In October 2016, Alan Moore penned a new introduction to a high-end Lovecraft collection published by the Folio Society. The Call of Cthulhu & Other Weird Stories, edited by S. T. Joshi and illustrated by Dan Hillier, is available now. The collector’s edition costs a mere $125, with a 750-copy limited edition available for $575.
Below are a couple of excerpts from Moore’s 7-page introduction:
In my own case late childhood infatuation had, by my self-conscious middle teens, been tempered by increasing unease and abhorrence with regard to Lovecraft’s politics and many prejudices. Less defensibly, I had been cowed by the authoritative critical pronouncements of such disapproving commentators as both Wilsons – haughty Edmund and iconoclastic Colin – and in viewing Lovecraft through their unforgiving lens perceived him as merely a clumsy writer, burdening each clause with adjectives and archaisms, far too fond of indescribability, of final paragraphs delivered in a hyperventilating torrent of bug-eyed italics. Later, on the slopes of young adulthood and perhaps more confident in my opinions, I reread his storied and revised my view to one that once more favourable and more condescending. I saw Lovecraft now as a wild talent, one whose genius lay in transmitting his own sense of overwhelming cosmic terror to his audience despite his literary limitations. Not until embarking on a sixth decade that Lovecraft, for all his senescent affectations, would not reach did I revisit those steep lanes and jutting steeples, armed with vital insights gleaned from the continually expanding field of Lovecraft scholarship, only to find the fiercely individual and innovative prose stylist that I’d previously failed to see.
His general xenophobia was of course still present, along with his poorly reasoned and romantic veneration of the English aristocracy, but those could be viewed with greater understanding (albeir not greater sympathy) in the revealing context of his place and time and circumstances. Lovecraft’s supposed literary defects, on the other hand, turned out upon closer inspection either not to exist or to be misapprehended virtues. The most serious abuse of adjectives and repetition of last-paragraph italics are not in fact to be found in Lovecraft’s work but in that of his devotee and ‘posthumous collaborator’ August Derleth, who, while almost singlehandedly responsible for keeping his late mentor’s name alive, would with his clumsy ventriloquial interventions do much to delay his hero’s literary recognition, turning passing quirks into compulsive cliches. In Lovecraft’s own narratives the adjectives extended in pursuit of that which is beyond description ultimately stand exposed as an ingenious strategy disorienting and unsettling the reader by giving a list of entities that Great Cthulhu doesn’t much resemble, or declaring that the Colour out of Space is only a color ‘by analogy’. On examination, Lovecraft’s touted flaws seem instead to be careful tactical considerations.
The deployment of archaic vocabulary – Domdanie, nepenthe, eidolon and necrophagous, a sesquipedalian torrent – looks on second glance like an attempt to make the very medium that he expressed his stories through, the English language itself, into something creepy, unfamiliar and alienating.
The hindsight of almost a hundred years exposes H.P. Lovecraft as one of the twentieth century’s most radical experimental writers despite his cobwebbed traditionalist disguise, as well as one of its most staggeringly original and worryingly foresightful thinkers. The infectious swoon of his delirious prose and his hallucinatory ideas evoke in the susceptible an escalating ecstasy of trepidation, like some legendarily unbalancing variety of absinthe that cannot be reproduced and isn’t manufactured any more. Whether you’re new to Providence’s paranoiac prophet of are at some more advanced stage of acquaintance where you feel you have his measure, put aside your preconceptions and immerse yourself in a more subtly insidious and more magnificently visionary author that the one you remember of anticipate. I envy your exquisite nightmares.
Fans of Moore introducing Lovecraft collections will also enjoy Moore’s other entirely different introduction to The New Annotated Lovecraft (2014). That excellent introductory essay is excerpted in our essay on Lovecraft racism and at Alan Moore World. It also informed some of our Providence annotations, see for example notes to Providence #1 P9,p2.