earth for a day. No author benefitted more from Halloween than Stephen King, the great horror writer. King called Rhode Island resident Howard P. Lovecraft “the twentieth century’s greatest practitioner of the classic horror tale.” As a child in the 1960s, King came across a volume of Lovecraft’s works, which inspired him to write fiction. In his semi-autobiographical non-fiction book Danse Macabre, he stated that Lovecraft was responsible for his fascination with horror and macabre and was the most significant influence on his writing. Howard P. Lovecraft wrote weird, science, fantasy, and horror fiction. If a writing career is evaluated in dollars, he was a failure. Lovecraft was relatively unknown during his lifetime. While his stories appeared in prominent pulp magazines such as Weird Tales, only a few knew his name. He could never support himself through his writings, living off his grandfather, mother, and wife.

Meanwhile, Lovecraft was increasingly producing work that brought him no remuneration. Affecting a calm indifference to the reception of his works, Lovecraft was extremely sensitive to criticism. He was known to give up trying to sell a story after it was rejected once. As with “The Shadow over Innsmouth,” he sometimes wrote a story that might have been commercially viable but did not try to sell. Lovecraft even ignored interested publishers. He failed to reply when one publisher inquired about any novel Lovecraft might have ready. He had completed The Case of Charles Dexter Ward, but it was never submitted. One of Lovecraft’s most significant literary influences was Edgar Allan Poe, whom he described as his “God of Fiction.” Poe’s fiction was introduced to Lovecraft at eight years old. Poe’s prose and writing style significantly influenced Lovecraft’s writing.

Howard P. Lovecraft was born in his family home on August 20, 1890, in Providence, Rhode Island. He was the only child of Winfield Scott Lovecraft and Sarah Susan (Phillips) Lovecraft. Lovecraft’s earliest known literary works were written at the age of seven and were poems restyling the Odyssey and other Greco-Roman mythological stories. In 1916, Lovecraft published his first short story, “The Alchemist,” in the leading UAPA journal, which was a departure from his usual verse. Lovecraft began writing and publishing more prose fiction. Soon afterward, he wrote “The Tomb” and “Dagon”. “The Tomb,” by Lovecraft’s admission, was greatly influenced by the style and structure of Edgar Allan Poe’s works. Meanwhile, “Dagon” is considered Lovecraft’s first work that displays the concepts and themes that his writings later became known for. Lovecraft published another short story, “Beyond the “Wall of Sleep,” in 1919, which was his first science fiction story.

Lovecraft and Sonia Greene married on March 3, 1924, and relocated to her Brooklyn apartment at 259 Parkside Avenue. Not long after the marriage, Greene lost her business, and her assets disappeared due to a bank failure. Lovecraft tried to support his wife through regular jobs, but his lack of previous work experience meant he needed to gain proven marketable skills. Lovecraft also wrote “Supernatural Horror in Literature,” one of the most influential essays on supernatural horror. After Greene divorced him, he moved to Providence and lived with his aunts at 10 Barnes Street until 1933. He then moved to 66 Prospect Street, which became his final home. The period beginning after his return to Providence contains some of his most prominent works, including The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath, The Case of Charles Dexter Ward, The Call of Cthulhu, and The Shadow over Innsmouth. Lovecraft’s physical health deteriorated, and he lived in constant pain until his death on March 15, 1937, in Providence. After a small funeral, Lovecraft was buried in Swan Point Cemetery and was listed alongside his parents on the Phillips family monument. In 1977, fans erected a headstone in the same cemetery on which they inscribed his name, the dates of his birth and death, and the phrase “I AM PROVIDENCE”—a line from one of his personal letters.

Lovecraft’s improving literary reputation has caused his works to receive increased attention from both classic publishers and scholarly fans. His works have been published in several different series of literary classics. Penguin Classics published three volumes of Lovecraft’s works between 1999 and 2004. S. T. Joshi edited these volumes. Barnes & Noble published their volume of Lovecraft’s complete fiction in 2008. The Library of America published a volume of Lovecraft’s works in 2005.

Meanwhile, the biannual Necronomicon Providence convention was first held in 2013. It is a fan and scholarly convention that discusses Lovecraft and the wider field of weird fiction. It is organized by the Lovecraft Arts and Sciences organization and is held on the weekend of Lovecraft’s birth. In July 2013, the Providence City Council designated the “H. P. Lovecraft Memorial Square.” It installed a commemorative sign at the intersection of Angell and Prospect streets, near the author’s former residences.

H. P. Lovecraft was inducted into The Rhode Island Heritage Hall of Fame in 1980.

Russell DeSimone is a director of The Heritage Harbor Foundation.

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