This is part three of Monster Month on Pathfinder. H.P. Lovecraft has inspired creators, games and artists for decades, so this week we're looking into the man who architected the monsters that go beyond our imagination. We delve into why his way of storytelling was so effective for a modern age and how he may have set us up for the monsters of the future.
In part four of our monster series, we face those monsters of the future head on. We'll see you next week.
Ollie: [00:00:00] Ollie here just a quick note, before we kick off this episode that this is part three of our monster month series. If you haven't already, we hope you go back and listen to the first two parts
[00:00:13] for the past few months, I've had a bit of an obsession. As we were putting together, these episodes all about monsters. There was one person that no matter where you turned, kept coming back, his stories went beyond just the beast that lived in the words or the supernatural being that occupied a castle.
[00:00:30] The monsters of the past were based on fear of the unknown, which before scientific discovery was a lot closer to home. So what does horror look like when we know too much? What happens when our imagination goes beyond what's happening in our own town? And into something bigger, I'm talking about the underlying feeling that there is some kind of forbidden knowledge or that secretly aliens that see us as aunts are actually rulers of our planet.
[00:00:55] But most of all, I'm talking about the niggling dread that our drive for knowledge and power is actually our greatest horror, that it drives humanity to be more of a monster than the beast that we discover or create. This is the work of HP Lovecraft. Welcome to Pathfinder a show about storytelling
[00:01:18] while Lovecraft's name might not be familiar to you has influence on monsters and horror are everywhere. As we, as humans and the world around us changed. So did our fears, love craft tapped into a different kind of fear. It was less eminent and physical, but more threatening. It took the form of existential.
[00:01:38] Stephen Asma: [00:01:38] If you look at the development of horror in the. You know, at the turn of the century and the sort of coming out of the Victorian period into the early 20th century, and then eventually people like Lovecraft and I suppose Poe before that corresponds interestingly with the rise of existentialism in philosophy and in between the two world Wars, it really takes on steam.
[00:02:03] Uh, just after the second world war fear changes from being afraid of specific monsters to being a sort of general existential dread. You know, the whole world is seen from this nihilistic point of view as being empty and
[00:02:17] Ollie: [00:02:17] meaningless. This is Steven Asma author of on monsters and professor of philosophy at Columbia college, Chicago.
[00:02:24] You don't see
[00:02:25] Stephen Asma: [00:02:25] that too much in the, in the older style monsters and the older narratives, it really is a, a modern. Notion of horror and the monstrous that the whole metaphysical system is devoid of traditional, you know, theological goodness or design or anything like that. And I think that that has given us a new form of, of horror.
[00:02:48] That's more, uh, disturbing. It's not like there's a creature chasing you down. That's scary. Of course. Um, but this is more like a general sense of dread. And depression about the way things are. Hey, it's possible that it's tied to growing prosperity in the West and the lack where the loss of real enemies, you know, I feel, I think about, um, I suppose Britain in the U S particularly the U S after the war.
[00:03:16] There was a tremendous uptick in prosperity and comfort. And then I wonder if existential dread came in as a kind of response to this. Oh, I think it's a little different, um, you know, the, at least in the States after nine 11, People began to think of enemies again, in terms of warfare and the people
[00:03:38] Ollie: [00:03:38] are not the buildings down, we'll hear all of us soon.
[00:03:42] Stephen Asma: [00:03:42] And that they're sort of people who mean you harm out, out in the world that could be coming. So I think existential dread is really more like a refined high art version. You know, like if you, if you talk to people about, or the vast majority, people want to see jaws or something like that, But there's a sort of smaller community of elites that want to see something more existential, more philosophical.
[00:04:08] And they're creeped out just by like a feeling that, that a cinematographer can give, you know, a scene rather than some clearly defined monster that's coming at you.
[00:04:21] Ollie: [00:04:21] This hidden horror has gone on to inspire writers, directors, and creators to create all kinds of different stories, but like the stories themselves, everything was not quite normal about Howard Phillips Lovecraft.
[00:04:32] Lovecraft was not a rich man. He mainly lived off inheritance throughout his life. This was mainly due to his, story's never actually earning him enough to make a living off his stories. Instead of being published in books were published in pop magazines. If you search for love these days, you'll find hundreds of collected additions or work based on his work.
[00:04:50] But during his short lifetime, he died when he was 46, he was pretty much unknown. He was not bestseller. And if anything was more of a problem to the people around him, Then he was a pioneer of horror.
[00:05:05] He had a difficult childhood living with his aunt after his father suffered a psychotic break, which led to his death. This wasn't the only time that people close to Lovecraft would have psychological issues. His sister, Susie would go on to have nervous breakdowns that were described to contain weird and fantastic creatures that rushed out from behind buildings and from corners.
[00:05:27] Lovecraft suffered at the whim of his own mind to battling breakdowns of his own and struggling to fit in the world around him. He began rewriting myths like those from Greek mythology in his own style, beginning his fascinations with things that go beyond what we normally can perceive. I'm going to pause here for a second to address a big failing of lacrosse, his racism, his racism took on a weird form.
[00:05:51] Anything to love craft that did not originate from an English Anglo-Saxon background was wrong to him. This was a bit strange, mainly because Lovecraft himself was American. This was a product of where love craft grew up, but also reinforced by his family and people around him. Love Croft through the years has been stripped of his titles and most of his racist work censored and removed from publication while it doesn't feature too heavily in most of his well-known stories, love cross xenophobia does play a part in his descriptions of various societies.
[00:06:21] It's probably all the bundled fare that resulted in many of Lovecraft's creations, though. The fear of civilization under threat non-human influences on his world and inherited guilt from the way that his ancestors created the world. Much like many of us, these days love Croft, struggled with his place in the universe to understand the stories of Lovecraft, his a bit of a letter he sent to the editor of the magazine.
[00:06:43] We're tails.
[00:06:47] Now all of my tales are based on the fundamental premise that common human bores and interests and emotions have no validity or significance in the vast cosmos at large. To me, there is nothing but pure reality in a tale, which the human form and the local human passions and conditions and standards or depicted as native to other worlds or other humans versus to achieve the essence of real externality, whether of time or space or dimension.
[00:07:12] One must forget that such things as organic life, good and evil, love, and hate, and all such local attributes of a negligible and temporary race. Could mankind have any existence at all? Only the human scenes and characters must have human qualities. But must be handled with unsparing realism, not catch penny romanticism, but when we cross the line to the boundless and hideous, unknown, the shadow haunted outside, we must remember to leave our humanity and terrestrial ism at the time threshold from here, Croft would go on to write all kinds of short stories and poems, but there's one that has more legacy than most I'm of course, talking about the giant wind squid monster clueless.
[00:07:53] Nope, I didn't sneeze. This was just the original way that Lovecraft intended the name. K2 Lou to sound that's because its name the language and the plane that existed on were supposed to exist outside of human perception. The short story cool of Cotulla written as a series of letters and notes describes the discovery of a voodoo coat, a series of idols that resemble the ancient alien God and finally concludes in not really spending too much time with Katurah himself.
[00:08:20] The story ends with an account of a ship. It's crew encountering the alien God described as a mountain that walked or stumbled the remaining crew member who lifted tail the tail quickly turns mad and dies. We're left at the end of the story with the fact that just having the knowledge of the beast and the coat that maintains its wishes could be a threat in itself.
[00:08:43] The story sets up what become the basis of storytelling from a Lovecraft in standpoint. In his stories, you very rarely face a beast head on or even overcome it. You're introduced to atmosphere or a feeling that you have no control over. In some ways, Lovecraft stories are a weird cosmic version of the Truman show where we're not subject to being part of a TV show.
[00:09:04] Where at the whim of monsters and aliens that exist in our seas and parallel planes of existence. The scariest thing about Lovecraft stories though, and what has inspired so many creators is the possession of knowledge. More often than not love. Cross neuritis are uncovering piece by piece. The knowledge of the unnatural these days.
[00:09:23] There's very little that we can't rationalize with science. However, it's the people with the knowledge of how things work that hold power in his stories, Lovecraft, weaponizes the knowledge in the form of culture, trying to control darkness or towns that bargain with fish for riches at the bottom of all of his twisted tales, Lovecraft holds the mirror up to what humans actually do with coveted or secret knowledge, instead of using it for the good of mankind, we twist it to our own benefit, becoming the monsters ourselves.
[00:09:54] So while ancient alien gods enforces live with very little interest in our goings on, we choose to poke the bear to see what happens. It's that fascination that drives writers like Stephen King and Neil Gaiman to explore the darkness and the horror that exists beyond the blind spot. That you're, I can't quite focus on Lovecraft's descriptions of monsters that come from brief accounts of run-ins with his creations or what inspired directors like John Carpenter, Gail Modelle Toro, and the look of HR Geiger's aliens.
[00:10:21] It all comes back to the fear of the unknown. We moved away from being scared of what's on our doorstep. To what's beyond the stars or in the depths of our planet. The real frightening thing about Lovecraft's work. Isn't what the unknown will do to us. But what happens when people turn to a dark way of thinking and disassociate with the people around them, to a point where they harm civilization.
[00:10:42] In the heat of a deranged ideal, the real monsters are ourselves
[00:10:56] episode in the final pass of Pathfinders monster month. We'll be holding up the mirror on ourselves and moving away from fiction because the monsters that make up many of our modern stories are real. We're going to be shining a light on that, tap on the window and looking into our current obsession with serial killers and the fascination with the cases surrounding.
[00:11:20] Thank you so much for listening to Pathfinder. You can find out more about the stories on our firstname.lastname@example.org recently. Quite a few of you have found us on Facebook. Thank you. Let us know what you think of the show, and don't forget to follow us on Twitter and Instagram at Pathfinder show. The show is written by me, Ollie Judge, and it is edited and produced by Rodger Morley.
[00:11:41] Wait, did you just hear a creak at the end of the corridor? .