Category Archives: Stephen King

Michel Houellebecq and The Lovecraft Legacy

Lovecraft Houellebecq
My entire (hard copy) Lovecraft library!
Michel Houellebecq, the bad boy of French literature, launched his tumultuous career with the publication of H.P. Lovecraft: Against the World, Against Life.

A rogue’s views on a rogue. How fitting.

The edition pictured above (cool cover, huh?) includes a useful and knowledgeable introduction by Stephen King, who regards Lovecraft as both mentor and muse. In this, King is not alone — he notes other accomplished writers who, in King’s words, “have been touched by Lovecraft and his dreams,” such as Harlan Ellison, Kingsley Amis, Neil Gaiman, Flannery O’Connor, Fred Chappell, and Joyce Carol Oates.

Houellebecq’s compact work uses Lovecraft’s biography as a springboard for a lively introduction to weird fiction, Lovecraft’s unique contributions to that sub-genre, and as a well-argued case for a greater appreciation for Lovecraft as an author. Few can deny Lovecraft’s livid, overflowing imagination, but many dismiss him as a second-rate writer and craftsman. This, declares Houellebecq, is simply wrong. Lovecraft’s style perfectly matches his subject matter and worldview.

In Houellebecq’s view:

Lovecraft has never been rivaled in this. His way of using mathematical concepts, of precisely indicating the topography of each location of a drama, his mythology, his imaginary demoniac library, have all been borrowed; but no one has ever attempted to imitate these passages where he sets aside all stylistic restraint, where adjectives and adverbs pile upon one another to the point of exasperation, and he utters such exclamations of pure delirium such as “Hippopotami should not have human hands and crazy torches…men should not have the heads of crocodiles…” And yet this is the true aim of the work. p. 88

I must admit that though I have long admired Lovecraft’s story-telling abilities and shocking inventiveness, I considered him only a so-so writer. Monsieur Houellebecq has convinced me otherwise.

The sizable volume on the left (also sporting a great cover!) is another recent acquisition. All the HPL works I’ve read over the years were either borrowed from the library or downloaded from the ‘net — Lovecraft’s fiction is in the public domain. I am now the proud owner of The Complete Fiction of H.P. Lovecraft — with one glaring exception. Despite its title, it does not include “In the Walls of Eryx,” one of my favorite HPL stories. It’s one of his few sci-fi works, and I cannot understand why it wasn’t included.

As Monsieur Houellebecq would put it, “C’est la vie.”

The Paris Massacre, Awareness, and Writing

Musashi

Like many others, the horrific massacre in Paris got me to thinking about how I would have reacted to a terror attack. A number of articles have popped up on the Internet stressing how situational awareness improves your odds of surviving acts of terrorism and similar emergencies. I couldn’t help but notice the ties between situational awareness and writing.

I’ve previously made the case that intense physical activity sharpens the mind and senses. Famed Japanese swordsman Miyamoto Musashi argued the same in his classic The Book of Five Rings. And now we have science that bolsters Musashi’s insights. From Psychology Today:

Musashi referred extensively to training vision and perception through martial arts, but now there is modern evidence in experimental psychology to support his assertions and show that visual abilities can be enhanced with such training. …

Writing in the journal “Attention and Perceptual Psychophysics,” Monica Muinos and Soledad Ballesteros from the Department of Basic Psychology in Madrid, Spain wanted to know if sports training that relied heavily on dynamic visual acuity could interfere with the normal decline in this ability. Using a tracking task where the participants had to rapidly determine the direction and characteristics of object motion, they studied young (less than 30 years) and older (more than 60 years) adults who either had no sporting background or who had training in judo or karate. Not surprisingly, martial arts athletes—both judo and karate—had better dynamic visual acuity scores than non-athletes. This result supports the idea that martial arts training may enhance dynamic visual acuity.

In the following clip, Matt Damon (as Jason Bourne) explains how attention to seemingly trivial details is essential to survival:

Awareness of the fine details others overlook is something every writer must develop. As Stephen King wrote in On Writing, “Skills in description, dialogue, and character development all boil down to seeing or hearing clearly and then transcribing what you see or hear with equal clarity.”

As I’ve said before, the act of reading and writing stories isn’t just a diversion from life, it is life itself.