What I have always most enjoyed about Lovecraft’s fiction was his ability to incorporate New England’s folklore and history into sophisticated horror literature. In many respects, his fiction magnifies certain elements of our history and then situates them within disturbing settings that appear strangely familiar.
This is especially true within his works that are more Gothic in settings and themes rather than the cosmic horror of In the Mountains of Madness or The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath. In the former type, I recognise elements from regional traditions that are clearly visible to those knowledgeable readers. As such, reading Lovecraft’s fiction and then visiting Providence amounts to a homecoming for me.
While driving along neglected back roads, he notices strange stone formations on hilltops and a sense of foreboding engendered by these architectural curiosities. Local received wisdom states that such conclaves were built by the Indians for use in sacral rites. In reality, such formations do indeed exist and are clearly pre-Columbian in nature.
The Massachusetts Bay Colony’s religious leaders firmly believed that the Indians worshiped demons in orgiastic rites deep inside the forbidding forests that lay outside village palisades. Consequently, if the countryside was rife with devil-worshiping savages, then such evil could also penetrate even John Winthrop’s Boston through proximity and corruption. The wickedness evident in those foreboding stone circles on hilltops could infect a supposedly godly society.
Such detailed theological discussions of the ‘invisible world’ form part of our cultural patrimony and were on high school syllabi. Lovecraft’s familiarity with such texts echoed within his description of the fictional work Of Evill Sorceries Done in New-England of Daemons in No Humane Shape in The Lurker at the Threshold. Similarly to his incorporation of Indian religious megaliths, the use of this fictional demonological treatise parallels the popular actual works produced by the Mathers during the time of Salem’s witch trials.
The architecture of this strange apartment resembles many upper levels of Providence Colonial and Gothic Revival homes. Sloping ceilings, strange small windows and creaking floors are readily found in many old houses near Brown University’s campus. In order to find answers to his night terrors, Gilman searches for answers in the necromantic texts kept under lock and key at Miskatonic University’s library. Similarly, the John Hay Rare Books Library at Brown University also possesses many strange books and grimoires as does the Providence Athenaeum with its beautiful interior.
This was the first convention with subsequent events held every other year. The Necronomi-Con is named in homage of Lovecraft’s fictional necromantic text Necronomicon. Besides the Athenaeum’s exhibit, I also learned that the Providence Art Club offered a gallery viewing of paintings and sculptures inspired by Lovecraft’s fiction.
While reading about the 2017 Necronomi-Con, I was pleased to learn that a bookstore devoted to Lovecraft’s fiction recently opened in the Providence Arcade. Originally built in 1828 as one of the Republic’s first indoor shopping malls, the Lovecraft Arts and Sciences Council now occupies a space on the Arcade’s lower level. This will prove to be a valuable resource of Lovecraft’s fans as they learn more about the man’s life and works. I plan on visiting the establishment when I arrive in Providence.
"I never can be tied to raw, new things,
For I first saw the light in an old town,
Where from my window huddled roofs sloped down
To a quaint harbour rich with visionings.
Streets with carved doorways where the sunset beams
Flooded old fanlights and small window-panes,
And Georgian steeples topped with gilded vanes--
These were the sights that shaped my childhood dreams."
This is perhaps the most evocative and poignant description of Providence for me. After having spent my late adolescence and early adulthood in the city, I have grown to miss it and I look forward to visiting soon. It is a remarkable place beloved by many drawn to its strange charms and fascinating history.
What would you like to read next?
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H. P. Lovecraft
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Paul Kleber Monod
Jonathan M. Paquette
The American Jonathan M. Paquette is an Intellectual Historian and PhD student at the University of St Andrews in St Andrews, Fife, Scotland.