‘Such Terrifying Vistas of Reality’: Lunatic Landscapes in the Works of H. P. Lovecraft

David Varley takes a tour through the uncanny landscapes of H.P. Lovecraft, whose weird fictions have inspired numerous films, comic books, and novels. This lecture was recorded as part of the Late Summer Lecture Series.

David examines the ways in which Lovecraft uses landscape-based description as a means of constructing psychological effects, and in particular the manner in which he blurs the distinction between different kinds of spaces to effect a sense of the uncanny.

The podcast begins with an introduction to the life, work and philosophy of Lovecraft, with particular focus on his literary philosophy of “Cosmicism,” a concept related to that of existential nihilism. Even in his non-fictional writings, Lovecraft uses the imagery of landscapes as a means of presenting his own ideas of cosmic horror.

Lovecraft’s fiction can be seen as employing three different spheres of spatial reference: landscapes of the world, landscapes of the mind, and landscapes of the “other.” The interaction between these three spheres lies at the heart of Lovecraftian fictions, with narrative tension being generated by the “friction” caused by this interaction – a friction which leads to the weirding of landscapes.

The individual plays an interesting role in Lovecraft’s fiction, as the human mind is affected by interaction with these three kinds of landscape. The destabilisation of these landscapes, and the consequent blurring of their boundaries, is used by Lovecraft as a means of depicting the breakdown of the human mind. This lens of broken minds and broken landscapes is used by Lovecraft as a primary means of creating his characteristic “cosmic horror.” Lovecraft’s pervading sense of existential angst is caused not only by the existence of his trademark monstrous abominations, but also by his fundamental questioning of the certainty and validity of existence itself.

Late Summer Lectures is a series of lectures given by PhD students, bringing new research to a public audience. Over the next few weeks, the remaining lectures will explore 1960s counter-culture in Newcastle, demons, and mediaeval monkeys. Lectures take place on Tuesdays at 19.30 in the Percy Building, Newcastle University and are repeated Wednesdays at 19.30 in Alington House, Durham. For more details, view the full programme. Podcasts of previous lectures can be downloaded here.

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