Praise for Twisted Tales Events

'In the past few years Twisted Tales has become a major force in the promotion and appreciation of horror fiction. As well as putting on author readings and signings at bookshops it has expanded into organising larger events, bringing authors and critics together for discussions of the field. I've been involved in quite a few of both and have found them hugely enjoyable and stimulating - I believe the audiences did as well. May Twisted Tales continue to grow and prosper! If you love the field, support them! I do.' - Ramsey Campbell

‘Twisted Tales consistently produce well-organised events for writers and readers of horror. What really distinguishes Twisted Tales for me is the intelligent themes and investigations they pursue, and the high quality of the discussions they always stimulate. As an author I've been invited to three of their events and have been pleasantly startled, to near shocked, by the attendance levels - two out of three were even sold out. I salute anyone who contributes so much to the literary and cultural life of horror fiction.’- Adam Nevill

'Twisted Tales events are wonderful... a great way of promoting 21st century horror fiction. Supported by Waterstone's Liverpool One and really well organised, Twisted Tales brings together established names in the genre as well as new voices and of course readers. Looking forward to much more to come...' - Alison J. Littlewood

Friday, 2 August 2013

David Simmons interviewed by David McWilliam

Over the past few months, my personal fascination with Lovecraftian horror has become a full-fledged research interest while writing an essay on Ridley Scott’s Prometheus for Carl Sederholm and Jeffrey Weinstock’s The Age of Lovecraft: Cosmic Horror, Posthumanism, and Popular Culture. In this interview, I discuss the rise of Lovecraft in academia with David Simmons, editor of New Critical Essays on H. P. Lovecraft (Pan Macmillan, 2013). DM  

David Simmons is a lecturer in American Literature, Film and TV at the University of Northampton. He has published extensively on twentieth-century American literature and culture, including the monograph The Anti-Hero in the American Novel: From Heller to Vonnegut (Palgrave, 2008), the edited collections New Critical Essays on Kurt Vonnegut (Palgrave, 2009) and Investigating Heroes: Truth Justice and Quality TV (McFarland, 2011). In addition to these, David has written a number of articles on the work of H. P. Lovecraft (in the academic journals Critical Engagements, Symbiosis, The Romanian Journal of American, British and Canadian Studies, and The Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts). David is currently co-editing a collection on Anglophone Horror fiction for publication by McFarland in 2014.

DM: What is it about Lovecraft's fiction that captivates you, as a reader and as a critic?
DS: I came to Lovecraft relatively recently; in fact, I had a coach trip down to London several years ago, was looking around for something to read and chanced across the Penguin Modern Classics editions with introductions by S.T. Joshi. I thought I would take The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories to occupy my time and one coach trip later, I was hooked! I spent the whole coach trip with my head in the book, much to the chagrin of my girlfriend who accompanied me and had to spend several hours talking to the side of my head. I quickly got hold of the other two volumes and my obsession with Lovecraft spiralled from that point onwards.

Shortly thereafter I decided to write about Lovecraft in an academic context, publishing a couple of journal articles. Two things drew me in: firstly, I was interested in the writer himself; Lovecraft was such a blessedly odd character yet strangely representative of the times he lived in, even though he is often painted as something of a misanthropic recluse; and secondly, of course, the stories which still possess such a power to horrify; Lovecraft managed to successfully imbue the horror story with a existentialist dread that seems to become more and more prescient as time goes by.

DM: Why do you think that there was such reticence from academics to acknowledge his importance within the Gothic horror tradition?
DS: This is one of the topics that are tackled in the book, both in my own chapter and in those of many of the contributors. I think that while it is easy to point the finger of blame at the snobbery of critics, there were a number of reasons that lead to the elision of Lovecraft from academic discussions of the Gothic (it is important to remember that Joshi has been devotedly championing Lovecraft for a number of years now). Firstly, Lovecraft's writing is popular rather than classical in persuasion, yet it often blurs generic boundaries; he consciously sought to move away from the tired tropes of nineteenth century supernatural horror (vampires, ghosts etc), and this means that his work can be difficult to categorise, as it  tends to fall between genres and therefore gets left out of genre-centred criticism. The incorporation of elements such as cosmology, of 'The Old Ones' (a race of non-human extraterrestrial beings that threaten to return and wreak havoc on humanity) and of the numerous tentacled monsters that inhabit his New England settings inevitably lead to issues of taxonomy. Is his work Gothic, horror, science fiction, weird (a term largely originated to better classify Lovecraft and the work of his contemporaries) or a combination of all of these and more? Secondly, the evocation of fear in some of Lovecraft's writing undoubtedly relies on deep-seated anxieties concerning gender, and, perhaps more significantly, ethnicity and race, that modern readers can find distasteful. While I have no desire to mount a defence of these elements of Lovecraft’s writing, I do feel that to attempt to ignore this element in the development of U.S. popular fiction is misguided and risks doing a disservice to the important place such prejudices have played in forms and genres such as the Gothic and the horror story. Lastly, following Edmund Wilson's infamously scathing 1945 article on Lovecraft ‘Tales of the Marvellous and the Ridiculous’, in which Lovecraft was painted as a poor writer, overly reliant on adjectives and a purveyor of lurid purple prose, most 'respectable' scholars turned away from the writer and his work. It has taken a while for these criticisms to be reassessed and for academics (notoriously conservative at the best of times) to begin revising their opinions of Lovecraft's short stories.

DM: What do you think has changed in recent years?
DS: The resurgence of Lovecraft and his writing is, in part, a result of this aforementioned wider critical re-appropriation; certainly the advent of postmodernism allowed many academics to set about reassessing a whole host of popular genre writers as possessing worth, even if only through virtue of what their work can tell us about the period it was published in. It is also significant that many of those who now find themselves in academic posts, especially in the U.S., grew up reading Lovecraft; they have taken this adoration of his work and written about it in ways that previous generations might not have considered or been open to. Interestingly, in his influential book H.P. Lovecraft: Against the World, Against Life, Michel Houellebecq claims that Lovecraft is fascinating to a contemporary readership because his values are so completely antithetical to our own: ‘He was fundamentally racist, openly reactionary, he glorified puritanical inhibitions, and evidently found all “direct erotic manifestations” repulsive. Resolutely anticommercial, he despised money, considered democracy to be an idiocy and progress to be an illusion’. While I am not sure things are quite so clear cut (Mark Jones in his chapter in the collection, suggests that something closer to the reverse may be the case) there would appear to be some truth to the suggestion that Lovecraft's ideological distance from today's contemporary mainstream lends his work a kind of subcultural capital that is appealing to many readers.

DM: Why do you think Lovecraft’s work has enjoyed such a huge influence on twenty-first-century popular culture?
DS: As several of the chapters discuss, Lovecraft’s influence on twenty-first-century culture has been huge and seems to be growing all the time. With comics such as Alan Moore’s Neonomicon and the upcoming Providence, and films such as Prometheus, Lovecraft seems to be everywhere. There is an irony in all this, as it is well known that Lovecraft himself suggested he would have preferred to have lived in a bygone (and somewhat romanticised) combination of the Augustan, Edwardian and Victorian ages. While it is not necessarily the case that this meant he disliked the trappings of modernity that he discerned at the start of the twentieth century, this is how many critics have interpreted his comments. It appears therefore, somewhat incongruous that his work should now be such a part of popular culture, with Cthulhu tee-shirts, board games and Plushes freely available. Perhaps this is a result of commercial imperatives; after all, Lovecraft’s monsters provide an interesting alternative to the more standard trappings of the vampire and zombie that seem to have been exhausted in recent years. Similarly, in this Mythos-eager age, in which every TV show and film seems intent on creating the impression that it is part of a wider universe, the Cthulhu stories (while not strictly collated into a cohesive whole by Lovecraft) provide a ready-made world which writers and film-makers can exploit in their attempts to attract and retain an audience eager for the next big thing. Lastly, we must not forget that while Lovecraft’s writing has been attacked for racism, misanthropy and for being overly reliant on purple prose, his best stories still hold the ability to enthral, shock and terrify; they are simply well-written examples of horror (or weird fiction) that continue to prove how effective he was at engaging his readers.

DM: Specifically looking at the Cthulhu Mythos, what distinguishes Lovecraft’s monsters from those of traditional Gothic horror and science fiction?
DS: Those monsters that have come to be associated with the Cthulhu Mythos: Dagon, Hastur, Mi-Go the Fungi from Yuggoth, Nyarlathotep, Shub-Niggurath, and Cthulhu itself (to name but a few) all offer something distinctly different to those monsters that we more traditionally associate with the Gothic and science fiction. For me, it is the sense of otherness that really makes these figures work; they are unlike anything that had come before them (though of course, Lovecraft did draw upon select aspects of Dunsany and Blackwood in formulating his Cthulhu stories). That is to say that they do not really have human traits. Indeed, while Lovecraft is often criticised for the ‘indescribable’ nature of his monsters, I think that this is a strength; it is much more conducive to imagining something horrific than simply being told what Nyarlathotep looks like in precise and exact detail. I also think that the sense of indifferentism that Lovecraft imbued his stories with also helps differentiate these creatures; it is one thing to have a vampire or zombie who needs humans, if only to feed on them, but it is quite another to have a monster that could not care less about us. This sense of insignificance is much more frightening to many readers; there will never be a sympathetic, sparkly version of Cthulhu!

DM: How did you hope to contribute debates on the author with New Critical Essays on H. P. Lovecraft?
DS: As I have mentioned, Lovecraft is a challenging writer in a variety of ways, and while a select band of scholars have been exploring the artistic and critical nuances of his work for a number of years, this work has tended to be released by niche publishers and read by hardcore aficionados. With New Critical Essays on H.P. Lovecraft, I hope to open Lovecraft up to a more academic audience, while hopefully not alienating those outside the academy. To that end, we have an exciting mixture of established experts (Joshi, Robert Waugh, Donald Burleson) and leading scholars who approach Lovecraft and his work through recognisable frameworks (the Gothic, gender, modernism) offering an intellectually rigorous yet accessible range of chapters.

I also really wanted to document Lovecraft's legacy which seems to grow and grow as more people discover his writing. Therefore, we have chapters that examine Lovecraft's influence on not only more recent contemporary fiction but also art forms including Heavy Metal music, comics, film, television, and board games (to name a few). Indeed, it seems fair to say that traces of Lovecraft can now be found in almost every facet of popular culture, testifying to the power of the writer's work.

DM: Do you have any plans to develop your research interests in Lovecraftian horror further in future?
DS: Yes, Lovecraft’s work is full of returns, be it the return of one of ‘The Old Ones’ or the discovery of some sort of forgotten knowledge that sends a protagonist insane, and I am hoping to keep on in that spirit. I am currently working on a journal article exploring the use of Lovecraft as a character in fiction, centring on comics and graphic novels. I am also at present co-editing a collection on horror fiction (including Lovecraft, of course) with Dr Steve Barfield that should be released in 2014.

New Critical Essays on H.P. Lovecraft (Palgrave, 2013) is available now from all good book sellers!

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