Led a Boy to a World of Connections
by Deb Lewis
When people ask, in that annoying way people do, how Dylan became so interested in reading, my answer was "By watching all the TV he wanted." They always think I'm joking, but I'm not. The truth is that TV really was a catalyst.
This story of connections begins with a Godzilla movie Dylan watched when he was four years old. There was a monster movie marathon of bad old Sci-Fi on cable, and Dylan discovered a love of monsters. We taped those movies to watch again and again.
He soon discovered Godzilla books with dramatic and colorful illustrations; he wanted any book with a monster on the cover. We read some strange things to him in those days before he could read. Some of the weirder stuff he fell asleep to at night, and what didn't send me into a coma, sent me to the book stores for other titles he might enjoy. I was always on the lookout for monster movies and monster stories and monster anything.
I remember the day Dylan found the display of Goosebumps books. He saw those colorful covers with a monster on every one and was purely delighted. This was the beginning of the season of Goosebumps. Parents reading this article who also read Goosebumps bedtime stories to their children (and surely there must be others?) might have seen what I saw: every plot turn and twist played out in the imagination and animated face of a happy child. Dylan would sometimes read a book a day, spurred on by his love of the creeps.
When Dylan was growing tired of the Goosebumps books he made a discovery. He found the book, The Lurking Fear and Other Stories by H.P. Lovecraft. The cover of the book was creepy, and the title irresistible! Now THAT was a monster!
Dylan had been reading Goosebumps books for a few years and was growing tired of them. "They're really all the same," he'd say about the storyline. He had become familiar with the formula and could make predictions about each story—it was spoiling his fun. Nothing about the cover of The Lurking Fear looked predictable! That book was the beginning of a trail of discovery that is still winding through our lives, six years later.
Dylan discovered Lovecraft at just the right time. The Goosebumps stories were losing their appeal, but monsters weren't, and the more he knew about the formula of story telling, the more varied his tastes became—the more he wanted really scary stories. H.P. Lovecraft wrote prolifically, and the number of stories in print appealed to Dylan.
Lovecraft was writing in the early twentieth century, and his language was influenced by the Victorian authors he had read. Dylan was undaunted by words like "eldritch," "Cyclopean" or "squamous." As an unschooling kid, he never thought some book or other would be too hard to read. He tried what he wanted to try. Sentences like, "Strangest of all were his eyes, twin caves of abysmal blackness, profound in expression of understanding, yet inhuman in degree of wickedness" swirled around in his head like music. He was hooked!
For me, Lovecraft is the only writer whose choice of words makes my throat constrict as I read aloud. (Marketers could sell more throat lozenges if they placed their displays in book stores.) I recently discovered there's a drinking game played by some Lovecraft fans. Whenever the reader comes across the word "horror" or some other word or phrase that's particularly weird or Lovecraftian the reader slams back a shot. Presumably, by the end of the second paragraph the reader has passed out or died. I haven't played that game and haven't encouraged Dylan to try it either (lest some of you think I'm insane).
Lovecraft had been influenced by Edgar Allen Poe, who inspired him to write poetry. Lovecraft's poetry is difficult to find, which might be because it's really awful, but it's interesting to see how he tried to write in the style of a poet he admired. Dylan read stories and poems by Poe and poetry by Lovecraft.
There were other authors, too, some whom were friends or correspondents with Lovecraft who wrote in a similar style. Dylan has discovered writers like Robert Bloch, author of Psycho, Fritz Leiber, who wrote Conjure Wife, and Frank Belknap Long, author of Journey into Darkness. All of these men were prolific writers, often writing under pseudonyms. Robert Bloch, for instance, also wrote screenplays for television, including several episodes of Star Trek, Night Gallery, and The Alfred Hitchcock Hour. Some Night Gallery episodes were even based on works by Lovecraft. Fritz Leiber's son, Justin Leiber, is the fantasy author of the Beyond and House of Eigin series, but Dylan's true love remains classic horror and science fiction.
Dylan soon discovered that Lovecraft's friend, Robert E. Howard, wrote the Conan the Barbarian series of books, which were adapted to film and comic books, and that Lovecraft was impressed with some of the work of Algernon Blackwood, whose short story "The Willows" was considered by Lovecraft to be the best weird tale of all time. Lord Dunsany was another favorite of Lovecraft's, and rumors have it that some of Lovecraft's stories of Randolf Carter were inspired by the works of Dunsany. Author Joyce Carroll Oats who won the Bram Stoker Award for her horror novel Zombie has beautifully edited the Lovecraft collection titled Tales of H.P. Lovecraft, yet another literary connection.
It wasn't long before we discovered that some Lovecraft stories were adapted to film. The movies range in quality from terrible to brilliant, and those films have introduced Dylan to the directing styles of Daniel Haller, who directed Die Monster, Die and The Dunwitch Horror, Stuart Gordon, who directed Re-Animator and Dagon, and Brian Yuzna, who directed Beyond Re-Animator and Bride of Re-Animator. Jerry Sohl, author of The Transcendent Man, wrote the screenplays for Die Monster, Die and The Crimson Cult, weaving the web of connections even more densely.
The connections seem endless. Some of Poe's stories were made into films and directed by the famous (or infamous) Roger Corman with Daniel Haller as art director. The film The Haunted Palace, for example, takes its title from a poem by Edgar Allen Poe, but the screenplay was adapted from the Lovecraft story "The Case of Charles Dexter Ward" while that screenplay was written by Richard Matheson, writer of I am Legend, Hell House, What Dreams May Come and The Incredible Shrinking Man. Richard Matheson also wrote the screenplays for several of the Poe film adaptations, teleplays for Night Gallery and Star Trek and the screen play for The Night Stalker.
These connections soon led to even more connections and Stephen King's comment, "The author who influenced me most as a writer was Richard Matheson." The first Stephen King book Dylan read was Four Past Midnight, which Dylan received as a Christmas gift the year he turned seven. The writer Peter Straub, who coauthored The Talisman and Black House with Stephen King has written the notes in the Library of America edition of the Lovecraft collection titled H.P. Lovecraft Tales, proving yet again the enless web of connections that grew out of a young boy's passion for scary stories. Currently, Dylan is reading Peter Straub's Ghost Story, as he continues to pursue his interest in the macabre.
Throughout fiction, poetry and film, Lovecraft's influence winds its way, leading us from one exploration to another. In the film series The Evil Dead, Evil Dead 2 and The Army of Darkness, we found a reference to a fictional book created by Lovecraft referred to as The Necronomicon Book of the Dead, though more research showed that Lovecraft's book was simply titled Necronomicon. The Director of the Evil Dead films was Sam Raimi, who went on to produce the film The Grudge. Some Lovecraft fans even believe that the Necronomicon was a real book, and that Adolf Hitler had found a copy and was trying to use the powers called forth from the book to take over the world!
Lovecraft's connections have become a weird tale of their own over the years. Oh, and Weird Tales was the name of the magazine that published most of Lovecraft's short stories!
The connections are simply endless. On the fringes of my mind (and it's all fringe), I have still other wispy tangles of connections to Lovecraft that Dylan has uncovered and shared with me in his interest and excitement. And if I followed each link to another, I feel certain I could eventually connect to everything in the world. That's how I see Dylan's discoveries—as connections to the world! They started years ago with a monster on TV and some short stories by a long dead writer, and they may never end.
Deb wrote this little P.S. in October 2011:
About the Godzilla movies... we watched them again not long ago. It was New Year's Eve, 1995, when he first watched those. He didn't turn four until the following May. So, three years old, not four when he discovered Godzilla. He still keeps a Godzilla toy on the piano and one on the organ. The other Godzilla toys are safely stashed away in his room. All the other toys of babyhood and childhood have gone but the monster still lurks. (As monsters almost always like to do.)