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Lovecraft is like Shakespeare
Bar Harbor
I said some of this in conversation recently, and thought the analogy worth expanding upon.

He produced a great deal of work in genres and formats that were widely considered to be lowbrow, disposable entertainment for the lower classes. Most of his work wasn't

collected during his lifetime. Shortly *after* his death, some of his literary disciples started getting his work collected and reprinted, marking the start of the genre and form being seen as (at least *capable* of being) "literature".

Some of his political attitudes are not in fashion today, which some readers can't get past. And he had stylistic quirks (including a fondness for long words) that are easily parodied (and arguably became self-parody in his own lesser works).

Of his prodigious output, about the top 5% consists of enduring classics, works that influenced *everything* that came after them in their "home" genres, and had considerable influence even outside those genres. The next, say, 10% of his output was also very good, though not quite *as* enduring as the first-rank material. After that, the work ranges from "good" down to "wretched".

Although only the cream of his work is widely influential, devout fanboys of his work (starting with his first reprinters) have been completists, including everything they could get their hands on, indiscriminately. This has inadvertently led to a dilution of his mass appeal. People often hear great things about his work, but are then exposed to (sometimes quite large) pieces of his work that is not at all impressive. This is, IMO, why so many people are willing to say, "I'm not a fan of his stuff", even if they generally like the genre he helped make respectable. I believe they *would* be fans of his if they read his best works, and avoided the vast sea of mediocrity around it.

[Of course, countless arguments could be made about *which*, exactly, the best works are. But if you compiled a list of many people's opinions, I don't think many people would put works in the top tier that anyone else thought weren't at least second-tier.]

I once had a conversation in which I drew a few comparisons between Shakespeare and Neil Gaiman. While there's still some validity there, when I look at the *whole* of the description above, the name Jack Kirby leaps out at me as the Shakespeare of superhero comics.

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I think the difference between Shakespeare and a lot of other writers who I'd otherwise compare him to is that Shakespeare, for whatever reason, doesn't get fanfic'ed as much as other writers of equivalent entertainment value. Fanfic'ed and pro-fic'ed both.

I mean, people write Cthulhu mythos things ALL THE TIME, even multiple roleplaying games. Jack Kirby's creations have been written by other writers ever since.

And yet, Shakespeare fanfiction and derivative works, while they certainly EXIST, and many of them are excellent, aren't as ubiquitous as a lot of other authors.

If one was to count modern productions of Shakespeare as "derivative works" (and I think one could make a strong case for that), then they certainly remain ubiquitous. Also, his effect on the English *language* is so great as to be (paradoxically) hard to notice.

Wasn't Kirby super prolific? I'd make him out as more of an Asimov, or something.

I *did* use the phrase "prodigious output", which Kirby certainly had. The major difference between the two was that Asimov lived long enough to see SF become semi-respectable, and for the vast majority of his work to come back into print (with author's notes!). Kirby didn't really start getting heavy reprint action until the late 90's, having died in 1994.

I've made the explicit comparison between Shakespeare's friends and HPL's friends printing projects post-mortem many times--including (recently) in print. I never thought of the other comparisons.

Another comparison: Shakespeare and HPL had short works appear in pulp in their lifetimes (the Quartos and pulp magazines), but only appeared in hardcovers after their death. In both cases, hardcover publication was almost unknown for their genre--in the case of Lovecraft, his friends as if by accident invented the small press publishing phenomenon for the fantastic genres.

Kirby lived long enough to see a little of his work in hardcovers, but that didn't become a common thing until, again, after his death. (And he lived to a much riper old age than the other two!)

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