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Scene 1: I learn of the existence of H.P. Lovecraft on my 15th birthday party. I am handed a package containing both Dreams of Terror and Death and The Road to Madness. They are a gift from my recently ex-boyfriend (with whom I am still desperately in love and grieving the tragic demise of our freshman romance). I raise an eyebrow, but thank him and try really hard not to read anything into it. (In the days that come, I read a lot into it.) As I fret and mope and occasionally sob into my pillow, I pick at the stories. I conclude the following:

  1. Lovecraft really liked cats. A lot. Perhaps too much.
  2. Eldritch is a word. Tenebrous is too. So is diarite, regardless of what Spellcheck claims.
  3. Arcane rituals require Saltes. A buttload of them. Gotta get those Saltes.

Slowly but surely, I make my way. I read it all, even “The Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath”, which (to my uneducated, plebian eyes) is Lovecraft writing Lovecraft fan fiction. A few months later, I borrow Bloodcurdling Tales of Horror and the Macabre from a friend. I read “The Picture in the House” while babysitting, which turns out to be a terrible mistake. I’m a wreck until I hear the dad’s car entering the garage.

Scene 2-2.5: I am a sophomore in college when I celebrated H.P. Lovecraft’s birthday. I still re-read Lovecraft. I have a new boyfriend who loves Lovecraft too. He has a DVD of short films based on Lovecraft stories, and let me watch them when I was sick with the worst cold I’ve ever had. Sitting amidst a pile of used Kleenex and cough drop wrappers, I was amazed. I was enthralled. I had never imagined that the ponderous, Victorian-sounding imagery and unbelievably pompous vocabulary could be translated into something so compelling, so viscerally gripping.

It’s a year after we met. We’ll break up in another year, but right now, it’s Lovecraft’s birthday. We walk to a local bookstore, me in the Miskatonic baseball cap he had bought me, him with a Cthulhu plushie in his shirt pocket. We eat ice cream in Lovecraft’s honor and take our seats to listen to a reading. A professional story-teller will perform “The Colour out of Space”.

A brief word about “Colour”. In On Writing, Stephen King discusses the need to know your strengths as an author. He cited Lovecraft as an example: he avoided dialogue as much as possible, and you only need to read “The Colour out of Space” to understand why. Take, for instance, the freakin’ half-page-long monologue from the dying, plagued farmer as proof: “…can’t git away…draws ye…ye know summ’at’s comin’ but tain’t no use…I seen it time an’ agin senct Zenas was took…” Jesus fucking Christ.

I agree wholeheartedly with King’s assessment, and I’m pissed that this story (of literally all of Lovecraft’s stories) has been chosen. I mentally steel myself against snickering.

30 minutes later, I walk out of the bookstore, silent and amazed. A living voice had lent the story terror that I had never encountered before. How was it possible?

Scene 3: I am in graduate school. I am a biologist. I have a few books of Lovecraft mythos—I’ve learned something about the writers of Lovecraft’s time, how he corresponded and encouraged them, and how they built off what he created. I find it endearing. I find it beautiful. I love to read a story about some imagined god, or cult, and then read another story building off the first. A correspondence that takes years, decades to create, free of competition or judgment. There is no plagiarism, there is only a shared desire to build.

It is, if I’m being honest and I’m in one of my more self-pitying moods, everything I had hoped science would be. And I’ll spare you my thoughts on this, because if you wanted to read about how graduate school is terrible you would read one of the other thousand rant-laden blogs currently in existence. Suffice it to say: the creativity, the curiosity, the open sharing free of ego and judgment that I imagined…they’re not there. Maybe they don’t exist, maybe they never did. Or maybe I just got unlucky, or maybe I just have a bad attitude. Who knows. But Lovecraft fiction fills that void.

I take up running. I’m very slow. I have bad feet, I probably shouldn’t be running, but it helps my mood, it makes me feel accomplished. I run a half-marathon. I fly with my husband to Seattle to run a full marathon. The day afterward, as I stagger around and imagine that this is what it feels like to be 90 (not truly sore, really, but stiff, oh my god so stiff, my muscles can’t react to changes quickly, I stumble and flail and fall easily), we visit a huge bookstore. I make my way (as I do automatically, anymore) to the horror section, and oh my god. I have never seen such riches. I choose one. I choose another.

20 minutes later, I stumble to the register with a comically-large pile of Lovecraft books. The total comes to three digits. I don’t even blink. My husband smiles but does not scold. I am tremendously grateful for this.

Conclusion: I now have a bookshelf of Lovecraft mythos. I’m always on the lookout for new additions. As I read more and more, my tastes are honed. I won’t call them refined, because that suggests some level of expertise that I don’t have. I’m not a Lovecraft devotee. I’ve never read any of his biographies, I’ve seen one documentary on his life that was available on Youtube. But I love these stories. I love to read them, to think about them, to wonder about what makes some amazing, what makes others fall flat. Even the ones I don’t like draw my fascination, because why am I so irritated? This blog represents a distillation of these thoughts. I’m not a writer, but I hope other Lovecraft and mythos fans read this and respond…if only because I want in on that dialogue. I love this community. My hope is for this website to be a contribution, however paltry.

The Cultist