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2023 | Book

The Medial Afterlives of H.P. Lovecraft

Comic, Film, Podcast, TV, Games


About this book

Medial Afterlives of H.P. Lovecraft brings together essays on the theory and practice of adapting H.P. Lovecraft’s fiction and the Lovecraftian. It draws on recent adaptation theory as well as broader discourses around media affordances to give an overview over the presence of Lovecraft in contemporary media as well as the importance of contemporary media in shaping what we take Lovecraft’s legacy to be. Discussing a wide array of medial forms, from film and TV to comics, podcasts, and video and board games, and bringing together an international group of scholars, the volume analyzes individual instances of adaptation as well as the larger concern of what it is possible to learn about adaptation from the example of H.P. Lovecraft, and how we construct Lovecraft and the Lovecraftian today in adaptation. Medial Afterlives of H.P. Lovecraft is focused on an academic audience, but it will nonetheless hold interest for all readers interested in Lovecraft today.

Table of Contents



Chapter 1. Lovecraft, the Lovecraftian, and Adaptation: Problems of Philosophy and Practice
Lovecraft and Lovecraftian adaptation are an instructive problem, with three main areas we feel it is necessary to touch on here, signaled by the trio of terms of our title. First, “Lovecraft,” and especially here Lovecraft’s fiction, is often reduced to a small canon and hypotext to so many adaptations despite principled debate about its suitability to adaptation in the first place. Second, the “Lovecraftian,” a potentially unique concept which functions complicatedly as an allusion to a core of Lovecraft’s fiction’s most persistent figures and ideas, as a marketing tool, and as a malleable signifier. Thirdly, adaptation itself, a term with a complex range of meanings clustered around the core notion of moving a story across medial boundaries—even this minimal definition must come under scrutiny. Taking stock of the three key terms will be our first step here; in a second step, we want to suggest a possibility for framing Lovecraftian adaptation that, at least in part, takes its departure precisely from the possibly unique, certainly revelatory nature of adapting H.P. Lovecraft.
Max José Dreysse Passos de Carvalho, Tim Lanzendörfer
Chapter 2. Disseminating Lovecraft: The Proliferation of Unsanctioned Derivative Works in the Absence of an Operable Copyright Monopoly
There’s a predominant consensus expressed by those such as Peter Damien in the United States, that Lovecraft’s literary work is free for writers, artists and musicians to build upon and remake through their own derivative works. Left unexamined and uncontextualized in this discussion is the legal copyright status of Lovecraft’s original texts, which is significant since the ability to create derivative works is directly contingent upon their public domain status. This chapter surveys leading experts on the subject, such as S.T. Joshi, Chris Karr, Alex Houston and George Wetzel, in order to offer a determination of Lovecraft’s related copyrights based on their research, while also detailing how the decline of Arkham House’s legal authority on the matter as a self-espoused holder of exclusive rights provided an opportunity to those small creators without resources to generate their own works. The lack of a strong monopoly holder of Lovecraft’s copyrights directly contributed to an organic growth of Lovecraft derivative works that was not contingent on the approval, funding or encouragement of a central organization, and thus the cultural activities surrounding the works were characterized by the artists’ direct relationship to the texts, rather than the interference and agency of a central rights holder.
Nathaniel R. Wallace
Chapter 3. When Adaptation Precedes the Texts: The Spread of Lovecraftian Horror in Thailand
At the most fundamental level, to investigate Lovecraftian adaptation in media is to investigate a history of survival in spite of literature as it exists in the discourse of the university. Michael Cisco writes of Michel Houellebecq’s assessment of Lovecraft’s Real/realism: “In his emphasis on Lovecraft’s mythmaking and the strange power his work has to induce imitation and extension, Houellebecq is at his strongest and is perhaps righter than he understands[...] Houellebecq says there is something about Lovecraft that is not literary, and it seems to be that viral propensity of his work to propagate itself” (Cisco 2018b). In academia, we see the culmination of this viral propensity in how Lovecraftian fiction became belatedly accepted as canonical literature, whatever the term may mean today, not by the dictate of professional critics who during the genre’s early development scorned its pulp publication,1 but only after considerable and passionate efforts outside the literary establishment. What is the nature of this propagation? We may turn to Jorge Luis Borges who says that a great writer—here he discusses Kafka and the Kafkaesque—retroactively “creates his own precursors” (Borges 1962, 192). A testament to his cosmic stature, in death Lovecraft has given birth to an extensive intermedial genealogy with him seemingly as the sole point of origin. But intermedial genealogy is not the same as literary lineage, and, in the same way, the label “Kafkaesque” goes beyond Kafka’s fiction, the label “Lovecraftian” refers to things beyond the literary traditions brought into being after the advent of Lovecraft.
Latthapol Khachonkitkosol


Chapter 4. Conveying Cosmicism: Visual Interpretations of Lovecraft
Lovecraft’s fiction, distinguished by awe-inspiring landscapes, spectacular monsters and earth-shattering events, has long enjoyed a reputation for conveying an atmosphere of dread. In tale after tale, whether set in his native New England or in far-flung wilderness spaces, Lovecraft’s evocative prose aims to facilitate textual encounters with a world beyond the realm of known human experience. Lovecraft’s legacy, propelled by disturbing images of monstrosity and powerful notions of cosmicism, has found new forms of artistic expression well into the twenty-first century. Playing out across a wide variety of media formats, franchises like Hellboy and Locke & Key and works such as Lovecraft Country, to name but a few, pay homage to, or take inspiration from, established visual and thematic aspects of Lovecraft’s works. In this essay, it is my intention to examine adaptations of one of Lovecraft’s most celebrated short stories “The Colour Out of Space” (1927), focusing on film and comics. Acknowledging cosmicism as an integral aspect of Lovecraft’s legacy, and examining how this might be expressed in fiction, I will consider how this tale translates into other media formats. Looking first at cosmicism and then at adaptation, I will then turn attention to Richard Stanley’s Color Out of Space (2019), and “The Colour Out of Space” included in Self Made Hero’s The Lovecraft Anthology I (2011), to argue that a Lovecraftian atmosphere is nurtured in each text according to its medium-specific qualities.
Rebecca Janicker
Chapter 5. The Problematic of Providence: Adaptation as a Process of Individuation
In this chapter, I discuss how the comic book series Providence (2015) by Alan Moore and Jacen Burrows highlights ecological and emergent properties in the work of H. P. Lovecraft. I argue that Providence treats the expanded work of Lovecraft—that is, the many different medial manifestations comprising Lovecraft’s heterocosm—as a posthumanist media ecology, in which adaptation operates as an ecological process of individuation.
Per Israelson
Chapter 6. Twice Told Tale: Examining Comics Adaptations of At the Mountains of Madness
At the Mountains of Madness has proved to be one of H.P. Lovecraft’s most enduring works. S.T. Joshi positions it front and center in his first volume of his Annotated Lovecraft, noting that it “may represent the pinnacle of his craft as a writer of weird fictions” (Joshi 1997, 17). Lovecraft himself refers to it, alternatively, as “my best story” and “my most ambitious story” (in Joshi 1997, 176). Lovecraft’s style and thematic interests are fully crystalized in it, and unsurprisingly, given its popularity, it has been adapted several times, including into the medium of comics. Two of these adaptations are I.N.J Culbard’s At the Mountains of Madness (2010) and Gou Tanabe’s H.P. Lovecraft’s At the Mountains of Madness (2019–2020), each differ by both the affordances of the medium of comics and the personal style of the writer artist. Examining these two adaptations, alongside the original story, permits us insight into the way adaptations of Lovecraft in the twenty-first century create their own hypotext. Not just a Lovecraft story, but the graphic texts and narrative traditions that inspired them before. In that manner, a graphic adaptation of Lovecraft becomes something more than a retelling of the story.
Tom Shapira

Film and TV

Chapter 7. Image, Insoluble: Filming the Cosmic in The Colour Out of Space
Adapting horror has always been a trial. While filmmakers struggle with recreating the unfamiliar, there is always a slippery possibility of losing suspense as the categories of reality collapse, with the human body projected as the recipient of the violence of the uncanny. While it seems easier with violence and the visceral, the celluloid often needs to rethink its representation methods when the source of the uncanny become elusive. Hence, when films deal with “the weird and the eerie”1 rather than the visceral, the familiar boundaries implode as the distinctions between reality and the beyond dissolve. Thus, filmic texts since the 1980s are often sites where the known constructs crumble, any master narrative with a fixed isolatable source of crisis dissolves, themes of concern change into mindless incoherence, images become more symbolic, and horror becomes an intrusion into the orderliness of expected horror rationales.
Shrabani Basu, Dibyakusum Ray
Chapter 8. The Threshold of Horror: Indeterminate Space, Place and the Material in Film Adaptations of Lovecraft’s The Colour Out of Space (1927)
Whilst adaptation is as old as storytelling itself, like many authors, Lovecraft had an antipathy to his works being adapted. He felt that dramatisation (Lovecraft 1976, 154–155) would reduce the themes he addressed in his text into “flat, infantile twaddle” (156). Lovecraft’s reliance on the indescribable and untellable, Menegaldo (2019, 79) argues, render his work innately resistant to adaptation. Yet, Lovecraft’s influence is evident across a plethora of media. Analysis of these Lovecraftian traces and their forms reveals changing attitudes to authorship, uncovers essential narrative structures and excavates the processes and outcomes of adaptation.
Gerard Gibson
Chapter 9. Cthulhoo-Dooby-Doo!: The Re-animation of Lovecraft (and Racism) Through Subcultural Capital
The Lovecraftian influences in Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated highlight Krämer’s “erotic” principle of media philosophy wherein communication allows for the transformation of difference into identity and illustrates the metafictional play that marks the proliferation of Weird in contemporary pop culture. Moreover, it does so by using Lovecraft’s own approach to epistemology, presenting a story in which the protagonist(s) piece together separated things, discovering horrific truths about their world; simultaneously, the audience pieces together separated things of literary and pop-culture allusions in a collective contribution to a fan subculture that constructs its identity from already circulating texts. This chapter uses intertextual analysis to explore the ways in which Lovecraft is adapted in Scooby-Doo! to produce a (White) culture of the Weird.
Christina M. Knopf
Chapter 10. Dispatches from Carcosa: Murder, Redemption and Reincarnating the Gothic in HBO’s True Detective
When the first season of Nic Pizzolatto’s crime anthology TV series True Detective aired in 2014, much of the critical and popular discourse surrounding the show focused on its perceived links to two literary reference points—the collection of short stories The King in Yellow, by Robert W. Chambers, and more broadly the works of American ‘weird fiction’ writer H.P. Lovecraft. The evocation of Lovecraft, in particular, places the series squarely in the realm of the author’s own ‘Cosmic horror’, itself an evolution and reimplementation of the Gothic. However, these popular deconstructions tended towards surface level investigations—referring specifically to sections of dialogue taken from The King in Yellow and a broad analysis of underlying ideological positions. “Dispatches from Carcosa” takes this analysis as a starting point for a much deeper and more resonant textual investigation, one that examines the series as a more intricate and involved Gothic televisual fusion.
Patrick J. Lang
Chapter 11. Lovecraft Country: Horror, Race, and the Dark Other
In 2015, controversy shook the world of fantastic fiction. Since the annual World Fantasy Award’s inception in 1975, the World Fantasy Convention had bestowed a bust of H.P. Lovecraft upon the author of the year’s best fantastic novel. While some winners had objected to the fact that the bust was a caricature rather than a true representation of the genre-defining weird fiction author, other writers in recent years had expressed uneasiness about receiving the likeness of someone who was well-known for his racist views. And so, in spite of many fans’ vociferous objections, the Lovecraft bust was unceremoniously retired, the prestigious World Fantasy Award trophy henceforth taking the less controversial shape of a tree silhouetted before a full moon (see also Preface).
Dan Hassler-Forest
Chapter 12. The Lovecraftian Festive Hoax: Readers Between Reality and Fiction
H.P. Lovecraft’s fictions and the texts inspired by him require readers not only to take an active role in the reading process, but also to become part of the text’s narrative world. Through the analysis of the film In the Mouth of Madness (Carpenter 1994) and the graphic novel Providence (Moore and Burrows 2017) I will illustrate how readers have the power to re-write the figure of the author and make readers reconsider their relationship with the text. In the Mouth of Madness and Providence are two Lovecraftian texts whose goal is that of blurring the line between reality and fiction. Their audiences, though the reading strategy I call festive hoax, are invited to take the role of active readers and decode the inter-textual references, as well as being drawn into the world created by the text.
Valentino Paccosi


Chapter 13. “In My Tortured Ears There Sounds Unceasingly a Nightmare”: H. P. Lovecraft and Horror Audio
From the beginnings of radio drama to digital podcasting, horror has been a prevalent genre, exploiting the parameters and potential of audio form to the uttermost. Within this, the adaptation of literature—from Gothic classics to populist fiction—has been central. One conspicuous absence in early radio is H. P. Lovecraft with only one notable adaptation in the 1930-50’s ‘golden age’. Nevertheless, in multiple series of the era the ‘Lovecraftian’ is detectable, revealing latent adaptive strategies of appropriation, assimilation and allusion. In reading Lovecraft, we see that his plots, themes and cosmos are ideally suited to audio adaptation. In our own time, the transmedia pre-eminence of Lovecraft is evident in audio culture as much as anywhere else and we see the Lovecraftian influence across a wide range of audio, from the generic to the experimental, from standalone plays to serials, from biographical dramas to avant-gardist music composition.
Richard J. Hand
Chapter 14. The Lovecraft Investigations as Mythos Metatext
The Lovecraft Investigations (2018–2020) is a horror audio-drama series distributed by BBC Sounds which unfolds over three seasons and is presented as a loose adaptation of several stories by H.P. Lovecraft. Created by British writer/director Julian Simpson and produced by Sweet Talk Productions, The Lovecraft Investigations utilizes the stylistic format of the hit true-crime podcast Serial (2014–2018). The series follows contemporary investigative journalists Matthew Heawood (British) and Kennedy Fisher (American)—who themselves host a true-crime podcast called The Mystery Machine—and their increasingly weird adventures into what they initially believed was a routine murder mystery/missing-persons case.
Justin Mullis

Video Games

Chapter 15. Head Games: Adapting Lovecraft Beyond Survival Horror
Searching “Lovecraft” in the Steam Store (probably the most widely used digital games interface in the West) yields a bewildering array of games to choose from, many of them of recent vintage. If Lovecraft’s ideas came to computer games at least as early as the text-based Kadath (1979, Commodore 64 and others) and the side-view adventure game The Mystery of Arkham Manor (1987, ZX Spectrum and Amstrad CPC), then the recent array explodes like a bounty of unfathomable delights (“Inspiration: Author H.P. Lovecraft.”). As of late May 2021, “Lovecraft” appears in the description or tags of over 360 games on Steam, including recent titles like The Shore (2021, PC) and Chronicle of Innsmouth: Mountains of Madness (2021, PC).
Kevin M. Flanagan
Chapter 16. The Crisis of Third Modernity: Video Game Adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft in The Sinking City
We are living in the “Age of Lovecraft,” “a cultural movement in which the themes and influence of Lovecraft’s writings have bubbled up from the chthonic depths of 1930s pulp writing to assume an unexpected intellectual and cultural influence” (Sederholm and Weinstock 2016, 3). But for all its contemporary popularity, Lovecraft’s work formally belongs to twentieth-century modes of horror, to “weird fiction” and “cosmic horror,” forms often argued to have developed in reaction to new discoveries and shifts in the social space in the early twentieth century. Scientific advances expanded humanity’s knowledge of the universe leading, as Jason Colavito argues, to the emergence of “extraterrestrial and transdimensional cosmic horror” (2008, 17). What in Victorian supernatural horror were ghosts now increasingly became powerful aliens beyond humanity’s comprehension in weird fiction, in stories which derive their horror from the realization that “natural law has been violated” (14). If scientific thought and a growth of information about the universe advanced the frontiers of human knowledge, and exposed humanity itself to realizations of irrelevance, the social world witnessed its own collapse of persistent stabilities. The cataclysmic event of World War I furthered a sense of a shattered historical order (Miéville 2009, 513). Together, these developments were registered by the emergence in horror of interest in the themes of human insignificance, alienation, and the avowed collapse of even the possibility of knowing sanity. H.P. Lovecraft’s major works were written in the turbulent wake of these developments, at the moment of the collapse of “first modernity” (Beck et al. 2003, 2). They examine the role of knowledge and how attempting to discover the wrong kind will pierce “humanity’s comforting illusions” (Colavito 2008, 186) at the same time as they mediate the infirmity of society; they are examples of the weird as a historical mode of crisis (Lanzendörfer 2021).
Erada Adel Almutairi, Tim Lanzendörfer
Chapter 17. Authorship Discourse and Lovecraftian Video Games
Adaptation, multiplicities, and paratextual connections are integral to video gaming. No game stands alone; yet, some games have tighter intertextual connections than others, and these can be amplified to attract audiences who understand them. While adaptation status adds its own distinctive layer to the interpretive complexity of gaming and game design, making and playing video games always involve a high degree of creative collaboration. Unlike other collective media, especially films, neither creators nor players tend to understand video games as an auteurist medium—that is, as a form where creative power can be concentrated, or presumed to be concentrated, in a single producer or production role that assumes the status of the work’s “author.” In gaming, factors such as style of play and genre tend to be more highly valued than who or what company produced that game (Günal 2021), although creators/corporations can work to define themselves within either or both of these categories. But the question of authorship in its more traditional sense reemerges when a game draws on material originating in a creator-driven medium like literary fiction. The use of H. P. Lovecraft’s signature brand of horror in the gaming industry offers an intriguing case study for how literary authorship and posthumous legacy can shape the gaming experience. This chapter discusses how the link between literature, Lovecraft, and gaming is articulated in Conarium (2017), Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth (2005), Darkest Dungeon (2015) and Bloodborne (2015), and how this connection is used to market these games.
Serenay Günal, Colleen Kennedy-Karpat

Analog Games

Chapter 18. Challenging the Expressive Power of Board Games: Adapting H.P. Lovecraft in Arkham Horror and Mountains of Madness
In today’s board game culture, we find an abundance of adaptations of H.P. Lovecraft’s writing. They respond in different ways to the challenge posed by his poetics, utilizing the medium’s full range of narrative, visual, and procedural representation. The desire to recreate Lovecraftian experiences inspires the two games analyzed to push the boundaries of the medium’s expressive power to the maximum. Retracing these adaptation attempts enables us to deepen our understanding both of Lovecraft and the board game medium.
Torben Quasdorf
Chapter 19. Playing the Race Card: Lovecraftian Play Spaces and Tentacular Sympoiesis in the Arkham Horror Board Game
In his moody long-form essay H. P. Lovecraft: Against the World, Against Life (1991), Michel Houellebecq quips that the horror fiction writer “serves as example to all who wish to learn how to fail in life and eventually succeed in their work” (2008, 91). Thirty years later, Houellebecq’s assertion rings truer than ever. Unlike Lovecraft’s precarious existence as an impoverished author who mailed messy manuscripts to Black Mask and Weird Tales, his medial afterlives revel in meteoric ascendancy, as witnessed by this collection. From television series to internet memes and Cthulhu plushies, his works and their many adaptations have achieved popcultural ubiquity.1 Their connectivity to various issues have turned Lovecraftian texts into a generative dynamo at the overlap between popular culture and transdisciplinary scholarship. Eugene Thacker’s In the Dust of This Planet, for instance, merges philosophy and Lovecraftian horror to express the “unthinkable” epistemes of a globalized world in crisis. Victor LaValle’s The Ballad of Black Tom revisits the racial fever dreams of “The Horror of Red Hook” from the perspective of a black protagonist. A constant stream of digital and analog games continues to build upon Lovecraftian urtexts by fusing narrative and ludic elements. Consequently, some have suggested that we indeed live in the age of Lovecraft—a sentiment echoed by a 2016 edited volume by the same name. In that same year, Donna Haraway’s Staying with the Trouble swapped the anthropogenic paradigm with the “Chthulucene” as a metaphor for the linkages between human and nonhuman epistemes.2 The Chthulucene, she explains, works through processes of sympoiesis, or “‘making-with.’ Nothing makes itself; nothing is really autopoietic or self-organizing” (2016, 58).3
Steffen Wöll, Amelie Rieß
The Medial Afterlives of H.P. Lovecraft
Tim Lanzendörfer
Max José Dreysse Passos de Carvalho
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