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Guest Post: An Author That Scares Kurtis Scaletta

(Design & illustration by Robert Roxby)

By Kurtis Scaletta, author of THE TANGLEWOOD TERROR

The best way to read H.P. Lovecraft is to be fourteen, lonely, and  already scared. Fortunately, the second two come with the first.

It also helps to be handed Lovecraft by a cool older kid, somebody who seems worldly and in the know. In my case, it was John, a sophomore who lived upstairs in our apartment building. He gave me a dog-eared paperback of stories as if it was contraband. It was called At the Mountains of Madness. The eponymous story made up half the book, and gives details of a band of Antarctic explorers as they discover: first, an ancient and frozen city among the glaciers, of gigantic proportions; then, a series of ghastly beings, including monstrous blind penguins and a huge blobby thing that’s all eyes and mouths and able to devour everything in its path. That creature is called Yog Soggoth, one of Lovecraft’s monster gods, which lie deep in oceans and concealed in the earth, waiting and slumbering… Only the squidlike Cthulhu is more famous.

They make for ponderous readings, do Lovecraft stories. They follow a regular but effective formula of half-crazed narrators gradually exposing the horrible experiences that maddened them. His brilliance is not just for inventing new monsters, but for giving the reader the idea that these were only glimpses of a brutal and vast cosmology; a universe that belongs to them and not to us. That knowledge ruins the men who live to tell the tale—they survive, but are lonely and desperate, aware of the fissures in the thin line between the illusory world in which people live and the cold, unspeakable horror beyond. No wonder adolescents can relate.

But (like adolescence), Lovecraft’s work is not only terrifying, it is weirdly empowering to the patient reader. If you read the entire oeuvre, you can piece a bigger picture together like a puzzle. Half the pieces are missing, and much of the rest are partially obliterated by seawater and smoke from ancient accidents, but you start to get a sense of his cosmology. This gives an ambitious adolescent a feeling of cerebral power and literary accomplishment. Lovecraft’s work can be read in its entirety by a committed fan and attain lay expertise on the monster god mythos to wow younger teens. Within a year, I was that guy, though I still wasn’t as cool as the guy upstairs.

Kurtis Scaletta is the author of the Lovecraft-inspired The Tanglewood Terror and two other middle grade novels. He has a Lovecraft pastiche here.

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23 thoughts on “Guest Post: An Author That Scares Kurtis Scaletta

  1. I’ve been wanting to read Lovecraft for years- one of the guys at work worships at the literary altar- but the idea actually kind of frightens me. W described it as being so insidiously, creepingly terrifying that I KNOW I’ll have nightmares, and I sleep badly enough as it is. Still working myself up to giving it a try.

  2. Pingback: Tangled Themes #3: H. P. Lovecraft | Kurtis Scaletta

  3. I love this! Scary books have never been a big part of my reading repertoire, but now there are all these great recs to check out. :]

  4. H.P. Lovecraft’s book sounds and looks certifiably scary. I cannot wait to check it out along with The Tanglewood Terror. All of this is a fabulous jump-start towards reading more scary books– YEAH!🙂

  5. Lovecraft’s “The Dreams in the Witch-House” is especially frightening if the first time you read it you are struggling through a quantum physics course. He writes, “Non-Euclidean calculus and quantum physics are enough to stretch any brain, and when one mixes them with folklore… one can hardly expect to be wholly free from mental tension.” Mental tension, creepy imagery – ooh, I love this story!

  6. H.P. Lovecraft definitely nailed it. It’s amazing that his work is still being read so many years later.

  7. I’m a fan of horror, but for me Lovecraft never did anything for me, not sure why. It could be because King and Koontz were the first 2 I read and so I compare everything to their work. I might give Lovecraft one last chance.

  8. I’ve never read any HP Lovecraft, but the cover of At the Mountains of Madness is CREEPY. I would’ve been terrified of that when I was a kid. I really like the idea of “a universe that belongs to them and not to us”.

  9. Wow, that cover is gorgeous–in a very creepily scary way. I wonder if an older kid upstairs will ever hand me a Lovecraft book (I’d be really creeped if that actually happened though).

  10. I’m torn about Lovecraft – not about whether I like it or not, because I’ve never read it, but about whether I should read it now in my 30s when everything I hear/read about it says it’s best read between about twelve and seventeen.

  11. I’m going to have to buy your books, too, because I LOVE Lovecraft! My favorite story of his — one I taught to a group of high school juniors — was The Tomb. It was about a cemetery worker who was too lazy to make the coffins fit the dead; rather, the dead fit the coffins! Yikes!!!

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