Forefathers of Sword and Sorcery: H.P. Lovecraft


"I say, in all sincerity, that no writer, past or modern, has equalled you in the realm of bizarre fiction. (...) Your horror-tales are built starkly of black iron... And indeed, many writers of the bizarre are showing your influence in their work, not only in Weird Tales but in other magazines as well; earlier evidences of an influence which will grow greater as time goes on, for it is inevitable that your work and art will influence the whole stream of American weird literature, and eventually the weird literature of the world."

-- Extracts from Robert E. Howard's correspondence with Lovecraft

“[Lovecraft's] death will be a personal bereavement to all lovers of fine imaginative writing... The loss is profound and irreparable for us who remain behind: for it is safe to say that his peer will not be found again.” 

-- Clark Ashton Smith

"I'd like to thank you not only for being kind enough to write, but for opening my eyes to the possibilities of dignity in the type of writing I enjoy, and in the possibilities of merit in my own work, which is so florid and splashy in contrast to your own and that of the other great weird-fiction writers that until now it has been impossible for me to take it very seriously."

-- C.L. Moore to H. P. Lovecraft, 3 April 1935

"And many shall mourn the Titan:
I shall mourn my friend."

-- Henry Kuttner, "For H. P. Lovecraft" (Apr 1937)

"Lovecraft is sometimes thought of as having been a lonely man. He made my life far less lonely, not only during the brief half year of our correspondence but during the twenty years after."

-- Fritz Leiber, "My Correspondence with Lovecraft"*


Need I say more? Of course I will. H.P. Lovecraft was born one hundred and twenty-eight years ago today and when it comes to the Forefathers of Sword and Sorcery, he is truly a Great Old One. The two co-founders of sword and sorcery fiction both considered HPL to be possibly the greatest living writer and all of the First Generation S&S authors were part of the Lovecraft Circle. All of them.

Lovecraft can credibly lay claim to having the most immediate impact on that First Generation of any S&S Forefather. One facet of that effect was the sheer literary influence. All of them were blown away by tales such as "The Call of Cthulhu" and "The Dunwich Horror." Those stories opened up vistas of cosmic terror which gave the early S&S authors a roadmap to step beyond "mere fantasy"--as REH once dubbed it--and create adventure tales brimming with more darkness and strangeness than had been seen before. Some, like REH and CAS, even directly incorporated Lovecraft's Mythos into their own universes--and HPL enthusiastically returned the favor.

Another, less acknowledged facet of the "Lovecraft effect" was how his correspondence with--and his encouragement of--the First Generation drove them to innovate and push boundaries in their own tales. The above quotes from Moore, Kuttner and Leiber all demonstrate how much Lovecraft's support and friendship meant to them. Both Smith and Howard were flattered when HPL incorporated elements of their world-building into his own Mythos.

Beyond the First Generation and long after his own death, the Man from Providence continued to exert his eldritch influence on succeeding waves of S&S scribes--just as REH predicted. Manly Wade Wellman, Ramsey Campbell, Richard L. Tierney, Lin Carter, Karl Edward Wagner, David Drake, Keith Taylor, Michael Shea, John C. Hocking and many others who have written of bloody blades wielded against cosmic darkness give credit to Lovecraft's influence. Even de Camp, whose own branch of S&S is marked by its lack of Lovecraftian elements, grudgingly admired HPL. 

No, as much as some sword and sorcery aficionados would like to mock Lovecraft for "his heroes always running away or going mad"--an inaccuracy to be addressed in a future post--and sundry other complaints, the fact remains that the Old Gent assisted mightily in the birth of S&S and continues to influence the genre to this day.

*My thanks to Bobby Derie for help researching this article.