Howard, Tolkien and Lovecraft Comparative Studies

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Yogah of Yag

Would a discussion on the similarities and differences with regard to the writings of our beloved Howard and Dr. Tolkien and Mr. Lovecraft be out of place here? Especially, and most relevantly, how these three authors have affected RPG in the past 30 years...

Your thoughts and ideas are welcome.
What a coincidence! I just posted some thoughts on Lovecraft and Howard in the topic "Blacks & Women?" almost at the same time as your present post.
Interesting topic.

I tend to think of D&D as a mixture of myths heavily influenced by both Tolkien (D&D elves were *badly* modeled after Tolkien's ones, not to mention halflings,orcs and the like) and REH (treasure looting adventures and outright roguish heroes *though most of the grittiness got lost*).

However, D&D lacked internal coherence -at least long ago, when I played it-, where the works of REH,Tolkien and Lovecarft do not. I think the handling of the supernatural was supberb in the books of those authors, as they knew what they wanted to do with it.

Any RPG game where you can teleport on a whim or have nice talk with your magic sword which, by the way, can throw a fireball three times a day is lacking in that respect.

The King wrote:
Thus the educated heroes of Lovecraft become insane when they realize that what they know is a drop of water among the ocean while the heroes of Howard survive in a corrupted and decadent world thanks to their sheer force.
Both condemn the outmost rationalization of what the world has become and their stories are thus a sort of satire of the "Roarings Twenties".

Couldn't be summarized better. As for Tolkien, I think he was the more optimistic of the three, mostly because of his religious beliefs. However, it is obvious that while he thought there was hope, the fight wouldn't be easy, as even the greatest of heroes could become corrupt. Perhaps the time period where they all lived made people think like that.

In any event, three of the most sucessful RPG lines have come from their works (Call of Cthulhu, Lord of the Rings and now Conan). I only hope the Conan line lasts at least as long as the Cthulhu one 8)

PS:The Lord of the Rings needs some company to make it justice (Mongoose? :wink: ). First, the ICE guys used a magic system which was a bit too D&D and now those Decipher people just gave the game the worst support I have ever seen.

PPS:I find it amusing to play Conan with Call of Cthulhu veterans. I think they can appretiate the better the idea that even if their characters live in a hostile world, even if they live in a doomed civilization, they can still fight!
I like to think of all three authors as repsonding in different ways to the failure of modernity. Lovecraft: "There is no Meaning/Truth! Oh no! The horror!" Howard: "There is no Meaning/Truth, but a person of will can create personal meanin/truth." Tolkien: "There is no Meaning/Truth in the diminished modern world, but they can be found in the values of the past."

Of course, that is a gross oversimplification of their works, and focuses only on one theme of their writings, but I think it serves as a useful heuristic for comparison.

They are of course, my favorite authors and I feel that it is no coincidence they, all disaffected with the their world in one way or another, became the greatest fantasists. Their works have soul, in that they desperately believed in the thematic content of their work (even if they weren't concious of it at the time of writing). The fantasists of today seem to lack this, and only write the aesthetics of fantasy, without poetics to back it up and make it meaningful.
horror is much stronger than in lovecrafts time and I recomend brian lumleys work as example or anne rices 8)

the tolken values were akin to both howard and lovecraft in the hero won for a time but at what a cost :shock: frodo gains peace but it distroys many anicent things and he is so damaged only exile from the realm he saved can save him,lovecrafts heros died or ran to the dreamlands real life being not a option and then howards conan who carves a empire but knows it will never last the march of the picts or the greater enemy time

here is some thoughts have no idea what others think :twisted:
Though he's my favorite fantasy author, I don't think Tolkien was an optimist. One of the main themes running through his work is that things don't get better, they get worse. It's just a matter of how much worse.

True, at the end of LotR you have Aragorn assuming the throne of Gondor and forming the house of Telcontar (wow - I really out-geeked myself with that), and you have Sam and Rosie breeding a small herd of hobbits, which seems all well and good until you look at the big picture - the loss of the elves and wizards.

Essentially, Tolkien's view of the world was of an entropic spiral, where everything slowly and inexorably worsens. We assume evil never wins, but at the end of the day, good is left with a rather dull, grey world.

Just as the world worsens, victories lessen. In the War of Wrath, you got the Valar riding in to whup on Melko/Melkor and take him out of the picture permanently. The Last Alliance also wins, but does not dispatch Sauron. By the time you get to the end of the Third Age, things have gotten even worse, which brings us to a central element of LotR. Frodo doesn't win; he loses.

Sure, the ring goes into the fire, but no element or agent of good puts it there. By this point in Middle-Earth history, good no longer has the strength to defeat evil. Evil (in the form of Gollum and his greed) has to defeat itself (Sauron).

In the end, I'd have to give Howard's work the edge in optimism, though barely. Howard's world has an endless cycle of primitives rising to barbarians rising to civilization - then being destroyed from within or without and starting all over again. In Tolkien, on the other hand, things just get steadily more drab. We'll never return to the 'days that were' - they are gone forever.

Lovecraft, of course, gets my vote for most pessimistic. After all, how can you beat a worldview that offers nothing but a nihilistic abyss of alien malevolence and madness? :)
Your point is quite interesting and I didn't see it under this angle. I admit I never really study the whole meaning in Tolkien's works and I always had the simple conclusion:
- The ring quest is akin to the temptation of man (in the Genesis), his fall and his redemption too. The corruptive power of the ring can destroy friendship and alliances as easily as the wind blows leaves away. Though good is overwhelmed it doesn't surrender too and fights to the end (i.e. the desesperate assault at the gates of Mordor).

- It is also a tale about childhood and manhood represented by the hobbits and Bilbo especially. Bilbo is pleased to stay young but knows his knowledge is enough to make out of him an adult. In the end, he knows and recognizes this fact and begins to age before his last voyage.
I was thinking about both Howard and Lovecraft and one comparison that came to mind was this. Both authors used the whole elder gods concept in their fiction. Both used the concept of creatures of incredible power ruling over prehistoric earth and using human as slaves and food.

The best analogy I can think of his ants.

To Lovecraft humanity were little ants that build great civilizations and yet were still ants and as such compared to the elder gods were just as important to them.

To Howard we were ants too in much the same way except that we were vicious litle red fire ants that would bite and sting the elder gods until they would eventually leave because we kept multiplying and leaving nasty little welts.

Lovecraft characters went insane and eventually suffered in despair.

Howard characters stayed defiant to the end.
toothill man said:
was surprised you havent posted yet raven as your sort of thread now know why 8)

I'm on vacation- and thus since I'm not bored I'm not on the 'net as much. If Sutek and Taylor hadn't gotten pissy on 'Blacks & Women' I'd likely not checked on here until I got back. But oh well, what can you say- so people don't like us who refuse to bow to the PC way of seeing things. 8)
PC to me is what I write on :wink: :lol: my views are my own and I have spent alot of effort and time on them just like howard, lovecraft and papa tolken.

remember in howards time popular fiction was boys own empire building white man rule the world pulp(no harm in that have a small collection of such books)howards bloody take was new as was the fact conan lead various races and cannot think of a race he didnt sleep with :wink:

in lovecrafts time horror was dead the last good writer in the usa being poe :shock: by making us small against a back drop of mans science can defeat anything he gave us cosmic horror(have a huge collection of that)

Tolken a world leader in anglo-saxon prose gave us grand myth in a time that the rationale story was king.they all stood by their values against the tide of what was thought correct .roald dahl is already in that group as a writer who truly belived that adults were the enemy :wink:

they also got alot of stick think that in a few years time I think JK rowlings will be on the list not as big but a writer who doesnt pump out pap but give kids huge novels to read with twists and dark deeds not preaching too them and kicking the children books from the fringe into the center.

think fighting against the tide links all the novelists I have written about :wink:
As the initial thread where I posted a similar topic was closed down (not my fault this time), I decided to copy it there in case it gets deleted.

I don't believe that Howard and Locevraft were as sexist and racist as it is told of them. Don't you forget that Howard wrote some stories with a woman as a hero (Agnes de Chastillon).

The same is true with Lovecraft but it seems many tend to forget that he also included degenerated white people in his tales (dunwich is a good example).

Both authors were laughting at the nature of man who believed he could control anything. Like Howard, Lovecraft wrote his stories in the 1910's-1920's at a time of a second industrial and technical revolution (inclusive of the medicine and the nuclear fields with the works of Pasteur and Einstein respectively) with a boom in the communications: radio, plane, cars, etc.
With all this knowledge men weren't able to prevent the first world war and its massive destruction) or the Wall Street crash.

The myth of Icarus is not about discovering the Truth (veritas) but about the limits of man who spells his own doom.

Thus the educated heroes of Lovecraft become insane when they realize that what they know is a drop of water among the ocean while the heroes of Howard survive in a corrupted and decadent world thanks to their sheer force.
Both condemn the outmost rationalization of what the world has become and their stories are thus a sort of satire of the "Roarings Twenties".
Already distinterested or are you waiting for a new catastrophe to happen?

Rule by numbers and die in numbers because this number is a man's number and this is the number of the beast.
I've officially arrived- the disaster can't be far off.

One thing not mentioned that the three have in common is all three's major works have the idea that the civilizations in their works live in the shadow of mightier and more magically powerful empires of the past that were touched by cosmic powers and whose legacy still affected the present- and usually not in any beneficial way. In Howard and Lovecraft's fiction this are the civilizations devoted to the now slumbering Old Ones while Tolkien's world of Middle Earth had the Valar and their agents tearing up the place long before hobbits arrived. The principal difference between the two worlds [as Howards and Lovecraft's world was a shared one you can consider one for the purpose of this statement] was as a good Christian Professor Tolkien arranged his powers along the lines of traditional Good and Evil and REH and HPL's Old Ones were universally evil or at the very best indifferent. Also Tolkien was very much a Creationist- in the Simillarion[sp?] the birth of Middle Earth and Malar's fall is played out in full Gensis fashion- while the more scientificlly inclined REH and HPL had the idea of life being merely the result of the scientific process of evolution- or degeneration in some cases.

Y'know a debate between these guys on intelligent design versus evolution would be interesting to hear....
In Howard and Lovecraft's fiction this are the civilizations devoted to the now slumbering Old Ones

What Hyborian civilization is devoted to the slumbering Old Ones? There is no doubt that Yog-Kosha appeared and Lovecraft's influence was present in some Howard stories but I don't recall there being an explanation for the 'green stone' fortresses being Lovecraftian or that there is a society that is 'devoted' to the Old Ones. Acheron, although mighty also has no Lovecraft influence as far as I can recall.

Beyond, Hyboria what other soceities do you mean :?
Howard, Lovecraft and Charles Ashton Smith together created the Cthulhu Mythos by sharing elements of each other stories. Thus Howard's Hyborian Age is part of the Mythos timeline- which is indicated in the timeline within core rule book for Call of Cthulhu as happening 7000 prior to 'present day'. So the prehistory of Howard's stories is the same one given by Lovecraft - the ancient Old Ones and their servitors arriving in prehistory, setting up their version of civilization and then falling asleep during the early days of man. There is a topic devoted to this overlap called 'Conan and Cthulhu' here although since no one's been active on it for a while it's fallen to page 2 or 3. I should post a new Lovecraft monster for Conan stats again to bring it back to the top of the list.

In any case even if you want to disregard that overlap, the earlier civilizations of Atlantis, Lemuria and Archeron mentioned directly in Howard's work also fit the bill for earlier more advanced sorcerous civilizations prior to the Hyborian Age- although without directly mentioned Old One infulence.
Raven Blackwell said:
Also Tolkien was very much a Creationist- in the Simillarion[sp?] the birth of Middle Earth and Malar's fall is played out in full Gensis fashion- while the more scientificlly inclined REH and HPL had the idea of life being merely the result of the scientific process of evolution- or degeneration in some cases.

Pardon me if I'm taking you too literally here...

I don't know that Tolkien was a Creationist. I have a passable - and by that I mean not at all encyclopedic - knowledge of the good professor's life, and I do know he was an ardent Catholic (after abandoning the Church of England following his mother's death). At least today, the doctrine of the church isn't creationist.

Be that as it may, Tolkien had a number of reasons for writing the massive body of work he created. One was that, as a philologist who'd crafted his own languages (based though they were on actual languages), he wanted some people to speak them - enter Middle Earth. Another, and more pertinent reason, is that he wanted to create a mythology for England. As the Arthurian legends include Christianity, he didn't think they counted.

In terms of this second goal, of creating a mythology, it seems 'creationism' is really the only way to go. After all, who wants to read myth that starts out with 'In the beginning, there were these amino acids...'

(It's 'Silmarillion', btw) :)
Does anyone has ever considered that the wartcher (or is it a lurker?) that is in the lac in front of the (Western) gate of Moria is a kind of tribute to Lovecraft?

Essentially Tolkien tells a tale where myth and legend is at its end. Powerful being existed and forged the world as it is but their time has gone.

In Howard, these myth are very ancient, more ancient than the cataclysm. He relates this in the Kull story "The Shadow Kingdon" were mankind was enslaved by the serpent men and rebelled. And Kull is a long long time before Conan. However he describes also the Hyborian world that reaches its end; that is somewhat equivalent to the end of the heroic time in Ancient Greece (Conan is such a hero). After the great cataclysm, this time becomes history (with the formation of the continents as we know them today).

Locevraft is more insidious because mankind is a brief passage in time. The old ones rules the earth at the beginning and will rule it at the end where Cthulhu is waiting for his (its?) time to come again. I guess Cthulhu rising means the Armaggeddon because the rising island will emerge after a mighty earthquake and the time of non Euclidian geometry will come again.
Mortals, with their loo limited minds, had to rationalize their space and time, but couldn't live with their sanity among those creatures.
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