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Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Master of the macabre

Twisting the life of a horror writer into a tale of its own

Posted By on Wed, Apr 27, 2005 at 12:00 AM

Howard Phillips Lovecraft (1890-1937) was a purveyor of strange unmentionable horrors, the keeper of the dreaded Necronomicon, the literary successor to Edgar Allan Poe. Without him, there may not have been a Stephen King or an Evil Dead. His influence spans film and literature. Just as the word Proustian evokes long meandering sentences running between past and present, so Lovecraftian has become synonymous with paranormal evil. His stories are often laden with undescribable monsters, revolvers firing off into putrid flesh, a character who opens the door even though he knows there’s something lurking behind it, and a learned narrator who explains horror in a cool rational voice — though probably mad himself.

There have been several weak attempts at adapting Lovecraft’s work for the screen: Necronomicon, Re-Animator, Lurking Fear, The Haunted Palace. None has managed to capture the simple power of Lovecraft’s haunting tone. Perhaps it may have something to do with the absurdity of his work. Lovecraft made it his business to never fully describe his monsters because it was "too horrifying." A device strangely hypnotic, once disentangled from the labyrinthine tapestries of the master’s sentences, would yield a universe of possibilities to the reader.

This hypnotic effect is well-suited to literature, but loses its effect when translated to film. So along comes this graphic novel called Lovecraft, a screenplay by Hans Rodionoff, adapted by Keith Giffen and illustrated by Enrique Breccia. This book is a somewhat fictionalized biography of the man himself. Guts and all, an artist’s mind is laid bare, a rusty gate thrown open. We are taken upon a journey through Providence, R.I., the offices of Weird Tales (the magazine that published most of Lovecraft’s stories) and the pages of the Necronomicon, the book of the dead. Fans of Lovecraft will celebrate Rodionoff’s attention to details of the author’s life, from Lovecraft’s overbearing mother to the madness of his father to his doomed romance with Sonia Green, who later becomes his wife.

This book is a blending of the truth and the fiction, posing the question, "What if the horrors Lovecraft wrote about were actually real?" It’s easy to imagine the film version while reading this book. Enrique Breccia supplies a surrealist touch to the visuals, and, as the book progresses to its inevitable end, the drawings almost bleed outside the pages, tendrils reaching out. Lovecraft’s monsters, and his imaginary Arkham, Mass., and Arkham Asylum — not to be confused with the mythology in Batman, which is possibly an homage to the horror writer — are finally brought to life in a unique graphic collage, full of darks and lights and lurking shadows.

One of the dangers of any translation of literature to a visual medium is that the realized version is never as good as the one you’ve imagined. Thankfully, this book does leave a few empty spaces for your mind to fill in — much like Lovecraft’s fiction — and it’s a refreshing work because of it.

This book is not without flaws. The ending feels flat and a bit forced, but it’s an attempt to do something different, thereby adding to the Lovecraftian mythos. Such ambition is bound to fail, yet is admirable nonetheless because it overreaches the established boundaries of this material. Admittedly a guilty pleasure, fans and newcomers alike will lose themselves inside these haunted pages.

Cornelius A. Fortune is a Detroit-based writer of fiction. E-mail letters@metrotimes.com.

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