Notes on Weird Fiction 2: Lovecraft’s Take

Even though I had originally planned to get into China Miéville’s chapter “Weird Fiction” first, shortly after my last post I discovered that H.P. Lovecraft had written “Notes on Writing Weird Fiction”, so that seemed a good a place to start as any.

At the beginning of his essay, Lovecraft notes how he chooses to write weird stories because they suit his inclination “to achieve, momentarily, the illusion of some strange suspension or violation of the galling limitations of time, space, and natural law” (par. 1). So, at a first glance, it would seem that for Lovecraft weird fiction is associated with representations of things that defy the parameters of our everyday reality. At least for the Lovecraftian weird, this already suggests to me that science fiction may not be a genre that plays a particularly strong influence. My understanding of science fiction stems in great part from Darko Suvin who in a celebrated definition of the genre states the necessity of the interaction between estrangement and cognition (37), and Adam Roberts emphasises that for Suvin “the important thing about the ‘science’ part of ‘science fiction’ is that it is a discourse built on certain logical principles that avoids self-contradiction” (9). Whilst Lovecraft’s rationale for his penchant for weird stories would find resonance with the estrangement found in science fiction, the complete break with “natural law” (par. 1) indicates that, unlike science fiction, the Lovecraftian weird would not make much attempt to rationalise the elements that disrupt the conventions and norms of everyday reality (the cognitive component of Suvin’s definition). The focus given by Lovecraft on the estrangement of his notion weird fiction ties it more closely with fantasy than sci-fi.

Lovecraft then goes on to explain why horror is frequently emphasised in weird fiction:

[it] is our deepest and strongest emotion, and the one which best lends itself to the creation of nature-defying illusions. Horror and the unknown or the strange are always closely connected, so that it is hard to create a convincing picture of shattered natural law or cosmic alienage or ‘outsideness’ without laying stress on the emotion of fear. (par. 1)

In this way, he asserts the strong horror component in weird fiction that was noted in my initial foray into the topic. Perhaps horror denotes the particular attitude taken by weird fiction toward that which suspends/violates our traditional notion of reality. At the moment, I struggle to think of any examples of weird fiction that I know of in which horror does not play an important part. In that case, horror would be well-placed to be considered the “dominant” component genre in the hybrid genre that weird fiction represents.

Later on in “Notes on Writing Weird Fiction”, Lovecraft classifies weird stories into four types:

one expressing a mood or feeling, another expressing a pictorial conception, a third expressing a general situationcondition, legend or intellectual conception, and a fourth explaining a definite tableau or specific dramatic situation or climax (par. 11)

As much as classification appeals to me, I don’t really find this useful because  a.) I don’t really fully understand how Lovecraft’s classification would work b.) he doesn’t provide any examples or further analysis. This also applies to his comments in the same essay with regard to the five definite elements of a weird story (par. 12); they’re not particularly enlightening with regard to my investigation into weird fiction.

Works Cited:

  • Lovecraft, H.P. “Notes on Writing Weird Fiction”. H.P. Lovecraft Archive, Accessed 17 Sept. 2018.
  • Roberts, Adam. Science Fiction. Routledge, 2000.
  • Suvin, Dark. Positions and Presuppositions in Science Fiction. Macmillan, 1988.


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