Over the course of the past few weeks, I’ve found that blogging less has made me much more productive as a book writer. I’ve churned out 25,000 words of my new book on midcentury panics in the past five or six weeks, and I am remarkably pleased with the results. However, I can’t let weeks pass without offering at least a few words about the new series Lovecraft Country, currently airing on HBO. The series, based on a 2016 novel I have never read (having a kid really cuts down on reading time), transforms traditional horror tropes by filtering them through the experience of midcentury Black Americans, directly critiquing the racism inherent in classic horror stories, especially H. P. Lovecraft’s.
I am busy this week working on other projects, but I want to call your attention to Britain's The Telegraph newspaper, where I was quoted yesterday in an article about the failed adaptation of At the Mountains of Madness that was to have starred Tom Cruise. Writer Ed Power quotes from my article about Lovecraft and Scientology in order to explain the similarities between the Cthulhu Mythos and L. Ron Hubbard's daffy cosmology and then speculates about whether the similarities might have caused trouble for Scientology:
It’s pure speculation but Cruise would no doubt have been aware of the opprobrium weathered by fellow scientologist John Travolta following his adaptation of Hubbard’s Battlefield Earth in 2000. Even the names HP Lovecraft and L. Ron Hubbard have a similar chime. Throw in extraterrestrials and elaborate creation mythology and it feels certain that – however unfairly or inaccurately – Cruise’s beliefs would be publicly linked to Lovecraft’s cosmology.
When I published The Cult of Alien Gods thirteen years ago, expanded from a Skeptic magazine article I had published the year before, I was genuinely surprised that a lot of people, mostly fans of H. P. Lovecraft, were outraged. Several critics found absurd my conclusion that Lovecraft had taken ideas about prehistoric extraterrestrial contact articulated by Theosophy and Charles Fort and transmitted them to the midcentury UFO and ancient astronaut writers. Still others were deeply upset that the book discussed—in 2005, two years before the housing bubble burst—the argument the great historian Jacques Barzun had made that the West had grown decadent and faced a long period of stagnation and decline, something I mentioned because it echoed Lovecraft’s pessimistic view that similar envisioned America in a spiral of corruption and decline.
I have been waiting a very long time to report a fun and fascinating story of the “true” origins of the Necronomicon, and now I finally can! Several years ago, Jeb J. Card shared with me some of his intriguing research into the influence of the so-called “Curse of King Tut” on H. P. Lovecraft’s work as well as some conclusions he drew about the parallels between a particular episode in the history of the curse and Lovecraft’s fictitious history of the Necronomicon. I haven’t said anything about it because I have been waiting for Card to publish his findings, which are now in print in the compelling new volume Spooky Archaeology, published this month by the University of New Mexico Press. With the material in print, I can share with you how I accidentally translated the “real” Necronomicon and lived to tell the tale.
THE SLENDERMAN MYSTERIES
Nick Redfern | 2018 | 288 pages | New Page Books | ISBN: 978-1-63265-112-9 | $15.99
In 2009 a man named Eric Knudsen created photo art of a thin, mysterious supernatural man in a suit, and he posted these photo illustrations to Something Awful, where they became the fodder for countless online stories of a creature soon known as Slender Man, sometimes stylized as Slenderman. In this, it was not entirely different from the fictitious Blair Witch of 1999, or the Cthulhu Mythos of H. P. Lovecraft’s fiction. In each case, a fictitious creation came to be embraced as “real” by fans who should have known better. The story of Slender Man is important, however, because in 2014 two 12-year-old girls lured a third into the woods in Waukesha, Wisconsin and stabbed her 19 times in an effort to impress the Slender Man. The victim survived, but the perpetrators were found not guilty by reason of insanity. Each was sentenced to decades in a mental health facility. The incident undercuts the collective “fun” to be had from pretending a fictitious thing was real.
When I reviewed a book on the egregores of occult belief yesterday, I noted that the concept originated from Éliphas Lévi, an occultist and ceremonial magician of the nineteenth century. He first applied the myth of the Watchers to supernatural entities that watch over human activity in 1868, in his book The Great Secret, though this book was not published until 1898. I will confess to not having read Lévi's book, but I was intrigued enough by the references to the Watchers, Giants, and Nephilim to read the chapter about them. This, in turn, surprised me greatly when I saw how Lovecraftian the material was, anticipating by seven decades the idea of titanic supernatural entities beyond time and space and beyond human comprehension, whose random movements affect human actions but which are utterly indifferent to us, as we care nothing for ants and mites. It is no wonder, therefore, that ceremonial magicians suspected that Lovecraft had channeled the same magical powers as Lévi. The similarities are uncanny, but not inexplicable. Lovecraft knew of Lévi's writing from an English translation of some of his work, published in 1896 and 1897, though this book did not include The Great Secret. Drawing on similar source material, both authors had struck upon similar ideas, with Lovecraft bending toward Lévi both because of his reading of him and his reading of secondary sources that discussed his ideas. While The Great Secret was translated into English in 2000, the text is under copyright, so I have translated the relevant chapter for my Library. It is well worth the read, both because of its relevance to understanding the occult version of the Watchers myth and for its anticipation of Lovecraft. My translation can be found here.
EGREGORES: THE OCCULT ENTITIES THAT WATCH OVER HUMAN DESTINY
Mark Stavish | 160 pages | Inner Traditions | ISBN: 9781620555781 | (price not available)
I don’t usually review books of mysticism and New Age philosophy, but I make an exception where such books cross over into territory familiar to me, especially when they touch on either the Watcher angels from the Book of Enoch or H. P. Lovecraft. Occasionally, we find a book that mixes together both. Egregores: The Occult Entities That Watch Over Human Destiny (Inner Traditions, 2018) is one such book, and author Mark Stavish provides some confounding ideas about the relationship between Fallen Angels and the Cthulhu Mythos in a confusing book that is half book report and half New Age instruction manual. The book is due out in July, and this is an early review.
I know it’s been a bit of a refrain recently, but it has become rather difficult to find new and interesting things to write about. I thought about saying something on Trump judicial nominee Brett J. Talley, who is a ghost hunter and a horror novelist since he has some rather odd views about his professed influence, H. P. Lovecraft. But, really, there isn’t much to say that hasn’t already been discussed far and wide. Basically, he doesn’t know how to define Lovecraftian fiction: “The subgenre of Lovecraftian fiction, I feel like is not really that well defined,” Talley said in 2013. “What makes stuff Lovecraft? And I think really if you asked people, you’d get a lot of arguments about this.” Not really, but it’s just not something worth spilling ink (or pixels) over.
It seems like most of the fringe history purveyors have been laying low this month, the traditional time for a summer vacation. Or maybe the current flap over white supremacy has left purveyors of bad ideas about the past trying to stay below radar since so many of their ideas tend to have white supremacist undertones. Whatever the reason, it seems like there have been fewer high-profile fringe history claims this week than in most. So today I bring you an interesting meditation on H. P. Lovecraft instead. The piece in question comes from conservative Christian C. R. Wiley, who argues that Lovecraft’s weird fiction can actually help to bring Christians closer to God by giving them a “taste” of the “weirdness” of God. It’s an unusual argument, and perhaps one that Lovecraft would find amusing, if not offensive.
Since the birth of my son, I’ve been a bit hard-pressed to make time for reading, and it is with regret that it took me several weeks longer than expected to finish Edgar Cantero’s new novel Meddling Kids, a mashup of Scooby-Doo and H. P. Lovecraft that earned rave reviews from critics earlier this summer. I found the book to be enjoyable, but a little less impressive than the critics made it out to be. Meddling Kids is a book I wanted to love, but it was one I liked instead. And to be frank, I think TV is ruining novels for me. It’s hard to pretend that 300 pages of a one-off novel can rival the hundreds of hours I spend with characters on TV series over the years of their runs. It takes, what, 20 hours to read this book, while, for example, a throwaway TV show on a similar theme like Teen Wolf has 100 hours of content spread over six calendar years. Perhaps that’s why I just don’t feel the same connection when I read reviews about how realistic and detailed the book’s characters are. I barely got to know them before they were gone. Each had, I believe, one personality trait. It seems like the CW’s Riverdale was more of a fresh and darker take on Archie than Meddling Kids is for Scooby-Doo
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Esquire, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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