The purpose of the article is to show the use of the image in Lovecraft and, based on this investigation, to understand what is the best way to represent his novels.

Biographical Notes

Howard Phillips Lovecraft was born in Providence on August 20, 1890 to die in the same hometown in March 1937.
From an early age, as noted in some of his autobiographies, he devoted himself to study and literature, education imparted to him within the family walls. Lovecraft's health, in fact, is very fragile and this will lead him to give up attending the first school years and having to put aside some of his passions.
At a very young age he begins to read books such as the fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm or One thousand and one nights which echoes will always be present in his works. In particular, the Middle Eastern charm will immediately capture him, prompting him to recreate an Arabian space inside his home and to be called Abdul Alhazred, a name that will recur in his future novels, designating the one who first gave birth to the insane and blasphemous Necronomicon.

After a first "Arab period", the interest of the young Lovecraft is captured by Roman mythology so much so that he himself wrote:

“Mythology was my lifeblood then, and I almost came to the point of believing in the Greco-Roman gods, longing in the twilight to see fauns, satyrs and dryads in the oak forest where I am sitting now. When I was about seven, my mythological reveries made me want to be - and not just see - a faun or a satyr. I tried to imagine the tips of my ears were starting to point, and that my forehead bore the marks of a nascent pair of horns. How I complained that my feet were turning into clogs too slowly! I built real wooded altars in honor of Pan, Jupiter, Minerva and Apollo, where I used to sacrifice small objects in a profusion of incense. "

At the age of nine he begins to cultivate a great interest in science and astronomy, buying a small telescope and creating a modest chemical laboratory where he can practice, a passion that he will have to abandon due to his health problems.
He suffers from nervous breakdowns, which led him to accuse a continuous malaise and incessant nightmares of monsters and dream visions, which will inspire many of his stories.
He begins to publish his novels in the magazine Weird Tails around 1923. In spite of everything he will not be able to live from his stories and his main employment will be as a critic and revision of the writings of others, a job that will continue until his death.

These little autobiographical notes are used to get a more or less generic idea of ​​life and what kind of character the Providence Loner could be. Of course these are only partial information that does not take into account the writer's complex personality and its many facets, from political to racial themes, from philosophical to social themes. It would be very interesting to address these topics, of which we have detailed information thanks to the immense correspondence that Lovecraft held over the years, but this would lead largely off topic and for this reason they will not be deepened.

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The "existential pessimism"

Lovecraft develops what can be considered as a sort of "existential pessimism": he lives in an era where the development of scientific knowledge and philosophical thought (especially Nietzsche) underline the marginal position of man within the universe, as was a small grain of sand in a "black sea of ​​infinity".
Lovecraft contains and makes this idea felt in a pressing way in all his works. The beginning of his best known story is emblematic The Call of Cthulhu:

“I think the most merciful thing in the world is the inability of the human mind to relate its very contents. We live on a placid island of ignorance amidst black seas of infinity, and we weren't supposed to go too far. The sciences, which up to now have each pursued its own path, have not done us too much damage: but the recomposition of the overall picture will one day open to us such terrifying visions of reality and of the place we occupy in it, that either we will go mad for revelation or flee the mortal light in the peace and security of a new dark age. "

This passage contains on the one hand Lovecraft's thought, on the other the structure of a typical story of his. Usually the protagonists are subjects with some kind of education (doctors, antique dealers, professors ...) who, following fortuitous events and an inexplicable thirst for knowledge, come across something greater than themselves. Once all the necessary clues have been collected and "the overall picture is recomposed", the fate of the protagonists is inevitably sealed: they will either face death or madness.

Cosmic Horrors in Lovecraft

But why madness? The reason lies in the nature of the horrors narrated by the Solitaire. They are said cosmic horrors since they are composed of beings from the cosmos, who respond to laws and logics that are not understandable by the human intellect. This kind of incomprehensibility is taken to the extreme as an impossibility of representation. What appears in front of the protagonist of the story is something that transcends the human order, in such a way that it cannot understand its mechanisms. The mind is unable to process what is in front of it, distorted and incomprehensible images remain imprinted, which no living being should ever have seen or guessed. Despite all that something has been seen or heard, irremediably compromising the health of the unfortunate.
What is initially a subtle desire, a curiosity, a pleasure of the intellect, coming into contact with the cosmic world, becomes nothing more than a morbid and uncontrollable need: the human capacities for enjoyment no longer come into play but those primordial instincts arrive. latent within every human being, echoes of an ancient dark age and with them their fears of unknown and so distant ages that even time has no memory of them.

From the point of view of writing, to describe this horror, Lovecraft uses vague and indefinite descriptions, which refer to the idea of ​​something that is not actually that thing.
An example of the narrative technique used by the Providence solitaire can be found in it Color from outer space, where it tells of a meteorite that fell in a New England valley and that brings with it a strange and unknown color.
This is the description given by Lovecraft:

“In April a kind of madness spread in the countryside, and people began to stop using the road that passed from Nahum's farm: it was this, little by little, that led to its complete abandonment. It was the vegetation's fault: the trees in the orchards planted flowers of extraordinary colors, and on the stony ground of the courtyard and the adjacent pasture grew a bizarre herb that only a botanist could have traced back to the usual flora of the region. No normal or known color belonged to those flowers and trees any longer, except a few patches of green grass and a part of the leaves; everywhere the crazy, prismatic variations of the sick and fundamental color spread out, which had no equal among those of the earth. Harmless wildflowers took on a menacing aspect, common roots disturbed just seeing them in their chromatic perversion. "

In this excerpt it can be seen how Lovecraft talks about this strange "color" without ever defining it in a definite, immobile and stable way. Instead, what it does is try to leave the nature of this color to the imagination of each reader, creating intimate and personal images that reflect the deepest fears of individual readers. This color does not exist in the earthly world, it is something that transcends the idea of ​​color itself but that is defined in this way only because the human being cannot but categorize it except in this way. This idea of ​​"subjective representation" is explained later in the story:

"At this point, as the column of unknown colors radiated with increasing intensity, organizing themselves into fantastic forms that each viewer would later describe differently, poor Hero made a sound no one had ever heard before. Everyone present covered their ears and Ammi walked away from the window in nausea and horror. "

Everyone sees images, different from the representation of the person close to him. I wanted to slightly lengthen the passage quoted to highlight that while in the first description a visual image is created, in this second passage a mainly auditory image is composed, and on these two elements (visual and auditory image) it insists and creates some of its most powerful representations. They are created through the mere use of writing and, by their nature, they are not representable: they are something "fluid", moldable and personal, reflecting the imagination and fears that everyone harbored within himself. In stark contrast there are some "fixed" and easily representable things. Not infrequently we witness the description in an almost maniacal way of a place, telling its streets, sounds, smells, in a way that is completely relevant to reality, almost giving a topographical representation of the place, providing the name of the streets and the relative civics to which they belong.

It is precisely from the sharp contrast between these images that terror arises and generates, from time to time, within these hyper-realistic descriptions, clues or suggestions lurk that break the fixity of the image, creating a sense of restlessness and of mystery.

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Lovecraft's posthumous fortune

Although Lovecraft did not find great luck in life, in the years following his death he will be strongly re-evaluated, giving life to the genre that is called cosmic horror. Many sectors have been influenced by his writing and its settings, such as the cinema, music, videogame, TV series, horror novels, among which it is not possible not to mention Stephen King, who considers the Solitaire as a sort of model.

However, it is important to distinguish between two elements: the representation of the atmosphere and the representation of horror. As for the visual arts, such as, for example, cinematographic, videogame or pictorial transpositions, they manage to best render the atmosphere, but not the horror. It, by its nature, as previously analyzed, escapes human logic and therefore cannot be represented in a fixed and stable way, it needs the flexibility and evocative power of the word.
To describe the horror, while remaining faithful to the Lovecraftian core, music or the novel certainly play a better role, which, due to their fluid characteristics, manage to convey the idea of ​​unrepresentability of horror, but losing the power and the immediacy that an image, through the play of light and color, can create suggestive and impactful scenarios.

The form of representation that, I believe, can reconcile these two aspects is that of the Role Play. The narrator has various ways of getting players into the game world but, of course, the main way is the use of his dialectic and voice. This does not take away from the possibility of using external elements, such as images, music, real game objects and so on.
In this way, on the one hand, it is possible to combine the fluidity of the word, through careful and fitting descriptions with the Lovecraftian spirit, representing its horror; on the other hand, through the use of fixed visual elements, it is possible to immediately render the atmosphere. In this way it seems possible to reconcile these two elements that can hardly coexist in the other arts.
However, two questions open up and which will also be the conclusion of this article:

  • How do you get players into the game world by using just the word?
  • What Happens When Role Playing?
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To answer the first question, it is possible to recall Gorgias' distinction between persuasion and deception.
Persuasion has a double meaning: on the one hand it indicates the rational force of the word which, through pure reasoning and its logical power, pushes action; on the other hand it indicates the irrational force of the word, which forces man to act not so much by free choice but by compulsion. These two elements coexist organically and it is not possible to ignore them.
As far as deception is concerned, in the Greek era, it does not necessarily assume a negative connotation that today's term carries with it, but can be understood as "illusion". It blocks those who are deceived in a distorted world, different from reality, but existing and real for the deceived subject.
It is precisely by using the persuasive force of Logos (speech) and the concept of deception that it is possible to let players enter the game world, together with the oratory ability of the narrator.

To answer the second question, we need to resort to the concept of mask. The mask is nothing more than a screen, a device that makes us be what we are not, and that divides relations with reality. Just think of the theatrical representation or, for example, the Carnival or the Halloween party, moments in which, through the mask, one is no longer ourselves but someone else who decides to interpret. The same process occurs during a role-playing session: a mask is worn, which can be invisible or real, which makes the individual subject come out of himself, making him other than himself but at the same time himself, in a cathartic and mimetic.
The level of identification achieved through role-playing can be really high, so much, as it happened to me, to cry for the death of a partner or rejoice in a longed-for fight. The mask you wear becomes almost a second skin, a mask that accompanies you for a long time, often years and that, when worn, makes you completely immerse yourself in the deceptive world.

The maximum expression of the concept of masking is given by what can be considered the most radical part of the role-playing game, that is the LARP, live action role playing: “live role play is a form of role play in which the participants physically interpret the characters with their actions, representing fictitious situations in the real space that surrounds them. It is common, to accentuate the identification, the use of costumes, equipment and themed sets with the game setting, be it historical or pure fantasy. It can be considered a playful activity of a theatrical form and identify an artistic genre in the field of playful theater (although it should be emphasized that usually the live role play does not involve an audience and is for the exclusive use and consumption of the participants) "

To conclude, I would like to quote a quote from Roger Caillois, which summarizes what has been said so far:

“Every game presupposes the temporary acceptance, if not of an illusion, at least of a closed, conventional and, under certain aspects, fictitious universe. The game may consist not in developing an activity or in suffering a destiny in an imaginary context, but in becoming an illusory character ourselves and behaving accordingly. We are then faced with a whole series of manifestations which have the common characteristic that they are based on the fact that the subject plays to believe, to make himself believe, or to make others believe that he is another. He denies, alters, temporarily abandons his own personality to pretend another. "

Therefore, on the basis of the singular functioning of the role-playing game, thanks to its flexibility and expressive fluidity, and of the way in which Lovecraft uses the image within his stories, I believe that the role-playing game is the best way to represent the better the Lovecraftian writings, transmitting their tension without losing their original unrepresentability.