Humor in Lovecraft's Works
H.P. Lovecraft, the father of cosmic horror, is best known for his tales of existential dread and unknowable, otherworldly entities. His works are filled with a sense of insignificance and despair in the face of the vast, uncaring cosmos. However, even in Lovecraft's dark universe, there are moments of humor and whimsy that provide a counterbalance to the overwhelming dread.
While Lovecraft's humor is often subtle and may not take the form of laugh-out-loud comedy, it's there, adding a layer of complexity to his stories. It often comes in the form of irony, absurdity, or the occasional dry wit of his characters.
For instance, consider "The Dunwich Horror," one of Lovecraft's most famous stories. Amid the tale of a grotesque, invisible creature terrorizing the town, there's a moment of dark humor when the creature, a monstrous offspring of a human and an otherworldly entity, is referred to as "Wilbur’s twin brother"—a rather mundane description for such an abomination. Not to mention the unsubtle outward expression of all that is evil within man.
In "At the Mountains of Madness," Lovecraft uses irony to inject a dose of humor. The explorers are terrified of what they might find in the ancient, alien city, only to discover that the true horror is not the alien beings themselves, but their all-too-familiar problems: their creations, the Shoggoths, have rebelled against them.
Even in "The Call of Cthulhu," there's an element of absurdity in the idea of a group of artists and poets being the first to perceive the awakening of an ancient cosmic entity. It's a subtle, understated form of humor, but it serves to lighten the otherwise oppressive atmosphere.
These instances of humor in Lovecraft's work serve an important purpose. They provide a moment of respite, allowing the reader to catch their breath before plunging back into the terror. They also add depth to the stories, preventing them from becoming one-note tales of horror.
In our next post, we'll explore how modern authors of cosmic horror use humor in their works. We'll see how they build on Lovecraft's foundation, using humor to enhance the dread and make their stories more engaging. Stay tuned!