One of my favorite things as an obsess'd H. P. Lovecraft fanboy is brilliant literary criticism regarding Lovecraft's texts. Robert H. Waugh and S. T. Joshi are my two all-time favorite such critics, but Steven J. Mariconda is easily the third. His 1995 collection from Necronomicon Press, On the Emergence of "Cthulhu" & other Observations, is a book to which I return again and again. H. P. Lovecraft is my adored Muse, not only because of thew magnificence of his weird fiction, but because of what he can teach me concerning the writing of such fiction. One of the services that good solid Lovecraft criticism achieves is to point out that Lovecraft knew exactly what he wanted to accomplish as an artist, and to shew the way in which Lovecraft's excellent tales achieved his aesthetic goals. In my favorite of Mariconda's essays, "H. P. Lovecraft: Consummate Prose Stylist," we find bits from HPL's correspondence in which he discusses such things; such as this, from a letter he wrote to Clark Ashton Smith:
"As for the unconscious element in composition...I agree with you that it is really very considerable. In fact, I think it may be fairly said that no first-rate story can ever be written without the author's actually experiencing the moods & visions concerned in a sort of oneiroscopic way. Unless there is actual emotion * pseudo-memory behind a tale, something will inevitably be lacking, no matter how deft, expert, & mature the craftmanship may be. Emotion makes itself felt in the unconscious choice of words, management of rhythms, & disposal of stresses in the flow of narration; whilst an image or idea of natural and spontaneous occurrence is a thousandfold more vivid than any which can be arbitrarily invented or consciously adopted from external sources." [Selected Letters III, 212-213]
To which Mariconda adds, "In this lies the true power of Lovecraft's prose, for few authors have felt their work as sincerely and acutely as he."
This is perhaps the greatest lesson that I have learned from Lovecraft. I rarely have a physical written-down outline of a story. Rather, I day-dream my story before writing it, dream it again and again until I am intimate with its flow of occurrences and language; and then when I go to write the thing, I see it in my mind as if it were some memory of an actual event. I combine that pseudo-memory with ye madness of Art, and with those tools I compose my fiction. I learned this from studying H. P. Lovecraft.
Happily, Mariconda will have a fabulous new book of essays out soon from Hippocampus Press:
H. P. Lovecraft: Art, Artifact and Reality is scheduled for a July release, and is 308 pages.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
I. General Studies
H. P. Lovecraft: Consummate Prose Stylist
Lovecraft's Concept of "Background"
Toward a Reader-Response Approach to the Lovecraft Mythos
Lovecraft's Cosmic Imagery
H. P. Lovecraft: Art, Artifact and Reality
H. P. Lovecraft: Reluctant American Modernist
"Expect Great Revelations": Lovecraft Criticism in His Centennial Year
II. Essays on Specific Works
On "Amissa Minerva"
"The Hound"--A Dead Dog?
"Hypnos": Art, Philosophy, and Insanity
Curious Myths of the Middle Ages and "The Rats in the Walls"
On the Emergence of "Cthulhu"
The Subversion of Sense in "The Colour out of Space"
Tightening the Coil: The Revision of "The Whisperer in Darkness"
Lovecraft's Role in "The Tree on the Hill"
Some Antecedents of the Shining Trapezohedron
The Correct Texts of Lovecraft's Tales
Lovecraft's Essays, Poems, and Letters
Some Lovecraft Scholars
Anodyne Amusing Appendix
Works Cited Sources