Friday, October 28, 2011

Infinity and H.P. Lovecraft

I could tell you how wonderful Ben Loory's short fiction collection, Stories for Nighttime and Some for Day is, but really all you need to know is that each story lives up to the gorgeous strangeness of the title. Oh, and that Jack Zipes blurbed it. If you want your All Hallow's Read to be haunting, give it a try.

When I was little, my family didn't have television. Just books-- walls and walls of books. And we lived out on the edge of town away from everyone else, so all I ever really did was read.

From the beginning, my favorites were always mysteries. I liked Encyclopedia Brown and Agatha Christie. Then I discovered Sherlock Holmes, and then I discovered Poe. And then from there I went on into horror.

At first it was all true-crime stuff: Jack the Ripper, mostly. Then anything involving werewolves, ghosts, and vampires. Horror always seemed like a kind of game to me.

That is, until I found H.P. Lovecraft.

When people talk about Lovecraft, they talk about his monsters. Big octopi at the bottom of the sea. But that was never what scared me about reading his stories.

What scared me about Lovecraft was infinity.

I suppose I should explain: I was always haunted by infinity. I mean from the time I was maybe three or four. Other kids always worried about serial killers and Hell. I worried about the endlessness of it all.

I remember lying in my bed at night and picturing the universe. And me, as a rocketship, flying through it. There has to be an end, I thought-- I'd picture it as a wall. But then I'd get there, and know something was behind it.

It's hard to explain how much infinity scared me. I'd get circles under my eyes from losing sleep. I'd keep flying through imaginary space, farther and farther and farther, trying to convince myself there was an end.

And it would make me sick.

By the time I was seven or eight, I'd learned to look away. It was just a place in my mind I couldn't go. I'd see it there, beckoning, and I'd feel like I was falling. So then I'd go play with my Star Wars dolls a while.

When I started reading Lovecraft, it brought all that back. And it tore away the walls that I'd set up. It wasn't about the monsters, it was the size of the world.

And the tiny, meaningless place that I had in it.

And I don't just mean me, it was all of humanity. In Lovecraft, humanity means nothing. We're less than ants or microbes. We have no role in things.

The problem was, I couldn't read enough of it.

In the version of this that I'd prefer, somehow this would be helpful-- I'd face my fear of infinity and get over it. I'd realize the world is big but that size is not the issue, and I'd focus on my life and the people in it.

But for whatever reason, that didn't happen. Or at least, I don't think it did. I think instead it drove me mad, at least a little bit.

And I'm not really sure I ever got over it.

I don't mean to say that reading Lovecraft ruined my life. Though maybe it did-- I don't know. I guess I just got used to living life as nothing. Which maybe is a good thing in the end.

But in any case, Lovecraft certainly changed the way I read. It made everybody else look kind of silly. When I open up a book, what are I usually find inside are people who are blind to the abyss.

Sometimes, of course, that isn't true. There's Beckett-- I love Beckett-- and there are others. But they're all writing about the same thing I first found in Lovecraft.

And now I suppose I'm doing it on my own.

People often ask me why I read horror novels. And I always want to punch them in the face. They seem to think that horror doesn't deal with the world.

I guess they haven't seen the size of space.