Science Fiction and Fantasy, once despised by the creators of popular entertainment as well as literary scholars, have not only risen in the eyes of serious students of literature but among the general public. What accounts for this sea-change? We could point to the surprising success of both Star Trek (soft sci-fi) or Star Wars (sci-fan), but the origins of the near-dominance of sci-fi/fantasy in popular entertainment today goes back a little further, as this must-read from Open Culture argues:
Do we start with The Castle of Otranto, the first Gothic novel, which opened the door for such books as Dracula and Frankenstein? Or do we open with Edgar Allan Poe, whose macabre short stories and poems captivated the public’s imagination and inspired a million imitators? Maybe. But if we really want to know when the most populist, mass-market horror and fantasy began—the kind that inspired television shows from the Twilight Zone to the X-Files to Supernatural to The Walking Dead—we need to start with H.P. Lovecraft, and with the pulpy magazine that published his bizarre stories, Weird Tales.
I have to agree. Lovecraft’s the man!
Don’t miss the article’s treasure trove of links to the letters of H.P. Lovecraft, as well as links to classic editions of Weird Tales featuring stories by Lovecraft, Ray Bradbury, Dorothy Quick, Robert Bloch, and Theodor Sturgeon. What a great way to get ready for Halloween!
H. P. Lovecraft was born on this date in Providence, Rhode Island. A self-taught science and astronomy buff, Lovecraft built upon the legacy of Edgar Allan Poe to pioneer and define what is now known as weird fiction and cosmic horror.
In addition to his many works of fiction, he was a prolific correspondent, notably with Robert E. Howard. His works continue to inspire both writers and moviemakers. Writers who acknowledge Lovecraft’s influence include China Miéville and Joyce Carol Oates. Lovecraft has also inspired indie filmmakers Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead, as well as Guillermo del Toro.
Last night, my wife and I attended the Charlotte Film Society’s screening of “The Endless,” the latest project from indie filmmakers Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead. When the closing credits rolled, we quickly agreed that in an age of sternum-rattling surround sound and blinding special effects, this film was truly something different: It pulled us in and held us with first-class writing and acting.
Think that filmmaking approach will catch on? We can only hope.
In the movie, brothers Justin and Aaron (yeah, cute!) have hit rock bottom. Years earlier, they’d enjoyed notoriety after they escaped what they described to the news media as a “UFO death cult.” But now, their notoriety has faded, and they’re barely making a living in their cleaning business. Collection agencies hound them, they can’t make friends, and the young ladies they meet aren’t interested in dating ex-death cult members. When younger brother Aaron decides he can’t stomach any more normalcy and wants to visit the old commune, Justin reluctantly agrees.
What could go wrong?
The film opens with this quote from H. P. Lovecraft: “The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.” That quote is a nod to the profound influence Lovecraft has exerted on Benson and Moorhead. (In the closing credits, they pay special tribute to Guillermo Del Toro, another Lovecraftian storyteller.)
What makes “The Endless” stand out is its unforced but relentless buildup of details that lull and mislead. When the seemingly commonplace path you’re following suddenly twists around and scares the daylights out of you, you can only wonder how you could have been so blind. “The Endless” had an effect on me similar to “Rosemary’s Baby,” with its clever presentation of clues that could be dismissed as merely odd that suddenly add up to unspeakable terror.
Now THAT’S entertainment.
What accounts for the enduring popularity of Robert E. Howard’s most famous creation, Conan of Cimmeria? Author John C. Wright offers this perceptive analysis:
Conan is somewhat more deep and complex than the cartoon image of a brute in a bearskin loincloth found the popular imagination, with a dancing girl clutching his brawny thigh and a devil-beast dying under his bloody ax. The theme and philosophy he represents is not the product of adolescent neurosis (as certain bitter critics would have us believe) but of somber, even cynical, reflection on the age of the world, the costs of civilization, and the frailty of man.
Howard, despite his lack of formal education, was well-read and intellectually curious. The worldview behind his Conan stories is broad, well-crafted, insightful, and still worthwhile for the modern reader. Wright’s introduction is an invaluable introduction to one of the great writers of our age.
There’s an energizing crispness in the October air – and that’s not all. Regional festivals celebrating local wine, apples, and barbecue lure excited crowds with sweet, smoky aromas and music from homegrown bands. The squawking from a wedge of geese overhead reminds us it’s hunting and camping season. And Halloween is just around the corner.
My latest work, “The Great KOA Getaway,” should get you in the mood. It’s a flash story about an unlucky/lucky ranger caught in the middle of a little misunderstanding at a remote campground. I’d describe it as a mash-up of Twilight Zone and National Lampoon’s Vacation, with just a touch of Lovecraft thrown in. It’s available free (!) at The Flash Fiction Press.
I’ve always enjoyed stories that tickle your goosebumps and funny bone at the same time. And isn’t that what makes Halloween so much fun?
I hope “The Great KOA Getaway” brings a shiver and a smile to your day.
The best fiction and writing blog posts from around the ‘net, with advice and inspiration guaranteed to make you a literary cult figure. Compiled by howard.
Joanne Jeffries and Julian Yanover – Poetic WordClouds: These are the most common words in Poetry
Owen Booth – 24 Rules for Writing Short Stories
Fionn Grant – Literary Agent: Another Step Toward Writer Status
Jami Gold – What Goes into Building a Movie in Our Mind?
Aerogramme Writers’ Studio – Opportunities for Writers: June and July 2016
A.J. Humpage – Getting Your Story To Flow
Krishna Prasad – Is Poetry Dead?
Penstricken – The (Im)perfect Protagonist
H. P. Lovecraft – 11 Tips for Novice Writers
This evening, The Charlotte Film Society featured two shorts and a full-length film. My wife and I agreed the main film, Nina Forever, was an unfocused hot mess. However, the short Portal to Hell!!! was a blast.
Ex-pro wrestler Roddy Piper plays Jack, a patient, over-worked, and under-appreciated building super. Jack’s so stressed by his job that he ignores a lady who’s obviously interested in him. One day, while checking out a power loss in the old building’s creepy basement, he discovers that two elderly male tenants dressed in tighty whities have invoked none other than the dreaded Cthulhu from his undersea hideout in R’lyeh. Jack just wants to do his job, but he’s pretty sure the men’s actions violate their lease, and doesn’t hesitate to tell them.
The Old One, being who he is, strikes out from his portal and kills everyone in his reach, then wraps a tentacle around Jack and s-l-o-w-l-y drags our hero toward certain doom. But the lady who has a secret crush on Jack finds the book the old men used to summon Cthulhu. Will she find the correct spell in time? And is that spell permanent or just a temporary fix?
Great special effects, great acting, lots of laughs, and plenty of hidden treasures for Lovecraft fans.
One sad note: Roddy Piper passed away shortly before the film was nominated for the Toronto International Film Festival.