H.P. Lovecraft, the Unknown, and Foreign Countries

May 27th, 2010 by admin Leave a reply »

During my time in Spain, I have finally gotten around to reading the Library of America compilation of H.P. Lovecraft’s writings, titled Tales. I had been meaning to read the volume for some time, but I always seemed to have something more compelling to read. This is often the case with my reading habits, but was particularly acute in this case since Lovecraft wrote what was then (the early 20th century) called “weird fiction”, but is now be called “horror”. Horror is not the most versatile of genres, and the mood to read it never seemed to surface. Now, lack of alternatives have forced my hand, and I am quite happy they did, as I am really enjoying Lovecraft’s writing.

Horror is probably not the right word to capture the experience of reading the stories; suspense is a more fitting word. Lovecraft’s stories are typically structured like simple ghost stories, starting rather mundanely and finishing with a startling revelation.

What I really enjoy about the writing is that, despite being rather predictable, each story delves into our fear of the murky, silent, and unknown aspects of our world. Lovecraft’s horrors are mysterious, unknowable and vast, but they reside in our cellars, attics and dilapidated buildings. This combination of unknown and mundane is the central force of Lovecraft’s writing, inspiring readers to think twice before going down to the basement to get a new light bulb.

Going to a foreign country inspires in some people the same sense of mundane/horror as Lovecraft’s writing elicits. Not understand what people are saying, not knowing what the signs say, and not being able to communicate causes uneasiness, isolation, and panic in many travelers. My wife and I are intermediate Spanish speakers (though by no means fluent), and even we are apprehensive when approaching an important conversation here in Spain. Fortunately, we have found that the locals are relatively forgiving of our clumsy Spanish, and are grateful that we are making the effort and not merely speaking loud, slow English. Barcelona is a little trickier than the rest of Spain, since here the signs are are in Catalan (which bears a passing resemblance to Spanish), though all the locals speak at least Spanish as well. Even so, I do feel a bit lost at times when trying to decipher words with many more X’s than I am comfortable with.

I can’t imagine the moxie necessary to move to a country where you don’t speak the language, and the locals are not as forgiving. It gives me new respect for immigrants, who all had to face down the horror hiding behind every conversation and every street sign.

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