Lovecraft Never Dies

Charles Baxter explores the persistent appeal – as well as persistent racism and misogyny – of H.P. Lovecraft. He considers how his fiction represents faith, writing that “what accompanies Lovecraft’s depictions of living death is a fundamental conviction that there is something wrong with the whole idea of resurrection, mostly because there is something wrong with life itself. The greatest hope of Christianity is, in these stories, a terrible outcome fervently to be avoided”:

His three best stories, “The Colour Out of Space,” “At the Mountains of Madness,” and “The Dunwich Horror,” can all be read as inversions of Christian themes, as Houellebecq first noted. “The Colour Out of Space” contains a travesty of the Pentecost, “The Dunwich Horror” a travesty of the Incarnation, and “At the Mountains of Madness” a travesty of resurrection, which also appears elsewhere in graveyard-kitsch form in “Herbert West: Reanimator.” Whenever anybody or anything is brought back to life in a Lovecraft story, the resurrection is always botched, and the return to life is catastrophic. Since life itself is a form of sleepwalking anyway, the descent of the “foul” Pentecostal flame in “The Colour Out of Space” can only bring more destruction and misery, the God of these stories being a malicious trickster.

As for the afterlife, or the life to come, the unlucky resurrected ones dwell in various subbasements and oubliettes where they give off “a deep, low moaning” that is “hideous with the pent-up viciousness of desolate eternities.”

In Lovecraft, all the eternities are desolate. When not made out of spare parts and jolted to life by electrical means, the resurrected are hidden away, “leaping clumsily and frantically up and down at the bottom of [a] narrow shaft.” This is not just the depiction of horror but of genuine suffering, the suffering of those perpetually imprisoned and unable to die.

Haunted by the failure of death that can result in zombiism, the stories repeatedly quote “the mad Arab Abdul Alhazred”: “That is not dead which can eternal lie,/And with strange aeons even death may die,” an utterance not of hope but of inconsolable despair. Like “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” the stories are haunted by death-in-life and by the prospect of a life after this one that may be even worse than the one you have now.