Throughout his collective writings, the author H. P. Lovecraft makes frequent use of the words "obscene" and "blasphemous" in order to convey a sense that something is the object of disgust or that it is debased in some fashion.

As an example, in his 1936 novella At the Mountains of Madness he uses the word "blasphemous" (or its derivatives) ten times both to describe things that unsettled the narrator due to their basic nature, and things which the narrator came to believe were devolved forms of art and culture that had once existed at a higher level.

there was something vaguely but deeply unhuman in all the contours, dimensions, proportions, decorations, and constructional nuances of the blasphemously archaic stonework. [Chapter 6]

Is there any greater meaning that may be gleaned from Lovecraft's choice of these words, either in the context of Lovecraft's view of the world, or in the context of the use of these words in the time in which Lovecraft lived? Or where they purely stylistic in choice?

Emphasis requested in regards to observation from scholarly sources and sources with an authority on Lovecraft.

  • 1
    This seems a bit vague and open-ended as a question. Are you asking about Lovecraft's religious views and opinions on obscenity? There's a very brief Reddit thread which seems to sum up two dominant opinions on "blasphemy"; I'd incline to the viewpoint that he liked the words.
    – Stuart F
    Commented Mar 26, 2022 at 14:16
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    I think this is a reasonable question within the boundaries of Good Subjective. There's probably a lot to be said about how Lovecraft's personal views and/or the society in which he lived shaped his writing, and this question is quite specific, about his use of particular words, not so broad as to be unanswerable.
    – Rand al'Thor
    Commented Mar 26, 2022 at 14:23
  • Lovecraft frequently uses both of these words to convey the natator's disgust at things that can be perceived with the senses. Such as the smell of a building or a style or architecture. For example, it is used to describe a painting of a dreamscape in The call of Cthulu which can be seen with the eyes. He rarely uses it in a religious context. The closest that he comes is when using it to describe the elder races who are sometimes the focus of a religious text worship by a cult. Commented Mar 26, 2022 at 14:40
  • Other than the generalized views discussed here, the specific meaning in a particular sentence can be context dependent. For example, here "blasphemously archaic" might be interpreted as "evidence of a civilization so ancient that it upends the accepted understanding of history and prehistory". If's "blasphemous" in the "what the hell" sense. Note that at this stage in the story, they are still unsure about what this structure is, exactly. E.g., in the very next sentence, the narrator says "We soon realized, from what the carvings revealed, that this monstrous city was many million years old". Commented Mar 28, 2022 at 5:20

1 Answer 1


The central theme of Lovecraftian horror is that the rest of the universe beyond our flat little neighborhood is so alien as to be practically incomprehensible to us, often in ways that are harmful to the fragile psyche of us mortals. He often uses "obscene" and "blasphemous" in connection with things from that realm.

In regular English, "obscene" signals at least two things: that an object is different from the norm, and also that it is indecent in an unwelcome way. Likewise, "blasphemous" signals at least two things: that an object is different from the norm, and also that it is fundamentally wrong, even antithetical to our common understanding of what is good and healthy.

Lovecraft uses these words when he wants to communicate that something is not merely unusual, unique, or unexpected, but that it is positively an affront to nature (as we conceive it). Like any obscenity, the object is immediately recognizable to even the uninitiated as somehow indecent, not something innocent people should be exposed to. And like traditional blasphemy, the mere existence of the thing is an intolerable insult to the established (human) order -- where "order" can be understood not merely as human politics or religion, but as our shared psychological frame of reference.

He puts these words in his characters' mouths when he wants us to know that the character has recognized the dangerous otherworldliness that something shares with the incomprehensibly alien universe beyond our doorstep. But, he doesn't want to say that the person recognizes the object is merely "not from around here," but that its essential nature is different and even incompatible with that of the Earthly environment humans are familiar, comfortable, and safe within.

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    One note, too small for its own answer, and perhaps not borne out by the other contexts but "blasphemously archaic" to me signals that the thing is blasphemous due to its incongruent age. I.e. it predates what we expected to exist Commented Mar 27, 2022 at 12:30

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