H.P. Lovecraft Style, Science, Myth

Course Description

In this class, in addition to reading the major works of H.P. Lovecraft, we will be considering his work in three specific ways: as a style, as a philosophy of science, and as a source of contemporary myth. Students will complete projects analyzing these three issues, as they pertain to Lovecraft's writing and world.


Reading Journal (20%)

The researcher into arcane topics driven mad by his studies is a common theme in H.P. Lovecraft, as are the journals documenting said madmen’s descent into insanity. As such, for this class, you will be responsible for keeping a weekly reading journal.

In this weekly journal, you will write around a 1-page entry for each week of the class (for a total of 7 entries), exploring your thoughts, feelings, and interests in the stories read for that week (or other entries). These need to be substantial and get beyond the “I liked this story because it was good” style. I want to hear about you engaging with these stories. How you choose to do that, though, is up to you.

Project 1: Style (30%)

The first project for this course will explore the unique style of H.P. Lovecraft’s fiction. We will be looking at two different ways of considering style (one analytical and one creative), for this assignment.

For this project, you will have three tasks. First, you will complete a word concordance for an H.P. Lovecraft story. Then, you will write a one page account of an everyday event in your best imitation of the Lovecraft style. Finally, you will write a short reflection paper on what you think constitute’s Lovecraft’s style.

Part 1: Word Concordance

As you’ll figure out this semester, Lovecraft had several unusual words he used a lot. A word concordance is an old tool of literary analysis (the first one was on the Bible and compiled in the 12th century) in which words used in a text are printed along with some contextual information. This tool gives us better insight into word usage in a body of texts, called a corpus. In this part of the assignment, you will be using a free program called Antconc to generate a concordance for a specific word in Lovecraft’s special vocabulary.

There will be a video posted on Blackboard explaining how to compile a corpus, but you will be turning in the output produced by Antconc and using some data in your reflection essay.

A sign-up sheet will be circulated allowing you to choose the word you’ll be concordancing.

To recap:

  1. Sign up for a word to concordance.
  2. Download the Lovecraft corpus
  3. Download Antconc 3.2.4 for Windows or Antconc 3.2.4 for OSX
  4. Watch the video on Blackboard explaining what to do.

Part 2: Everyday Eldritch Horrors

You will then write a brief (1-2 page, double spaced, 12 pt. Times New Roman) narrative of an everyday activity (going to the gym, commuting to campus, shopping for groceries, etc.) in the style of an H.P. Lovecraft story. Make sure to pay attention to the discussions we’ve been having in class about Lovecraft’s approach to building tension, usage of imagery, and overall sentence structure.

Part 3: Reflection Essay

In a short (2-3 pages, double spaced, 12 pt. Times New Roman) essay, reflect on what you think makes H.P. Lovecraft’s style unique. Use examples from the stories we have read to illustrate your point.

Project 2: Science (30%)

For this assignment, we will be considering Lovecraft’s approach to science. Despite being a pronounced critic of progress and modernization, Lovecraft was also deeply interested in a number of scientific advances of his time. In order to better understand Lovecraft’s world and the changes occurring in it, you will write a research report on one of the following scientific theories or breakthroughs popular during Lovecraft’s time:

  1. Polar Exploration
  2. Non-Euclidean Geometry
  3. Quantum Mechanics
  4. Relativity
  5. Astronomy
  6. Eugenics
  7. Amateur Journalism

You will find out about the topic, and, more importantly, the state of the topic during Lovecraft’s life (1890-1937). Having gained an understanding of the topic during this period, you will author a (8-10 page, double spaced, 12 pt. Times New Roman) research paper that details the history of the topic during Lovecraft’s life (do not talk about developments more than 50 years before his birth or after his death) and the influence the topic had on Lovecraft’s writing. You will need to support your claims about Lovecraft’s fiction with citations from the stories, and your claims about the scientific topic with valid and scholarly sources (at least four different sources, three of which must be non-Internet sources). Additionally, if possible, talk about how Lovecraft’s use of the topic was in-line with or not in-line with mainstream literary appropriation of the topic.

Project 3: Myth (20%)

We have explored Lovecraft’s style and interest in science, so far this semester, but for this final assignment, we will instead focus on the most famous aspect of his writing: The Cthulu Mythos. As you are by this point no doubt familiar, Lovecraft’s stories, in addition to being darn good horror, build an entire universe of interrelated origins myths in which alien, “Old Ones” visited a primordial Earth. These malevolent beings have shaped our history and await the moment when “the stars are right again” to return and rule over us once again.

For this assignment, you will sign-up for one of the mythical beings in the Cthulu pantheon. You will then research representations of that being in Mythos stories (both by Lovecraft and others) and author an entry in our class “Mythosopedia.” This site will be hosted on MediaWiki, the same technology used by Wikipedia. You will be held to their same editorial and formatting standards.