Posts Tagged ‘cosmic horror’

I’ve mentioned things like “Lovecraftian horror’ or “cosmic horror” before on this blog, but I’ve never really gone into what those terms mean. And given that someone on the Internet is probably wondering what those terms mean and I need a break from trying to figure out how to end a short story, I thought I’d take a moment to look over what it means when horror fans call something “cosmic horror.”

I actually summed up cosmic horror pretty well last month with a little joke that I shared on my social media. Here’s how it goes:

Knock knock!

Who’s there?

Yog-sothoth.

Yog-sothtoth who?

Your mind couldn’t handle the answer.

Now you’re probably confused by that joke. But in actuality, it summarizes what cosmic horror is pretty well. Namely, there are answers and truths to questions that the human mind can’t handle. And not just answers, but even beings, beings that don’t fit into any sort of recognizable mythology or concept of good and evil. In this sort of horror, humanity is the equivalent of ants in the grand scheme of things, and if they come across any of the things that they shouldn’t–beings of unimaginable size and power, truths that go against everything we’ve ever believed, abilities and technologies that seem blasphemous to human viewpoints–the very contact could kill us or drive us insane. And even if our minds survived in some recognizable state, we would be forever changed. And probably not for the better.

If you haven’t grasped why that’s so scary, let me use an analogy: imagine you’re a farmer living in England in 1066, and a man from the year 2166* comes by and tells you that the world isn’t flat, but round; that the Earth flies around the sun and not the other way around; and that space is a cold and mostly empty void rather than a sphere surrounded by God’s Heaven and angels. Well, you’d obviously think the man from 2166 was crazy. But then he takes you back to his time, and he lives on a ship orbiting the Earth. You see the round Earth below while you float weightless in space and see the dark void beyond Earth. And things like science, gravity, etc. mean absolutely nothing to you. And everything’s new and strange to you, lights too bright and shadows too dark, and the sounds you hear make no sense.

Can you start to see how this could tear at someone’s mind? That someone could be afraid of this?

A universe of incomprehensible beings and terrible secrets is the basis of cosmic horror.

And that’s why cosmic horror has been so popular since HP Lovecraft basically created it back in the early 20th century (which is why it’s also known as Lovecraftian horror). It basically takes the old Judeo-Christian concept of good vs. evil, God versus the Devil, etc, which is essentially a closed and somewhat understandable system, and throws it wide open to a universe where there are multiple forces, none of which are easy to grasp or empathize with, let alone categorize into good vs. evil.

But how do you write it? Well, it’s more than including big, powerful beings that drive people mad (though that is often a feature). They’re more a vehicle for the broader theme: a sense of helplessness, that the universe is big and dark and full of awful things, that humanity is inconsequential and our dealings with the big players never lead to anything good. That, and a sense of untapped mystery can’t hurt. Think the first two Alien films or a dark version of 2001: A Space Odyssey‘s aliens, and you might get the idea.

If you want a better grasp of cosmic horror, I’d suggest looking at some of Lovecraft’s stories.** I recommend The Temple, The Call of Cthulhu, and The Dunwich Horror. I also recommend checking out other writers who use cosmic horror, including Stephen King, Guillermo del Toro, and so many more. Heck, I’ve got a few stories that have some cosmic horror in them. If they ever get published, I’ll let you know.

Cosmic horror can be hard to wrap your mind around sometimes, but once you do, it can open you to all sorts of terrible worlds. And if you can stand what you find, perhaps you will delve deeper. Just be careful when you do. You might not be the same when you come up, after all.

Do you like cosmic horror? What cosmic horror works would you recommend to the unitiated?

*Assuming humanity lives that long, what with global warming and a rising population. You know it’s true!

**If you can stomach his racism. Yeah, I love his work and contribution to horror, but I hate what he believed. If he were around today, I’d either punch him, ignore him for being an asshole, or recommend he take some anti-anxiety medication, get some therapy and maybe some exposure to other communities.

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So I started up a binge on H.P. Lovecraft again right after the new year. I’m not sure why; maybe I was just in the mood for him, or maybe something I read made me think of good old Mr. Lovecraft and I wanted to pick him up again.Or maybe the YouTube video where I discovered Uzumaki mentioned him, and that did it. Whatever the case, I’ve noticed that the gaps between my binges are shortening with every binge. I first put him down in September 2015 after first buying my edition of his collected works, picked him up again in June 2016, put him down once more the next month and picked him up again in January 2017. I wonder when I’ll be in meeting Mr. Lovecraft again? Early summer, maybe?

Now if you don’t know who H.P. Lovecraft is (and there seems to be a lot of you who don’t), let me tell you about him. Lovecraft was a writer from New England who wrote in the early 20th century, and is considered the father of cosmic horror, a sub-genre of horror that deals with man’s inconsequential place in our universe, and that some revelations about that are so powerful, they cause you to go mad (it’s the kind of stuff that keeps you up at night if you think too much about it).

I started reading Lovecraft two years ago because I heard he was very influential on some of my favorite writers and filmmakers, and each time I delve into his work I like to write my thoughts on him (see Parts 1 and 2 here). So what did I think this time around?

Well, I have to say, the further I get into Lovecraft’s work, the easier it is to read. I’ve mentioned before that he writes like he’s living in the 1820s rather than in the 1920’s, but I think as time goes on, he learned to write in a more contemporary style while still sounding like he was a contemporary of Poe. I’m not sure that the collection I have of his work is chronological, but if it is, then I’m definitely seeing him develop into a better writer. I also think I’m getting a better grasp at what makes Lovecraft so memorable. Before, I probably would have used generalizations, such as “he’s creepy” or “vaguely disturbing.” Now, however, I’m able to point out what exactly about the story sticks in my mind and why it is successful or not successful, such as the mysterious nature of the monsters in one story or the twist at the end of the story in another.

I also think that the stories written in this period (assuming that the stories are ordered chronologically, of course) are much better than his previous works. I got to read one of his famous stories “The Call of Cthulhu,” and I found it very interesting. Not just because it contains one of Lovecraft’s most famous characters, but it has the essence of his cosmology and philosophy in that story. The idea of man as the insects of the universe, and greater beings just waiting to come back and take over is succinctly and powerfully presented through the narrator’s encounters with the titular demon-god’s cult.

Got to read the story with this guy.

 

I also really liked the short story “Pickman’s Model,” about an artist who draws very disturbing paintings in an old colonial home. It was well told, and I really enjoyed the twist at the end, which even I didn’t see coming.Same with “Cool Air,” a short story about a doctor living in an apartment building. I read the list at the end of that story, and I was like, “Damn! That’s actually very clever.”

If there was any story I did not like, then it was the last story I read by him this particular binge, and also the longest. “The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath,” a novella that felt like an acid trip ending  in a Lewis Carroll ripoff.* It was too long, silly trying to be serious, and like I said, the ending rips off Lewis Carroll in the most obvious way. I kind of wish I had skipped over this one.

All in all though, I’m really starting to gain a healthy respect for H.P. Lovecraft. He added a lot to the horror genre, even if he didn’t live to see his influence, and I can see why he’s still read today. I don’t know when I will pick up his work again, but I have a feeling I am in for a treat when I do.

In the meantime, I found out there’s a movie version of “Call of Cthulhu,” so I will try to get my hands on a copy of that. Hopefully I’ll get it soon, and when I do, you’ll hear my thoughts about it.

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. I hope to have a new author interview out Friday, so keep your eyes peeled for that. Until then, pleasant nightmares.

*Weirdly, it wasn’t acid he was on. LSD wasn’t invented until year after Lovecraft died, so there’s no way he could have gotten his hands on it. Or Lewis Carroll, for that matter. Which begs the question: if those two were high when they came up with their respective stories, what were they high on?

Well, I’m writing this at a time I’m normally preparing for bed, but what can I say? When you’re on a roll and nearing the end, you just don’t stop writing.

Now, if you didn’t know, I’m taking a short break from working on Full Circle to work on some short stories. This particular short story, The Red Burst, is one I particularly had fun writing. The story is about a man and his husband who go to visit the former’s sister in a small town, only to find out that something that gives off bursts of red light (hence the title) is driving the residents insane. It’s definitely a dark story, and it’s special too for a number of reasons. One is that this story is very HP Lovecraft-influenced in many ways.

Now, if you’re unfamiliar with HP Lovecraft, he’s a horror author who wrote during the first half of the twentieth century, and has become very influential since (see my posts on my forays into his work, Part 1 and Part 2). A lot of his themes include the idea that humanity are ants in the grand scheme of things, that there’s no real meaning to existence, and that there might be things in the universe that are bigger than us and might see us as a food source or playthings. This is called cosmic horror, and I tired to incorporate those themes into The Red Burst. I got so hooked on the Lovecraft aspect of the story, I actually started reading his work again, and I listened to Lovecraft-themed relaxation videos on YouTube while I wrote the story (yes, those are a thing. Look up Ephemeral Rift on YouTube if you’re interested).

Another thing I liked about this story was that I got to incorporate a gay couple into the story. Even better, a Jewish gay couple! I like having diverse characters in my stories, and I know a lot of LGBT Jewish couples, so it was interesting having that sort of couple in the story, portraying not just their relationship but also their faith and how the events of the story affect that faith. I have a feeling though some of those LGBT couples I know will be coming up to me asking if I based the characters on them. The answer to that, of course, is no, because they haven’t done anything horrible enough to warrant that treatment from me.

And a final thing that I enjoyed with writing the story was that I got to use a drone in it! I don’t know why, but including modern elements in horror stories is just a blast for me. It’s like, “look, there’s a powerful demon from Hell, and now there’s an augmented reality game!” Or, “there’s a ghost after me, but at the same time, superhero franchises!” It’s like they don’t go together, but at the same time you make them go together, and it’s an incredible result. Plus with some, like the drone, you feel like there aren’t that many stories with the same elements in them, so you’re kind of exploring new territory. It’s a real thrill.

So what’s next for this story? Well, I’ll give it some time and return to it at a later date to edit it. It’s around 7,500 words, but I’ve discovered quite a few Lovecraft-themed magazines that are open to longer stories, so I may find this one a home. And if it does get published, I think people will really enjoy it. Especially Lovecraft fans who like a story with his themes but without language that was prevalent in early 19th century.

In the meantime, I’ll return to Full Circle ASAP and get to work on finishing that. I still have quite a ways to go, but after working on some short stories involving werewolves, cars, and insanity-causing red lights, I think some gangster science fiction shouldn’t be too hard. I’ll let you guys know if there’s anything new going on when the time comes.

Until next time, my Followers of Fear! Pleasant nightmares!