What's in a Name?: H.P. Lovecraft, Unnameable Horror, and Fear of the Unknown

Presented with Lovecraft


Naming is power.  Most schoolchildren know the faerytale "Rumpelstiltskin," in which the queen is able to break Rumpelstiltskin's power over her when she discovers his true name.  In folklore, learning a demon's true name gives one power over them, but one should never speak a faery's true name lest they be offended.  When we can name something, we can define, trammel, and control it.  Conversely, when we cannot name something, it becomes not only unnameable but unknown.  

In his famous essay "Supernatural Horror in Literature," H. P. Lovecraft says, 'The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown."  His short story "The Unnameable" encapsulates this idea. However, it is a theme Lovecraft explored in other works and which even appears in the unpronounceable names he assigned to the figures in his Cthulhu Mythos.  

In this Olio we will not only discuss how Lovecraft incorporated the unnameable in his own work, but also how his conception of horror as the unnameable influenced other writers such as Stephen King and how it persists in the horror genre to this day.  Additionally, I plan to touch on the different ways that various incarnations of the "unnameable" (such as women, sex, racial/cultural differences, Queerness, etc.) have been treated as sources of horror in Lovecraft's and other's works.

Join us at Lovecraft's in the East Village to celebrate the release of Narragansett's Unnameable Black Lager and all things horror! 


Recommended reading from Penguin Press:

The Night Ocean by Paul La Farge

A riveting novel about secrets and scandals, psychiatry and pulp fiction, inspired by the lives of H.P. Lovecraft and his circle.




Location: Lovecraft

50 Avenue B, New York, NY 10009

An East Village bar inspired by the teetotalling horror writer H. P. Lovecraft. It’s plenty atmospheric: illuminated vats of bubbling water, ancient books, murals of tentacled women, coppery portholes to nowhere. 


Other upcoming Olios


Oct 19

Oct 20

Oct 27

Turning the Soul: Humanities and the Hero's Journey

Taught by Vishwa Adluri
7 p.m. at Strand Bookstore

Sign Up - $20

Oct 30

Traversing the Veil: Alchemy, Wisdom, and The Modern Witch

Taught by Jaime Weida
7:30 p.m. at Chinatown Soup

Sign Up - $15

Nov 3

Shakespeare and the Invention of the Supervillain

Taught by Geoff Klock
7 p.m. at Strand Bookstore

Sign Up - $20

Nov 7

*Olio Seminar* Know Your Rights? Know Your Rights!

Taught by Lawrence Cappello
7 p.m. at Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe, LLP

Sign Up - $50


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