Category Archives: H.P. Lovecraft

Lovecraftian Ecosystems – Introduction

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Hey everyone – it has been a while since I posted anything.  In fact, the last time I posted was during the NecronomiCon back in August 2019. This year has been crazy with all of the Harmful Algal Blooms I have had to deal with over the summer and fall as part of my job as a Limnologist / Environmental Consultant. While the blooms are slooooowly dissipating, I have a little free time to start posting again on Lovecraftian Science. I will try to make these posts fairly routine (maybe twice a month) and to do that they may be brief. Also, working on finishing up Volume 3 of the Journal of Lovecraftian Science now that the summer is over. Again, I apologize to everyone who has contributed to the Kickstarter for the additional delays.  Please be patient; I am hoping to ship them out before the end of this year.

I was fortunate enough to give two presentation at the NecronomiCon in August 2019. The first talk was on Lovecraftian Ecosystems so the next series of posts will be on this subject. This first post is a discussion on history of the term of ecosystem.

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The formal definition of an ecosystem is “…a community of organisms and their physical environment interacting as an ecological unit” (Lincoln, et. al. 1988).  The word “ecosystem” was first defined by British Ecologist Arthur Tansley in 1935 and was first used to describe the transfer of material between organisms and their environment.  Again, in 1935 Tansley defined the ecosystem as:

…the whole system (in the sense of physics) including not only the organism-complex, but also the whole complex of physical factors forming what we call the environment of the biome – the habitat factors in the widest sense (from McIntosh, 1985).

Picture2                             Examples of aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems

However, it was G. Evelyn Hutchinson who re-defined the concept of ecosystem to be more quantitative in nature.  In fact, it was Hutchinson and his post-doctoral associate Raymond Lindeman who moved ecology from a descriptive “soft science” of the 18th / 19th to more of a quantitative “hard science” of the 20th century. Instead of merely identifying species and describing their life cycles and interactions, math and statistics could be used with models to construct experiments to predict how organisms interact and react in their environment and among themselves.  Hutchinson and Lindeman were limnologists (the sub-discipline of ecology I study / practice) and so many of these ideas were first initiated in focusing on the biogeochemistry and the transfer of energy among trophic levels in lake ecosystems. In a sense, it was logical for ecosystem science to begin with lakes since they appear to be very clearly defined and bounded ecosystems (as will be discussed later this distinct boundary is not the case).

Picture4                                                                         Photograph of a young G. Evelyn Hutchinson

Prior to Lovecraft’s time, the “hard sciences” were thought of as astronomy, physics and chemistry, while biology and ecology were “softer “sciences that focused primarily on descriptions.  This hierarchical view of the sciences was developed and promoted by the French philosopher and writer Isidore Marie Auguste Francois Xavier Comte (1798 – 1857). Comte stated that astronomy was the most general of the sciences, followed by (in hierarchical order) physics, chemistry, biology and sociology. I’m sure Lovecraft would have agreed with this hierarchy of the sciences, with astronomy being the hardest or “most pure.”

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A hard science is typically described as one where controlled experiments can be constructed and performed to test hypotheses, with the use of math and statistics. In turn, the results of the experiments can be used to make testable predictions about the natural world. Over the last two hundred years we have seen the softer sciences utilize a more quantitative, scientific approach and this is particularly the case for biology, including the sub-discipline of ecology.

Ironically, it was the quantitative aspects of astronomy and chemistry that kept him from pursuing a career in either field. As Joshi has cited in, I Am Providence: The Life and Times of H.P. Lovecraft (Joshi, 2013), Lovecraft stated:

In studies I was not bad – except for mathematics, which repelled and exhausted me. I passed in these subjects – but just about that. Or rather, it was algebra which formed the bugbear. Geometry was not so bad. But the whole thing disappointed me bitterly, for I was then intending to pursue astronomy as a career, and of course advanced astronomy is simply a mass of mathematics. That was the first major set-back I ever received – the first time I was ever brought up short against a consciousness of my own limitations. It was clear to me that I hadn’t brains enough to be an astronomer – and that was a pill I couldn’t swallow with equanimity.

This is from a letter Lovecraft wrote to Robert E. Howard, dated 25-29 March 1933.

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While the term “ecosystem” was first coined and used in the scientific literature in the early 20th century, it was not widely used in popular culture at the time. Thus, it is not surprising that I could not find the word in any of Lovecraft’s stories or other writings. However, while he did not use the word, many of his stories include several of the ideas and concepts associated with ecosystems and that is what we will review over the next set of blogs. Next time we will talk about the ecosystem-based alterations associated with his tale “The Colour Out of Space.” Thank you – Fred.

Journal of Lovecraftian Science, Volume 3 – Funded!

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With a little more than a day to go we hit the threshold where we will be adding a chapter and illustration on “The Curse of Yig,” one of several of Lovecraft’s revision tales in “The Journal of Lovecraftian Science, Volume 3.” In addition to the Journal we are also offering a chapbook on the ecosystem of Lovecraft’s Venus in “In the Walls of Eryx.” Shown below is an early illustration for that tale by Steve Maschuck, who will be providing all illustrations. If you are still interested in the Kickstarter there is about a day left and it can be found at https://www.kickstarter.com/…/journal-of-lovecraftian-scien…. Again, thank you to everyone who has contributed! Fred.

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Update on the Kickstarter for the Journal of Lovecraftian Science, Volume 3

Journal of Lovecraftian Science, Volume 3

Hey everyone – we just put a Kickstarter on-line for a 3rd volume of the Journal of Lovecraftian Science.  The theme of this volume will be Lovecraft’s revision tales.  A set of seven revision tales will be included in this issue.  In addition, if a specific threshold goal is reached an additional tale, “The Curse of Yig” co-written with Zealia Bishop, will be added to this volume of the Journal.

throne A draft illustration of the cover of The Journal of Lovecraftian Science, Volume 3 by Steve Maschuck

In addition to the third volume, a chapbook will be produced that discusses the ecosystem of Lovecraft’s Venus in the tale “In the Walls of Eryx” co-written with Kenneth J. Sterling.  The chapbook will describe the endemic flora and fauna of the Lovecraftian Venus and how ecosystems processes operate very differently relative to Earth.

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Early illustration of “In the Walls of Eryx” by Steve Maschuck

If you are interested in the 3rd volume and this chapbook, please check out our Kickstarter at https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1081353216/journal-of-lovecraftian-science-volume-three?ref=user_menu

Thank you for your time – Fred.

Lovecraft’s Annual Report on Astronomy, 1904

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As we have previously discussed from 1906 to 1918 Lovecraft’s writings focused heavily on astronomy.  He produced a number of articles and documents on astronomical observations, which were frequently published in newspapers such as the Providence Evening News and the Ashville [N.C.] Gazette-News.  Additionally, Lovecraft produced reports on the subject but much of this material has never been published and has been lost.  However, Necronomicon Press just printed 250 copies of a facsimile reproduction of Lovecraft’s The Annual Report on the Science of Astronomy, 1904.  The document includes notes as well as several illustrations by Lovecraft; some of these illustrations are shown below.  If you are interested this subject, I strongly recommend you purchase one since they printed only 250 copies.

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H.P. Lovecraft and Atlantis, Part 2

tdbgzhoafpyztufm4nv3 Sunken Atlantis by Paul Alexander

I would like to start this article with a correction to the first article on H.P. Lovecraft’s thoughts on the legend of Atlantis. In the first article, I stated that Lovecraft cited both Ignatius Donnelly’s account of Atlantis (Atlantis: The Antediluvian World, 1882) as well as W. Scott-Elliot’s Atlantis and the Lost Lemuria (1925) in “The Temple.” This is incorrect. Lovecraft mentioned Donnelly’s book in “The Descendent” and Scott-Elliot’s book was mentioned in “The Call of Cthulhu.” While neither book was cited in “The Temple,” Joshi refers to both of them in his explanatory notes for “The Temple” in the Penguin Classics edition of The Thing on the Doorstep and Other Weird Stories (2001). I apologize for the error.

In “The Call of Cthulhu” Professor George Gammell Angell, Professor Emeritus of Semitic Languages from Brown University was compiling information on the Cthulhu Cult and among the manuscript papers were some citations from W. Scott-Elliot’s Atlantis and the Lost Lemuria. As mentioned in Leslie S. Klinger’s The Annotated H.P. Lovecraft (2014) Lovecraft had a 1925 combined edition of these books. The Story of Atlantis was first published in 1896, while The Lost Lemuria was first published in 1904.

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It is interesting to note that Atlantis was supposed to represent a high point of human (or related species) civilization. While the destruction of Atlantis is frequently associated with the Atlanteans meddling with science and / or the power the gods, there are a variety of hypotheses attempting to link some real-life catastrophe to the legend of Atlantis. For example, the land of Thera, now known as the Greek island of Santorini, was partly destroyed by a volcanic eruption about 3,600 years ago. The destruction of Thera is thought to be basis for the idea of Atlantis (http://www.bbc.com/earth/story/20160118-the-atlantis-style-myths-of-sunken-lands-that-are-really-true). However, is the extremely unlikely the Atlantis will actually be directly linked to a real location on Earth.

There have been attempts to link Cthulhu’s sunken City of R’lyeh to Atlantis but as Jason Colavito has stated:

“The imagined “fall” of Cthulhu, however, bears only a superficial resemblance to Atlantis, and even that was intentional. Lovecraft tried to create a (fictional) analogue to Plato’s Atlantis narrative as an answer to the Theosophists and their silly claims about Venusians running occult schools on Lemuria. Plato’s Atlantis sinks because of the Atlanteans’ sins… Cthulhu and R’lyeh sink beneath the waves—just because. Geology happens. There is no moral good or evil implied. It just happened.” – from http://www.jasoncolavito.com/blog/was-cthulhu-a-king-of-atlantis.  While in “The Strange High House in the Mist” Lovecraft mentions “…how the kings of Atlantis fought with the slippery blasphemies that wriggled out of rift’s in ocean’s floor…” there is no evidence to indicate that these blasphemies were the spawn of Cthulhu.

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R’lyeh Rising by Welsh Pixie (www.deviantart.com)

Coavito’s statement agrees with Joshi’s statement that Lovecraft saw Atlantis as a myth and liked to incorporate it into his tales.  Additionally, and more to the point, Atlantis was supposed to sink somewhere in the Atlantic Ocean, while R’lyeh is located somewhere deep in the Pacific Ocean. Thus, even if there was some sort of correlation between R’lyeh and some mythic sunken land it would have a slightly better chance of it being Lemuria.

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In a few of Lovecraft’s revision tales such as “The Last Test” co-written with Adolphe de Castro and “Medusa’s Coil” co-written with Zealia Bishop there are several references to individuals being descended from the primal race of lost Atlantis and how the Atlantean civilization delved into evil and forbidden knowledge. For example, in “The Last Test” Atlantis was apparently a “hotbed” of evil cult activity and it is hoped that “…no one will ever drag up that horror from the deep.” This may be a possible reference to the Atlantean’s attempting to contact the Old Ones from outside of our Universe. There is a reference to this in “Medusa’s Coil” where “…the frightful secret that has come down from the days of Cthulhu and the Elder Ones – the secret that was nearly wiped out when Atlantis sank…”

medusa_s_coil_by_mrsfish-da4hgua Medusa’s Coil by Mrs. Fish (www.deviantart.com)

In the tale “The Mound” written by Lovecraft and Zealia Bishop, the underground civilization discovered by the Spaniard Zamacona was said to occasionally receive visitors from the upper world. According to the individuals who Zamacona met, the last time they encountered someone from the outer world was when “…refugees straggled back from Atlantis and Lemuria aeons before.” If these refugees straggled back from these sunken kingdoms, is it possible that the Atlanteans and Lemurians were of the same decent as those who live under the mound? If this is the case, the various technologies that the mound civilization possess (e.g. dematerialization and dream-projection) may has also been possessed by Atlanteans.

In Lovecraft’s novel At the Mountains of Madness the Elder Thing’s Antarctic Palaeogaean megalopolis was compared to both Atlantis and Lemuria, as well as other ancient civilizations. Additionally, in Out of the Aeons, co-written with Hazel Heald, Lovecraft mentions that cults of the Old One Ghatanothoa were established in Atlantis. Finally, as previously mentioned, the Shining Trapezohedron sunk with Atlantis, only later to be found by a Minoan fisherman in his nets.

64-ghatanothoa                               Ghatanothoa by Michael Bukowski (www.yog-blogsoth.blogspot.com)

In conclusion, it is extremely unlikely the Cthulhu’s R’lyeh and Atlantis were the same place, simply based on the fact that one is located in the Pacific Ocean and the other in the Atlantic Ocean.  Additionally, there is no evidence to support that R’lyeh was Lemuria. However, the people of Atlantis may have been related to the people who live under the Earth as documented in “The Mound.” Also, the Atlanteans may have been attempting to contact the Old Ones or harness their powers in the manipulation of matter, energy, time and space. These attempts of communication (e.g. the Shining Trapezohedron) may have failed miserably and resulted in the downfall of the civilization and the destruction of their Island paradise.

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Next time we will discuss how the concept of what a galaxy is changed over the course of Lovecraft’s lifetime. Thank you – Fred.

H.P. Lovecraft and the Pseudoscientific Study of Racism

HPLovecraft_by_LeeMoyer_www.strangehorizons.com                                                                                   H.P. Lovecraft by Lee Moyer (www.strangehorizons.com)

I have always been appreciated how H.P. Lovecraft introduced the most up-to-date scientific developments into his fiction and cosmic philosophy. Additionally, he was more than willing to adjust his viewpoint, perspective and even philosophy on science based on the latest scientific findings. Time and again he exhibited this whether it was the confirmation that Antarctica is composed of one, not two land masses or the discovery of Yuggoth (known to many as Pluto). Another example of this is Lovecraft’s changing attitudes toward Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity.

einstein_360x450_www.laphamsquarterly.orgAlbert Einstein (www.laphamsquarterly.org)

Like many astronomers of the time Lovecraft was very skeptical of the Theory of General Relativity. However, with the accumulation of evidence over the years, by 1923 Lovecraft acknowledged that relativity was a valid and tested theory. As a materialist Lovecraft’s initial attitude was one of dismay, saying the theory “…removes the last hold which reality or the universe can have on the independent mind. All is change, accident, and ephemeral illusion…” Lovecraft went on to say, “All the cosmos is a jest, and one thing is as true as another. I believe everything and nothing—for all is chaos, always had been, and always will be.” However, Lovecraft’s pessimistic attitude on how relativity impacted his philosophy was eventually replaced with a more harmonized perspective, incorporating Einstein’s ideas into his materialistic view of the cosmos (I Am Providence: The Life and Times of H.P. Lovecraft by Joshi, 2014). Again this is another example of how Lovecraft’s perspective, and even philosophy, of reality and the universe would change based on accumulating evidence. However, the one component of science where Lovecraft’s attitude would remain unchanged, even in the light and consideration of accumulating scientific evidence, is that of the study of anthropology and race.

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As cited by Joshi, in spite of all of the accumulating evidence, H.P. Lovecraft still believed in the biological inferiority of certain races of humanity (Joshi, 2014). Indeed, such abhorrent attitudes were by no means unusual in the early 20th century whatever the accumulating scientific data revealed; in the 1920’s many leading scientists warned that interracial mixing of the races could lead to biological abnormalities (Joshi, 2014). However, through the 20th century the “scientific” justification for racism was demonstrated to be false. In spite of this, such concepts would appear in several of Lovecraft’s earlier stories such as “the Lurking Fear.”

As cited by Joshi (2014), Lovecraft held his racist attitudes in spite of the most up-to-date findings on the study of humanity and race in the fields of biology and anthropology. All of the “scientific” studies that provided evidence for a hierarchy of races with Caucasians and the top and Australian aborigines at the bottom, were largely discredited as pseudoscience by the early 20th century. Indeed, as early the 19th century studies that have attempted to correlate “race-based” size and shape of the skull to some type of racial hierarchy were considered highly unscientific and preposterous (Joshi, 2014). By the early 1930’s any scientific justification for such racism was largely discredited by the scientific community; such efforts were led by the anthropologist Franz Boas.

FranzBoas                                                               Frank Boas (www.wikipedia.org)

Born in Germany, Franz Boas had a doctorate in physics and studied geography; however, once he emigrated to the U.S. he became a professor of anthropology at Columbia University. He had a distinguished career at Columbia, being called “the Father of American Anthropology.” One of the key components Boas used in identifying the nonsensical perspective in scientifically justifying racism was to show that the cranial index (the ratio of the maximum width of one’s head multiplied by 100 and then divided by its maximum length of the head from front to back) varies widely both among adults within a single group as well as within the life of an individual (The Mismeasure of Man by Stephen Jay Gould, revised and expanded edition, 1996). Even more important Boas identified significant differences between immigrant parents and their American-born children. The fact that such a change can be significantly measured within a single generation indicated that changes in environment (diet, health, surroundings, etc.) is as important or even more so than one’s race (better described as genetics) in dictating the cranial index (Gould, 1996).

theartofseanpillips.blogspot.comH.P. Lovecraft by Sean Phillips (www.theartofseanphillips.com)

While Joshi found no evidence of Lovecraft reading or being familiar with any of Boas’s work, Lovecraft had to frequently defend his racist views to his younger correspondents such as Frank Belknap Long and J. Vernon Shea. Why the augments of these younger acquaintances did not convince Lovecraft to, at least from a scientific basis, examine some of the more modern developments in anthropology and reconsider his thoughts on the pseudoscience of scientific racism is unknown (Joshi, 2014). Lovecraft’s “scientific” racist views were largely based on the writings of some 19th century scientists such as Ernst Haeckel. However, psychologically Lovecraft’s view was firmly rooted in his fear of the “other” or those who did not originate from his beloved New England and/or fit into his world-view. One wonders if Lovecraft lived longer and observed the scientific and cultural changes in attitudes toward race, would his have changed as well, particularly after World War II.

Lovecraft’s pseudoscientific understanding of race was certainly explored in many of his tales, particularly in his earlier ones. One of note, “The Lurking Fear”, discusses the evolutionary degeneration of a family due to out-of-class breeding and subsequent incest (Sex and the Cthulhu Mythos by Bobby Dee, 2014). While in this case the “horror” associated with this is based on breeding out-of-class, this can also be associated with the implication that one is also breeding out-of-race, with the result being mammalian degeneration. Again, most of the horror associated with this tale is not based on science but pseudoscience, which will be discussed in detail in an upcoming article.

h_p__lovecraft_s_the_lurking_fear_by_cheesecake_weasel-d624gkrH.P. Lovecraft’s The Lurking Fear by Cheesecake Weasel (www.deviantart.com)

In addition to Lovecraft’s “selective” view of race from a scientific perspective, his review of race also generates an inherent conflict in his cosmic and materialistic philosophy. If we are all just composed of a complex of physical and biochemical reactions, housed within a foundation of honeycombed cells filled with water and associated protoplasm, the color of our skin or hair should be absolutely trivial. While Lovecraft was not familiar with Boas, he did read Modern Science and Materialism by Hugh Samuel Roger Elliot (originally published in 1919), which Joshi clearly documents had a profound influence on the development of Lovecraft’s cosmic / materialist view of the universe (Joshi, 2014). This influence, both on Lovecraft’s philosophy and attitudes toward race, will be the topic of conversation in the next article.

Finally, thank you to everyone who has contributed to the Kickstarter for the “Journal of Lovecraftian Science, Volume 2.” We made our goal and I will add a stretch goal sometime next week. If you are interested in supporting this project, please check the site out at https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1081353216/journal-of-lovecraftian-science-volume-two. Again, thank you to all how have contributed! Fred.