H.P. Lovecraft

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(HOST) It’s nearly Halloween, and commentator Joe Citro has been thinking about one of New England’s writers of scary stories – not as well known as some perhaps, but one of the best.

(CITRO) Here we are in October, that scary time of the year when we embrace phantoms, vampires, and other bumps in the night.

Generally I tell a ghost story in honor of Hallowe’en. But this year I want to pay homage to an influential New Englander – that writer of terrifying tales, Howard Phillips Lovecraft. Though he may not be known to many of today’s readers, he nonetheless maintains a devoted worldwide following seventy years after his death.

And most contemporary writers of the fiction of fear will acknowledge him as a major influence: Stephen King, Anne Rice, Robert Bloch – and I would have to include myself.

H.P. Lovecraft was born in Providence, Rhode Island in 1890.

He lived the rest of his life – a mere forty-seven years – as if he were part of the 19th century, employing an oddly anachronistic, adjective-laden literary style that never found traction during his lifetime.

Admittedly there are two divisions of Lovecraft scholars: those who think he is great, and those who say he’s a bad writer of accidental greatness. But when the Library of America recently published their collection of H.P. Lovecraft’s Tales, his reputation seemed secured.

Because he was so devoted to his Providence, the state of Rhode Island has slowly come to recognize Mr. Lovecraft as a native son worth celebrating. . . or at least capitalizing on. Over the years there have been classes, festivals, conferences that commemorate the author and perpetuate his stories. Among them: The Dunwich Horror, The Colour out of Space, The Shadow over Innsmouth, and – for the purposes of today’s commentary – The Whisperer in the Darkness.

Although many of his tales are set in loosely-disguised New England locations, The Whisperer in the Darkness is set in Vermont. I read it when I was in the 7th grade. It made me realize that it wasn’t necessary to travel to distant, exotic locales to find horror. It was happening here. Right underfoot. In that sense Mr. Lovecraft was among my first writing teachers.

He had visited Vermont and explored the locations he wrote about, as a guest of Vrest Orton – of “Vermont Country Store” fame. In 1928 Mr. Orton wrote, “Lovecraft is a very great writer… perhaps so great that he will never be appreciated.”

Novelist Joe Citro is a native Vermonter, who lives in Burlington. He’ll be Fran Stoddard’s guest Tuesday night for VPR’s Halloween edition of Switchboard.

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