— Counter-Currents —

“Our Hemingway, Only Better
Lovecraft Illuminated

AndersonLovecraft [1]4,583 words

James Arthur Anderson
Out of the Shadows: A Structuralist Approach to Understanding the Fiction of H. P. Lovecraft [2]
Introduction by S. T. Joshi.
Wildside Press, 2014

“Drawing the line between concrete detail and trans-dimensional suggestion is a very ticklish job.” — H. P. Lovecraft[1]

Constant Readers know that I am proud to be a natural born cheapskate, and so whenever a Lovecraft-related kindle goes on sale I immediately downloaded it with greedy delight. They’re not surprisingly a mixed bag, but all deserve some measure of attention, especially this one.

Out of the Shadows sets out to redress a curious situation: despite Lovecraft’s vast and continuing influence on horror and science fiction (as well as popular culture in general, from video games to mock presidential campaigns), his writings remain shunned by academics and literary critics.[2] Of interest apparently only to fans, “the study of Lovecraft has been forced into the shadows of literary criticism,” and many think it “should remain in the shadows.”

Anderson intends to “take Lovecraft out of the shadows of literature and shine the light of critical theory on his works.” By doing so, Lovecraft will stand revealed, not as the purple-prose writing buffoon who so irked Edmund Wilson, but as the most important writer of the twentieth century.

Well, that’s me talking. Prof. Anderson is more modest:

While I do not advocate that The Case of Charles Dexter Ward should replace A Farewell to Arms on the freshman reading list, I believe that Lovecraft does deserve a place in the canon of American literature between 1900 and 1940.

Come on, Professor, dream big! As we will see, to the Lovecraftian dreams can be the portal to what some call “reality.” I’ll let the reader decide how much

Professor Anderson is almost uniquely qualified for this task, since he is both a writer of weird fiction and an academic with a Ph.D. from the University of Rhode Island and a B.A. and M.A. from Rhode Island College (both suitably Lovecraftian locales); he currently teaches at Johnson & Wales University [3].[3]

Prof. Anderson is not one for half measures; he proposes to apply the most powerful, or at least most fashionable, critical methods to Lovecraft’s stories. As the subtitle says, he uses a structuralist approach (names like Barthes, Genette, Todorov, De Saussure, Levi-Strauss pop up, but only the first two are used extensively), but this is only a general classification.

Specifically, he takes from Barthes the idea of codes by which literary works can be analyzed and understood: the action code (“the narrative elements that distinguish the story from the discourse”), the hermeneutic code (which “reveals the series of questions or puzzles used the create suspense in the text”), and the cultural, connotative, and symbolic codes, which “work together to create character, enhance meaning, and determine theme in a literary work.”

Using Barthes‘s connotative code, I will show how Lovecraft created terror through language and mood. And with Barthes’ cultural, symbolic, and textual codes, I will examine Lovecraft’s major themes of cosmic horror and the destructive nature of truth — particularly artistic truth. I will also use the textual code to shed some insight into the nature of horror and the weird tales as perceived by its acknowledged master, H. P. Lovecraft.

It is my hope that applying a specific literary theory to the fiction of H. P. Lovecraft will demonstrate that his stories are much more complex than first appearances might indicate, and that a detailed textual analysis can prove fruitful. Such a theoretical approach will help to bring Lovecraft out of the shadows of literature and to the attention of mainstream literary critics

Moreover, as the author later notes,

Since structuralism has traditionally examined science fiction, horror, and other “unorthodox” genres in the same unbiased manner as works of mainstream literature, it is, perhaps, the most appropriate way of studying the works of H. P. Lovecraft.

My use of critical theory . . . attempts to analyze Lovecraft from an unbiased, “scientific” point of view, and demonstrates that Lovecraft’s stories have a great depth of meaning when subjected to such an analysis.

Fortunately, Prof. Anderson does not try to impress his colleagues with some kind of dense, opaque academic exercise, but instead trusts his texts enough to simply apply his codes and let the results speak for themselves. His “structuralist approach” is not really “a specific literary theory” but a point of view that makes eclectic use of a variety of available methods. Thus, the general reader, after some initial orientation, will find fascinating new angles[4] emerging from the shadows of seemingly familiar tales.

Part One examines four Lovecraft tales “in great detail, using a structuralist methodology.” “The Shadow Over Innsmouth” is analyzed first,[5] to distill the major themes of Lovecraft’s fiction: first, the so-called “Cthulhu” Mythos (a misnomer, as he notes), which he compares to Falkner’s Yoknapatawpha County cycle as a device which

[P]rovides a consistent and convincing setting upon which to build narrative, and allows each tale within the Mythos to enrich each other story through minor allusions that create complete images.

Second, heredity, or specifically, “reverse evolution,” the “reversion to the habits, customs and styles of ancestors.” And finally, and related to both, “the quest for truth by a protagonist and the resulting destruction that discovery of truth brings.”

This is all useful, but a bit ho-hum. With “Pickman’s Model” the codes begin to yield some interesting finds. The narrative code brings out Lovecraft’s uses of flashbacks and foreshadowings to keep the reader in suspense, while the hermeneutic code highlights the numerous enigmas: Why is the narrator afraid of the subway? Why did he “drop” Pickman? Whatever happened to Pickman anyway? “I’m coming to that” the narrator tells us, again and again.

The action code is most fascinating, as the story moves “from light to dark, from modern to ancient, and from above to below.” Darkness is especially key, as “Lovecraft shows its dual nature. Of course darkness is frightening; yet it is also fascinating in its own strange way.” For Pickman, “darkness represents an untapped source of creativity.” To “capture the darkness” in his mind, Pickman uses “the camera, which captures and holds reality even as a shadow reflects the image of the object creating it.”

If darkness represents artistic truth, it is only natural that it should be feared, for truth is not only painful, but often disgusting, loathsome, morbid and downright ugly.

The subterranean world of which Pickman is a part also represents artistic truth, since the farther one goes underground, the closer one gets to the truth. . . . The narrator’s fear of subways — or of anything underground, for that matter — is based on his fear of confronting this truth again, especially in direct form.

The cultural code highlights how Pickman is both fascinating to and ultimately shunned by polite Boston society, just as Lovecraft recognized that horror was “shunned by polite society” (and critics) yet was also mankind’s oldest and deepest fascination.

Finally, the connotative code “shows Lovecraft’s conception of fear and the horrible.”

Pickman’s horrible models are the product of evolution — an unnatural, reverse evolution perhaps, but evolution nonetheless. If one accepts the truths that science offers, then one must also accept the possibility of such monstrosities lurking somewhere in the universe.

And in the same way,

Lovecraft’s monsters, unlike the ghosts and vampires that inhabit the Gothic tale of terror, are realistic, grotesque, and quite disgusting. Lovecraft was one of the first writers of horror to depict his monsters in such realistic terms. Since his monsters represent truth — the frightening possibility that evolution could produce such monstrosities — it is only fitting that they be portrayed in realistic terms.

The character of Richard Upton Pickman symbolizes the creative artist and represents Lovecraft’s philosophy of art. Pickman the artist is a mirror of Lovecraft the writer. Both are “scientific realists” who portray evil in a life-like manner. And both used actual settings from the modern, everyday world to bring “the horror right into our own daily life!”[6]

There follows a “detailed study of the narrative devices” used in “The Rats in the Walls,” which again “portrays a human seeking truth about monsters by descending into the darkness,” but this time with an emphasis on “speeds of narrative movement” and how “the overall structure . . . works to telescope time.” The first two paragraphs are a sort of “abstract” which “begins with workmen finishing their labors of construction and ends with them completing their labors of destruction, forms a tight and mysterious cycle that contains the entire story of Delapore and his ancestor.”

In the same way, the story itself

[A]fter beginning with vast summaries detailing many years . . . slowly closes in upon itself, condensing time into smaller and smaller units which climax with a scene set in realistic time. This telescopic focus of time parallels the way we look at the Delapore family, which begins with a history of the family as a whole and then focuses upon a single terrible event in the narrator’s life. While the time frame narrows and becomes more focused, the suspense heightens as the narrative closes in upon the narrator, trapping him within its fictional walls.

As in “Pickman’s Model,” darkness reveals a terrible truth based upon the concept of reverse evolution.

Having established Lovecraft’s major themes and examined three of his major tales in detail, Part Two focusses on his contributions to the horror genre. The author again looks at one story (here, “Dagon”) for fundamental ideas; then examines four more short stories, “each of which will highlight a specific aspect to his unique vision of the weird tale in literature;” these are “The Shunned House” (irony); “The Colour Out of Space” (cosmic horror); “The Dunwich Horror” (mythology of fear); and “The Unnamable” (the power of language).

Part Three “explores Lovecraft’s vision of truth” as he expressed it in his chosen way, “through the devices of horror and science fiction,” giving us relatively brief looks at the proto-novel The Case of Charles Dexter Ward and the tales “The Outsider,” (an interesting reversal of “Pickman’s Model”), “From Beyond,” “The Haunter in [sic] the Dark,”[7] “The Whisperer in Darkness” and “The Shadow Out of Time.”

Lovecraft used horror and fantasy as more than just devices to create terror for readers of the pulp magazines of the time, but as tools to express his vision of truth and philosophy, which is really a cosmic reflection of the naturalism of Hemingway and other twentieth century American writers.

Lovecraft carefully crafted his unique kind of “weird tale” to go “beyond mere horror by looking at man and his environment through the touchstone of fantasy.” His monster are not merely mythological spooks to give us chills but a means by which he “metaphorically casts his shadows upon what we perceive as truth.”

When he comes to his conclusions, Prof. Anderson shows himself to be a bold man indeed; certainly, one after my own heart. Not content to reach a draw, or a grudging acknowledgment from the Academy that Lovecraft is, well, respectable enough, he insists on turning the received wisdom on its head.

He has been perceived as regressive because of the narrow-minded twentieth century privileging of realism, characterization, and introspection [when in fact] Lovecraft’s fiction actually represents a progressive view of the realism that defines the literature of this time.

Lovecraft, despite — as we’ll see, because of — his “fantastic” methodology, is actually a realist; in fact, the greatest, because most all-encompassing, realist of them all.

Yet while this shadow [Lovecraft’s work] may signify an absence of realism through its presence, it also signifies the presence of realism somewhere, for the realistic object must ultimately cast the shadow. Thus, Lovecraft’s works, even at their most fantastic, hint at the realistic horrors which cast the shadows. The shadow, the fantastic, is the device that captures the true, realistic vision of horror.

And, according to Lovecraft, this horror derives from science, nature, and knowledge rather than from the supernatural.

Lovecraft brings us into these shadows and shows us things we may not wish to see, for hidden away in his fantastic, impossible worlds there lurks a realistic, scientific view of the universe in which we live.

Lovecraft used horror and fantasy as more than just devices to create terror for readers of the pulp magazines of the time, but as tools to express his vision of truth and philosophy, which is really a cosmic reflection of the naturalism of Hemingway and other twentieth century American writers.

While the fantastic monsters do not exist on a literal level, the shadows they cast metaphorically reveal the silhouette of a realistic and disturbing universe that is remarkably similar to that expressed by other major authors of the era, but on a much more cosmic scale. 

Prof. Anderson employs the metaphor of the microscope vs. the telescope to illuminate how Lovecraft differs from the conventional realist:

Lovecraft’s style runs against the grain of the developmental path of twentieth century literature, and critics have incorrectly perceived this difference in style as a regression and a major flaw in his work.

Lovecraft pursued an entirely different sort of artistic development, a mode that expanded outwards into the universe rather than internally into the human mind.

While writers such as Faulkner and Joyce focused a microscope on the individual, Lovecraft turned his telescope onto distant galaxies.[8]

And surely the Academy, home of “it’s all relative, man,” cannot deny that “Lovecraft’s method of observation is equally valid.”

Although he does not attempt to delve greatly into the intricacies of individual human existence, as do Faulkner and Joyce, who privilege characterization, Lovecraft does attempt to explain humanity in the greater context of the universe in which it exists. . . . He uses the fantastic as a type of artificial light[9] with which to examine the cosmos and man’s place within it.

Sensing the battle going his way, Prof. Anderson presses his attack further: the reason Lovecraft’s realism is unnoticed is due to one of his chief “defects,” the lack of interest in character development (every protagonist is, effectively, Lovecraft himself[10]). And yet, this is no bug but a feature: “this lack of character development effectively reinforces his theme of human insignificance.”

Now this is certainly congruent with my longstanding view that hyper-realism is the key to the Lovecraft effect, as in the essays reprinted in The Eldritch Evola … & Others.[11]

And to turn the screw further, the active disparagement of introspection in Lovecraft reminds us of Evola’s dismissal of so-called “modern” writing, with all “its narrow-minded twentieth century privileging of realism, characterization, and introspection.” Evola writes that:

When speaking of modern art, the first thing to mention is its “intimate” quality, typical of a feminine spirituality that wants nothing to do with great historic and political forces; out of a morbid sensitivity it retreats into the world of the artist’s private subjectivity, valuing only the psychologically and aesthetically “interesting.” The works of Joyce, Proust and Gide mark the extreme of this tendency in literature.[12]

In short, compared to the super-realist Lovecraft, Hemingway was a fag.[13]

In Lovecraft’s world, even humankind is a mistake, a by-product of alien genetic engineering gone wrong. It is not the happy ending fantasy world of Tolkien’s Hobbits or the Mars men of Edgar Rice Burroughs, but rather the naturalism of a Hemingway taken to the Nth degree.[14]

The criticism that Lovecraft was unable, or even unwilling, to create believable human characters is also met by pointing out that Lovecraft’s horror or monster itself becomes a character, and that it is the monsters or villains that are the most memorable characters in horror or sci/fi.

From the point of view of popular culture, villains are much more interesting (and often more popular) than heroes, and this is even more true in horror fiction (i.e. Frankenstein’s monster and Dracula).

This recalls Trevor Lynch’s seminal suggestion, that in the modern world Traditionalist or simply non-PC themes can only be articulated by Bad Guys, who then, paradoxically, become the most compelling characters to the audiences.[15]

And the object of Lovecraft’s realism, the soul-blasting knowledge of the true vastness of space and time, and of man’s consequent nothingness,[16] corresponds, as I’ve said, to the mind-shattering nature of what is communicated by what Guénon and Evola denoted as Tradition.[17]

Truth often lies in the past in Lovecraft’s fiction. “It’s my business to catch the overtones of the soul,” says Pickman, and you won’t find those in a parvenu set of artificial streets on made land.” “I tell you, people knew how to live, and how to enlarge the bounds of life, in the old time!”

Another parallel to Tradition appears when Prof. Anderson discusses “The Whisperer in Darkness” — perhaps my favorite Lovecraft tale. Here the threat is not so much the odd little fungi-crustaceans from Pluto but nature itself. The wild, barely tamed mountain forests of Vermont — decades before smug urbanites like Bernie and Ben & Jerry moved in — are hardly “virgin;” rather it is the humans like the narrator, Wilmarth, who are the innocents.

But Prof. Anderson rejects the sexual interpretations that have been found, or read into, this tale. He expands the notion of temptation in Eden to its original meaning, man’s immortal quest for the knowledge that would confer immortality. As Evola unpacks it,

This vegetable symbolism[18] is the repository of a supernatural science, of a force capable of giving immortality and dominion, but at the same time warns of a multiple danger that complicates the myth . . .

This leads to a double possibility: in one case the tree is conceived as a temptation, which leads to ruin and damnation for anyone who succumbs to it; in the other, it is conceived as an object of possible conquest which, after dealing with the dragons [flying crustaceans?] or divine beings defending it, transforms the darer into a god and sometimes transfers the attributes of divinity or immortality from one race to another.[19]

These are the two fates of Wilmarth and Akeley; am I the only one who thinks Wilmarth was a fool not to take up the Mi-Go on their offer? As Prof. Anderson observes, even Wilmarth is changed, changed utterly (as Yeats would say) by his encounter; his position in the comfy chair of mythology has been upset by at least a modicum of unwelcome knowledge.

For Professor Anderson also makes the salient point that knowledge is both pursued and feared; in fact, it’s downright painful, a fact well known to those trying to “enlighten” their friends and co-workers.[20]

The discovery of truth in the Lovecraft canon is always painful, unpleasant, and destructive.

Despite his “realism,” however, Lovecraft believes truth lies with the artist, not the scientist:

To Lovecraft knowledge and enlightenment lie in the artistic truth of the imagination. Unlike the methodological logic of the scientist, this knowledge “like all dread glimpses of truth” results from “an accidental piecing together of separate things,” and this requires artistic imagination.[21]

But this is no idle playing with images in impossible juxtapositions; imagination, as others say of knowledge, is power. In “The Call of Cthulhu,” where “the dreams of the artists and the poets depict an unpleasant and forbidden truth that is unavailable to the more logical scientists,” it is “the articulation of this truth through the ‘call’ of Cthulhu [that] is powerful enough to bring the ancient entity back to life.” And in “Pickman’s Model” we learn that

. . . the really weird artist has a kind of vision which makes models, or summons up what amounts to actual scenes from the spectral world he lives in.

This comes close to the Hermetic idea of the power of imagination as found, for example, in Neville. One difference is that Lovecraft, in his Supernatural Horror in Literature, develops a typology that assigns emotion to romanticism and reason to realism, and asserts that imagination is rarer than either, while Neville, like Blake, considers man himself to be “all imagination” and assigns emotion a key role in the realization of imagination.[22]

Further of interest, Anderson goes on to suggest that “this idea parallels Lovecraft’s attempt to make fantasy realistic by giving it a scientific premise rather than a supernatural one,” which itself perhaps in turn parallels Neville’s insistence on creating heavily detailed and realistic fantasy scenes that imply that one’s wish is already fulfilled.

There are even a few unintentional chuckles along the way. For example, one reads that Lovecraft’s influence on “a whole generation of writers” (one would think it at least two, by now?) is acknowledged by the creation of the Lovecraft Award.” Little does the author in 2014 suspect what darkness approacheth . . . [23]

And there’s this curious typo: the Mythos tales are “specifically designed to highlight human inferiority and unimportance in the university.” No wonder they call for safe zones.

The book is complete with chronology, bibliography, and index (in the print edition).

Whether Prof. Anderson will succeed in rescuing Lovecraft from the extra-critical darkness is not for me to say, but the general reader will find this short book to be a source of stimulating new ideas and appreciations of this great — perhaps greatest? — White American writer.


1. Selected Letters Vol. III, p. 174; quoted in Anderson.

2. Despite appearing in 2011, Prof. Anderson does not refer at any point, in the text or notes, to the canonization of Lovecraft via his appearance in the Library of America (Tales, 2005), which would somewhat mitigate his point. His references are exclusively to Joshi’s corrected editions for Arkham House that appeared in 1985. In his Introduction Joshi refers to “my three editions [he means, volumes] of Lovecraft with Penguin Classics” which are based on his Arkham editions; he then notes, correctly, that “Lovecraft will not become a ‘classic’ merely because a publisher says so,” although it wouldn’t hurt.

3. Technically, that makes it a Lovecraftian triple play, as J&W’s main campus is in Providence, but Prof. Anderson plies his trade at the North Miami campus in Florida. Although founded as a business school, Johnson & Wales is best known, to me at least, for its Culinary Arts program, which I mention not to snark but for the warm memories it brings to mind of the early days of the Food Channel, where Emeril Lagasse (honorary doctorate, 1979) and Julia Child (honorary doctorate, 1995) reigned supreme.

4. Cf. my “Knowing All the Angles: The Lovecraftian Fiction of Don Webb,” here [4].

5. For a rather different analysis, see Greg Johnson’s talk delivered in honor of H. P. Lovecraft’s birthday (August 20, 1890) at a Counter-Currents gathering in New York City on August 16, 2015, here [5].

6. Lovecraft is also himself the “whisperer in darkness,” who “does not shout his truths, but whispers them, knowing that his readers will make the connections and understand the tales.”

7. Why Prof. Anderson consistently refers to this tale thusly in a puzzle; it is called “The Haunter of the Dark” in every edition I have, all using Joshi’s texts, with no alternative listed in his notes. There seems to be a Spanish translation as “El Que Acecha En La Oscuridad,” FWIW.

8. All this puts Lovecraft’s well-known antipathy to “modernists” like T. S. Eliot in an interesting light. Focusing his realistic techniques on the stars, not shop-girls, one thinks of him sneering at Joyce & Co. the way Pickman sneers at the lily-livered old maids who threw him out of the Boston Art Club.

9. Again, we might recall Prof. Anderson’s suggestion that Pickman is a projection of Lovecraft, or of his ideal of the artist, and note that Pickman works by artificial light as well as making use of photographic equipment.

10. Thus, also justifying the “antiquated” language favored by Lovecraft: “Not only does his antiquated style mirror his major themes, but it is also an appropriate vehicle for his narrators, who are, for the most part, scholars living in the past.” Again, a feature, not a bug.

11. San Francisco: Counter-Currents, 2014. See especially “The Princess and the Maggot,” comparing the methods of Henry James and Lovecraft.

12. Ride the Tiger, chapter 22, “Dissolution in Modern Art.” Dissolution is of course an interesting word to use in the context of Lovecraft. Need we point out that this “feminine” style is perhaps more accurately dubbed “Judaic”?

13. McManus, in The Usual Suspects, is on the roof, marking Hungarian/Argentinian gangsters that he’s about to shoot, whispering “1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 . . . Oswald was a fag.” That is, as Sen. Long explains in Oliver Stones’ JFK: “He had Maggie’s drawers . . . you know what that means? Means he couldn’t shoot.”

14. Consider the famous ending of Hemingway’s contemporaneous “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” (1933): “’Our nada who art in nada, nada be thy name thy kingdom nada thy will be nada in nada as it is in nada. Give us this nada our daily nada and nada us our nada as we nada our nadas and nada us not into nada but deliver us from nada; pues nada.’”

15. “But wait,” some of you might say, “the Joker is a monster!” Heath Ledger claimed that the Joker was ‘a psychopathic, mass murdering, schizophrenic clown with zero empathy.’ Surely you don’t like someone like that!” But remember, we are dealing with Hollywood here. In a “free” society we can’t suppress dangerous truths altogether. So we have to be immunized against them. That’s why Hollywood lets dangerous truths appear on screen, but only in the mouths of monsters: Derek Vinyard in American History X, Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver, Bill the Butcher in Gangs of New York [6], Ra’s al Ghul in Batman Begins, the Joker in The Dark Knight, etc.” See his review of The Dark Knight, here [7].

16. “Even now I absolutely refuse to believe what he implied about the constitution of ultimate infinity, the juxtaposition of dimensions, and the frightful position of our known cosmos of space and time in the unending chain of linked cosmos-atoms which makes up the immediate super-cosmos of curves, angles, and material and semi-material electronic organisation.” — “The Whisperer in Darkness.”

17. See the title essay of The Eldritch Evola. From the other direction, Guénon would certainly agree with Lovecraft’s reasoning; as the former says several times, compared to the Infinite, any finite thing is strictly speaking nothing. On the other hand, Guénon says that the scientific materialist, such as Lovecraft, makes man both less and more than he really is — by focusing on man’s finite nature and making it the measure of all things, while denying all else; making him what Watts called a “genuine fake,” a “skin-encapsulated ego” and denying his true destiny.

18. Fungi are vegetables, or close enough; so are mushrooms. See the research collected by Michael Hoffman at egodeath.com.

19. The Hermetic Tradition (Rochester, Vermont [!!]: Inner Traditions, 1995), Chapter One: “The Tree, the Serpent and the Titans.” For more on this, from a bracingly contemporary viewpoint, see Jason Reza Jorjani, Prometheus and Atlas (London: Arktos, 2016).

20. The comically extended fight sequence of They Live! (“Put on the glasses!” “No!”) dramatizes this with amusing literalness; see my review in The Eldritch Evola.

21. As an artist himself, Lovecraft might be supposed to be a bit biased; indeed, did he not turn to fiction after the frustration of his desire to become an astronomer? On balance, though, I think he’s right; the creative scientist needs to have the right touch, what Spengler called “physiognomic tact,” to see the right connections. For the need to access extra-scientific sources for the advancement of knowledge, see Jorjani, op. cit.

22. See my “Battle of the Magicians: Evola Between the Druid and the Dancer,” here [8], and my Afterword to Neville’s Feeling is the Secret [9] (Amazon Kindle, 2016).

23. See my “The Horror! The Horror! Reflections on the H. P. Lovecraft Award, here [10]; and Greg Johnson’s’ “The Counter-Currents H. P. Lovecraft Prize for Literature,” here [11].