Literary Anniversaries: 20 August
Today is one of those relatively rare days of the year when we can celebrate a birth and commemorate a death – both of these novelists are American, pretty much required reading within their genres, and both are favourites of mine!
Let’s start with Howard Phillips (HP) Lovecraft, who was born on this day in 1890. Pretty aptly, considering his subject matter, both of Lovecraft’s parents ended up dying in an insane asylum. He himself was a pale youth who rarely left his house until nightfall.
Lovecraft has had a profound influence on the direction of gothic and horror. Whilst himself owing a debt to Edgar Allen Poe, we can see echoes of his working many other writers – not least Stephen King, who like Lovecraft, created a fictional geographical area to base many of his stories in. For Lovecraft’s Arkham, read King’s Castle Rock.
Lovecraft’s work has strong Promethean themes of men accessing forbidden knowledge and paying the consequences. Ultimately, though, I see his disaffection with the world and humanity in his stories: he speaks to me about the complete indifference of the universe to our petty hopes and fears; of how insignificant man is in the cosmos. And perhaps this is where the horror truly lies?
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Leonard began his career writing Westerns, but as his career progressed he moved on to writing tautly-plotted crime novels, written in a spare, economical style that we might compare to Raymond Chandler and Ernest Hemingway.
A startling number of Leonard’s books have been turned into films. Possibly the most well-known amongst these are Out of Sight (1998), Get Shorty (1995) and Jackie Brown (1997).