But for this definition of the weird tale to work and "be productive — that is, lead to the creation of artistically effective weird
stories — the writer must have a reasonably clear idea of what is known in
the universe and what is not, of what seems possible at the present time
and what impossible, in order for him to be able to imagine the circumstances in which the impossible might happen or seem to happen and the shivery
unknown seem to invade the known universe. Because, of course, in a universe where anything is easily possible, nothing is really wonderful or
And Lovecraft was, of course, that sort of critical and highly intelligent writer. He was no gullible champion of witchcraft, diabolism,
and other brands of the occult, but rather the sceptical opposite. We
trusted him to purvey for us genuinely weird fictions (the sort of things
that if they happened would truly topple the current scientific outlook
and confound intelligent scepticism) and not present us with a mishmash
of cultish beliefs and refurbished superstitions and unevidenced reports
of horrors and wonders.
Yes, I believe that's the most important literary sense in which
we trusted Lovecraft — and also the best of the other weird writers of
his day, such as Machen, de la Mare, Kafka, Ewers, M.R. James, Blackwood.
Wakefield, Bierce, Henry James, Cabell, Crawford, Chambers, etc. — to be
themselves guarantors and touchstones for the fictional weirdities and wonders they created; when they handed us a new story, they were saying,
"Reader, if this happened to me, I would be convinced that things are
not as they seemn" We knew they loved the weird themselves and would
never play fast and loose with it.
And now what changes forty years have wrought! The bounds of the
universe have been greatly widened, both so far as outer space and inner
space are concerned. At the same time there's been a weakening of trust
in authority, including scientific^authority, so "that there's come to be
an overly easy acceptance of witchcraft and other cults, flying saucer reports, claims of telepathic and other psychic or psionic powers. This calls
more than ever on the weird writer for critical intelligence, for a thoughtful mixture of openmindedness and scepticism, for a devotion to the truly
weird as opposed to its flashy imitations (that is, a devotion to what would
truly scare him rather than to what he thinks will scare ignorant and thrill
Today the writer has far greater freedom of expression; he is far
less bound by censorship and taboos. Here the danger for the weird writer
is that he may be tempted to become overly explicit at all times, he may
strip the heroine and bind her to the rack and have her raped by a monster
all on page one, he may forget the power of understatement and suggestion,
he may omit to arouse the reader's imagination and make the reader's imagination work for him (something the reader always enjoys having happen).
Today, also, markets for all sorts of fantasy writers have increased greatly in number and range and (for the most part) in the extent
of financial rewards: paperback books, comic books, the new mixed-media phen
omenon of the heavilly illustrated story, TV and film scripts. Just consider the fantasy novel. In Lovecraft's day that haxL pretty much to be
hardcover publication or nothing. True, there were magazine serials, but
they had to be a series of episodes with cliff-hanger openings and closes —
really, a sequence of closely connected short stories rather than a novel.
While now there's the whole field of the paperbacks, which prefer novels
over collections of short stories.