Sunday, April 8, 2012

A Sentence That Just Blew My Mind

"It is difficult to believe that Howard Phillips Lovecraft was a literary contemporary of Ernest Hemingway." Robert Bloch, from his essay, 'On Poe & Lovecraft'

It alarmed me to read that line. Yes, HP Lovecraft and Ernest Hemingway were contemporaries, but it's hard to think of two more different men.

In Hemingway, you definitely have a man of his times. Not only is he a man of his times, he is also an expression of his times. In Lovecraft you have--if you want to put it romantically--a man out of his times. It's possible that you could say he is a 'man of his times', but only if you consider reaction equal to embrace. Here is the paragraph that precedes the above sentence:
"Nor would a reader find more typically American protagonists amongst the pendants, professors and regionally-oriented recluses of Lovecraft's tales, in which there's scarcely a hint of the manners and mores of the Roaring Twenties or the Great Depression which followed in the ensuing decade. Aside from a few remarks regarding the influx of immigrants and concomitant destruction of old folkways and landmarks, plus brief mentions of the (intellectually) "wild" college set, Lovecraft ignores the post WW1 Jazz Age in its entirety: Coolidge, Hoover, FDR, Lindbergh, Babe Ruth, Al Capone, Valentino, Mencken and the prototypes of Babbit have no existence in HPL's realm."
Hemingway was attuned to the zeitgeist of his era. In fact, when you think of that era, Hemingway's face is one of the first to pop into mind. Although Lovecraft was of the same era, he definitely wasn't in it.

Once the shock of seeing two very disparate characters juxtaposed, certain similarities do materialize. Hemingway died of a self inflicted gunshot wound to the head. Lovecraft carried a cyanide capsule around in his pocket, just in case. Both men chose the same medium in which to project their inner lives onto the outer world. Perhaps that's it. Lovecraft abhorred what Hemingway embraced, and it's hard to imagine Hemingway's mind comprehending Lovecraft in anything like a sympathetic light.

But under a good light, when you look at Hemingway & Lovecraft, you do see two men looking at the same thing. They are two very different men, but there is an important commonality. The shotgun and the cyanide capsule, I think, are key.


A reader called 'entlord' over at Daily Kos chimes in: 
"both of them dealt in myth.  HPL created an entire pantheon of "elder gods" and forgotten rituals to make his own myths.  Hemingway used himself as the raw material of his myths.  For example, Hemingway told the story of how he liberated Paris single handed did not happen as he claimed.
Also both men were plagued by their relationship with their mothers whereby affecting their relationship with women for the rest of their lives."
Maybe the chasm isn't as wide as I had thought?

Another commenter suggested that a Hemingway/Lovecraft team-up might have been fun. I've always thought it would be cool to see Wes Anderson turn 'At the Mountains of Madness' into a movie: Willem Defoe, Bill Murray, and Jeff Goldblum as leaders of the expedition.

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