By James Maliszewski
There’s a lot one could say on the occasion of the 120th anniversary of the birth of Howard Phillips Lovecraft, but the difficulty comes in finding something to say that others — or oneself — haven’t already said on similar occasions in the past. In some sense, that’s a testament to the huge debt we all owe the Old Gent: almost anything we say about him has already been said many times before, probably more eloquently and more originally than anything we can possibly say ourselves.
And yet I don’t think that should stop us from making the effort, no matter how tritely or banally we might do so. I’m a firm believer in honoring the achievements of one’s forebears, particularly those forebears on whom one’s present efforts depend heavily. That’s clearly the case with H.P. Lovecraft, without whose writings, I am quite convinced, this hobby we enjoy would be very different, not least of all because, like us, he inspired others to follow in his footsteps — to take up pens or sit at typewriters (or computers) and give free rein to their imaginations. Among those writers who count HPL as an important influence is Fritz Leiber, whose Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser began their existence in a story (“The Adept’s Gambit”), an early version of which Lovecraft himself read and critiqued. Imagine how just this little hobby of ours might have changed if Leiber had never taken up writing or had never created the Twain?
Ultimately, I think this is Lovecraft’s greatest contribution to posterity — his inspiration to others. Whatever his other virtues, HPL was a great friend, colleague, and mentor to his fellow writers, a trait he first developed during his days as an amateur journalist, where he made the acquaintance of many people who would become his lifelong comrades and where he found his Muse as a writer of weird fiction. It’s in his tireless support and encouragement of others to create, as he did, that I find Lovecraft at his most admirable and it’s here that I most hope to emulate him.
In remembering Lovecraft’s time as an amateur journalist, I was reminded of an address he gave in 1921, entitled “What Amateurdom and I Have Done for Each Other,” in which he discusses his joining the United Amateur Press Association and his activities since. I’m reminded of it, because HPL closes with a couple of paragraphs that, except for their specific details, could just as easily apply to my own feelings about my involvement in the online old school community. He wrote:
What Amateur Journalism has brought me is a circle of persons among whom I am not altogether alien — persons who possess scholastic leanings, yet who are not as a body so arrogant with achievement that a struggler is frowned upon. In daily life one meets few of these — one’s accidental friends are either frankly unliterary or hopelessly “arrived” and academic. The more completely one is absorbed in his aspirations, the more one needs a circle of intellectual kin; so that amateurdom has an unique and perpetual function to fulfil. Today, whatever genuine friends I have are amateur journalists, sympathetic scholars, and writers I should never have known but for the United Amateur Press Association. They alone have furnished me with the incentive to explore broader and newer fields of thought, to ascertain what particular labours are best suited to me, and to give to my writings the care and finish demanded of all work destined for perusal by others than the author.
After all, these remarks form a confession rather than a statement, for they are the record of a most unequal exchange whereby I am the gainer. What I have given Amateur Journalism is regrettably little; what Amateur Journalism has given me is — life itself.
I know exactly how Lovecraft felt, even if, in retrospect, it’s clear that HPL gave to the world even more than he took from it. As a recipient of his inspirational largess, I can only say, “Thank you, Mr Lovecraft. For everything.”
This article was first published in Grognardia by James Maliszewski.