The more history and science I read, the more it becomes clear that everything is connected, and nothing exists in a vacuum. I don’t mean that in a metaphysical sense, but in a very real, very physical way. When I read about the Cathar Heresy in Southern France, I saw that it was connected to the failures of the Crusades in the East and origin of the famous Spanish Inquisition. When I read about the fall of Byzantium, I learned that it was connected to those same crusades, to events that happened beyond the Muslim lands in the East, and to events going back to the classic Roman Empire. When I read about the Mongols, I found that they were linked to the fall of Byzantium, as well as to the westward spread of the ideas that would lead to the Cathar Heresy. Everything is connected. I mean, come on. The embrace of Confucianism in China helped reshape a whole trade system on the East coast of Africa. That’s crazy. So, I was very interested when I heard about Jason Colavito’s book postulating that the Ancient Astronauts worldview might have had its roots in the writings of H.P. Lovecraft. But how?!
This book is interesting all around. In the early part, it traces Lovecraft’s career and influences that led him eventually to take a lot of long-standing themes and concepts of Horror and the developing field of Science Fiction, and turn them on their heads. What Lovecraft did was nothing less than a complete perspective shift. Horror and Science Fiction were traditionally very human-centric. But with The Call of Cthulhu, At the Mountains of Madness, The Shadow Out of Time, and a few others, Lovecraft set us afloat in a blind, uncaring universe of things not just bigger than us, but beyond our monkey-brain’s ability to comprehend. Even things like his now famous Cthulhu, are just other cosmically insignificant beings. Though seemingly godlike to Humans, Cthulhu is, on a cosmic scale, just one alien, trapped on a foreign world.
From those origins, Colavito traces the posthumous path of Lovecraft’s concepts. From the controversial August Derleth, who may have done more to keep Lovecraft’s works alive than anyone else, yet perverted and misinterpreted them at every turn, across the sea during the Second World War, where they ended up in the hands of not only G.I.s, but of a couple French men with some weird ideas. From those French guys to a crooked Swiss crank, and then to worldwide bestselling status, the ideas seemed unstoppable. Unfortunately, somewhere along the way, they went from very cool fictional stories to a pseudo-scientific neo-religion. Timing, luck, a declining educational system, a growing distrust in experts, the growth of cable TV, the arrival of the internet, and more all helped Lovecraft’s “sheer fun” become something much more, and something Colavito proposes (and I agree) ultimately dangerous to civilization. Not, that I think watching the “History” Channel’s shows about Ancient Aliens dangerous. Believing they’re anything other than fantasy is.
There’s a lot of very good information in this book, and a lot of interesting characters. Coming from someone who was an early believer in all the Ancient Alien stuff, who ‘lost his faith’ by actually researching some of the claims, it has an interesting perspective. You can see, through Colavito’s own experience, how a rational, moderately educated, intelligent person can still fall for the awe and mystery of pseudo-science. You see it every day in other parts of life, be it anti-vax or climate change denial, we are pummeled by so much information and misinformation, and given so little skill and training in sifting through it, that it’s hard to know what is or isn’t real. For more than fifty years, schools have moved away from teaching how to think, toward teaching what to think. So, it’s only going to get worse.
Anyway, this book is definitely worth checking out. For fans of Lovecraft or those interested in the early days of Weird Tales and the rise of Science Fiction, it’s got a lot of good stuff. And if you’re interested in conspiracy theories, how they take hold, how cults grow, the rebirth of anti-intellectualism in Europe and America, and lots more fun stuff, you won’t want to miss this. I learned a lot about subjects I already thought I knew a lot about. And Colavito has an extensive notes & bibliography section for further reading.