HP Lovecraft was the creator of the cosmic horror subgenre. I find cosmic horror much more terrifying than some crazy axe wielding maniac jumping out of a closet and chopping up someone.
We want to have value. Today’s educational system is busy trying to build children’s self-esteem. “We’re all winners.” “Everyone has value.” “You have a purpose.”
And while those are indeed lofty sentiments, in reality the children taught those sentiments are going to have a difficult time when they encounter their first selfish SOB out in the real world.
When I was in fifth grade, I lived in terror of the bullies who every recess when we were outside pantsed wallflowers such as myself. Those bullies didn’t give a fig about playing nice, or that everyone had value, or that everyone was a winner. They operated on a primeval level. Those who were stronger got their way. They were the winners.
Lovecraft’s point was no different. We humans sit on this speck of dirt and tell ourselves how important we are. That we have intrinsic value just because we’re human. However, the universe isn’t listening. And it isn’t listening because it doesn’t care. We don’t matter. It’s indifferent to us. We have as much value as the ball of ice orbiting our sun known as Haley’s Comet.
Everyone in the tiny Greek city-states was important (if you weren’t a slave, that is). When Alexander the Great suddenly expanded the world across a huge chunk of Asia, those same Greeks were suddenly faced with an identity crisis.
“Who am I in this huge new world?” they asked. The Epicurean and Stoic schools of philosophy arose in response to that question and attempted to provide answers.
Today we are faced with the same question. For the sake of literary convention, Lovecraft personified the universe’s indifference to us in The Great Old Ones. For Lovecraft, the Cthulhu Mythos was an attack on religion and it’s false hope. And the irony should not be lost that Lovecraft gave The Great Old Ones worshipers.
Lovecraft was throwing down the gauntlet. All of our cherished beliefs are false. We have no objective meaning. We are living in a dream world if we think we do.
And the terror comes when we suddenly awake and are confronted with the meaninglessness of reality. That’s why I think The Great Old Ones and their minions are described as insanities, contrary to nature, blasphemous, and the like. They are contrary to everything that we think is normal.
Those bullies on my playground didn’t care about values or artificial constructs of behavior. They were contrary to everything that was considered normal behavior. If they could catch you, they would pants you. That was their reality. And their laughter at your pain and embarrassment was a reminder that the universe did not play fair and did not care.
Lovecraft’s heroes are basically helpless. They can do nothing to stop The Great Old Ones. All they can do is warn us that they are coming.
Pierce Mostyn, then, is not your typical Lovecraftian hero. He fights back against that cosmic indifference. He does so out of a sense of duty. Much like the Stoic who lives his life according to the principles of virtue and duty. Duty arises out of our being part of a whole, and we have obligations to that whole. Obligations that the virtuous person is bound to discharge.
Mostyn doesn’t see himself as helpless, even when facing an entity such as a shoggoth (one of those walking insanities that is a blasphemy of nature). He’s willing to admit there is a lot out there that we don’t understand. And maybe can never understand. He uses reason, and approaches the problems of life rationally. Not unlike the Stoics before him.
Dr Dotty Kemper, Mostyn’s main sidekick, on the other hand is a materialist. She believes science has all the answers. She’s a paranormal skeptic. It is science that replaces superstition with knowledge. Sometimes though she has a rough time of it, especially when science has no explanation.
In a sense, the Pierce Mostyn Paranormal Investigations aren’t pure cosmic horror. Because in the face of the universe’s indifference, and I do agree with Lovecraft on that, I think Marcus Aurelius provides us with a ready answer. Namely, that life is opinion. Or, if we expand the translation, life is what you make it to be.
I hope you enjoyed this little discussion of Lovecraft, cosmic horror, and Pierce Mostyn. The series, Pierce Mostyn Paranormal Investigations, launches in 3 weeks on the 29th. So mark your calendars!
The emblem at the top of this post is the emblem of the Office of Unidentified Phenomena (OUP), which is part of the Office of Intelligence and Analysis, which is a child agency of the US Department of Homeland Security. But don’t Google it, or check Wikipedia. You won’t find it there. Maybe if you went to the dark web…
Comments are always welcome, and, until next time, happy reading!
In a few weeks I’ll be launching a new paranormal series: the Pierce Mostyn Paranormal Investigations. The books were fun to write and I’ve gotten positive feedback from my beta readers. I’m totally psyched about Mostyn!
There were three major influences in the creation of Pierce Mostyn and the uber-secret Office of Unidentified Phenomena (OUP): The X-Files, Stranger Things, and HP Lovecraft.
The X-Files, influenced by the earlier Kolchak: The Night Stalker, takes us into a world of paranormal phenomena, aliens, and government cover-ups. The conspiracy nut within me loves that stuff.
Stranger Things, the exceedingly popular paranormal show from Netflix, riffs on Lovecraft’s premise behind the Cthulhu Mythos and secret government projects.
Then there’s HPL himself. His notion of the insignificance of human beings vis-a-vis the vastness of the universe is the foundation of the cosmic horror sub-genre, which he created. His stories often hint at cover-ups, usually government, to protect people from the truth. And just as often there is a whistle blower to let us know what is really going on.
Lovecraft modernized the old gothic tale by expanding the scene from an old haunted house to the entire universe. The Great Old Ones are about to wake. Their worshippers are keeping the light on for them. And us? Why we are inconsequential. We don’t matter.
The horror lies in our insignificance; not the grotesque insanity that is a shoggoth, or the obscene un-naturalness that is Cthulhu.
This is very much like Nietzsche. For he noted in The Birth of Tragedy that science can only bring us to the point where we see that we are nothing when compared to the vast universe. We have as much significance as does a grain of sand on the beach. And the result of our coming to this realization of our insignificance is a profound and sustained nausea.
The terror in cosmic horror is the simple realization that we have no meaning in the grand scheme of things. We just think we do.
Nietzsche made the leap to art to give us meaning. Art, the act of being creative, like the gods, is what gives us humans meaning.
Lovecraft, in an effort to find meaning in the meaningless, retreated into antiquarianism and racial and cultural identity.
Religion, rejected by both Nietzsche and Lovecraft, is nothing more than an attempt to give humans meaning by means of rituals to help insure entrance into a good afterlife, where there is meaning. But not meaning for us as us. Only meaning in relation to something greater than us. That which is called by us God.
Cosmic horror, however, has power because in spite of our belief in God or rituals, we so very often feel as though nothing makes any sense and that we truly have no meaning or purpose in this life. That is true terror: that we will die and everything we’ve done won’t have mattered, because in the end we don’t matter.
Lovecraft created the Great Old Ones to visualize the uncaring of the universe. They don’t care about the humans on this planet they’ve invaded. We are as significant to them as ants are to us.
These are the influences that played upon the creators of The X-Files and Stranger Things and also played upon me in the creation of Pierce Mostyn.
We see in The X-Files that there are things out there, the truth, that are bigger than us. We are living deluded lives, because the truth is being hidden from us.
In Stranger Things, a hole is ripped in the fabric of our dimension as a result of a secret government spy program. The rip allows an interface between our world and the beyond. And what becomes crystal clear very early is that we don’t matter to the other dimensional entity. We are simply another meal source. We are simply ants on the sidewalk.
In the Pierce Mostyn Paranormal Investigations, Mostyn’s (and the OUP’s) job is to get rid of testimonies to our insignificance — all to protect the good people of the USA and the world. Which makes Mostyn something of a superhero and a trickster god (like Loki, or Dionysus, or Kokopelli).
Next week we’ll take a closer look at the cosmic horror sub-genre. Which I think is more terrifying that some grisly hacker/slasher story.
Comments are always welcome, and, until next time, keep telling yourself you have meaning. Oh, and happy reading!