Lovecraft Country

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Lovecraft Country
Lovecraft Country.svg
A detailed map of Lovecraft Country, showing possible positions of the stories' fictional locations[according to whom?] within Massachusetts
Created byKeith Herber
GenreHorror fiction
LocationNew England
  • Arkham
  • Dunwich
  • Innsmouth
  • Kingsport

Lovecraft Country is a term coined for the New England setting used by H. P. Lovecraft in many of his weird fiction stories, which combines real and fictitious locations. This setting has since been elaborated on by other writers working in the Cthulhu Mythos. The phrase was not in use during Lovecraft's own lifetime. Instead the phrase Lovecraft Country was coined by Keith Herber for the Lovecraftian role-playing game Call of Cthulhu.

The phrase is only one of many attempts to label the setting of Lovecraft's works, though with the 2020 HBO television series Lovecraft Country arguably the one gaining the most traction. Alternative phrases include Arkham County, Miskatonic County and the Miskatonic region.


The term was coined by Keith Herber and then popularized by Chaosium, the producers of the Lovecraftian role-playing game Call of Cthulhu.

Alternative phrases[edit]

Lovecraft scholar S. T. Joshi refers to the area as the Miskatonic region, after its fictional river and university.[1] Lovecraft biographer Lin Carter calls it Miskatonic County,[2][page needed] and the film Color Out of Space refers to it as Arkham County, although Lovecraft indicates that at least some of his fictional towns were located in the real-life Essex County of Massachusetts.[3][4] Just as Arkham County is fictitious, Matt Ruff places some of the events of his book in the equally fictitious Devon County of Massachusetts.[5]

Lovecraft's fiction[edit]

Setting plays a major role in Lovecraft's fiction. Lovecraft Country, a fictionalized version of New England, serves as a central hub for his mythos. It represents the history, culture, and folklore of the region, as interpreted by Lovecraft, who associated himself with the region. These attributes are exaggerated and altered to provide a base upon which his stories could be constructed. The names of the locations in the region were directly influenced by the names of real locations in the region, which was done to increase their realism. Lovecraft's stories use their connections with New England to imbue themselves with the ability to instil fear.[6]

Lovecraft first used a New England setting in his 1920 short story "The Terrible Old Man", set in Kingsport. "The Picture in the House" (written later in 1920), is the first of his stories to mention both Arkham and the Miskatonic Valley. The story begins with a manifesto for why the New England countryside is a fitting backdrop for his horror stories:

the true epicure of the terrible, to whom a new thrill of unutterable ghastliness is the chief end and justification of existence, esteem most of all the ancient, lonely farmhouses of backwoods New England; for there the dark elements of strength, solitude, grotesqueness, and ignorance combine to form the perfection of the hideous.[7]

In a 1930 letter to Robert E. Howard, Lovecraft attempted to explain his fascination with New England as a setting for weird fiction: "It is the night-black Massachusetts legendary which packs the really macabre 'kick'. Here is material for a really profound study in group neuroticism; for certainly, none can deny the existence of a profoundly morbid streak in the Puritan imagination."[8]

Specifically, Lovecraft was inspired by the cities and towns in Massachusetts. However, the specific location of Lovecraft Country is variable, as it was moved according to Lovecraft's literary needs. The location of Arkham was moved, as Lovecraft decided that it would have been destroyed by the Quabbin Reservoir, which was created to supply Boston with fresh water. This is alluded to in "The Colour Out of Space", as the "blasted heath" is submerged by the creation of a fictionalized version of the reservoir.[9]

Lovecraft first mentioned Arkham's Miskatonic University in "Herbert West–Reanimator", written in 1921–22. He added Dunwich to his imaginary landscape in 1928's "The Dunwich Horror",[10] and expanded it to include Innsmouth in 1931's The Shadow over Innsmouth.[3] Other Lovecraft stories that make use of Lovecraft Country settings include "The Festival", "The Colour out of Space", "The Strange High House in the Mist", "The Dreams in the Witch House", and "The Thing on the Doorstep".

Derleth's additions[edit]

August Derleth, Lovecraft's friend, discouraged other Cthulhu Mythos writers from setting their stories in Lovecraft's New England. But he himself attempted to fill in the blanks of the setting, particularly in his posthumous "collaborations" with Lovecraft—actually Derleth's stories based on fragments, notes or ideas that Lovecraft left behind after his death. The Lurker at the Threshold is set in Billington's Wood, a fictional forest north of Arkham, while "Witches' Hollow" takes place in the titular valley in the hills to the west of the town.

The title of "The Fisherman of Falcon Point" refers to a promontory on the Atlantic coast south of Innsmouth. "Wentworth's Day" and "The Horror from the Middle Span" take place in the area north of Dunwich, while "The Gable Window" concerns a house on the Aylesbury Pike.

Other uses[edit]

While the phrase originated in the role-playing community, it now sees widespread usage.

Lovecraft Country was the title of a 2016 novel by Matt Ruff. The novel was subsequently adapted by HBO for television. The resulting TV series, also called Lovecraft Country, premiered in August 2020.

Return to Lovecraft Country was a collection of short stories set in "the New England of H.P. Lovecraft", published by Triad Entertainments in 1996. The editor, Scott David Aniolowski, has also done editorial work for Chaosium. Eternal Lovecraft, a short-story collection published by Golden Gryphon Press in 1998, has a section called "Lovecraft Country".

The phrase occurs in popular discussions of Lovecraft's connection to the region. The Harvard Law Record used the phrase in an October 20, 2005 article:

Many Lovecraft stories take place in "Lovecraft Country"—the fictional North Shore towns of Arkham, Innsmouth, Kingsport, and Dunwich (perhaps fictional equivalents of Ipswich, Salem/Danvers, Marblehead, or Newburyport).[11]


A map of Lovecraft country drawn by a reader[image reference needed]

The most important portion stretches along the Miskatonic River valley, from Dunwich in its far western headwaters to its mouth entering the Atlantic Ocean between Arkham, Kingsport, and Martin's Beach." These locations, along with Innsmouth, are the most significant locations in Lovecraft Country. However, as certain Lovecraft stories take place in other areas of New England, including southern hills of Vermont (the setting of The Whisperer in Darkness) as well as Lovecraft's hometown of Providence, Rhode Island, where he set such works as The Case of Charles Dexter Ward and "The Haunter of the Dark", this broader area is sometimes to also be considered part of Lovecraft Country.


The fictional Massachusetts city of Arkham is featured in many of Lovecraft's stories, and those of other Cthulhu Mythos writers.[12]

Arkham is the home of Miskatonic University, an institution which finances the expeditions in the novellas, At the Mountains of Madness (1936) and The Shadow Out of Time (1936), and Arkham Sanitarium appears in the short story "The Thing on the Doorstep". It is said in "Herbert West—Reanimator" that the town was devastated by a typhoid outbreak in 1905.

The precise location of Arkham is unspecified in Lovecraft's work, although it is assumed to be close to both Innsmouth and Dunwich.


Abandoned barn, Athol MA.jpg
An abandoned barn in Athol, Massachusetts, said to have been one of the towns that inspired Lovecraft's Dunwich
First appearanceThe Dunwich Horror (1929)
Created byH. P. Lovecraft
GenreHorror fiction
LocationNew England

Dunwich is a fictional village that appeared in the H. P. Lovecraft novella "The Dunwich Horror" (1929). Dunwich is located in the Miskatonic River Valley of Massachusetts, part of the region sometimes called Lovecraft Country. The inhabitants are depicted as inbred, uneducated, and very superstitious, while the town itself is described as economically poor with many decrepit or abandoned buildings. Although Dunwich in Suffolk, England is pronounced "DUN-ich," Lovecraft never specified how he preferred his Dunwich be pronounced.[13]

Lovecraft is said to have based Dunwich on Athol, Massachusetts, and other towns in Western Massachusetts,[14] with him specifically citing "the decadent Massachusetts countryside around Springfield – say Wilbraham, Monson, and Hampden."[15] S. T. Joshi has also seen Dunwich as being influenced by East Haddam, Connecticut, location of the "Devil's Hopyard," the "Moodus Noises," and a witch tradition.[16]


Lovecraft places Dunwich in "north central Massachusetts," found by travellers "tak[ing] the wrong fork at the junction of the Aylesbury pike just beyond Dean's Corners." Aylesbury and Dean's Corners are both Lovecraft creations, neither of which appears in any other of his stories, though Aylesbury is mentioned in his poem sequence Fungi From Yuggoth.[17]

Dunwich is described as being surrounded by "great rings of rough-hewn stone columns on the hilltops," which are presumed to have been built by the Pocumtucks.[18]


The Shadow over Innsmouth by Mushstone.jpg
First appearanceCelephaïs (1920)
Created byH. P. Lovecraft
GenreHorror fiction
LocationNew England

Innsmouth (/ˈɪnzməθ/) is a fictional town in Massachusetts created by American author H. P. Lovecraft as a setting for one of his horror stories, and referenced subsequently in some of his other works and by other authors who wrote stories taking place in the world Lovecraft created with his stories.

Lovecraft first used the name "Innsmouth" in his 1920 short story "Celephaïs"[19] (1920), where it refers to a fictional village in England. Lovecraft's more famous Innsmouth, however, is found in his story "The Shadow Over Innsmouth" (1936), set in Massachusetts. This latter Innsmouth was first identified in two of his cycle of sonnets Fungi from Yuggoth. Lovecraft called Innsmouth "a considerably twisted version of Newburyport", Massachusetts.[20]

Lovecraft placed Innsmouth on the coast of Essex County, Massachusetts, south of Plum Island and north of Cape Ann. The town of Ipswich, Massachusetts is said to be a near neighbor, where many Innsmouth residents do their shopping; Rowley, Massachusetts, another neighboring town, is said to be to the northwest. This would place Innsmouth in the vicinity of Essex Bay. The fictional village in New England is said to be based on the fishing town of Fleetwood, Lancashire which bears an marked resemblance to the description of the village.

In Neil Gaiman's short story "Shoggoth's Old Peculiar," the American Innsmouth was named after an older English village.


The town of Innsmouth is described as being in a horrendous state of decay, with many of the buildings rotting, and on the point of collapse. In "The Shadow Over Innsmouth," the protagonist describes his first sight of the place:

It was a town of wide extent and dense construction, yet one with a portentous dearth of visible life. From the tangle of chimney-pots scarcely a wisp of smoke came, and the three tall steeples loomed stark and unpainted against the seaward horizon. One of them was crumbling down at the top, and in that and another there were only black gaping holes where clock-dials should have been. The vast huddle of sagging gambrel roofs and peaked gables conveyed with offensive clearness the idea of wormy decay, and as we approached along the now descending road I could see that many roofs had wholly caved in. There were some large square Georgian houses, too, with hipped roofs, cupolas, and railed "widow's walks". These were mostly well back from the water, and one or two seemed to be in moderately sound condition....

The decay was worst close to the waterfront, though in its very midst I could spy the white belfry of a fairly well-preserved brick structure which looked like a small factory. The harbour, long clogged with sand, was enclosed by an ancient stone breakwater....

Here and there the ruins of wharves jutted out from the shore to end in indeterminate rottenness, those farthest south seeming the most decayed. And far out to sea, despite a high tide, I glimpsed a long, black line scarcely rising above the water yet carrying a suggestion of odd latent malignancy. This, I knew, must be Devil Reef.


Lovecraft writes that Innsmouth was "founded in 1643, noted for shipbuilding before the Revolution, a seat of great marine prosperity in the early nineteenth century, and later a minor factory center." The loss of sailors, due to shipwrecks, and the War of 1812 caused the town's profitable trade with the South Seas to falter; by 1828, the only fleet still running that route was that of Captain Obed Marsh, the head of one of the town's leading families.

In 1840, Marsh started a cult in Innsmouth known as the Esoteric Order of Dagon, basing it on a religion practiced by certain Polynesian islanders, which he had met during his travels. Shortly thereafter, the town's fishing industry experienced a great upsurge.

Records indicate that in 1846, a mysterious plague struck the town, causing mass depopulation. In reality, the deaths were caused by the Deep Ones themselves. Obed Marsh had entered into a contract with the aforementioned creatures, offering them sacrifices in exchange for plentiful gold and fish. When Marsh and his followers were arrested, the sacrificial rites ceased and the Deep Ones retaliated. The cult activity subsequently resumed, and the interbreeding policy greatly increased, resulting in numerous deformities. Consequently, Innsmouth was shunned for many years, until 1927 when it came under investigation by Federal authorities for alleged bootlegging.

The following year, and apparently due to the results of their research, these authorities decided to detonate explosives in Devil Reef, near Innsmouth, and to arrest most of the locals. The Innsmouthians were not taken to a common jail, but instead they disappeared mysteriously (or the government caused them to "disappear").


Abbott Hall, Marblehead MA.jpg
First appearanceThe Terrible Old Man (1920)
Created byH. P. Lovecraft
GenreHorror fiction
LocationNew England

The town of Kingsport first appeared in Lovecraft's 1920 short story "The Terrible Old Man".[21] Kingsport is based on Marblehead, Massachusetts, a town bordering Salem. In his letters, Lovecraft described Kingsport as being an idealised version of Marblehead.[22] It is described as having rocking cliffs. These cliffs are based on those in Marblehead and Rockport. According to Will Murray, Kingsport is adjacent to Innsmouth. The town's exact location moved around according to Lovecraft's literary needs.[23]

Lovecraft created Kingsport before he saw its real-life model. When Lovecraft visited Marblehead in 1922, he became enamored of the town and wrote with much feeling in 1929 concerning his experiences there. Lovecraft wrote of seeing the snow-covered town at sunset and of experiencing his "first stupefying glance of MARBLEHEAD'S huddled and archaick roofs". He also remarked that "that instant—about 4:05 to 4:10 pm., Dec. 17, 1922—[was] the most powerful single emotional climax during my nearly forty years of existence."[24]

In the works of later writers, the town of Kingsport is described as having been founded in 1639 by colonists from southern England and the Channel Islands, where it soon became a seaport and center for shipbuilding. Influenced by the Salem witch trials, the town hanged four alleged witches in 1692. During the American Revolutionary War, the port was briefly blockaded by the British when the town's merchants turned to privateering against the British fleet.[25] In the 19th century, sea trade dwindled and the town turned to fishing as the main industry. Kingsport's economy continued to dwindle into the 20th century and today relies primarily on tourism for income.[25]

Manuxet River[edit]

The Manuxet River is a fictional river that runs through Massachusetts and empties into the sea at the town of Innsmouth. Although there is a Manuxet River in Worcester, Massachusetts, Will Murray believes that Lovecraft based his fictional Manuxet on the Merrimack River and probably invented the name from root words of an Algonquian language.

To support his claim, Murray gives two reasons. First, even though Newburyport was the inspiration for Innsmouth, it is clearly a separate location since Lovecraft himself placed the real-life Newburyport to the north of Innsmouth in "The Shadow Over Innsmouth". Based on his research, Murray thinks that Lovecraft actually based Innsmouth on Gloucester, Massachusetts,[26] which is located on Cape Ann on the coast. Secondly, Lovecraft is known to have come up with the name for his fictional Miskatonic River by combining Algonquian root words.[27] Murray believes that Lovecraft used a similar method to come up with Manuxet. In Algonquian, man means "island" and uxet translates to "at the large part of the river"; thus, when combined Manuxet means "Island at the large part of the river". Murray contends that this meaning is well suited to Innsmouth's placement at the mouth of the Manuxet. And Cape Ann itself (the alleged site of Innsmouth) is connected to the mainland by only a thin strip of land and might be thought of as an island.[28]

As stated earlier, the town was taken by the U.S. Treasury Department. During the assault, the freezing of the Manuxet allowed the personnel to cross it during February and take the town.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Lovecraft, H. P. (1999). Joshi, S. T.; Cannon, Peter (eds.). More Annotated H. P. Lovecraft. New York: Dell Publishing. ISBN 0-440-50875-4. OCLC 41231274.
  2. ^ Carter, Lin (1976). Lovecraft: A Look Behind the "Cthulhu Mythos". New York: Ballantine Books. ISBN 0-345-25295-0. OCLC 20175226.
  3. ^ a b Lovecraft, H. P. (August 20, 2009) [written 1931]. "The Shadow Over Innsmouth". The H. P. Lovecraft Archive. Archived from the original on August 7, 2013.
  4. ^ Lovecraft, H. P. (August 20, 2009) [written 1932]. "The Dreams in the Witch House". The H. P. Lovecraft Archive. Archived from the original on May 13, 2020.
  5. ^ Emrys, Ruthanna; Pillsworth, Anne M. (November 23, 2016). "Toto, I Don't Think We're In Arkham Anymore: Matt Ruff's "Lovecraft Country"". Tor Books. Archived from the original on May 20, 2020.
  6. ^ Butler, James O. (2014). "Terror and Terrain: The Environmental Semantics of Lovecraft County". Lovecraft Annual (8): 131–135. ISSN 1935-6102. JSTOR 26868485.
  7. ^ Lovecraft, H. P. (August 20, 2009) [written 1920]. "The Picture in the House". The H. P. Lovecraft Archive. Archived from the original on May 29, 2020.
  8. ^ Lovecraft, H. P. (1997). Joshi, S. T. (ed.). The Annotated H. P. Lovecraft. New York: Dell Publishing. p. 2. ISBN 0-440-50660-3. OCLC 36165172.
  9. ^ Murray, Will (1991–1992). "Lovecraft's Arkham Country". Books at Brown. 38–39: 19–29. Archived from the original on August 3, 2020 – via Brown Digital Repository.
  10. ^ Lovecraft, H. P. (August 20, 2009) [written 1928]. "The Dunwich Horror". The H. P. Lovecraft Archive. Archived from the original on August 3, 2020.
  11. ^ "Spirit of Lovecraft Haunts Cambridge, New England". Harvard Law Record. October 21, 2005. Archived from the original on August 3, 2020.
  12. ^ Manguel, Alberto; Guadalupi, Gianni (1987). The Dictionary of Imaginary Places. Harcourt Brace Jovanovich. pp. 20–21. ISBN 0-15-626054-9.
  13. ^ Joshi, The Annotated H. P. Lovecraft, note #14, p. 108.
  14. ^ Liukkonen, Petri. "H(oward) P(hillip) Lovecraft". Books and Writers ( Finland: Kuusankoski Public Library. Archived from the original on 13 July 2006.
  15. ^ November 6, 1931 letter to August Derleth
  16. ^ Lovecraft, Howard P. (1984) [1928]. "The Dunwich Horror". In S. T. Joshi (ed.). The Dunwich Horror and Others (9th corrected printing ed.). Sauk City, WI: Arkham House. ISBN 0-87054-037-8. Definitive version.
  17. ^ Joshi, Index to the Fiction & Poetry of H. P. Lovecraft, pp. 11, 17
  18. ^ The Dunwich Horror
  19. ^ S. T. Joshi's notes on "The Shadow Over Innsmouth", The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories, p. 411.
  20. ^ Lovecraft, Selected Letters V, p. 86.
  21. ^ Joshi, S. T.; Schultz, David E. (2001). An H. P. Lovecraft Encyclopedia. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 137. ISBN 978-0-313-31578-7. OCLC 608158798. Archived from the original on 2020-08-11. Retrieved 2020-07-22.
  22. ^ Loucks, Donovan K. (2001). "Antique Dreams: Marblehead and Lovecraft's Kingsport" (PDF). Lovecraft Studies. Archived (PDF) from the original on 2020-09-25 – via The H. P. Lovecraft Archive.
  23. ^ Murray, Will (1986). "In Search of Arkham Country". Lovecraft Studies. 5 (2): 54–67.
  24. ^ Joshi, S. T. (2001). A Dreamer and a Visionary: H. P. Lovecraft in His Time. Oxford University Press. pp. 161–162. ISBN 978-1-78138-644-6. Archived from the original on 2020-12-03. Retrieved 2020-07-22.
  25. ^ a b Harms, Daniel (1998). "Kingsport". The Encyclopedia Cthulhiana (Second ed.). Oakland, California: Chaosium. pp. 166–167. ISBN 1-56882-119-0. OCLC 40004877.
  26. ^ In 1987, Will Murray took a field trip to Newburyport and Gloucester to research locales from Lovecraft's "The Shadow Over Innsmouth". In Newburyport there is a State Street (the street where the narrator of the story boards a bus to Innsmouth) and was a State Street YMCA (where the protagonist roomed and where Lovecraft himself may have stayed during his visit to the town). When he visited Gloucester, Murray found a Gilman House — more formally, the Sargeant-Murray-Gilman-Hough House — a hotel in the story but in real life a Georgian-era mansion turned into a public museum. He also found other landmarks mentioned in the story, including streets named Adams Church, Babson, Main, and Fish, and a building adorned with large, white wooden pillars on its front and side — the Legion Memorial Building — that looks remarkably like the story's Masonic Lodge (the meeting place for the Esoteric Order of Dagon). The Legion Building, built in 1844–45, served as the Gloucester Town Hall until 1867 when it became the Forbes School. Saving it from demolition, the American Legion took over the building in 1919 and, a year later, added a columned portico to the Middle Street side to match the Washington Street frontage. It has never been a Masonic Lodge, however. (Murray, "I Found Innsmouth!", Crypt of Cthulhu #57.)
  27. ^ Lovecraft, Selected Letters III, p. 432.
  28. ^ Murray, "Roots of the Manuxet", Crypt of Cthulhu #75.



—"Innsmouth", pp. 149–50. Ibid.

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