January 10, 2016
Appendix N is Cosmically Indifferent to Your Opinion: HP Lovecraft
So we come to HPL himself, Howard Phillips Lovecraft. Much anguished ink has been spilled over HPL in recent years. You want to delve into that, you’re on your own. I’m just writing about stories here.
HPL is best known for his Cthulhu Mythos tales, his stories of men driven to madness upon coming face-to-face with cosmic horrors. The kicker, and the thrust of HPL’s philosophy, is that these cosmic horrors — and by extension, the universe itself — are completely indifferent to the fate, and even the existence, of humanity.
I wonder how HPL influenced Gary Gygax. The alignment system as developed in Advanced Dungeons and Dragons carries no overtones of HPL’s bleak existentialist view. In fact, the AD&D alignment system suggests precisely the opposite, that gods, planes of existence, afterlives, etc. are fundamentally tied up with humanity, in fact linked tightly to individual human’s morality and belief systems. Even the precursor versions of D&D, with the Poul Anderson and MIchael Moorcock bi-lateral Chaos/Order cosmos seem to contain no echo of HPL’s philosophy.
The way I see it, at most HPL contributed some cosmic-scale monsters to challenge high level characters. But I could be missing something and am willing to entertain alternative theories.
My personal preference is HPL’s Dream Cycle stories, only tangentially related to the Mythos. In these stories of beautifully realized imagination, HPL comes close to rivalling Clark Ashton Smith’s poetic prose. If Cthulhu, Hastur, and Co., are starting to get you down, pick up one of the tales of Randolph Carter and journey through the dreamlands.