H. P. Lovecraft’s “Unnamable” Middle Ages

  • Brantley L. Bryant
Part of the The New Middle Ages book series (TNMA)


It may seem foolish to go looking for medieval afterlives in the work of US writer H. P. Lovecraft (1890–1937), however much Lovecraft’s powerful influence over the contemporary imagination would make the task tempting for a medievalist on the hunt for important connections. “I hate the Middle Ages so,” Lovecraft writes to a friend during a discussion of his genealogical research, “that I don’t take much satisfaction in establishing a linkage with them” (SL 4:143).1 Lovecraft’s current pop-cultural reputation might please the author, then; Lovecraft is commonly seen as a scientific and materialist thinker, fascinated with the “deep time” of prehuman eras or the extraterrestrial influence of alien gods, with no linkage whatsoever to the Middle Ages.2


Deep Time Roman Civilization Materialist Thinker Family Secret Genealogical Research 
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  1. 1.
    This essay is based on a preliminary, exploratory survey of Lovecraft’s works and cannot claim to be comprehensive. I have investigated uses of the word “medieval” and related terms in the five volumes of Lovecraft’s Selected Letters, ed. August Derleth and Donald Wandrei (Sauk City, WI.: Arkham House Publishers, 1965–1976). In investigating the Selected Letters I have referred toGoogle Scholar
  2. S. T. Joshi’s An Index to the Selected Letters of H. P. Lovecraft (East Warwick, RI: Necronomicon Press, 1980). I have also examined the “Literary Criticism” (II) and “Philosophy, Autobiography, and Miscellany” (V) volumes of Lovecraft’sGoogle Scholar
  3. Collected Essays, ed. S. T. Joshi (New York: Hippocampus Press, 2004–2006). Citations from both these collections will be included in parentheses as follows: Selected Letters are labeled SL, volume number, and page number. Collected Essays are labeled CE, volume number, and page number.Google Scholar
  4. 2.
    For Lovecraft and “Deep Time,” see the interview with Caitlin R. Kiernan in the documentary Lovecraft: Fear of the Unknown, dir. Frank H. Woodward (Cinevolve Studios, 2009). DVD.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Compare Miéville’s discussion of “undescribable,” xiv. The two short story references can be found in S. T. Joshi, ed. The Annotated H. P. Lovecraft (New York: Dell Publishing, 1997), 80 and 109.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    Lovecraft’s identification with Rome and the eighteenth century is well-known enough to be a commonplace within Lovecraft scholarship. For a representative discussion, see S. T. Joshi, H. P. Lovecraft: The Decline of the West (Berkeley Heights NJ: Wildside Press, 1990), 72–74.Google Scholar
  7. 9.
    On “Rats” and Weird Tales see Joshi, The Annotated H. P. Lovecraft, 9. For the quotation concerning reprinting, see An H. P. Lovecraft Encyclopedia, ed. S. T. Joshi and David E. Schultz (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2001), s. v. “Rats in the Walls, The.” All references to “Rats” are to the edition by S. T. Joshi in The Annotated H. P. Lovecraft; page numbers are given in parentheses in the text. 10. The an alysis of “Rats” here is guided by two articles as well as by the discussion in Decline of the West:Google Scholar
  8. Timothy H. Evans, “A Last Defense Against the Dark: Folklore, Horror, and the Uses of Tradition in the Works of H. P. Lovecraft,” Journal of Folklore Research 42 (2005): 99–135, especially 119–21; Robert H. Waugh, “‘The Rats in the Walls,’ the Rats in the Trenches,” Lovecraft Annual 2 (2008): 149–64.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. 14.
    Steven J. Mariconda, “Baring-Gould and the Ghouls: The Influence of Curious Myths of the Middle Ages on The Rats in the Walls,” in The Horror of it All: Encrusted Gems from the “Crypt of Cthulhu,” ed. Robert M. Price (Mercer Island, WA: Starmont House, 1990): 42–48. Also see Evans, “Defense,” 20.Google Scholar
  10. 24.
    Using the text as printed in The Beowulf Poet: A Collection of Critical Essays, ed. Donald K. Fry (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1968), 32.Google Scholar

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© Gail Ashton and Daniel T. Kline 2012

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  • Brantley L. Bryant

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