The Outsider: H.P. Lovecraft

The legacy of H.P. Lovecraft and the writers he has inspired cannot be questioned. The entire anthologies developed where other writers whose works have been influenced by Lovecraft right “Lovecraftian” stories. So I’ve read The Call of Cthulhu in the in the past, mainly to see the influences on my favorite writers.

But that was pretty much where it stopped. I’ve never been a fan of Lovecraft’s style prose and in part of his extraordinary influence on the horror genre (there are Lovecraft games) the shock value of his stories falls flat for me. I guess when you’ve seen one man lose hi mind by looking into knowledge that he should not know you think you’ve seen them all.

I may have made a mistake with Lovecraft. And I think I will look into reading more of his work after revisiting The Call of Cthulhu, and discovering The Outsider and Pickman’s Model.

I enjoyed both works thoroughly. In particular, I found Pickman’s Model of fantastic musing on the nature of creating horrific works. At what point of time, Lovecraft asks, does the artist become the monster? Is there a moment in the life of a horror writer, when she must step back and ask if she is doing this to entertain and frighten readers or if she is taking a sadistic delight in torturing readers. Is a category of horror novels and movies that exist simply to shock and gross out audience members. While some of these stories certainly have artistic value that transcends the initial gore there is also gore for gore’s sake and I think, for someone like H.P. Lovecraft, that’s probably the line Pickman crossed. When the artist lost himself so much to his creation that he became monstrous.

The Outsider also struck me in a deeply personal way. H.P. Lovecraft was notoriously a shy man.  He had precious few friends and he primarily interacted with those people through letters. Without studying the man, I believe he probably suffered from some form of social anxiety, not unlike myself.  While my particular disorder leads to aggression, most people with this kind of anxiety become afraid of other people’s judgement and blame themselves for being socially inept.  All of us struggle to connect and take part in the everyday social activities and is easy to feel like there’s something fundamentally wrong with you when you see other people able to instantly connect and make friends.

This narrator’s intense journey to end his isolation made me think of the uphill battle people with social anxiety fight every day.  We ask ourselves if it would be easier, if the world would be better off, if we simply stayed locked inside our own darkness?  Should we stay hidden from people we cannot interact with, people who we frighten as much as a brightness, people who we might harm without meaning too?  Is it safer to never seeing sunlight, stars, or the moon, to live only in the tangled forests of our own mind behind the dark walls of our own imagining?

For H.P. Lovecraft I think the answer was to stay sheltered, to protect himself from the judgments of others, and I’m sure in his own mind to protect others from his corrupting influence.  One of the strange things about social anxiety is how it can turn a person against himself. Each thought becomes another source of shame, every action can be misconstrued, misunderstood, and judged harshly. And H.P. Lovecraft’s world was a judgmental one.  His society was watching for miscreants, ready to shun outsiders and artists with strange themes as the gallery owners shun Pickman. Like Edgar Allan Poe before him, Lovecraft was never able to live off his writing and died without knowing the great debt later generations would owe his weird and twisted tales.

2 thoughts on “The Outsider: H.P. Lovecraft

  1. Perhaps that was why I fell in love with The Outsider. I have some social anxiety as well and suffer from a constant sense of “not good enough”. So that story touched me deeply. I felt connected to the monster but it never occurred to me that Lovecraft was potentially suffering the same anxieties as I.
    As for Pickman’s model, that is perhaps what Lovecraft was trying to avoid: gore for gore’s sake. I wanted some gore though. That was my complaint. I was ready to see what depravities Pickman had come up with. Perhaps I am the problem, I want the gore.
    And Cthulhu was just blah for me.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. It’s so interesting that so many people are liking “The Outsider” in this class. I never really associated this story with Lovecraft’s (probable) social anxiety disorder, but you may have hit on something here. Like a lot of us, I’m a fellow sufferer. Although, as I’ve gotten older I’ve learned to blow a lot of it off. Thank God.
    I also agree that half of “Lovecraft” is just acknowledging his influence on SO MUCH of horror literature. So, whether you like him or not, you’ve gotta read him — just to see what all the hype is about. And then, if you’re lucky, you find one or two stories you really like. Speaking of which, “The Rats in the Walls” — if that didn’t influence Stephen King’s short story, “Graveyard Shift” I’ll eat my Spanx.


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