Happy Birthday HP Lovecraft: Opium, Cthulhu, and Night Terrors, Oh My! | Harbor Village - Harbor Village

Happy Birthday HP Lovecraft: Opium, Cthulhu, and Night Terrors, Oh My!

Howard Phillips Lovecraft by unknown licensed under Public Domain

On this day (August 20th) in 1890 one of America’s greatest writers was born. HP Lovecraft was the master of penning sublime horror way before Stephen King was even a spec in the multiverse. Lovecraft specialized in all things spooky and it’s believed he was deathly afraid of everything, which gave light to his horror shorts. Lovecraft’s most known work is the indomitable Cthulhu, which continues to revolve around pop culture cults today- making today Cthulhu birthday as well. Although you wouldn’t think it, Lovecraft died sickly and impoverished. It wasn’t until after his death, like so many great minds, that his work was discovered and celebrated.

But where did the haunts of Lovecraft’s work come from? I’ve tried to hunt down the source of his fantastic tales and pin them onto an addled state of addiction, but no such luck! The only thing I could come across is one obscure quote from one of Lovecraft’s short stories,

“I took opium once – in the year of the plague, when doctors sought to deaden the agonies they could not cure. There was an overdose – my physician was worn out with horror and exertion – and I traveled very far indeed. In the end I returned and lived, but my nights are filled with strange memories, nor have I ever permitted a doctor give me opium again.”  

Sigh. It doesn’t even look like Lovecraft permitted his fictitious characters to wander the brambles of addiction. I’m not sure if that’s relieving, because his characters were not plagued by minds addled with substances that rot the brain, or if it’s more concerning these thoughts came to him naturally. So I did some more digging to see if maybe Lovecraft suffered from any disorders which may have given rise to his fantastical stories- and I found it!

Migo– Lovecraft Inspired Drawing by Khannea SunTzu licensed under CC by 3.0

But it wasn’t what I thought it would be. 

HP Lovecraft suffered from what we now know to be night terrors; think waking up screaming in a cold sweat for three to four hours every time you go to sleep. Sounds fun doesn’t it? A night terror is like a nightmare, but times ten. Night terrors prevent sleep (obviously), and those suffering from the condition are filled with insurmountable feelings of dread and imminent doom. So it’s not that Lovecraft was necessarily afraid of everything, but this condition certainly played a role in spurring fears which may not have naturally arisen.

Night terrors are often a red flag of an underlying health condition.

And sure enough, Lovecraft was diagnosed with intestinal cancer and Bright’s disease. Lovecraft suffered from chronic depression and battled with suicidal thoughts for the majority of his life. Unfortunately Lovecraft’s story is a morose one, but his work is worth celebration! Pick up some of his shorts and immerse yourself into the realm of dread.

Featured image: Cthulhu by BenduKiwi licensed under CC by 3.0

What’s your favorite HP Lovecraft short story? How we do to celebrate Cthulhu birthday? Comment below with your Cthulhu birthday plans!


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