Writers who consider their voice in horror writing know that there is a long tradition in literature concerning the supernatural and the mysterious. From the classics of a headless horseman (Irving), a scientific abomination made into a monster (Shelly), slogan pitching raven (Poe), to the great Gothic tale of the count himself (Stoker). All these stories are boilerplate literature in terms of horror, ghost stories, and Gothic storytelling.
In reading Supernatural Horror in Literature, H. P. Lovecraft paints a similar portrait of the world of the mysterious and the supernatural. His pages are filled with connections and ideas from the ancients to his contemporaries in 1927. While I was reading his words, I began to realize how much there is in the world of traditional literature that relates to unnatural thoughts and ideas. His ideas and connections in this text is worth looking at in terms of thinking about how many writers dabbled in ghosts, monsters, curses, and the dark nature of the human condition. This might be a good place (this blog) to share connections and ideas. Connecting to the text is important because it will allow readers to explore in their own way and time.
Lovecraft wrote a brief but dense survey into the world of supernatural horror. In considering his connections, it was interesting to go back and consider gaps in my reading. I was fascinated by his discussion of the corpse-bride concept that was explored through a long line of writers including Goethe’s poetry. He is famous for his bargain-striking Faust, but this poem speaks to the supernatural elements of this ancient and elemental part of history. Perhaps these ideas are exploring archetypes that have always been part of culture. Perhaps as long as we have pondered death, we have also pondered the return of the dead in spirit, body, or otherwise. What do we glean from our human condition to consider the heavy influence of ghosts in Shakespeare, the curse of a dead bird around the neck of a sailor, or the birth of a beautiful statue in the myth of Pygmalion? Are we constantly seeking out the supernatural? Are we waiting for it? Seeing it? Desiring it? Literature certainly allows us to explore the what-if in the supernatural, to entertain immortality with a strange man from Transylvania – or hear the heartbeat of guilt pound in the floorboards – awaiting frightened hands to rip up the floor.
One of the road signs mentioned in Lovecraft’s writing is Charles Brockden Brown who wrote a novel titled Edgar Huntly: Or, Memoirs of a Sleep-Walker. It is certainly classic American writing before the great stories from Washington Irving – and while the style might seem old and convoluted, there is something very complex and dark about the ideas in this novel. It deals with murder, it deals with the idea sleepwalking, fate, and some other strange twists. Not the best horror story out there, but an influential precursor of what was to come in American horror writing through the 1800s. It would easy to connect some of this style and vision to Irving and even to the ideas of Nathaniel Hawthorne in stories like Roger Malvin’s Burial and Ethan Brand.
It is worth connecting back to literature, not only for inspiration, but to connect with the human condition. In E. M. Forster’s Howard’s End, his inscription read, “Only Connect…” I always find that such a brilliant and thought-provoking few words. Reading and approaching the vast stores of literature around us, we need good guides like Lovecraft to help us connect and realize where horror and supernatural stories might lurk. Using Lovecraft’s map helps see different elements of the past so we can build forward to new creations, stories, and ideas.
Ron Samul is a writer and college educator. He is a contributing author to a Western legends project to be released later this year. Check out his work and ideas at Ronsamul.org