PROVIDENCE — It’s hard to overstate H.P. Lovecraft’s influence on the horror genre. Masters of modern horror fiction like Stephen King count the author among their biggest influences, especially in the way he invented his own book of monsters — the Necronomicon — and used it as the basis of the lore that runs throughout his body of work. Countless movies and shows have been made from his stories, starting in the 1960s with movies starring Vincent Price and Boris Karloff, and continuing today with shows like HBO’s “Lovecraft Country.”
You might recognize his name. You might even be familiar with his work. But what you might not realize is that Lovecraft was a near-lifelong resident of Rhode Island, and wrote most of his most famous works here. He is so deeply ingrained here that his tombstone, which fans erected in 1977 in Swan Point Cemetery, says “I am Providence,” a quote from one of Lovecraft’s letters.
What you also might not realize is that there’s a bookstore downtown dedicated to all things horror, and all things Lovecraft.
The door to the Lovecraft Arts & Sciences Council, in the Arcade, doesn’t say “all weirdos welcome,” but it probably should. The shop is the kind of place where you can nerd out about, well, anything you’re a nerd about. Readers can spend a long time poring over the paranormal nonfiction section, perusing the collection of books about everything from scientific studies of extrasensory perception to tomes of research about cryptids like Bigfoot, the Loch Ness Monster and Dogman. (Don’t recognize the last one? Maybe stop by the store.)
The store has an extensive collection of Lovecraft books, everything from modern reprintings to rare collectible editions, to books inspired by the author, like a cookbook of recipes inspired by Lovecraft’s works called “Necronomnomnom,” and another called “Lovecraft Cocktails: Elixirs and Libations from the Lore of H.P. Lovecraft.” Then there’s a lot of horror and mystery books, a lot of true crime, a lot of paranormal, all in a selection for both adults and for kids, like the illustrated, “The Call of Cthulhu for Beginning Readers,” with Dr. Seuss-inspired artwork.
“The general theme is very much centered around weird fiction,” owner Niels Hobbs told the Boston Globe. “Not just Lovecraftian fiction, but weird fiction, which is this genre that’s really been exploding over the past several years. Then we also really like having nonfiction books that sort of inform the reader about weird fiction: We have a small section on science — astronomy, biology — some stuff on world history, the occult and other themes that are currents through weird fiction.”
The store sells books you may not have seen in the wild before, such as “The Most Haunted House in England” by Harry Price, an account of Price’s years-long study of Borley Rectory, which is widely believed to be the first paranormal investigation to apply scientifically-minded methods to the unexplained.
The Lovecraft Arts and Sciences Council, though, existed long before the store did. In 2011, Hobbs and a group of enthusiasts started NecronomiCon, a Lovecraft convention in Providence.
“Some friends of mine and I were trying to think of cool things to do in Providence that would bring people to the city that we love from around the world,” Hobbs explained. “We thought, well, Providence has this resource in Lovecraft as a cultural icon that’s famous around the world.” The first convention was a hit; the con now happens biannually, with the next one slated for 2024.
“Folks started putting the thought in our head that we should have more of a permanent fixture in town,” Hobbs said. The bookstore also functions as a visitor’s center for Lovecraft fans, a museum of his work and fandom (there’s a collection of Narragansett Brewing’s Lovecraft beers), and an event space.
Hobbs sees the bookstore both as an appreciation of Lovecraft’s contributions to literature, and also an inclusive, welcoming space that aims to be an antidote to the author’s problematic personal views.
“Lovecraft himself has really emerged as a really incredibly flawed, problematic personal figure,” Hobbs said. The author’s prejudices are documented in some of his earliest works and grew from there. “Especially in recent years, we’ve come to have a much more nuanced awareness of Lovecraft as both a creator of fiction that has brought people literally from around the world to Providence, but also someone who, personally, we can’t not just find completely onerous for some of his incredibly racist beliefs.”
Both the convention and the store take aim at those blind spots. “Our convention and the books that we curate have gotten a lot of credit from people,” Hobbs explained. “We’re trying to bring in diverse voices, but also bring in critical voices as well … some of the most fascinating, mind-meltingly amazing weird fiction has been coming from parts of our human community that were ones that Lovecraft probably would’ve despised or feared.”
At its core, the store celebrates the weirdness in everyone — even, or especially — those who hear the call of Cthulhu.