Thursday, March 06, 2008
H.P. Lovecraft (1890-1937)
Being a patriotic Englishman, I believe that Dr Who is among the finest Science Fiction ever. One of the things I have come to discover is how much Dr Who was influenced by the American horror writer, H.P. Lovecraft. About 50% of Dr Who stories take something from Lovecraft in some way.
Most horror literature is not worth reading. Most provides cheap and unpleasent thrills. However, H.P. Lovecraft is one horror writer who wrote some excellent stories that are among the best in the genre.
Lovecraft's stories present a vivid world in which hidden entities lurk in dark corners, slimy, tentacled beings, yet creatures of immense power.
These stories are fascinating because they present a worldview. Lovecraft's atheism lead him to see the cosmos as essentially chaotic. Mankind is helpless and hopelessly lost in a meaningless struggle for existence. There is a considerable lack of beauty in Lovecraft's work. He dwellt on ugliness and terror. The godlike horrors that he uses as his villains are not so much evil as indifferent to humanity. Like his view of the cosmos, his evil aliens simply do not care about humanity and will dispose of human life at leisure. This bleak worldview is the natural conclusion of atheism. A world without God is an hopeless world. Those who do not believe in God may well despair of life.
I once heard a preacher praising J.R. Tolkien's 'Lord of the Rings.' He pointed out how Tolkien creates the sense of absolute evil. There is nothing ambigous about the evil of Sauron. There is a sense of rotteness about the villains of Lord of the Rings. Lovecraft also captured this sense of rottenness. The difference being that there is no good power to counter-balance them in his fictional universe. The alien monsters of Lovecraft reflect the hopelessness of his worldview.
As Christians we agree with Lovecraft's fictional world that there are evil alien beings out there that affect this world. The Bible tells us that this world is the kingdom of Satan, who is its god. The Bible speaks of 'principalities and powers' in the heavenly realms. There are alien life forms that are hostile to us and to God's kingdom. However, in Christ, we posess the power to have victory over these ancient beings.
Lovecraft's alien beings, sometimes described as 'Old Ones' are deeply interesting. Sometimes they are presented as creatures from another dimension, sometimes as simply aliens from another planet. It is unclear what they are and his descriptions of them reflect that fact. Sometimes they are described in spiritual terms. Sometimes, like the Fungi from Yuggoth, they are seen as part vegatable. This tension between spirituality and physicality is interesting to me as a Christian theologian. We read in the New Testament about the resurrection body. It is clearly a physical resurrection; yet at the same time, the resurrection body is a different kind of body, a spiritual body. While many Christians think that angels are bodiless spirits, I would argue that there is enormous biblical evidence that angels have bodies that, like those that resurrected saints shall posess, are both physical and spiritual.
For those brave enough to try dipping in to Lovecraft, I would recommend first reading At the Mountains of Madness, which is a sort of science fiction story about the ruins of an ancient alien city discovered in the Antarctic. This city is described with great vividness. One almost feels like it is real. The Whisperer in Darkness is one of my favorites, and is perhaps one of his creepiest. This is about fungoid aliens that are unseen throughout the story.