Ashley Lister’s A – Z of Horror: N is for Necronomicon

Necronomicon is a fictional grimoire, first appearing in the stories by horror writer HP Lovecraft, and later being mentioned by his followers. It was first referenced in Lovecraft’s 1924 short story ‘The Hound’ written in 1922, although its most nefarious author, the ‘Mad Arab’ Abdul Alhazred, had been quoted a year earlier in Lovecraft’s ‘The Nameless City.’ Amongst other things, The Necronomicon contains an account of the Old Ones, their history, and the means for summoning them.

 

I’m having a strange relationship with HP Lovecraft at the moment. Firstly, I think we need to cut him a little bit of slack as he was clearly born to parents who named him after either a bottle of brown sauce or an inkjet printer. My research hasn’t yet confirmed which, but I don’t think either are things that should be considered as inspiration when naming a child.

 

However, whilst I’m in favour of giving him some leeway because of parents that named him so carelessly, I worry about giving him too much licence, for fear that people think I’m condoning his inescapable racism. If you don’t think Lovecraft is racist, take a glance at how easily he’s referring to the author of Necronomicon as ‘the mad Arab’. If that still doesn’t convince you, take a glance at some of Lovecraft’s poetry to understand he was the sort of person who could have donned the white robes of a Klansman for his weekend’s entertainment. Even if he wasn’t a member of the Rhode Island branch of the KKK (a branch which had 21,000 members in the 1920s, some of whom were involved in the beating and branding of an unfortunate Woonsocket newspaper reporter), Lovecraft clearly shared a lot of their beliefs, as is apparent in his writing.

 

However, you don’t even need to dip into Lovecraft’s dodgy doggerel to realise he supported ideologies of white supremacy, and the inferiority of foreign nations.

 

In the first decade of the 1900s, immigration in the US reached a record high of nine million newcomers. Lovecraft believed these trends would cause America to be overrun by inferior races, foreigners and, worst of all, he feared the legacy of good white people would be ‘mongrelized’ by interracial marriage.

 

Needless to say, his writings reflect the beliefs of many people of the time, but that doesn’t stop them from being racist beliefs. He writes often of superior and inferior races. He uses some particularly unpleasant epithets to describe people of colour. And Lovecraft published a political journal from 1915 to 1923, titled The Conservative. This was a journal full of pithy articles, such as the one that praises the film Birth of a Nation for showing the benefits of slavery and the inappropriateness of allowing democracy to extend to African Americans.

But I’m writing here about the Necronomicon, rather than the unseemly side of Lovecraft’s personality and his warped (well, non-existent) view on racial equality. And Necronomicon ties in with my own passion for books that have never existed.

 

Necronomicon was a creation from Lovecraft’s imagination: a legendary grimoire that every enthusiastic daemon summoner (from fiction) wanted to possess.

 

There have been several books that never existed, such as The Dynamics of an Asteroid by Professor James Moriarty (mentioned in The Valley of Fear by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle), and the Sherlock Holmes monograph Upon the Distinction Between the Ashes of the Various Tobaccos (mentioned in ‘A Study in Scarlet’, ‘The Boscombe Valley Mystery’ and The Hound of the Baskervilles, all by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle). But Necronomicon is somewhat different because there now exist published versions of the title. One of these is a collection of Lovecraft’s works. Others are works of fiction where writers have picked up on some of the themes in Lovecraft’s fiction and run with it. A couple of them claim to be genuine grimoires although the veracity of their content appears less than plausible since the title of the book has been taken from a work of fiction. One of them, The Simon Necronomicon, is based on Sumerian mythology and has little to do with Lovecraft, despite the huge Lovecraft focus in the marketing.

 

But Necronomicon stands alone in books that never existed, and it’s not just because the book was a central plot point in the Evil Dead film franchise. Conspiracy theorists believe that there’s a copy of Necronomicon in the Vatican Library, and several occultists have written asking to see the volume. Pranksters often find ways to list Necronomicon in library catalogues (most commonly authored by A Alhazred). And there have been con artists who have claimed to have a previously unknown copy of this grimoire for sale, and have then gone on to prove the truth to the adage that fool and his money are easily parted.

 

All of which is why I’m so fond of Necronomicon: one of the most successful books that never existed.

 

 

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