Nerd Nite Madison: Laura Felley on H.P. Lovecraft and his superfan (audio)

How a Wisconsinite cemented H.P. Lovecraft's legacy in modern horror.

  H.P. Lovecraft's 1934 sketch of his iconic character Cthulu.

H.P. Lovecraft's 1934 sketch of his iconic character Cthulu.

At the most recent installment of Nerd Nite Madison, held on September 30 at the High Noon Saloon, Laura Felley gave maybe the best Nerd Nite talk I've seen yet. Felley, an MD/PhD student at UW-Madison and editor of the horror site Contemporary Lovecraft, explained how a Wisconsinite named August Derleth rescued the work of H.P. Lovecraft from oblivion. A writer, publisher, and onetime literary editor of the Capital Times, Derleth corresponded with Lovecraft while he was alive, and after Lovecraft's death essentially re-published and championed Lovecraft's work, shaping the way we view the author today.

Felley argues that Lovecraft, and by extension Derleth, influenced modern horror films and fiction by creating a paradigm in which destruction isn't a matter of good and evil, but the product of an indifferent universe. Felley also addresses Lovecraft's notorious racism—"He was incredibly racist. He'd probably be offended if you thought he was a product of his time," Felley explains—and the controversy over Derleth's handling of Lovecraft's legacy.

You can listen to Felley's talk here, in a podcast produced in partnership with Nerd Nite Madison. Before the actual talk, you'll hear a brief conversation between Felley and Nerd Nite Madison host Ben Taylor. These events generally take place every month at the High Noon, but the next Nerd Nite Madison is this Saturday, October 24 at the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery, tying in with the Wisconsin Science Festival.

Also, you can peruse Felley's slides from the talk, if you're into that kind of thing.