Tuesday, June 7, 2011
With H.P. Lovecraft's expansive franchise, which today includes books, games, and films galore, many wonder if he has achieved posthumous fame. As anyone knows, there are varying degrees of celebrity or infamy, whatever the case may be. Lovecraft's case offers no easy answers. Since it would be foolhardy to pit his name against Hitler, George Washington, Jesus, or Lady Gaga, let's confine the question to horror for now.
Carving out a vision of HPL's celebrity in horror is a far more focused and relevant quest than any other. After all, who really cares where Lovecraft ranks against Presidents or great commanders? Lovecraft's legacy in civilization will ultimately be decided by how formidable his position is in the horror genre.
Assertions to the contrary, it won't be his philosophy that resonates, held up by the likes of Michel Houellebecq in H.P. Lovecraft: Against the World, Against Life. It won't be his letters that secure him a place among visionaries either (sorry, S.T. Joshi). The Lovecraft name begins and ends in the minds of men with strangeness and terror.
Evaluating Lovecraft against other notable authors is one way to shed light on the issue. Fortunately, the web lends us powerful tools like Google Insights for determining fame as a function of search volume. So, how does Lovecraft perform against Stephen King, the most widely known juggernaut in modern horror fiction? Quite poorly. HPL barely registers against King's sizable media empire, as shown by the graph above.
On the other end, when measured against his contemporaries, H.P. Lovecraft dominates almost as much as King does against other horror authors. M.R. James, Algernon Blackwood, and Arthur Machen are clearly bested, as indicated by Google Insights. This is particularly ironic, since all of these British men arguably enjoyed better literary careers, greater fiction output, and longer lifespans than the Providence writer.
The facts presented here probably don't contain a lot of surprises. So, why judge whether or not H.P. Lovecraft is famous at all? The exercise is useful because it allows observers to take Lovecraftiana's pulse without getting blinded by Cthulhu Mythos or literary horror fandom. Measuring Lovecraft's growth curve and numeric conquest over other authors is important too. It helps illustrate how quickly the following is spreading, and how it happens.
Does Lovecraft easily knock his nineteenth and early twentieth century competitors flat? Absolutely, and he'll continue to do so, remaining second only to Edgar Allan Poe in name recognition from this period in horror. But, at the same time, don't expect massive story collections like, Necronomicon: The Best Weird Tales of H.P. Lovecraft, to start overtaking Stephen King's stand alone novels in the near future.