Considering that Rhode Island is probably the last place in the world where one would suspect that there might be something nasty lurking in the woodshed or that things might feel moved to go bump in the night, it has played a disproportionately large role in the history and development of the horror story.
Despite enjoying closer associations with Baltimore and Philadelphia, Edgar Allan Poe was also a visitor to Providence in 1848 when he wooed poet and critic, Sarah Helen Whitman. Poe, whose capacity for doomed romance characterised his life almost as much as his superbly crafted stories of horror and suspense, was no more successful in this case. Despite proposing marriage to Whitman three days after their first meeting, the engagement was broken in December 1848, less than three months later. On October 7th 1849 Poe died in Baltimore, aged 40.
By contrast, Howard Phillips Lovecraft was a true son of Rhode Island. Born in Providence on August 20th 1890, the man whom Stephen King famously called “the twentieth century’s greatest practitioner of the classic horror tale” died there in 1937, after a period spent in Boston and Brooklyn.
Lovecraft’s popularity is just as intense in the twenty-first century. Despite his currently unfashionable right-wing political beliefs, annual conventions are held to celebrate his occasionally arcane writings and to evaluate cinematic adaptations of his work.
Much of Lovecraft’s oeuvre is intensely weird, critics tending to group it into three distinct categories: macabre stories (approximately 1905-1920), Dream Cycle stories (approximately 1920-1927) and finally Cthulhu Mythos/Lovecraft Mythos stories (approximately 1925 to 1935).
Heavily influenced by Poe and allegedly inspired by his own experience of night terrors, Lovecraft’s writings are a logical response to his atheism. Having created a pantheon of alien gods, his stories typically revolve around a protagonist who finds it impossible to escape his fate.
Controversial French author, Michel Houellebecq in his consideration of Lovecraft’s work ‘H.P. Lovecraft Against the World, Against Life’, claims that most of Lovecraft’s work was inspired by racial hatred. If true, it is even more remarkable that this writer is still revered today. Yet in the novels of Clive Barker and Neil Gaiman, the movies of Guillermo Del Toro and John Carpenter and even in the music of various rock bands who claim a Lovecraftian influence, his unquiet spirit lives on.