“The Invention of H.P. Lovecraft” – Fiction by Shay K. Azoulay

weird_tales_september_1952From our Fall 2016 issue, Shay K. Azoulay‘s “The Invention of H.P. Lovecraft” is a fictional– yet, perhaps, plausible?!– theory on the origin of the influential horror author.

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The following is the first and only post, published on 15 December 2014, in a blog named “The Invention of H. P. Lovecraft”. No author has been identified.

MUCH LIKE DARWIN IN HIS DAY, who was prompted to present his theory of natural selection when he discovered the naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace had made similar discoveries, hoping to establish precedence and preempt the young upstart, so am I forced to release my own revolutionary findings prematurely, with absolute conviction but without what many would consider substantial evidence or incontrovertible proof. Due to these constraints of time and resources, my presentation of the discovery will be rudimentary, a symbolic staking of a claim if you will, to which I will later return with expansions, clarifications, revisions, and refinements. This is certainly not how I imagined I would present such an explosive theory, which I have been formulating for several months now, but in our lives things rarely go as we plan or imagine them, and the people we thought we could trust fail us in ways we could not have imagined (but no more on that).

I owe the discovery of H.P. Lovecraft’s true nature to my recent rereading of The Book of Sand (1975) by Jorge Luis Borges, specifically the story “There Are More Things” which is dedicated “to the memory of H.P. Lovecraft”. This seeming parody of Lovecraft’s themes, style, obsessions, and concerns is dismissed by Borges himself in the book’s epilogue:

Fate, which is widely known to be inscrutable, would not leave me in peace until I had perpetrated a posthumous story by Lovecraft, a writer I have always considered an unwitting parodist of Poe. At last I gave in; the lamentable result is titled “There Are More Things”.

I was struck by two things immediately – why is the story dedicated to the memory of Lovecraft rather than to the man himself (Borges dedicated only a few of his stories to people, usually with the generic “For…”), and why does Borges consider the story a posthumous creation by Lovecraft rather than a tribute or homage to him? The answer to both of these questions is as simple as it is astonishing: because H.P. Lovecraft was invented by Borges.

The story is dedicated to the memory that Borges and his collaborator Adolfo Bioy Casares share of the time they dabbled in literary fraud (brilliantly reworked and exaggerated in “Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius”). “There Are More Things” (the title practically gives it all away) is in fact the last work by this fictional author, the culmination of an oeuvre, a sincere and wistful parody of a juvenile and insincere parody.

Once you accept this simple truth, many of the elements fall into place: the ridiculous name “Lovecraft” could only be an invention of a mischievous young Borges. Then there are the convenient biographical details of Lovecraft’s life: an only child, an orphan, childless, sickly, and reclusive, and of course there’s his early death, when Borges either tired of the experiment or feared he might get caught.

I don’t think Borges himself believed his creation would be so successful. Though the Lovecraft stories presented some interesting variations on ideas developed in his own work, to which he added fanciful inventions and creatures, Borges had done everything he could to make the stories dry, pedantic, schlocky, and lacking in genuine suspense or terror. He must have enjoyed the irony that under an immense pile of descriptions and adjectives, the horror at the heart of every story was always unknowable, unnamable, and indescribable.

Borges also made it clear that the “author” of these works was unpleasant to say the least – a racist, misogynistic, elitist, and generally unlikable character, whose prejudices sometimes poked through the seams of his threadbare work. But inscrutable fate has secured H. P. Lovecraft such a place in the American Canon that Borges himself was forced to include him in his 1967 book Introduction to American Literature (where he irreverently misspelled his middle name Philips instead of Phillips).

The details of the hoax are easy to figure out – an actor hired to pose as Lovecraft, a Spanish-to-English translator, someone to submit the stories to pulp magazines (perhaps these tasks were all accomplished by the same person, perhaps “Lovecraft” died soon after he did), a rented house in Providence, some easily bribed “acquaintances”, and some easily forged documents.

Borges began writing as Lovecraft in 1919. Before that he had written “A Reminiscence of Dr. Samuel Johnson” (what else?) under an even more whimsical pseudonym, Humphrey Littlewit, which he later pretended was a pseudonym used by Lovecraft. He decided that “Lovecraft” should be about a decade older than himself, and established a crude biography which he elaborated from time to time through letters to Lovecraft’s equally imaginary friends and relatives. Whenever the mood struck him, Borges would compose a story or two in the Lovecraftian mode and send them off to his American confidantes, to find a home in the pulps, or else languish in a pile awaiting posthumous fame, as was sometimes the case.

In the mid-1930s Borges decided that “Lovecraft” had matured enough to write some longer pieces, and invited Bioy Casares to join the fun and collaborate on some stories. Literary scholars dreaming of an undiscovered novel by Borges will not get their wish here. All of Lovecraft’s longer works were actually written by Bioy Casares, with Borges only contributing the general outline and a few key scenes. At The Mountains of Madness, for example, is clearly the work of Bioy Casares. One can just imagine how delighted Borges was when all of the suspense and horrific events depicted in the story are given short shrift in favor of Antarctic landscapes, nightmarish architecture, and tedious mythologies. Bioy Casares might have objected to such inventions as the gigantic blind albino penguins as being fundamentally ludicrous, but Borges must have insisted they remain in the story, to show him that a genre is not only defined by its content, but by the reader’s expectations, and if the readers expect a horror story, they will be horrified no matter what silliness ensues.

By the end of the decade Borges had grown weary of Lovecraft. He decided to set the date of his death on the 15th of March (the date of Julius Caesar’s assassination) in 1937, keeping a few stories for “posthumous” publication. Almost thirty years later, Borges looked back at his youthful whimsy and wrote “There Are More Things” as a final tribute and a partial key for the clever reader.

Why has this never been discovered before? Borges himself provides an answer of sorts in his review of a forgotten novel by Alan Griffiths. It is the story of a man who invents a character, goes to great lengths to prove that it is a real person, and when he finally decides to reveal the hoax no one believes him, and think he’s gone mad. Perhaps Borges feared a similar fate; the cult of Lovecraft has grown exponentially and some of its members are notoriously fervent and unforgiving. Borges knew the collective myth is stronger than he is, and so he released his imperfect creation, this amorphous Shoggoth, into the world, for people to make of it what they will.

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Postscript

I am suddenly reminded, quite fittingly, of the short treatise on Sancho Panza that claimed he had successfully diverted his demon, which he named Don Quixote, with tales of romance and chivalry, sending him off on his mad quest. Freed of this burden, Sancho Panza could now follow the Demon’s exploits for his own pleasure and entertainment (this story, named “The Truth about Sancho Panza”, is attributed to “Franz Kafka”, that famous invention of Max Brod).

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ShayKAzoulayPhotoSHAY K. AZOULAY is an Israeli writer and translator. His fiction was published or is forthcoming in Tablet Magazine, The Short Story Project, and McSweeney’s Internet Tendency. His play The Platoon was staged in Tel Aviv in 2014-2015 and garnered good reviews and death threats.

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