Following the Road to Madness - The literary influence of Edgar Allan Poe on Howard Phillips Lovecraft

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2005

24 Pages, Grade: 1,7



The Route - An Introduction

1. The Passenger - Biographical Aspects
A Gentleman of Providence.
Parallels in the Lives of E. A. Poe and H. P. Lovecraft

2. The Vehicle - On Writing Horror Fiction

3. Driving the Road to Madness - Poe´s Legacy in Lovecraft´s Fiction
“The Rats In The Walls”

4. Reading the Traces - A Conclusion
Road Map – Bibliography and Sources

The Route - An Introduction

The play of the orchestra strikes up in a dark and sluggish manner. Its compact sonority spreads like milky fog which starts blurring and covering all familiar elements before the human eye. Slowly, an imaginative chill seems to surround the listener. An overture that causes a slight shudder and sharpens all senses… Then, Joachim Kerzel – the German voice of Jack Nicholson - starts off:

„Das jene großen Mächte oder Wesen überlebt haben ist denkbar. Ein Überleben aus einer ungeheuer fernen Zeit, als Bewusstsein sich bildete. Vielleicht in Formen, die lange vor dem Heraufdämmern der Menschheit wieder verschwanden. Formen, von denen einzig Dichtung und Sage eine nebulöse Erinnerung bewahrt haben...“ [1]

This is the opening sequence of Der Cthulhu Mythos, an audio book published by LPL Records in 2002. It comprises horror stories by Howard Phillips Lovecraft and Ambrose Bierce. In 2003 the production was awarded with two prizes: Bestes Hörbuch des Jahres 2003, as well as Deutscher Phantastik Preis 2003. According to the company´s principle “Gänsehaut für die Ohren”, LPL Records specializes in producing audio books of horror tales. Having five other stories by H. P. Lovecraft in stock, the author from Providence, Rhode Island, can be seen as their primal draw. Just one year later, H. P. Lovecraft´s novella Der Schatten über Innsmouth was also nominated for Bestes Hörbuch des Jahres 2004 and won the Deutscher Phantastik Preis 2004 again.

Among this genre, there is only one author whose horror tales can be considered as almost equally successful: his name is Edgar Allan Poe. In late 2003 Lübbe Audio published four of his short stories to start a new Edgar Allan Poe series. A first-person narrator and protagonist, who suffers from severe memory-loss, relives the horrors of Poe´s tales in his dreams. The quest for the narrator´s true personality and the reason of his amnesia creates the frame-story of this continuing series. Therefore, Poe´s stories work as a key to his past. Meanwhile, another four stories continue the sequence, and four more will be published in September 2005. This year, Lübbe Audio´s Poe series is expected to receive an award for more than 250.000 sold copies – an enormous success for audio books, especially of this genre!

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Is it not surprising that even today these two classical authors (E. A. Poe died in 1849, H. P. Lovecraft in 1937) are still so popular? Their stories do not only lead the horror genre among audio book publications; as for, Poe and Lovecraft are among the five most profitable American authors for tales of terror in 2003 (Stephen King takes the first place).[2]

Considering that Lovecraft and Poe belong to a group of authors that have gained success for generations, one may ask himself: what is so special about their stories? It has to be assumed that they have some similarities as far as style and characteristics are concerned. Bearing in mind that H. P. Lovecraft started writing about 60 years after Poe passed away, the focus shall mainly lie on Lovecraft´s approach to writing horror fiction. Poe´s style had a strong influence on his writing – and Lovecraft himself never made a secret out of it. In a letter to his friend Rheinhart Kleiner on January 20th, 1916, he once admitted: “When I write stories, Edgar Allan Poe is my model.”[3] Even 15 years later (on June 19th, 1931), he wrote to J. Vernon Shea: “Poe has probably influenced me more than any other one person. If I have ever been able to approximate his kind of thrill, it is only because he himself paved the way by creating a whole atmosphere & method which lesser men can follow with relative ease.”[4]

The aim of this paper is to look for literary influences of Edgar Allan Poe on Howard Phillips Lovecraft´s fiction. To reach this goal, the first chapter deals with H. P. Lovecraft as a person. It will help to understand the Gentleman from Providence, as well as revealing some striking biographical parallels between him and his literary master Edgar Allan Poe. Afterwards, the second chapter will focus on Poe´s and Lovecraft´s theoretical approach and their own philosophy of writing horror fiction. Are there any elements that Lovecraft (consciously or subconsciously) adopted from Poe? Bearing these facts in mind, chapter three will contain an analysis of Lovecraft´s tale The Rats in the Walls regarding Poe´s influence on its story-telling. Both authors seem to have more in common than one thinks…

1. The Passenger - Biographical Aspects

A Gentleman of Providence

Howard Phillips Lovecraft was born on August 20th, 1890 in Providence, Rhode Island. Because of the early loss of his father Winfield Scott Lovecraft in 1898, he was primarily raised by his mother Sarah Susan Phillips, his two aunts, and his grandfather Whipple Van Buren Phillips, a kind and intellectual man. He gave young Howard free access to his vast library and encouraged his precociousness, as well as his early incentive to write. Lovecraft was an intellectually gifted child: at the age of two he was reciting poetry, he was able to read at age three and began writing at six or seven. He was about eight years old when he first encountered Gothic novels and stories by Edgar Allan Poe.[5] He was also fascinated by science, especially chemistry and astronomy. At the age of nine, he created his own journals which he distributed among friends. Later (1906-15), he wrote columns for newspapers and scientific reviews on a regular basis. Lovecraft attended High School only sporadically and became a primarily self-educated man. Shortly before graduating, he quit school and never returned for a diploma. He never attended university.

Lovecraft lived the life of a hermit and mainly communicated through letters.[6] From 1915-23, he published his own newspaper (The Conservative) and contributed essays and vast amounts of poetry to other magazines. Until 1922, this was his main form of literary expression. In 1919, he became president of the United Amateur Press Association and picked up fictional writing again. His fiction was mainly published in pulp magazines like Weird Tales or Astounding Stories.

In 1921, his mother died. But in the same year, he also met Sonia Haft Greene, whom he married three years later. They lived together in New York for two years, though in 1926, he returned to his hometown Providence. He moved in with his two aunts and his marriage was essentially over. Since then, he probably wrote his greatest fiction. Nevertheless, throughout his lifetime, Lovecraft´s stories never attracted big attention. Especially in the last three years of his life, his stories were sold with increased difficulty. So he was forced to make his living mainly through revisions and ghost-writing. On March 15th, 1937, Howard Phillips Lovecraft died of cancer of the intestine. He was so poor that he was buried without a tomb stone. It was added 40 years later by friends and scholars.

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Lovecraft´s career as an author went somehow tragic. His main scholar, S. T. Joshi, adequately concludes: “(he) never had a true book published in his lifetime […] and his stories, essays, and poems were scattered in a bewildering number of amateur or pulp magazines.”[7] Today, his works are published in numerous editions and translated into more than a dozen languages. He even found a distinct place in the canon of American and world literature.

Parallels In The Lives of E. A. Poe and H. P. Lovecraft

The aim of this paper is, of course, to show the literary influences of Edgar Allan Poe on Howard Phillips Lovecraft´s writing. But beside the literary perspective, interesting parallels can also be found in their individual backgrounds.

Both authors were born in New England and lost their fathers when they were young. Throughout their lives, Poe and Lovecraft remained essentially Easterners. They equally mistrusted “foreigners” at large, and shared a strong admiration for the English language and culture.[8] These aspects can be found in their works.

Together, both men were widely read in the field of the contemporary works of their time. This is clearly reflected in Poe´s work as a literary critic, and in Lovecraft´s frequent contribution to magazines, his work as an editor, as well as in his extensive correspondence with friends and colleagues.

But on the other hand, there is almost no reference in their works to their particular period of US politics and contemporary trends in American life. Poe, for example, did not spend a word on the American “Westward Movement”, the “Gold Rush”, the legendary “Fall of the Alamo”, or the “Mexican War” in general. As far as Lovecraft is concerned, one desperately seeks for references concerning the lifestyle and attitudes of the flourishing 1920s, “The Great Depression”, the influence of people like J. Edgar Hoover, Franklin D. Roosevelt, or celebrities like Charles Lindbergh and Al Capone. Most of all, he pays almost no attention to “The Great War”. Finally, it is hard to believe that Lovecraft was a contemporary of Ernest Hemingway. But these aspects are not coincidental. A possible reason for both authors may have been the effect of an unbound agelessness of their stories – not fixing the plot to a certain event or period. They rather appeal more to the emotional, than to the rational part of the reader´s mind.


[1] Der Cthulhu Mythos. Horrorgeschichten von H. P. Lovecraft u.a. (LPL Records, 2002).

[2] (23.12.2004).

[3] (23.05.2005).

[4] See above.

[5] Robert R. Burleson: “[…] there is little doubt that this youthful discovery of Poe engaged his mind powerfully to the effect that he would have a lasting predilection for the sombre and the bizarre.” (1983: 4).

[6] Throughout his life, Lovecraft wrote more than 100.000 letters and probably became the most productive letter writer of his century.

[7] (24.05.05), ll. 145-147.

[8] (24.05.2005), ll. 27-28.

Excerpt out of 24 pages


Following the Road to Madness - The literary influence of Edgar Allan Poe on Howard Phillips Lovecraft
University of Duisburg-Essen  (Englisches Seminar)
British-American Short Stories
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ISBN (eBook)
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Are there any elements that Lovecraft adopted from Poe? The aim of this paper is to look for literary influences of Edgar Allan Poe on H.P.Lovecraft´s fiction. After focussing on biographical aspects and their theoretical approach on horror fiction, the paper will give a close analysis of Lovecraft´s tale "The Rats in the Walls" regarding Poe´s influence on its story-telling. Both authors seem to have more in common than one thinks…
Following, Road, Madness, Edgar, Allan, Howard, Phillips, Lovecraft, British-American, Short, Stories
Quote paper
Frank Brinkmann (Author), 2005, Following the Road to Madness - The literary influence of Edgar Allan Poe on Howard Phillips Lovecraft, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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