Posts Tagged ‘Lovecraftian’

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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My copy of “The Creepypasta Collection,” as edited by MrCreepyPasta

A couple of years ago while I was in Germany, I became acquainted with a growing genre of horror known as creepypasta. Creepypasta, for those of you who are unfamiliar, are horror stories, images, videos, music and games that originate on the Internet and are meant to be spread around as memes. Sort of like viral Internet-born campfire ghost stories (see my original post from 2015 if you’d like a more in-depth explanation).

While I had to end my acquaintance with the genre rather abruptly (job searching and then landing a busy full-time job, as well as trying to write my own stories, doesn’t leave that much time for perusing the Internet for horror stories), I never forgot about this strange world of creators making and sharing these scary stories, sharing characters and creating entire mythologies out of some of them (Slender Man, anyone?). So when I found out there was actually a couple of anthologies of creepypasta available in book format, which meant I could read them on my lunch break, I decided to get a copy and dive in to see back in.

What did I find?

Well, like every anthology I’ve ever read, there were some stories that spoke to me more than others. A few I didn’t find that scary at all, but others definitely filled me with that feeling I get from good horror, and even set my imagination alight at times. There are writers in that anthology who would and have done well writing commercial fiction (in fact, some of the contributors listed in the back of the book have published or self-published stories). My favorites in the collection were “When Dusk Falls on Hadley Township” by TW Grim, which reminded me of a Stephen King short story; “Smile.Montana” by Aaron Shotwell, featuring the infamous creepypasta character Smile Dog; “Bedtime” by Michael Whitehouse, a classic of creepypasta fiction that really got my imagination going; and my top favorite, “She Beneath the Tree” by Michael Marks, a Lovecraftian tale that I loved from start to finish.

So yeah, if you’re curious, you should give the collection a read. 4.5 out of 5. As the cover promises, these are stories you can’t unread. And I’m not sure you’d want to.

But I found more than just stories in this collection. I also noticed some things about the genre, especially the pieces in the anthology, that showed me just how different they were from more “mainstream” horror stories. For one thing, the narration in the stories struck me as being more…realist in nature. Not like Realist fiction, which is set entirely around stories that happen in the real world, but like they really believed that the things they depicted in their stories could actually happen. In a lot of horror fiction, even by the greatest writers out there, you get the sense that, except for maybe stories involving serial killers, the authors don’t really believe that what they’re writing about could happen. But creepypasta writers seem to feel the opposite. I got the sense, even with some of the more supernatural or strange stories, that the authors really believed that what was happening in their stories could happen in the real world, and treated it as such. And this shown through especially with the first-person narrators.

When something like Smile Dog can be treated as if it’s real, you know you’re reading something different.

This is something I really admire in creepypasta, because it just gives these stories another layer and gives them the power to really make you wonder if some of what happens in these creepypastas could happen. Some of my own stories are based on my own beliefs of what could be out there, and I like to think that gives them this quality of strange realism to them. Seeing that quality brought out so well with these stories is a great guide for me personally as a writer, so I’m glad I exposed myself to them.

Another thing about this anthology is that it made me realize something: the creators of creepypasta are not too different from self-published and hybrid authors. The latter try to recreate the quality and success of books published by traditional presses without having to go through all the hoops that come with the traditional method and presses. They’re trying a new way to achieve an old goal. And a major component of this is through the Internet to reach readers and advertise. Basically, to spread the word.

Similarly, creepypasta creators are trying to recreate something as well. When I called creepypasta viral Internet-born campfire ghost stories, that was a really apt description. They’re recreating the feeling of telling scary stories around a campfire, and spread it farther than any campfire could. And their chosen medium, the Internet, is perfect for that. Spoken word can be used on the Internet, but so can the written word, images, video, music and so much more. They use the Internet to advertise terror as well as any self-published/hybrid author can to advertise their books. Is it any wonder that one can so transition easily into the other?

Overall, I’m glad I took this dive back into the world of creepypasta. It opened my eyes to things that I’d never realized before, gave me ideas for stories, and caused my respect for creepypasta creators to grow immensely. And while I may never write true creepypasta, I can see creepypasta-esque stories or ideas infiltrating my future work. Just like creepypasta, you never know until it happens. And by then, it’s likely too late.

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. I’d love to talk a bit more on the subject, but a hole in the fabric of reality has appeared in the fabric of my carpet, so that either means something really pleasant, or something really bad. I’m going to go find out.

Until next time, pleasant nightmares!