A week ago, I came back from a trip to Eastercon and the Popular Culture Association conference in Boston, which left me with a few days to explore New England. Having seen most of Boston in details, I followed a friend's advice and set to spend a day in Providence, Rhode Island.
Lovecraft readers have probably guessed why I was excited to see Providence: you don't always get an oportunity to see the place where your favourite writer spent most of their life, so I decided that Lovecraft would rise to the top of the large pile of My Favourite Writers for a day, climbed in the train, asked for some information at the tourist office (turned out they had a few hand-printed leaflets about landmarks related to Lovecraft, including two houses where he lived, his memorial and the library where a large collection of his manuscripts can still be found), and set out to discover the no doubt grim and forbidding place that had inspired such terrified writing.
Now this April was, I gather, exceptionnally warm in New England. As it happens, the day Iof my trip was as sunny and hot as any summer day. I couldn't have picked a more lovely time for my visit, which was quite extensive–when it comes to evaluate walking distances on a map, I'm incompetent and very optimistic. But the visit was worth the sunburn, dehydration and exertion. I made it to the memorial, an inconspicuous granite slab in a small garden, framed by yellow wooden houses and trees in bloom, saw the two places where Lovecraft had lived, gorgeous little wooden houses both, with flowers and large windows, and the white building of the library where he spent his research time, on top of a hill overlooking the rest of the city, and the countryside.
As I walked there on this beautiful, fragrant, warm spring day, I suddenly felt very sorry for him. It is enough to read his stories to realise that the horror wasn't a mere device–you can feel the anxiety behind the grotesque and stylistically outdated monsters, until it reaches you and turns into horrid nightmares if you're not careful. I had always supposed that Providence must be a very grim and scary place, to inspire that kind of writing. It's not. Sometimes it even looks like paradise. As I walked on Angell Street, I looked down and saw a large rainbow-coloured halo arond my shadow's head, moving with me for a while; I'm not making that up. Then I thought of the marvellous lost city of childhood in "The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath", and realised that it probably had never been lost. It had been there all along, but somewhere along the way, he had been unable to see it anymore. Then the Old Ones came, and the Deep Ones, and the Fungi from Yuggoth, and the paradise that was right here at hand was lost forever.
The memorial looks like a tombstone in a very small, private graveyard, as peaceful as you can imagine, blooming with violets and trees I couldn't name. I didn't think I would ever feel sad for Lovecraft, who wasn't the most attractive character around, for all his wonderful writing. For a little while, though, I did.