Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Who's Afraid Of The Big Bad Nihilist?

John Miller remembers a master of horror, H.P. Lovecraft at OpinionJournal.com:

Central to Lovecraft's effectiveness was his personal philosophy, and this is what separated him from Poe and the others who came before him. He was a thoroughgoing materialist--a socialist in his politics and an atheist in his beliefs. "Now all my tales are based on the fundamental premise that common human laws and interests and emotions have no validity or significance in the vast cosmos-at-large," he wrote upon successfully resubmitting the original Cthulhu story. "One must forget that such things as organic life, good and evil, love and hate, and all such local attributes of a negligible and temporary race called mankind, have any existence at all."

That's nihilism, of course, and we're free to reject it. But there's nothing creepier or more terrifying than the possibility that our lives are exercises in meaninglessness. "As flies to wanton boys are we to the gods," says Gloucester in King Lear. "They kill us for their sport." From Lovecraft's perspective, this gives us far too much credit. In his grim milieu, we don't even rate as insect pests, but we still manage to get ourselves squished.

So it's a safe bet that Oprah Winfrey's book clubs won't be dipping into "The Dunwich Horror" or "The Dreams in the Witch House" this spring. Yet Lovecraft's circle seems ready for ever more widening. On the Internet, it's possible to take a virtual tour of Lovecraft sites in his hometown of Providence, R.I., or to shop for a Cthulhu plush toy. You can also buy a bumper sticker: "Cthulhu for President--Don't settle for the lesser evil."

Lovecraft almost never wrote a happy ending and he certainly isn't known for his sense of humor, but perhaps by now even he would appreciate that it's nice to have the last laugh.

The nihilists always laugh last.


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