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HP Lovecraft: Horrible man, great writer, now collected in annotated edition

Leslie Klinger and his 852-page
Leslie Klinger and his 852-page "The New Annotated H.P. Lovecraft"
John Rabe

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"It is absolutely necessary, for the peace and safety of mankind, that some of earth’s dark, dead corners and unplumbed depths be let alone; lest sleeping abnormalities wake to resurgent life, and blasphemously surviving nightmares squirm and splash out of their black lairs to newer and wider conquests."  — HP Lovecraft's "At the Mountains of Madness," 1931

He wrote like nobody before him, and no one since. Stephen King called him “the twentieth century's greatest practitioner of the classic horror tale.” He was HP Lovecraft, whose works are now collected and curated by scholar Leslie Klinger in "The New Annotated HP Lovecraft," with an introduction by Alan Moore.

“He was very much a stylist, a craftsman, and I think writers like Neil Gaiman, Robert Bloch, Clive Barker and Dean Koontz — they all absorbed that and realized that’s how you write scary stuff," says Klinger. "You don’t start with something that has blood and gore. You write an atmosphere. You build it up.”

While he was alive, Lovecraft was unknown and made very little money from his writing. He had a few stories published before he died at the age of 46, but not much else. “He had only a single book published in his lifetime,” says Klinger. “He was clearly a commercial failure and sort of the quintessential starving artist.”

Now, Lovecraft is regarded as one of the most important horror writers of the twentieth century. Authors like Joyce Carol Oates, Stephen King and Dean Koontz name him as an influence. But there’s a side to Lovecraft that’s hard for fans to ignore: he was a horrible bigot.

“He liked the idea that Germany should be a single race nation,” says Klinger. “I don’t think he was in favor of genocide, but he’d like to be able to have a country where all you had to see was white Anglo-Saxon Protestants from Providence.”

Klinger says that Lovecraft’s bigotry isn’t obvious in most of his work, but if you dig deep enough, you can see how it shapes his stories.

“There isn’t overt anti-semitism or racism in 99 percent of the stories,” says Klinger. “But it also empowers the stories. His stories are completely about outsiders - humans, that are the minority in the galaxy - so I think that if you take away that terrible, deluded racism and bigotry from his personality, you’d also take away the guts of his stories.”

Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated Lovecraft's age at the time of his death. KPCC regrets the error.