Jeg har været så heldig at få lejlighed til at lave et lille interview med Wilum H. Pugmire, og det er store sager, i hvert fald i min verden. Der er et enormt antal forfattere, der på en eller anden måde påberåber sig inspiration fra H. P. Lovecraft i deres forfatterskab, men kun få har formået at skabe holdbar litteratur på den baggrund. Det har Wilum Pugmire imidlertid, og han må siges at være en af de stærkeste fortolkere af den gotiske tråd i Lovecrafts forfatterskab. Han er samtidig, i et bredere perspektiv, en fabelagtig arvtager af den dekadent-romantiske tradition, som Lovecraft til dels også selv var beslægtet med.
Pugmires poesi og poetiske fiktion har meget lidt at gøre med pulp, tentakler og store monstre. Han væver stemninger frem for os og skaber mystiske vrangbilleder, der efterlader sig som rungende, ofte foruroligende indtryk i læserens bevidsthed.
Selvom Wilum Pugmires fiktion efterhånden har optrådt i en stort antal antologier og selvstændige bøger, er han aldrig blevet en mainstream-forfatter. Det er en synd og skam, men han har konsekvent, uden klynk, valgt kunstnerens vej, og skaber værker, der ikke stræber efter stor almen anerkendelse. Det er en stolt og ædel tilgang til kunsten, som jeg kun kan beundre. Men ikke mere introduktion, lad os i stedet høre, hvad Pugmire har at fortælle os.
(Martin) Could you say a few words about your first encounter with the writings of H. P. Lovecraft?
(Wilum) My first encounter with Lovecraft came when I was a teenager. The man who lived across the street from me was a record salesman, and he knew that I loved monsters and so gave me records of readings of H. P. Lovecraft by Roddy McDowall and David McCallum. The first book of Lovecraft’s work that I purchased was a Panther paperback edition, THE HAUNTER OF THE DARK AND OTHER TALES OF HORROR, which I purchased while living in Northern Ireland.
You call yourself a “Lovecraftian writer” and when reading your fiction this certainly rings true, but when scrutinizing the term a bit closer it is not that obvious what it actually means. Lovecraft’s themes and style changed over time and so did his influences. And when reading your fiction it also quickly becomes apparent that you seem to have found the greatest inspiration in certain parts of Lovecraft’s production. Could you say a few words about both the term and what meaning you invest in it?
The term “Lovecraftian” is deliciously nebulous. For me, it’s like a kind of eldritch instinct that is alerted when I’m reading a horror story and come across something that seems to be a wink or nod to H. P. Lovecraft. And yet one single off-hand reference to the Necronomicon doesn’t make a story “Lovecraftian”. My own work is influenced far more by Lovecraft’s non-cosmic weird fiction than by “The Call of Cthulhu” or “The Shadow out of Time”.
This approach is really important and something which, at least to me, brings a rare quality to your writing which is lacking from most “mythos fiction”. Could you say something about what you perceive as core elements in the poetics of Lovecraft and his use of language?
Now, I’m not a Lovecraft scholar and so I cannot speak conclusively on the poetics of Lovecraft’s language; but we know from his correspondence with other writers that HPL was obsessed with writing good prose that contained poetic beauty in its expression. Lovecraft was attuned to rhythm in prose, in creating a prose style that was concise and sculpted. Those who condemn Lovecraft for “overwriting” or “purple prose” don’t know what they’re talking about. It is because of the perfection of Lovecraft’s prose that S. T. Joshi has proclaimed him one of America’s great writers.
I personally find the term “Lovecraftian” rather good – not in the least when discussing your fiction – because it shifts the conversation away from the so-called “Cthulhu mythos” with all its pulpy trappings of cults, dusty tomes and tentacles, which more or less seems to be the general understanding in mainstream culture of the content in Lovecraft’s fiction. What are your personal thoughts on the tension between the reception of the actual writings of Lovecraft and the massive representation of “Cthulhu monsters” in almost all media today?
I have a feeling that a lot of people who have never read HPL’s fiction have heard of Cthulhu and could described what that Great Old One looks like. I love Lovecraft because of his writing and so cannot understand the towering impact of his most infamous monster. I’ve scanned over many Cthulhu stories that were entirely lacking in any element that could be called Lovecraftian.
To many horror writers and horror readers ‘The Monster’ in whatever form it may have is critical. The hands-on confrontation with some sort of malevolent non-human force is basically the core dynamic of quite a lot of genre fiction. I guess the emphasis on Cthulhu and all the other mythos beings is a way to shoehorn this part of Lovecraft’s fiction into this particular, popular understanding of horror fiction which has to have a recognizable enemy monster. What are your own thoughts on these beings Lovecraft invented and their use in fiction? At times I personally feel that it would have been better if HPL had not invented all these entities and instead focused his creative vision solely on the reception of Gothic tropes.
I think Lovecraft invented his monsters so that they were representations of cosmic chaos, of something completely unearthly. This was also his reasoning behind inventing the name “Cthulhu,” which was to be a clumsy human articulation of a word that no human tongue could correctly enunciate. Some of his races indicate the far reaches of the past, a past beyond human comprehension. Lovecraft’s monsters are fascinating, and they are frightening.
In a sense you write very specialized fiction but the interest and marked for this clearly exists. The amount of works published with Lovecraft or Cthulhu mythos in the title is mind boggling. How do you experience this growing fan enthusiasm and how has being a “Lovecraftian” writer changed over the last decades?
Over the years I’ve noticed more anthologies that include the name Cthulhu in their book title, and that indicates a growing market for “Cthulhu stories”. I think a lot of Cthulhu fans are disappointed with my own stories because I try not to write typical Mythos fiction, wanting to emphasize the grim Gothic side of Lovecraft. The one thing that confuses me is the growing number of people who think that I write like Lovecraft. I don’t understand this, because I certainly don’t TRY to write “like” HPL. Lovecraft’s work is but one of many influences evident in my writing.
I think you represent one of the strong voices in modern weird fiction who takes the reader on a different path away from the general understanding of Lovecraft’s writing and into other realms of much more subtle fiction where you clearly have created your own literary space. Could you see yourself cutting lose the ties or references to Lovecraft’s fiction? I have no desire to cut ties with Lovecraft in my weird fiction. Indeed, the main reason I write is to be identified as a writer profoundly influenced by Lovecraft. I am Lovecraftian to the core of my aesthetic soul. My personal belief is that we can be inspired by Lovecraft’s work and yet be true to ourselves as literary artists.
I reread your book Dreams of Lovecraftian Horror from 1999 some time ago; a wonderful volume filled with small vignettes of haunted beauty. On reading through these brief tales ‘vagueness’ struck me as a crucial component. Vagueness not only as to what is actually happening in the stories but also in the language, where your prose builds these moments of intense, ambiguous encounters with the irrational. Stephen King famously stated in his Danse Macabre that Lovecraft prudishly kept his monsters in the closet, but he (King) wanted to take the monsters right into the living room of the readers. This is very much the opposite of your approach. Could you say a bit about vagueness, which clearly is an important poetic tool for you?
I think part of what affects my work is boredom with normal people, and thus my characters are usually freakish in some way. The societies in which I feel most comfortable are the drag queen and punk rock scenes, where normality is almost a taboo. It’s more important in my mind to be a prose stylist than a story-teller, and thus I concentrate on what some consider an affected writing style. I may indeed be a poseur as an author, but the pose is absolutely genuine as an expression of my soul. Too, I like my horrors to be ambiguous rather than baldly depicted. I would much rather suggest horror than shew it nakedly.
As far as I know your published career as a writer began in the mid-1980s (correct me if I’m wrong). This I find interesting, because it was a time of great renewal in horror fiction in general. The old bestseller authors from the 70’s were suddenly challenged by younger authors with a much more fierce vision of horror. Clive Barker and the splatter punks are obvious examples. On one hand your fiction seems out of tune with this development, but on the other hand the themes of alienation, punk subculture and existence outside the norm seems contained within your works – for instance in the tale “Pale Trembling Youth” (1988) you wrote Jessica Amanda Salmonson. Nevertheless if I should situate your writings within some larger trend, it would be couched next to the works of authors like Kathe Koja, Poppy Z. Brite (as he was called then) and Caitlín R. Kiernan who all had their debuts in the late 80’s and early 90’s. Are these names for you? And do you have any thoughts on your place in horror or genre fiction in general?
I first began seriously writing fiction in the early 1970’s, right after I first started reading Lovecraft. I wrote a bunch of rather bad stories for a number of small press journals, but eventually became disgusted with what my fiction lacked and stopped writing for a number of years. I’ve never had any interest in splatterpunk or graphic horror, it completely bores me. “Pale, Trembling Youth,” although it features a modern punk lad as a character, is a traditional ghost story in every way, just as the majority of my Lovecraftian fiction is traditional in a Weird Tales fashion. I don’t feel that I have a place in genre fiction, because I am far too minor a writer and most of my work has appeared in the small press.
I would be interested in hearing more about these early tales. Could you say a bit more about them? Where were they published and what was our focus at the time?
When I first began to write fiction I was utterly enamored with the Cthulhu Mythos, and all I wanted to do was writing Mythos fiction. I was keenly influenced by two British writers, Ramsey Campbell and Brian Lumley; and I loved the Mythos fiction of August Derleth, and the Mythos anthologies he edited. I felt I had to invent my own version of Dunwich, and so I created Sesqua Valley. I invented my own Great Old One –Ny-Rakath– and placed him in Ireland. Very few of those early tales were published, and the manuscripts for most of them have since been destroyed. Graeme Phillips recently published a wee chapbook of my early tales, SESQUA RISING, through his Cyaegha Press, but thankfully he printed only 50 copies and most of those were distributed in the Esoteric Order of Dagon apa. In the early days I wrote for the small press horror journals such as GRUE, DEATHREALM, and FANTASY MACABRE. Then Jeffrey Thomas collected some of my Sesqua tales for a chapbook he published. I then had a hardcover collection from Delirium Books published in 2003.
Do you read horror fiction?
No, I don’t read horror. I read classic literature, poetry, and biographies of writers.
How would you describe the developments in horror and weird fiction through the decades where you have been publishing fiction?
Because I read so little horror, I haven’t paid any attention to genre development. Most of the writers I have known are or were horror writers. Billy (Poppy) was my all-time favorite living horror writer, but he seemed to dislike being thus classified. He once bragged to me that in Europe his books are found in the literary section of stories, not in the horror section. I have absolutely no idea if horror is still a widely-selling market or who the modern authors are.
What is on the horizon for you? Could you tell us something about what you are currently working on and where we will have a chance to read your fiction next time?
I’m not doing too much writing of late. I’ll have two new books out this year, one a collaborative novel set entirely in Lovecraft’s dreamlands, and the other a major hardcover collection of my more recent work. Over the past couple years I’ve written for a number of mostly Lovecraftian anthologies, the newest-published of which is THE CHILDREN OF GLA’AKI. I’ve been hoping to write a book of stories influenced by the tales of Clark Ashton Smith, but so far I haven’t finished one story for it. I’ve had so many books published I feel that I can take a nice long break.
Thanks Wilum for taking your time for this talk.