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Creator / H. P. Lovecraft

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A rare picture of our author attempting to smile.
"The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown."
H. P. Lovecraft, Supernatural Horror in Literature (1927)

The best known author of the Cosmic Horror Story genre and the originator of the Cthulhu Mythos, Howard Phillips Lovecraft (August 20, 1890 – March 15, 1937) is considered perhaps both the greatest and most notorious of all American horror fiction writers, rivaled only by his idol Edgar Allan Poe.

Lovecraft was more fond of books than of people, very much like most of his protagonists, and famously suffered from a large number of phobiasnote  and medical disorders, most notably chronic night terrors.note  At least one literary critic has described him as being "afraid of everything that wasn't his home town of Providence, Rhode Island", and it's not an unfair assessment. Lovecraft credited these issues as the inspiration for much of his work, and it shows - many of his stories are focused on the frightening veil between waking and dreaming, where one's thoughts are jumbled and the world around them seems unreal.

Although Lovecraft descended from a wealthy and privileged family (his rich grandparents, mother, and aunts gave him just about everything he wanted, including free run of the family library, his Grandma Robie introduced him to astronomy, and his Aunt Lillian to math and chemistry, while Grandpa Whipple loved ghost stories and ancient stuff), his early years were marked by loss. His father went insane from syphilis and died when Lovecraft was about eight. As a sickly child, he only attended school sporadically and was essentially self-educated, and due to what he termed a "nervous breakdown", he never finished high school and instead only dabbled informally in his passions. He wanted to be an astronomer, but found the mathematics beyond him. His grandfather, with whom he was very close, died and his money was mismanaged by relatives, leaving the family rather impoverished, and forced the sale of the grandfather's prized personal library, then the entire house. Lovecraft's mother also supposedly went insane (now believed to be severe anxiety) and died of complications after gallbladder surgery in a mental hospital.note  In his adult years, he drifted in and out of poverty (mostly in) as he lived on a rapidly dwindling trust fund and whatever pittance he made writing for magazines, suffered from night terrors and major depression, got divorced, and passed away from cancer of the small intestine.

On the other hand, he was a member of the United Amateur Press Associationnote , made many friends by correspondence (by the end of his life, Lovecraft was regularly skipping meals to save money for stamps) and, when possible, would travel to meet them, journeying all up and down the east coast and even venturing into Canadanote . He was an amateur astronomer and antiquarian, a tireless walker, ardent bicyclist, and lover of all things ancient and strange. He was a professed atheist, but loved the gods of the Ancient Egyptians and Greeks, and as a child had prayed to them.

He earned most of his living as an editor and ghostwriter. He was reluctant to sell his own stories, fearing they would not be well-received, but he was a prolific correspondent with other writers of the time, including Robert E. Howard and Clark Ashton Smith (not to mention the teenage Robert Bloch),note  and heavily rewrote many of their stories for them, inserting his own themes. Lord Dunsany, Edgar Allan Poe, Robert W. Chambers' The King in Yellow, and Arthur Machen are frequently cited as major influences on Lovecraft's work. Less often cited but no less influential was the half-a-generation older Algernon Blackwood, who Lovecraft once described as "a modern master". No summary of Lovecraft's life is complete without a mention of his passionate devotion to cats and to his hometown of Providence, Rhode Island. He only owned one cat in his lifetime, but fed and named every alley cat he found. Contrary to popular belief, his cat's infamously and outrageously racist name (yes, his cat's name was literally the N-word) was not his creation: his father was the one who named it (granted, Lovecraft does use the name generically to refer to other black cats in his letters, so evidently he had no problem with it). His words I Am Providence are engraved on his tombstone.

Much of his work is informed by a powerful fear and disgust for anything outside the limited sphere of an urban White Anglo-Saxon Protestant of his time. This is evident in his personal writings, which, for instance, decried the goals of Adolf Hitler as overly optimistic, though not without criticizing the Nazis' censorship of works of science and art Even after he married a Jewish woman, Sonia Greene, and gathered a social circle of other Jewish people, he often made anti-Semitic remarks. Many of his early stories and poems contain xenophobic overtones or outright slurs, mostly aimed at immigrants from Eastern Europe and the Middle East as well as extremely racist views of Black people, who are compared to apes. One of the intended "horrors" of several stories was miscegenation (racial impurity, which he considered "degenerate") — again, a commonplace societal fear at the time, especially in the New England states where opposition to interracial marriages was actually higher than in the South. The racial slurs are far less common in his later stories, as Lovecraft modified his views and came to believe that all races (except the "primitive" Black people of Australasia and sub-Saharan Africa) are broadly equal, but shouldn't mix, as they are biologically and/or culturally incompatible.note  Sadly, these views too were pretty common at the time, and it's important to note that Lovecraft's racism, though rightly horrifying to us today (in the 21st-22nd century) and viewed as extreme even in his own time, was not unique to him and did not exist in a vacuum.

Lovecraft's stories not only featured fear of people of different (non-White) skin color, but distaste aimed at "mental, moral and physical degeneration" due to inbreeding, interbreeding with non-human creatures, or even immoral acts such as cannibalism ("The Picture in the House"). In his stories, such degeneration could afflict the lower classes ("The Horror at Red Hook") and rural communities ("The Dunwich Horror", "The Shadow over Innsmouth") as well as upper-class families ("Facts Concerning the Late Arthur Jermyn and His Family", "The Rats in the Walls", "The Lurking Fear"). It's interesting, perhaps even humorous, to note that "The Shadow Over Innsmouth" was not inspired by fears of miscegenation, but by Lovecraft's own discovery that his great-grandmother was... Welsh. Possibly an apocryphal story, but whatever the truth of this, HPL was haunted by the memory of his father who "died insane" and the fear that he might also suddenly undergo mental degeneration.note  It's safe to say that heredity was a major source of inspiration for him, often - but not exclusively - manifesting as racism.

He was a great admirer of the civilizations of Ancient Egypt, Ancient Greece, and the Roman Empire and differentiated between people of "noble" appearance and heritage and civilized behavior contra "degenerate" individuals or tribes. He has two stories with Hispanic heroes and Dr. Muñoz in "Cool Air" is Spanish, with some Moorish heritage. He pointed out in his great Troper essay Supernatural Horror in Literature that Jewish people in general possessed "marked mystical inclinations; and the wealth of underground horror-lore surviving in ghettoes and synagogues must be much more considerable than is generally imagined.note  Jewish Folklore has preserved much of the terror and mystery of the past". Early in life, he thought that immigrants to the U.S. should learn English and completely assimilate. After seeing a community of Orthodox Jews in New York, he sympathized with their rejection of modernitynote  and over time came to think foreigners might do better to retain their original language, dress, and customs, because attempts to "Americanize" often made them look vulgar.note 

Later in life he renounced his reactionary views, criticizing his younger self in scathing terms in a letter written months before his death for being smugly fixated on naturalistic explanations to the exclusion of understanding social and economic context and describing a particularly embarrassing piece of his writing as "haughty, complacent, snobbish, self-centred, intolerant bull". During his radical change, he also wrote critiques regarding laissez-faire capitalism with his signature writing style, which would end up becoming eerily-accurate in the 21st century with ever-evolving sociopolitical environments.

The influence of Lovecraft's fear of the unknown extended further than xenophobia and racism. His famous cosmology, created almost single-handedly, did not celebrate science and progress, but was instead full of otherworldly monsters and blind, raving deities. While most people of his time were entranced by the technological innovation produced by the Industrial Revolution, Lovecraft was deeply suspicious of modern technology and the poorly-understood powers it vested in mankind. All of his work resonates with the terror of the newly-discovered magnitude of the universe, which in the early period of his life was believed to consist entirely of the Milky Way. Einstein's theory of relativity opened a door into teleportation, time travel, and alien geometry, and radically altered peoples' notion of space-time itself, while the discovery of pre-Cambrian fossils and Wegener's then-new-and-controversial hypothesis of continental drift brought the notion that the Earth was far older than previously believed, and that even the shape of the continents was not set in stone. All of this was subtly addressed in Lovecraft's stories of alien horror, and of the remains of ancient civilizations lost to the abyss of geological deep time.

The dizzying speed of progress of his time was compounded by an expansion of the unknown. Each new development, instead of reducing the number of questions as had been expected by pre-modern philosophers, instead compounded them exponentially. Leibniz had hoped that the entire world could be described by reason, and that this is the best of all possible worlds — a possibility utterly abolished during Lovecraft's writing period. Each new discovery only increased humanity's knowledge of its own ignorance and insignificance, encouraging a nihilistic atmosphere, and this is perhaps the central theme of Lovecraft's incisive fiction. For fiction done by others in his literary mythos (and the Lovecraftian setting as a whole), see the Cthulhu Mythos.

Despite some controversy over whether most of his works are genuinely public domain, they're all invariably available online somewhere. The letters are harder to get a hold of (and expensive as hell, check out Abebooks), but they're well worth the search. The HPL Historical Society's podcast Voluminous provides a lively introduction and context to the letters.

It is said that his ghost has been seen in his old residence, not at 454 Angell Street where he was born and which he always considered his true home — that was demolished in 1961 — but in his bright, pleasant apartment at 10 Barnes Street, where he lived after returning from New York and where he wrote The Call of Cthulhu. (This house still has the apartments and occasionally one comes up for rent). He's also been spotted at Ladd Observatory, where according to folklorist Thomas D'Agostino he walks around outside the building or comes in and looks out the window. D'Agostino says he may also visit the Athenaeum and that "his presence is alive in many places along the East Side where he lived and died".

There is no official record of Lovecraft ever encountering anything corporeally eldritch, as much as some fans wish it were all true. To this day, you can find at least a half dozen different fabrications of Lovecraft's wholly fictional Necronomicon.

Works by Lovecraft

For a mostly-complete list of film adaptations, see Lovecraft on Film. For the comic book about Lovecraft, see Lovecraft. For more adaptations in a variety of forms, see the work of the HP Lovecraft Historical Society.

    List of Works 
  • At the Mountains of Madness — Scholarly expedition to Antarctica discovers ruins of a city built by Ancient Astronauts and has close encounters with formless horrors and giant bald penguins, incidentally proving that "It gets better" can be used to great effect.
    • Guillermo del Toro (the director of Hellboy and Pan's Labyrinth) had a screenplay prepared, although it will be quite a while before anything comes of it, what with one thing and another. Although it had Tom Cruise and James Cameron involved, it was cancelled in light of The Wolfman reboot flopping. At one point, Del Toro said that Prometheus may have killed any chance of his Mountains adaptation being made, as he considers the stories much too similar, but he has since taken back this statement.
    • Dan O'Bannon, the original writer of Alien, is a massive Lovecraft fan (he would go on to direct an adaption of The Case of Charles Dexter Ward) and initially conceived the plot of Alien as a kind of "At the Planet of Madness"; much of the original story involved the aliens being "gods" to a long-lost civilization who sacrificed victims to them, and left hieroglyphs depicting their lifecycle on the walls of a giant pyramid. Many of these ideas would be subsequently reused in AVP: Alien vs. Predator (which, just to drive the point home, was set in Antarctica) and in Prometheus.
    • John Carpenter's The Thing is even closer. Indeed, a genealogical connection is plausible: the film is an adaptation of John W. Campbell's short story Who Goes There?, published in Astounding Stories in 1938. Campbell — who became editor of Astounding that year — would surely have been reading it in 1936, when it published At the Mountains of Madness. John Carpenter himself is an admitted H.P. Lovecraft fan, so it'd hardly be surprising if he drew a little inspiration from the story, even indirectly (there actually is some resemblance between the sequences where Mac and Copper investigate the Norwegian camp in The Thing and the scene where Dyer and Danforth investigate Lake's camp in At The Mountains of Madness, not to mention that the Norwegians weren't in the novella the film was based on...). He even made In the Mouth of Madness as a tribute to Lovecraft's work.
  • "Cool Air" — A boarding-house resident who likes, for some reason, to have it very cold in his apartment goes into a panic when his swamp cooler breaks down; his downstairs neighbor soon begins to wonder where the smell is coming from...
    • "Cool Air" and "Pickman's Model" were made into episodes of Night Gallery, with the modification that in both cases, the stories' respective viewpoint characters were retooled into women with doomed crushes on the male leads. Purists may find the insertion of a love interest frustrating, but the actual events of the stories were left more-or-less unchanged, right down to their bleak endings
    • Also was loosely adapted as one of the segments in the cheaply-made, only nominally Lovecraftian anthology film Necronomicon, with, of all people, a slumming David Warner as the star. They also decided to throw in a love triangle plot, for some reason, and it was a lot more obtrusive than when Night Gallery did it.
    • A quite faithful indie adaption of "Cool Air" can be found in The H.P. Lovecraft Collection (Part 1) by Lurker Films, Inc.
    • Adapted as "Baby, It's Cold Inside" in Vault of Horror #17 (February 1951) from EC Comics.
  • Dagon — A young man serving in the navy during World War I escapes German captivity only to glimpse a strange monster.
  • His Dreamlands stories, among them "The Cats of Ulthar", "Celephais", "The Quest of Iranon", "The Silver Key", "Through the Gates of the Silver Key" and The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath. The last encompassed a number of characters from Lovecraft's other stories, "Pickman's Model" in particular.
  • The Dreams in the Witch House — A young student is terrorized by a witch and her ratlike familiar who want him to join their coven.
  • The Dunwich Horror — Invisible abomination terrorises the Massachusetts countryside.
    • Filmed in 1970 as a not-entirely-faithful Cult Classic starring Dean Stockwell as Wilbur Whateley and Sandra Dee as Nancy Wagner, a new character. Yog-Sothoth! There was also a 2009 remake by Syfy - again starring Dean Stockwell, but this time as Professor Armitage.
  • "The Festival" — An unnamed narrator visits the town of Kingsport, Massachusetts, to take part in a family tradition that calls occurs once every one hundred years on Yuletide, which coincides with Christmas Eve. Naturally, the town’s ceremony is more terrifying than he had planned. Notable for expanding on the lore of the Necronomicon, with an entire paragraph quoted.
  • From Beyond — A Mad Scientist develops a way to allow him to see other realities occupying the same space as ours, and the things that live there.
    • Was loosely adapted into a cult classic movie, From Beyond, starring Jeffrey Combs. It was much Hotter and Sexier than Lovecraft's original, and had some truly excellent practical monster effects.
  • Herbert West–Reanimator — A Mad Scientist develops a serum that can revive the dead. Probably best known in its gory, darkly comedic film adaptation, also starring Jeffrey Combs, it is actually one of the first tales to use the cannibalistic zombies archetype so beloved of modern culture. The novella itself was written as a parody of Frankenstein. Lovecraft himself disliked the story due to the constraints placed on him by the magazine in which it was published.
  • In the Vault: Strange happenings befall an undertaker trapped in a vault with several filled coffins.
  • In the Walls of Eryx — A crystal-hunter on Venus finds himself trapped in an invisible maze and running low on supplies. Lovecraft's only foray into pulp science-fiction. Also, notably, one of the very few works by him that opposes colonialist rhetoric, and it portrays the inscrutable aliens as somewhat sympathetic.
  • The Lurking Fear — A reporter travels to investigate mysterious murders at Tempest Mountain, and discovers that a local aristocratic family's inbreeding and degeneracy have led to horrible consequences.
  • "The Music of Erich Zann" — A student, seeking cheap accommodation, takes a room underneath a strange, mute cellist who plays unnatural music late into the night. He considered this one of his best stories, as he managed to avoid his usual tactic of explaining everything (read: the tiniest explanation of anything is juuust barely alluded to—in the form of a note the protagonist never actually gets to read).
  • The Nameless City — An explorer visits the ruins of an ancient city somewhere in the Arabian Peninsula, which was built by an advanced alien race whose remains look something like a mix between a seal and a crocodile. One of the earliest stories of the Cthulhu Mythos, and the first to mention the “mad Arab” Abdul Alhazred, author of the Necronomicon, although he hadn’t added that part yet.
  • "Old Bugs" — A somewhat more down-to-earth story about an old drunkard trying to prevent a young man from going down the same path of alcoholism that he did.
  • "The Outsider" — One of the prime examples of Tomato in the Mirror in literature. It Was His Sled may be in place, naturally.
  • Pickman's Model — A degenerate artist gives one of his former friends a glimpse of the horrible secret behind his disturbing subject matter.
    • Has been adapted a number of times into short movies by various independent film makers from different countries, movies which were collected on DVD as part of The H.P. Lovecraft Collection (Part 4) by Lurker Films, Inc. As noted above, it was also adapted, albeit loosely, into an episode of Night Gallery.
    • This story is also referenced in Fallout 4, which is set in Boston and features the location "Pickman's Gallery". The location is a decaying art gallery, now inhabited by a Serial-Killer Killer who slaughters the franchise-ubiquitous thieving and murderous enemy faction known as raiders, then uses their blood as paint.
  • The Rats in the Walls — The narrator, a man from New England, buys an old keep in England that belonged to his ancestors (and which was erected at the site of much older Roman and Iron Age temples) and discovers a horrifying family secret that drives him insane.
    • Appeared as another segment of the anthology movie Necronomicon, although this adaptation moved the family's home to New England, removed the plot about the family's curse history, and aside from the name "de la Poer" and being set in a house, was essentially unrecognizable.
  • The Shadow Out of Time — One of his best-regarded stories, and one of those most firmly in the scifi, rather than horror, genre. A strange creature from the deep past swaps bodies with a modern-day scholar, followed by the latter's subsequent investigations into the years he can't remember.
  • The Shadow Over Innsmouth — Man visits a Town with a Dark Secret and finds something fishy in his family tree - and decides that being a freak is actually kind of awesome.
    • This one was the primary inspiration for the video game Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth, which takes place in Innsmouth.
    • Also loosely adapted into Dagon, set on the coast of modern-day Spain.
      • This, in turn, might be part of the inspiration for Resident Evil 4, also set in Spain with the antagonists as inhuman villagers who are part of a cult that worships horrific tentacled things. And that's not even getting into some of the other enemies...
    • Also part of a long sequel series by various authors, Shadows over Innsmouth.
    • 2007 indie film Cthulhu by Dan Gildark and Grant Cogswell is actually based on this story rather than any of the Cthulhu mythos stories.
    • Academy Award-winning film The Shape of Water is sometimes considered a Spiritual Successor - or even genuine sequel - to this story. It strikes a rather different tone, but it's worth noting that both stories have the exact same ending.

Other works by Lovecraft include examples of:

  • Absurdly Cool City:
    • Sarnath is like a Goth Xanadu crossed with Minas Tirith. Unfortunately, the people of Sarnath make the mistake of bullying their neighbours in Ib, and... well, the story is called "The Doom That Came To Sarnath".
    • Y'ha-nthlei (mentioned in The Shadow Over Innsmouth) is an Underwater City of strange and beautiful architecture, full of Fish People who make beautiful jewelry all day. Not everyone's cup of tea, but Robert Olmstead thinks it's cool.
    • The Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath revolves around Randolph Carter's search for a city of unspeakable beauty, which haunts his dreams. At the end, it turns out to be Boston, which Lovecraft really liked.
    • The Music of Erich Zann is set in a City with No Name that is mostly this trope. The narrator lives in a rather rundown neighbourhood of it, and one of his main goals throughout the story is to take in the panoramic view of the skyline that, he figures, must be visible through the window of his upstairs neighbour (the Erich Zann of the title), suggesting that most of the city is pretty breathtakingly beautiful. Unfortunately, due to Alien Geometries, he never gets to take in this view.
  • Alien Fair Folk: The Great Old Ones are supernatural creatures akin to pagan gods (for instance, Shub-Niggurath aka the Black Goat of the Woods with a Thousand Young is obviously related to God Pan) who are actually of extraterrestrial origin.
  • Alien Invasion: The Sufficiently Advanced Aliens are waiting to reclaim what was rightfully theirs; the others have been here for millennia, but humans are simply unaware of their presence.
  • The All-Concealing "I": "The Outsider (1926)", in which the narrator is eventually revealed to be a sentient humanoid monster, although his exact nature (undead? humanoid abomination?) is never explained.
  • Almighty Idiot: Azathoth, known to fans as the "Blind Idiot God". He created reality by accident, and will be equally oblivious when he destroys it.
  • Ambiguous Gender:
    • In "The Hound" we know St. John is male because his narrator and partner in crime tells it. There is no telling, or even any hint, on the narrator's gender and role in the story: St. John's wife? Mistress? Male partner, associate or lover?note  The confusion stems also from Values Dissonance: in conservative parts of the Western world, it was and still is customary for a lady to call her husband by his family name. To say, like the narrator: "St. John and I did this or that".note  It's too old-fashioned for modern age US, but during Lovecraft's youth most people with some education spoke like that, and he tended towards old-fashioned modes of speech anyway.
    • "The Nameless City", "The Festival", "Ex Oblivione", "Cool Air", "The Music of Erich Zann", and "What the Moon Brings" likewise never explicitly state the gender of the protagonist. As noted above, the Night Gallery version of Cool Air decided to make its protagonist a woman, and gave her a crush on Dr. Munoz. That said, given Lovecraft's almost omnipresent use of Chromosome Casting in favour of male characters, he almost certainly intended them all to be men.
  • Angry Fist-Shake: Done by the protagonist of "In the Walls of Eryx" in order to intimidate the Venusian natives. They're not exactly intimidated.
  • Anti-Hero: His main recurring protagonist, Randolph Carter, does almost nothing to help anyone that doesn't benefit him directly in any of his stories. In fact, he seems to outright reject the idea that anything in human reality matters... perfectly mirroring Lovecraft's own views at least during his Decadent period. However, in The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath, he repays the cats who saved him from the moon-beasts by alerting them to and helping them foil a Zoog raid. When he discovers three of the ghouls who helped him, captured and being tortured by said moon-beasts at the nameless rock near Sarkomand, he derails his own quest to summon the night-gaunts and the ghoul army to save them.
  • Apocalyptic Log:
    • "The Hound", a short story about two grave robbers coming under a strange curse, ends with the final lines revealing the entire story was a suicide note—the narrator could no longer cope with the unfathomable terror.
      • "Dagon" has the same ending.
    • "In the Walls of Eryx" is the recordings of the final days of a space explorer and prospector trapped in an invisible maze on the planet Venus, running low in oxygen and water.
  • Arc Words:
    That is not dead which can eternal lie,
    And with strange aeons even death may die.
    • Also:
    In his house at R'lyeh, dead Cthulhu waits dreaming.
    • You could compile a dictionary of Lovecraft's unique lexicon of overused words; in fact, someone has.
  • Artifact of Death: The Shining Trapezohedron from "The Haunter of the Dark". Gazing into it allows you to see into the audient void and learn things man was not meant to learn, but the downside is that it also summons an avatar of the god Nyarlathotep to hunt you down and kill/possess you.
  • Attack of the Monster Appendage: The Reveal of "Under the Pyramids" is that the five-headed creature that the narrator sees crawling out of the abyss (and which is implied to be the inspiration for the Sphinx) is merely the forepaw of some vastly larger Eldritch Abomination.
  • Author Appeal: Lovecraft liked cats, and included heroic/benign examples of them in some of his stories, a particular example being the army of cats which assists the protagonist in the novella The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath, and another story, The Cats of Ulthar - which is clearly set in the same world as Dream Quest - shows a terrible fate befalling those who are cruel to cats.
    • He was also known to use as many adjectives as humanly possible. Old buildings (wholesome and not so much), great cities (ditto), and quaint villages (ditto) figure in nearly all his stories, and he never lost his love for "Arabian Nights" Days.
  • Author Avatar: Abdul Alhazred and Randolph Carter particularly, although most of his protagonists were somewhat autobiographical.
  • Author Tract: "The Silver Key" consists almost entirely of his Author Avatar Randolph Carter, who is exactly like Lovecraft except that he's a World War I veteran (point of fact: he was in the fucking Foreign Legion, making him an incredible badass) and his family didn't lose its wealth and prestige, musing about all things wrong with humanity's quest for meaning.note  He bashes both religion and science for their obsession with order and structure. Carter has spent so much time dealing with everyday reality that he has forgotten the true "silver key" — dreams are equal to reality, and that the only things worth valuing in a meaningless universe are beauty and harmony. He finds his best solution in returning to childhood, and at the end does so literally. We're to assume that he has learned from the first time so that he doesn't lose his sense of wonder.
  • Author Vocabulary Calendar: Lovecraft seems to like a lot of adjectives, and many which are uncommon or archaic. Favorites include 'abnormal', 'accursed', 'blasphemous', 'cyclopean', 'daemoniac', 'eldritch', 'furtive', 'hideous', 'nameless' and 'shunned'. There are also some which he used only a few times, but are just so rare or obscure that fans associate them strongly with Lovecraft—such as 'gibbous', 'tenebrous', 'stygian', 'ululating', 'non-Euclidean', 'squamous', 'fungous, 'nitrous' and 'rugose'.
  • Badass Bookworm: Randolph Carter, featured in several of Lovecraft's best-known tales. A WWI veteran, having served from the first in the Foreign Legion of France, he has great courage and resourcefulness despite his occasional tendency to swoon when things get too eldritch.
  • Beethoven Was an Alien Spy: "The Outsider" and "Under the Pyramids"note  both mention in passing the female pharaoh Nitocris as the ruler of a society of monsters and undead.
  • Bittersweet Ending:
    • The main character from The Outsider (1926) is forever separated both from humanity that he desperately wanted to join, and from the comforting oblivion of his previous existence. However, he finds a sort of contentment with others of his kind in the shadows beneath the Pyramids in Egypt.
    • The protagonist of Celephais finds his Cool City and rules it Happily Ever After as a god, but it's his Dying Dream after falling off a cliff. In later stories he says he wishes it were more like his childhood home, Cornwall.
  • Big Bad: Multiple stories reference Elder/Outer Azathoth, and Yog-Sothoth, all of whom are essentially powerful enough to destroy the known universe (Cthulhu being the only one bound to Earth, which he shall destroy in Lovecraft's universe).
  • Blob Monster: The creatures in "He" and "The Unnameable" were described as being at least partially gelatinous. The shoggoths - most prominently featured in At The Mountains Of Madness - are also very blobby.
  • Body Horror:
    • In "Cool Air", the learned doctor melts. He's actually been dead for years.
    • "Under the Pyramids" suggests that a corrupt branch of the ancient Egyptian priesthood had made a practice of stitching together patchworks of human and animal corpses, in emulation of their animal-headed gods. Shadows of these mix-and-match mummies are seen moving across the walls, implying either that they're undead, or that the priests had scooped Dr. Frankenstein's breakthrough by millennia and brought their hybrids to life.
    • In The Colour Out Of Space, the energy of the colour causes grotesque degradations in the bodies of the central family.
    • In The Shadow Over Innsmouth, the townsfolk become increasingly deformed as they get older - actually a gradual transformation into Fish People.
  • Bolt of Divine Retribution: Lovecraft was quite fond of this, it appears:
    • "The Picture in the House" is the most obvious example: almost immediately after the old man is revealed as a cannibal, his house is destroyed by a lightning bolt, presumably killing him and the narrator.
    • "The Dunwich Horror" ends with the monster being struck by lightning and destroyed.
    • "The Call of Cthulhu": Cthulhu is freed from R'lyeh, but soon after a storm strikes, submerging R'lyeh and imprisoning him once again.
    • "The Dreams in the Witch-House": Just when it looks like Nyarlathotep's disciples have won, the witch-house is destroyed in a storm and they all die.
    • "The Haunter of the Dark": Nyarlathotep manages to kill Robert Blake, but at the same time lightning strikes Blake's apartment and dispels him.
  • Breather Episode: Celephais is quite pleasant, displaying none of the Cosmic Horror Story elements Lovecraft is famous for. It's about a man who, as a boy, dreams of exploring a fantastic, wonderful city, his 40-year long dream quest to find it again, and how he ends up ruling there forever after as a Physical God. With the Cruel Twist Ending — depending on your point of view — that the last part is his Dying Dream after falling off a cliff and drowning (then again, this is a tale of the Dreamlands, a real place in HPL's work, and we meet this guy in other stories).
    • One of those very stories is The Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath, a rousing adventure tale full of epic battles, adorable kittens, friendly ghouls, and cool monsters.
  • Buffy Speak: "Beyond The Wall of Sleep" features a man whose doctor recognizes as being possessed by some cosmic entity of superhuman intelligence who is struggling to express its metahuman thoughts and ideas through the man's backwoods brain and vocabulary.
    "Big, big cabin with brightness in the roof and walls and floor, and the loud queer music far away...".
  • Burn the Witch!: In "The Festival", the unburned corpse of a wizard (or, presumably, a witch) can give rise to a walking humanoid mass of worms, which collectively become host to the dead spellcaster's mind when they consume its rotting flesh. Why it's necessary to burn such people alive is not explained, however.
  • Cannibal Clan: In "The Lurking Fear" the monsters terrorizing the town turn out to be descendants of a cannibalistic family, who have devolved into subhuman creatures by generations of inbreeding and living underground.
  • Cannibalism Superpower: The focus of the old man's speculations in "The Picture in the House":
    "They say meat makes blood an' flesh, an' gives ye new life, so I wondered ef 'twudn't make a man live longer an' longer ef 'twas more the same—"
  • Cannibal Larder: In the short story "The Picture in the House," the narrator realizes that his host's talk of historical cannibalism is not purely academic when blood soaks through the ceiling and drips onto the titular picture.
  • Cessation of Existence:
    • "Ex Oblivione", where the protagonist discovered that oblivion was the natural state of things, and that 'existence', as it is known, is merely a brief nightmare...
    • In "The Quest of Iranon", the main character is told of such oblivion in terms of similar optimism by the people in one of the towns he visits. When Iranon himself dies at the end the issue of what becomes of him is not spoken of, and the variance and flexibility of Lovecraft's contradictory cosmology and mythos leaves the question open.
  • China Takes Over the World:
    • "Nyarlathotep" shows a future resembling a Zombie Apocalypse with "yellow evil faces peering from behind fallen monuments" instead of zombies.
    • In "He", a visitor is given a glimpse of a hellish future New York: " the heavens verminous with strange flying things, and beneath them a hellish black city of giant stone terraces with impious pyramids flung savagely to the moon, and devil-lights burning from unnumbered windows. And swarming loathsomely on aërial galleries I saw the yellow, squint-eyed people of that city, robed horribly in orange and red, and dancing insanely to the pounding of fevered kettle-drums, the clatter of obscene crotala, and the maniacal moaning of muted horns whose ceaseless dirges rose and fell undulantly like the waves of an unhallowed ocean of bitumen". This would likely be considered very racist today. It sounds actually as if Lovecraft, who definitely had what we'd call sensory issues, had encountered and been overwhelmed by a Chinese New Year festival.
  • Christmas Episode: Lovecraft managed to work his own unique version of a Christmas Episode into the Cthulhu Mythos with a short story called "The Festival", set in a picturesque New England town during the Yule season. This being Lovecraft, expect Eldritch Abominations and terrors aplenty.
  • Chromosome Casting: The Cthulhu Mythos contains only three women of any real note: Lavinia Whateley, Keziah Mason, and Asenath Waite, and the latter turns out to be a man in Asenath's body. Whateley really only exists to give birth to Wilbur and die, so Keziah remains the only woman with any real plot significance... and naturally, she's the main antagonist.
  • City of Gold: Several of the Dreamlands' cities are described in terms of the exotic and precious materials from which their streets, wharfs, or buildings are made.
  • City with No Name: The city in "The Nameless City" (namedropped in many other Cthulhu Mythos stories) is an odd case; its "real" name, if it ever had one, is unknown, but characters and fans pretty much turn the phrase "The Nameless City" into its Nonindicative Name.
  • Cool Mask:
    • The horrible worm-monster-horrors masquerading as people in "The Festival" wear waxen masks.
    • As does the Mi-Go who impersonates Henry Akeley in "The Whisperer In Darkness".
    • Swami Chandraputra or, as he is more commonly known, Randolph Carter himself in "Through the Gates of the Silver Key", since by then he was no longer human.
  • Crisis of Faith: Randolph Carter goes through this in "The Silver Key". Carter has lost the ability to go to the Dreamlands, and without that experience, life isn't worth living. Fortunately he finds a way, by starting his life over from childhood.
  • Cult
    • "Under the Pyramids"
    • "The Horror at Red Hook"
  • Dark Is Evil: A plot point in The Haunter of The Dark, the monster of the story is repelled by light, but is indestructible in the dark.
  • Dark Is Not Evil: Ghouls and Nightgaunts that inhabit the Underworld in Lovecraft's Dreamlands are a far cry from pure evil, and compared to the monsters inhabiting the outer voids they are downright cuddly. While they can be dangerous to any unprepared traveler who goes too near to the caves the Nightgaunts are set to guard, they can befriend and give aid to human dreamers. If you don't mind their habit of eating rotting human corpses stolen from the cemeteries of the Waking World, they can be downright amiable lot, once you learn to know them.
  • Darkness Equals Death: "The Haunter of the Dark" features a monster that can be hurt or banished by light, and which goes after the protagonist during a thunderstorm that knocks out the lights.
  • Daylight Horror: "Cool Air":
    It is a mistake to fancy that horror is associated inextricably with darkness, silence, and solitude. I found it in the glare of mid-afternoon, in the clangour of a metropolis, and in the teeming midst of a shabby and commonplace rooming-house with a prosaic landlady and two stalwart men by my side.
  • Did We Just Have Tea with Cthulhu?: In "Through the Gates of the Silver Key", Randolph Carter gets to have a friendly chat with Yog-Sothoth.
  • Did You Just Punch Out Cthulhu?:
    • Several of the Mi-go in The Whisperer in Darkness are killed with a shotgun.
    • The Call of Cthulhu is the Trope Namer; Cthulhu himself is punched out as literally as the circumstances will allow when one of the sailors runs a steamship into him, injuring him. A storm then sinks R'lyeh and re-imprisons him.
    • The Dunwich Horror: The titular monster, which is the son of Yog-Sothoth, is defeated when some of the humans perform a magic ritual which ends in Yog-Sothoth taking his son out with a lightning bolt.
    • The American government destroys Innsmouth, arrests the human-Deep One hybrids and torpedos their underwater city in The Shadow Over Innsmouth.
  • Dissimile: Played for horror in "The Festival".
    They were not altogether crows, nor moles, nor buzzards, nor ants, nor vampire bats, nor decomposed human beings; but something I cannot and must not recall.
  • Doomy Dooms of Doom: Unsurprisingly, a motif in "The Doom That Came to Sarnath", sometimes in all-caps:
    And before he died, Taran-Ish had scrawled upon the altar of chrysolite with coarse shaky strokes the sign of DOOM.
  • Dragged Off to Hell: This appears to be the ultimate fate of the bad guy from "He", who ends up being attacked by the spirits of the native Americans he murdered.
  • The Dragon: Nyarlathotep and Cthulhu.
  • Dream Land: Lovecraft's Dream Cycle stories, inspired by the works of Lord Dunsany, are set in a world which can be entered through dreams. The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath suggests that each planet has its own dream land, and there are some locations where the dream land and waking world intersect.
  • Dreaming of Times Gone By: When not caused by paranormal means, stories often feature visions of the ancient past through dreams.
  • Drugs Are Good: Hashish is a helpful adjunct to exploring the Dreamlands in the short story "Celephais".
  • Dug Too Deep: "The Transition of Juan Romero" has miners blasting a new area open for work, only to find a bottomless cavern, a horrible pounding noise, and God, I dare not tell you what I saw!
  • Entertainingly Wrong: The protagonist from "The Lurking Fear" comes to the conclusion that the horrible events occurring during the first part of the story is caused by the vengeful ghost of Jacob Martense, who had been brutally murdered by his degenerate family members decades before, and starts digging into Jacob's grave in a misguided attempt at appeasing his spirit. Since the story is narrated in past tense, the narrator refers to his own actions as "idiotic".
  • Faint in Shock: In The Last Test Georgina overhears a conversation late at night that leads her to believe that her brother is involved in carrying out brutal human experiments and savage sacrifices. The thought of this increasingly terrifies her until eventually she faints while lying in her own bed, and remains in her dead faint until the next morning. After she awakens, she mistakenly believes that what she overheard and subsequently thought late last night was a dream (since they were the last things she remembers before waking up in the morning). It's not until noon, when she personally witnesses a subject being captured in front of her, that she realizes that the conversation last night was real, upon which she instantly faints once again and does not wake up until late into the afternoon.
  • Famous, Famous, Fictional: "The Nameless City" has an example of famous-fictional-fictional, where the first name is real and the rest are continuity nods to "The Doom That Came to Sarnath":
    To myself I pictured all the splendours of an age so distant that Chaldaea could not recall it, and thought of Sarnath the Doomed, that stood in the land of Mnar when mankind was young, and of Ib, that was carven of grey stone before mankind existed.
  • Fear of Thunder: In "The Lurking Fear", the Martense clan and their Morlock-like degenerate descendants share the hereditary trait of being driven to frenzied, violent panic by thunderstorms.
  • A Fête Worse than Death: The titular winter solstice rite beneath the town of Kingsport in "The Festival". The town is made up of monstrous worm creatures posing as human who, yearly, go beneath the earth to engage in various unspeakable rites. However, it is never made clear whether or not the protagonist was dreaming.
  • Fictional Religion: Lovecraft's fiction abounds with strange gods and creatures, an entirely fictive cosmos whose deities are merely advanced alien and/or interdimensional beings who cannot be understood by human minds.
  • Final Solution: "In the Walls of Eryx" ends with the crystal company deciding to wipe out the lizard men of Venus based on the suggestions the protagonist, who met a horrific end alongside another employee, left in his notes. Suggestions that he came to regret in his final hours and wished that humanity simply leave Venus and let the natives be, which the company wrote off as dehydration and depression-induced delusions.
  • Fire Keeps It Dead: From "The Festival":
    "Wisely did Ibn Schacabao say, that happy is the tomb where no wizard hath lain, and happy the town at night whose wizards are all ashes".
  • Food Pills: The short story "In the Walls of Eryx". An explorer on Venus must wear an oxygen mask to breathe. While traveling, he eats by slipping food tablets into his mask.
  • Foregone Conclusion: As noted in a foreword to The Lurking Fear and Other Stories, Lovecraft's avoidance of Posthumous Narration means the reader can generally be assured that any first-person narrator is going to survive whatever hell they go through, at least physically — they have an unusually frequent tendency to end up writing their memoirs from within an asylum.
  • Foreign Language Title: "Ex Oblivione" ("From Oblivion" in Latin).
  • For the Evulz: Nyarlathotep, one of the few Eldritch Abominations who seems to take active interest in humanity, seems to love messing with people just because he can. Although in some stories he is simply the guardian of hidden lore, in The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath, he's intentionally cruel. In the prose poem "Nyarlathotep," he tours the country driving people insane with scientific exhibitions. His purpose is never clear. In general, he's so powerful that his cruel actions are analogous to a child burning ants with a magnifying glass.
  • Frazetta Man: The nameless tribe of "white apes" from "Facts Concerning the Late Arthur Jermyn and His Family". Unusually for this trope, they're not actually portrayed as doing anything "evil", the titular character's ultimately suicidal revulsion seems to stem entirely from the revelation that his great-great-great-grandmother was a princess from that tribe.
  • Genius Loci: "The Street".
    There be those who say that things and places have souls, and there be those who say they have not; I dare not say, myself, but I will tell of the Street.
  • Giant Flyer: The byakhee from "The Festival".
    • Implied with the Haunter Of the Dark, though it's never fully seen.
  • Glasses Pull: "The Curse of Yig".
    Dr. McNeill paused here and removed his glasses, as if a blurring of the objective world might make the reminiscent vision clearer.
  • Go Mad from the Revelation: Occurs on a global scale in "Nyarlathotep", which tells of one man (although he's really a messenger for the god of chaos) revealing such cosmic secrets that entire cities are driven mad and civilisation collapses.
  • Grave Robbing: The antiheroes of "The Hound" are a pair of ghoulish guys who rob graves for fun.
  • Half-Human Hybrid:
    • An unusually unnatural version, even by the standards of Lovecraft, the man-made anthropomorphic animal mummies from Under The Pyramids, created in a blasphemous ritual to emulate the Egyptian pantheon, and rejected by all sane divine forces.
      Heaven take it away! Hippopotami should not have human hands and carry torches... men should not have the heads of crocodiles...
    • The Innsmouth people have an ancestry mixing human and Deep One.
    • Wilbur and his brother in The Dunwich Horror, fathered by Yog-Sothoth.
    • Also see above under Frazetta Man.
  • Have a Gay Old Time: Pretty unavoidable considering the subject matter and age of the stories, but "queer" comes up as a description pretty often. "Gay" is much rarer, though few of Lovecrafts characters have much reason to be happy.
  • Have You Tried Not Being a Monster?: Robert M. Price has hypothesized that "The Outsider (1926)" carries this subtext, however unintentionally.
  • Hell Hound: "The Hound".
  • Hereditary Curse: In "The Alchemist", Charles Le Sorcier utters a curse against his father's murderer, with each person in the bloodline being killed at the age of 32. It is caused by someone living that long and manually ensuring their deaths. The last of the line, Antoine, breaks the curse after careful study about the terms, and exploring the castle that he inherited.
  • Heterosexual Life-Partners:
    • St John and The Hound's anonymous narrator.
    • Randolph Carter and Harley Warren, in "The Statement of Randolph Carter".
    • The dudes from "Hypnos" (though their case borders on Chastity Couple)...
    • In Herbert West—Reanimator, the anonymous narrator and the titular Herbert West.
  • Higher Understanding Through Drugs:
    • In the Dreamlands story "Celephais", the dreamer uses hashish because he wants to get back to Celephais, and ends up going everywhere but there.
    • In "Hypnos", the narrator and his companion must consume unnamed illegal drugs to astral travel to forbidden dreamscapes. Later they end up relying on drugs to stay awake to keep away the horrors they unwittingly summoned.
  • Hillbilly Horrors:
    • In "The Lurking Fear", it turns out the "monsters" are the cannibalistic descendants of a single family so heavily inbred they have all but turned into goblins.
    • "The Picture in the House" is set in "the ancient, lonely farmhouses of backwoods New England; for there the dark elements of strength, solitude, grotesqueness, and ignorance combine to form the perfection of the hideous".
    • The Dunwich Horror draws great contrast between the learned Miskatonic U professors and the terrified Dunwich yokels.
  • Historical Domain Character: Lovecraft has become one in the end of the 20th and early 21st Century. He appears in many comics and stories. He's the subject of Alan Moore's Sidelong Glance Biopic Providence.
  • Humanity's Wake: In "Memory", a demon and genie idly contemplate a number of apes who frolic in ancient ruins. The demon eventually remembers that the apes are the descendants of an older race called "man", the original builders of the ruins.
  • Humanoid Abomination: The monstrous hybrid mummies from Under The Pyramids.
    • Wilbur Whately in The Dunwich Horror is a kind of monstrous demigod, although he's not quite so humanoid underneath his clothes.
    • Cthulhu himself is usually understood to be, more or less, humanoid.
  • Humans Are Cthulhu: In "Through the Gates of the Silver Key", the second half deals with a space alien named Zkauba being posessed by the human sorcerer Randolph Carter, and who is "...disgusted by the thought of the repellant Earth-mammal" until Carter discovers a way to suppress Zkauba's personality entirely, and then proceeds to enter suspended animation until his host's homeworld is cold and dead, then travel thousands of lightyears to earth just so he can try to return to his body shortly after he left it, all while holding Zkauba prisoner in his own body.
  • I'm a Humanitarian: The Picture in the House involves the discovery of a Cannibal Larder. Also, there's a Cannibal Clan in The Lurking Fear and The Rats in the Walls.
  • Impossibly Mundane Explanation: In "The Alchemist", men of the narrator's family all die at the age of 32, supposedly due to a curse laid on the family by the son of an alchemist one of his ancestors killed 600 years ago. While researching the curse he dismisses the possibility that his ancestors were assassinated by descendants of the alchemist but it turns out that the alchemist's son has, in fact, been murdering them by assorted means over the centuries. This entails him having invented an elixir of immortality so that he could stick around and see the job done, so it's not entirely a mundane solution.
  • Inhuman Human: In "Cool Air", a supremely talented Spanish physician had revived himself after being dead, but unless he "lives" at low temperature, below 56 °F (13 °C), his body would decompose itself like a corpse, and even during this "life" there is something repugnant in his appearance. He eventually dies a second death when his refrigeration system breaks down, but for many months before his appearance had already become scary to people and his mind drifted.
  • Insectoid Aliens: "Beyond the Wall of Sleep" makes mention of "the insect-philosophers that crawl proudly over the fourth moon of Jupiter".
  • Interspecies Romance: In "Facts Concerning the Late Arthur Jermyn and His Family", it is intimated that Sir Wade Jermyn and his white ape bride loved each other very dearly, even if the story as a whole plays such a romance as being a thing of utter deviancy.
  • It's The Only Way To Be Sure:
    • In "The Picture in the House", just as it dawns on the protagonist what horrifying events have transpired in the eponymous house, the house is blasted by a bolt of lightning from the heavens.
    • The epilogue paragraphs of "The Lurking Fear" have the main character hiring a team to dynamite the mansion the story centers on, a significant portion of the surrounding forest, and any caves or tunnels they can find. He still worries that it won't be enough.
  • The Juggernaut: The titular creature in "The Hound" slowly but constantly pursues the protagonist, who stole an amulet from a tomb. The only thing that ever slows it down is a second theft of its amulet, and after dealing with that thief it immediately returns to the protagonist (who eventually decides he would rather commit suicide than be caught by it).
  • Karmic Death:
    • Karl Heinrich in "The Temple" ultimately dies trapped in an underwater city due to his stubborn refusal to throw the amulet out of the U-Boat.
    • Herbert West is dragged away and killed by his own reanimated zombies.
    • The denouement of The Rats in the Walls reveals that one of the De la Poers, the story's Cannibal Clan, was sealed in the family's underground city and devoured by the rats that grew fat off the remains of their victims.
    • The squire who killed the Native Americans and stole their land in He is attacked by the spirits of all his victims after the narrator's screams re-awaken them.
  • Keeper of Forbidden Knowledge: Nyarlathotep is characterized like this in most of his appearances. In "The Haunter of the Dark" he is a gatekeeper to secrets beyond human ken, and must be appeased with human sacrifices in order to relinquish some of this knowledge. In his original appearance in the prose-poem "Nyarlathotep", he instead grants humanity information in abundance as a figure of science, leading to the entire world Going Mad From The Revelation.
  • Killer Gorilla: "Facts Concerning The Late Arthur Jermyn" mentions that one of Jermyn's ancestors, a circus performer whose act consisted of a mock boxing match against a gorilla, was brutally killed by it after he had a breakdown and assaulted it after it accidentally punched him too hard during practice.
  • Kindhearted Cat Lover: Averted in Lovecraft's essay "Cats and Dogs", in which Lovecraft argues strongly and at length for the superiority of cats over dogs. To Lovecraft, to prefer dogs over cats was a sign of superficiality and sentimentality, while a preference for cats was an indication of an intellectual or a poet who can appreciate the beauty of an animal that goes its own way without treating its owner with cringing subservience.
  • The Knights Who Say "Squee!": Lovecraft was a big fan of and heavily influenced by Edgar Allan Poe.
  • Lampshade Hanging: He had more of a sense of humour about himself than most people realize.
  • Legion of Lost Souls: "The Silver Key" mentions that Randolph Carter served in the Légion étrangère from the beginning of WWI. He was nearly killed near Belloy-en-Santerre in 1916.
  • Lighthouse Point: The narrator of "The White Ship" is a lighthouse keeper, and it's implied that the solitude either a) made him more sensitive to the supernatural or b) affected his sanity.
  • Lightning Reveal: In "The Lurking Fear", the first chapter ends with the narrator realizing that something other than one of his human companions was snuggled up to him on a cot in a reputedly haunted house when it gets up suddenly and a flash of lightning casts its shadow on the wall he's facing.
  • The Little Shop That Wasn't There Yesterday: "The Music of Erich Zann" features a variation of this trope: the protagonist is never able to find the street he lived by ever again, after the events of the story, despite the fact that he had a normal landlord, and the street had many other inhabitants, as well.
  • Living Shadow: In "The Haunter of the Dark", the eponymous being appears to be some type of a shadowy creature (with wings, tentacles and a three-lobed burning eye). Its weakness is light (a little light hurts it, bright light will banish it).
  • Lizard Folk:
    • In "The Nameless City", the denizens of the Nameless City are very reptilian, although not very humanoid.
    • In "In the Walls of Eryx", the Venusians are described as lizards.
  • Long Title: "Facts Concerning the Late Arthur Jermyn and His Family". To Lovecraft's distaste, it was retitled "The White Ape" when it was first published. Simply shortened to "Arthur Jermyn" in the Del Rey anthology.
  • Lost Roman Legion: In The Very Old Folk.
  • Mad Artist: "The Music of Erich Zann". Erich Zann seems somewhat crazy. He spends most of his time locked up in his apartment, playing his cello, and doesn't let anybody else hear him play. He does that because he believes that his music is the only thing that keeps Eldritch Abominations from entering our dimension through his bedroom window. This being Lovecraft, he turns out to be right.
    • Richard Upton Pickman, in Pickman's Model, is a controversial painter who loves depicting scenes of ghouls robbing graves, eating people, kidnapping kids to raise as their own, and things like that. At the end of the story, it's revealed that he's in contact with actual ghouls, who pose for his paintings.
  • Mad God: Azathoth, who also happens to be the Top God in the Mythos. Which fits perfectly with Lovecraft's idea of an uncaring and indifferent universe where mankind is utterly insignificant.
  • Madwoman in the Attic:
    • In "Facts Concerning the Late Arthur Jermyn and His Family", some earlier members of the Jermyn family are said to have been kept out of public sight. However, as for the key figure of the great-great-great-grandmother of Arthur, she turns out not to have been insane so much as not a human being at all.
    • In "The Unnamable", what was kept in the attic was some super-vague... thing; a Humanoid Abomination Mix-and-Match Critter whose appearance caused someone to Go Mad from the Revelation. Its relationship to the people keeping it there was also vague. Then it had died and become even weirder.
    • In The Shadow Over Innsmouth, some of the older and more grotesque of the Innsmouth people stay inside all the time, lurking in boarded-up attics until they're ready to complete their transformation.
  • Magic Music: In "The Music of Erich Zann", the music Zann plays has power to hold back an unearthly threat.
  • Man on Fire: The titular Arthur Jermyn soaked his clothes in oil and set himself alight after finding out his family's secret.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane :
    • The Night Ocean is maybe just the tale of an impressionable lonely painter having a bout of depression on his vacation as autumn comes.
    • The Crawling Chaosnote  is either a drug-fuelled hallucination of The End of the World as We Know It or a legitimate vision of the future.
    • "Hypnos" appears to be nothing more than the product of the narrator's drug-addled imagination, but the Ambiguous Ending leaves open the possibility that there is genuine magic at work.
  • Monstrous Cannibalism: At the end of "The Lurking Fear", one of the odd-eyed subterranean monstrosities turns on a weaker companion and eats it. To the narrator's eyes, it looks like a routine practice.
  • More Predators Than Prey: In "The Lurking Fear", the mutated deformed cannibals number in the dozens, if not hundreds, while their abode is rather isolated and the number of people who fall victim to them is small. (It's hinted, though, that they have no problem preying on each other...).
  • The Morlocks:
    • The creatures in "The Lurking Fear" are somewhat like Morlocks as they are carnivorous de-evolved apelike humans. However, it's not social class and evolution that turned them into this, but generations of inbreeding.
    • One of HPL's earliest stories, "The Beast in the Cave", tells of an encounter between a lost cave-explorer and an ape-like subterranean creature he thinks is this trope. At least, until the dying creature utters a few final sounds, revealing itself to be an ordinary man who'd been lost in the vast, pitch-black caverns so long that he'd reverted to animal-like behavior.
  • Mugging the Monster: "The Terrible Old Man". Some burglars decided to go for an easy target: that weird old retired sea captain who lives on the edge of town, has a garden full of creepy statues, and talks to a collection of jars with little pendulums inside. It doesn't go well for the burglars.
  • Nightmare Fetishist: "The Hound" stars two people who spend their days collecting whatever ghastly things they can find, from Tomes of Eldritch Lore to corpses.
  • Nothing Is Scarier: In "The Music of Erich Zann", the horror of that story lies not in any kind of monster, but a vague sense of something horrible and unknowable lurking outside the window.
  • Officer O'Hara:
    • There's a scene in "The Haunter of the Dark" where the protagonist is researching a local desecrated chapel, and is told that all the Catholics in the area know the story behind it. So he asks the nearest police officer, "a great wholesome Irishman".
    • Malone in "The Horror at Red Hook" is described as "a tall, heavily built, and wholesome-looking" fellow, "large, robust, normal-featured, and capable-looking". He has a mystical streak attributed to his Celtic heritage and a poet in his younger days, but is level-headed and practical as well.
  • Ontological Mystery: "The Outsider (1926)". A man has lived his whole life in a dark castle beneath an all-enclosing forest that blocks out the sky. Yet, he feels strangely that he has not always been there...
  • Or Was It a Dream?: The narrator of Under The Pyramids believes what he saw beneath the pyramids was just a mad dream brought on by his obsessive reading of egyptology prior to his trip and the trauma he endured leading up to him being trapped inside the tunnels but part of him cannot forget that his mysterious guide that no one else seems to remember, had a disturbing likeness to Pharaoh Khefren, the face upon the Sphinx.
  • Our Liches Are Different: "The Festival" suggests that a sufficiently skilled sorcerer can attain life after death by transferring his consciousness to the maggots that have eaten his corpse and living on as a man-shaped pile of creepy crawlies.
  • Perfect Pacifist People: Made fun of in the poem, "Pacifist War Song".
  • Pieces of God: In "Through the Gates of the Silver Key", Randolph Carter learns that all conscious beings are actually tiny aspects of Eldritch Abominations outside time and space, granted the illusion of individuality by their limited perception of the universe. Facing the Outer God Yog-Sothoth, he realizes that he and it are the same being.
  • Redemption Equals Death: Or possibly, Redemption Requires Death - although it's ambiguous. In "The Horror at Red Hook", the corpse of Robert Suydam reanimates itself somehow and pushes a golden pillar into the ocean, severely disrupting a cult/smuggling ring's operations.
  • Red Eyes, Take Warning: "The Haunter of the Dark". The titular monster has a red, three-lobed, burning eye.
  • Religious Horror: The existence of Azathoth is almost worse than the concept of God Is Evil. The creator of our universe is little more than a mindless force, with no ability to care one way or the other about the goings on of its creation. He is not good or evil or even just alien like the Elder Gods, he simply Is.
  • Reluctant Monster: In "The Outsider (1926)", the main character is one, if only for a minute. He spends most of his life completely alone, thinking he's human. When he finally does meet other people, they run away in terror, and he even terrifies himself when he sees his reflection. He quickly decides to just go with it.
  • Retired Monster: The title character of "The Terrible Old Man" is implied to be one. Pieced together from the meager hints of the story, he appears to be a former pirate captain who through black magic keeps the souls of his former crew captive in jars on his desk. Unlucky burglars discover the hard way how a feeble, old man with no bank account, who pays for his meager purchases with old gold coins can live quietly without fear of being robbed.
  • The Reveal:
    • Facts Concerning The Late Arthur Jermyn: The Jermyn family are descended from the union between the great-great-great-grandfather Wade Jermyn and an intelligent, humanoid ape.
    • The Outsider: The main character is some form of undead, and was not aware of it
  • Robbing the Dead: In "The Hound", two self-described ghouls remove an amulet from an infamous grave. The amulet's owner is less than happy about this.
  • Scare 'Em Straight: Lovecraft, a teetotaler in real-life, wrote a joking example of an anti-drinking screed in his comedic short story "Old Bugs".
  • Scenery Porn: Combined with Developing Doomed Characters, or in this case, Doomed Cities, The Doom That Came To Sarnath is over half lavish description of what a strange, wondrous, beautiful, amazing city it is. Details and grand vistas alike are rendered as only Lovecraft's Purple Prose can do. All, of course, so the eventual doom is all the more horrific for the fact that it is barely described at all.
  • Self-Immolation: In "Facts Concerning the Late Arthur Jermyn and His Family", Jermyn kills himself this way after discovering the horrible truth about his ancestry.
  • Serial Killer:
    • The antagonist of "The Picture in the House", who stays alive by killing travellers and eating their flesh.
    • "The Alchemist" also provides an example.
  • Shared Unusual Trait: The horribly inbred Martense clan from "The Lurking Fear" all have brown-and-blue eyes. This is the tip-off that the swarm of Humanoid Abominations haunting the area actually consists of their offspring.
  • Shout-Out:
    • Clark Ashton Smith, Harry Houdini and some of Lovecraft's other friends became characters in his stories.
    • Robert Blake in "The Haunter of the Dark" is modeled on Lovecraft's young admirer Robert Bloch. There's also a character named Howard who is a recluse in Providence ends up dying in one of Bloch's stories. "The Haunter of the Dark" even references that story. Both stories also begin with dedications to the other author, and involve the other dying horribly.
  • Sinister Geometry: The shining trapezohedron from "The Haunter of the Dark".note  Gazing into this alien artefact will grant you visions from beyond our world, but also summons the titular monster, an avatar of the Crawling Chaos Nyarlathotep, to kill or possess you.
  • Sinister Minister: The title character of "The Evil Clergyman", a mysterious man with a decidedly Anglican attire who appears to have cast his soul into a matchbox-like object in an act of pre-suicidal sorcery, later attempting to completely usurp anyone that handles said object.
  • Sins of Our Fathers: "The Doom that Came to Sarnath" takes a thousand years.
  • Space Clothes: Toyed with in "In the Walls of Eryx", taking place in the wet jungles of a pulp Venus. The planet-hopping protagonist grouses in his diary about his sturdy leather suit, wishing for something made of indestructible shiny metal foil instead.
  • Spell My Name with a Blank: In "The Alchemist", written in Lovecraft's late teens, the narrator's last name is blanked out; he only refers to himself as "Antoine de C-".
  • Spooky Painting: In "The Picture in the House", the eponymous picture depicts a cannibal banquet. The really creepy bit is the implication that its owner is himself a cannibal.
  • Stealth Parody: According to the editor's notes in the collection The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories, "The Hound" has been criticized for being overwritten, but the over-the-top prose was intentional as part of an attempt at self-parody.
  • Sugar Bowl: The Dreamland stories. Sona-Nyl, Celephais and Aira are all described in these terms. And even Randolph Carter, having just endured innumerable horrors after his ascent of Mt. Ngranek, gets a break as he heads for Thran to catch a ship to Celephais:
    Well did the traveller know those garden lands that lie betwixt the wood of the Cerenerian Sea, and blithely did he follow the singing river Oukranos that marked his course. The sun rose higher over gentle slopes of grove and lawn, and heightened the colours of the thousand flowers that starred each knoll and dingle. A blessed haze lies upon all this region, wherein is held a little more of the sunlight than other places hold, and a little more of the summer's humming music of birds and bees; so that men walk through it as through a faery place, and feel greater joy and wonder than they ever afterward remember.
  • Summoning Artifact: The Shining Trapezohedron in "The Haunter of the Dark" summons the titular Haunter, an avatar of Nyarlathotep (it also gives you visions of the Outer Void and of its own history, but summoning an Eldritch Abomination is clearly its main function).
  • Suspiciously Specific Denial: "The Haunter of the Dark" opens with a couple of paragraphs explaining that the general consensus is that Robert Blake was killed by lightning. Sure, the window was closed, but maybe lightning can do that. And the expression on his face was probably just because of a muscle spasm, not anything he saw. His diary entries were just based on local legends (sure, he also said he didn't know anything about them, but who believes that?), and the deserted church was obviously vandalized by pranksters with whom he was somehow connected. The well-respected doctor who read Blake's diaries and subsequently broke into the church, grabbed the stone and the metal box from out of the windowless black steeple and dumped them in the bay was just a crazy fanatic. Clearly.
  • Take That!: New York. Lovecraft hated New York and made it apparent. If you want to know what he thought of New York, read "He" and "The Horror At Red Hook".
  • The Teetotaler: Lovecraft was one of these, though he had enough of a sense of humor about it to write "Old Bugs" a short parody of Scare 'Em Straight anti-drinking screeds.
  • Temple of Doom: Lovecraft's story The Temple takes place in a strange ancient temple isolated by jungle near the Yucatán peninsula. Another story, "The Nameless City" takes place in an abandoned city lost in time and the great desert of the Arabian peninsula.
  • These Are Things Man Was Not Meant to Know. Virtually ubiquitous.
  • Threshold Guardian: In "Beyond the Gates of the Silver Key", Yog-Sothoth appears as a literal threshold guardian on Randolph Carter's astral journey, marking the point where Carter must choose between returning to his normal life or exploring the universe (but risking never getting back).
  • Through the Eyes of Madness: "Hypnos" leaves it extremely open whether the narrator's nameless "friend" ever really existed or was simply a marble statue he may have found and taken home someday all along.
  • Time Abyss:
    • In "The Haunter of the Dark", the protagonist writes down the history of an ancient artifact after gazing into it. Said artifact was originally created on planet Yuggoth, and came into the possession of the Elder Things on Earth billions of years ago. Later it was worshiped by a race of serpent-men in ancient Hyperborea, until it was lost for millions of years before being found by the first humans in Lemuria and millennia later again in ancient Egypt, where the eponymous Avatar of the god Nyarlathotep was given its familiar name, and was involved in the fall of an entire dynasty. A few thousand years later it was found in the ruins of a temple and brought to Providence, where an occult cult formed around it.
    • The eponymous city in "The Nameless City".
  • Top God: Azathoth and Yog-Sothoth.
  • Tomato in the Mirror:
    • The Outsider (1926) is a first person point-of-view story that follows a mysterious lonely individual who cannot remember coming in contact with people. It features an actual Mirror.
    • "Facts Concerning the Late Arthur Jermyn and His Family".
  • Tome of Eldritch Lore: The Necronomicon, trope popularizer.
  • Total Eclipse of the Plot: A total eclipse of the moon happens at the climax of "The Other Gods", along with a rumble of thunder from a clear sky, when Barzai the Wise attempts to see the gods of the Earth with his own eyes. He failed to take the other Gods into consideration, and was never seen again. The implication was that it wasn't Earth's shadow hiding the moon as usual, but something humongous and otherworldly coming to punish Barzai for his transgression...
  • Town with a Dark Secret: Kingsport in "The Festival".
  • The Trope without a Title:
    • "The Nameless City".
    • Lovecraft used this trope so much that he lampshaded it in "The Unnameable", which not only embodies the trope but discusses it at length.
  • Tuckerization: In "The Haunter of the Dark", a character named Robert Blake meets a terrible fate. The story is a sequel to Robert Bloch's "The Shambler from the Stars", in which Bloch (with Lovecraft's permission) inflicted a similarly horrible fate on a fictionalized version of Lovecraft.
  • Two-Faced: The Egyptian Queen Nitokris, as described in "Under the Pyramids":
    By his side knelt beautiful Queen Nikotris, whom I saw in profile for a moment, noting that the right half of her face was eaten away by rats or other ghouls.
  • Unobtainium: The "crystals" on Venus in "In the Walls of Eryx". Like their later namesake, they are a super energy source for humans but have a mysterious psychic or religious value to the planet's natives.
  • Venus Is Wet: "In the Walls of Eryx", one of his ventures into straight science fiction, is set on a Venus that has a tropical climate and is filled with lush, swampy jungles. The atmosphere is not human-breathable however and the protagonist mentions having to wear a breathing mask and periodically changing filter cartridges.
  • Villain Protagonist: The scornful, heartless, exploitative crystal thief in "In the Walls of Eryx". He comes to a bad end.
    • He does, however, come to regret his actions shortly before his death and wishes that humanity leave Venus altogether, leaving the natives be.
    • Karl Heinrich of "The Temple" is an elitist German U-Boat captain who makes what are essentially snuff films of himself killing enemies, sinks lifeboats despite this being against the Geneva Convention and regularly flogs and executes his own men.
    • Delapore from "The Rats in the Walls" ends up like this when he attacks and eats Captain Norrys while suffering a Sanity Slippage.
  • Was Once a Man:
    • The title monster from "The Beast in the Cave" turns out to be a human who reverted to an animalistic state after being lost alone in the cave for years.
    • "Facts Concerning the Late Arthur Jermyn and his Family".
    • The Martense family in "The Lurking Fear", so inbred and degenerate now that one might not realize they were ever human.
  • Weakened by the Light: In the "The Haunter of the Dark", the titular being (an avatar of Nyarlathotep) has an extreme aversion to light. Any light will harm it and strong enough light will destroy it. In the end it is destroyed by a flash of lightning.
  • Weirdness Censor: In "The Nameless City" the narrator attributes the wall-art showing the lizard/seal things to be symbolic of early humans and/or the gods they worshiped. Even after seeing wall-art of the lizards killing a human, it takes a while for the point to sink in.
  • Wham Line: The short story "The Outsider (1926)" is a monologue by an isolated, lonely protagonist who longs for human company. His final sentence is a wham change of perspective, where he explains how he discovered he was a ghoul not a human being.
    For the things in the chair, perfect to the last, subtle detail of microscopic resemblance—or identity—were the face and hands of Henry Wentworth Akeley.
    But by God, Eliot, it was a photograph from life!
  • What Measure Is a Non-Human?:
    • Any non-human intelligent species appearing in his works will almost invariably be hideous and monstrously evil. Examples include the Deep Ones, the Mi-Go and the Shoggoth. Even non-violent species, such as the white ape ancestor of the Jermyn family are treated as revolting for the sole crime of not being human.
    • Averted with the Elder Things, who are described as "men of another form", and with the Great Race of Yith, who are portrayed as highly civilized and intelligent. Unfortunately, their mind-breakingly hideous forms are still highly distressing to humans.
  • "Where? Where?": Played for drama in "The Outsider". The protagonist, who has lived alone as far back as he can remember, goes in search of human company, and finds a castle where a party is going on. As he enters, the entire party flees in terror.
    The cries were shocking; and as I stood in the brilliant apartment alone and dazed, listening to their vanishing echoes, I trembled at the thought of what might be lurking near me unseen.
  • The Worm That Walks: One common interpretation of the ending of "The Festival", though it could just as easily refer to a maggot-infested corpse, or a single huge worm.
    Wisely did Ibn Schacabao say, that happy is the tomb where no wizard hath lain, and happy the town at night whose wizards are all ashes. For it is of old rumour that the soul of the devil-bought hastes not from his charnel clay, but fats and instructs the very worm that gnaws; till out of corruption horrid life springs, and the dull scavengers of earth wax crafty to vex it and swell monstrous to plague it. Great holes secretly are digged where earth's pores ought to suffice, and things have learnt to walk that ought to crawl.
  • Wretched Hive: New York City is presented like this in "The Horror of Red Hook" and "He", mainly because of all the immigration. Lovecraft lived there for a time in real life and did not enjoy the experience.
  • Yellow Peril: In "He", a man travels into the future and sees New York filled with scary Asian people.
  • You Are a Credit to Your Race: An unusually cringe-worthy example, even for this trope, in "The Lurking Fear". The narrator describes the insular hillfolk of Tempest Mountain as hard-working and helpful despite their questionable lineage, especially compared to their distant relatives, the Martenses. Considering how isolated rural communities are usually portrayed in Lovecraft's work, simply acknowledging them as nice people comes as high praise.
  • You Fool!: Used in "The Statement of Randolph Carter". Harley Warren goes exploring in an underground tomb, while Carter waits at the entrance as backup. Warren discovers something that causes him to frantically call for Carter to close up the tomb and run for his life, then falls silent. Carter calls out to Warren, and in reply hears an utterly inhuman voice, which says, "You fool, Warren is dead!".
  • Your Days Are Numbered: "The Alchemist" features a Hereditary Curse in which each victim dies at the age of 32. Because the alchemist who performed the curse has spent his immortal years personally ensuring that it comes true, having lurked in the hidden parts of the main character's ancestral castle for over a century.

Alternative Title(s): Lovecraft