THE fiction of H. P. Lovecraft, it is safe to say, divides opinion. He has been called 'sick .hysterical and neurotic', the writing 'ghastly', and even a sympathetic biographer regards him as an 'eccentric recluse', writing 'stilted, artificial and affected' work. Lovecraft's fiction was demolished by the eminent literary critic Edmund Wilson with the damning judgement that 'the only real horror of most of these fictions is the horror of bad taste and bad art'. I Yet at the same time, Lovecraft was adored by the great experimental novelist Jorge Luis Borges, has been compared to Franz Kafka in significance, and was the subject of the first book by the leading contemporary French novelist Michel Houellebecq. He helped define the genre of 'weird fiction' and give a new direction to modern horror, fusing science fiction and the Gothic within a rigorous and bleakly materialist world view. The novels of Stephen King are unthinkable without Lovecraft, as are the films of the Alien series or the fantasy cinema of Guillermo del Toro. Lovecraft invented a whole 'mythos' of terrifying gods and aliens to which thousands of stories have been added. Several occult religions have been established in ambiguous worship of Lovecraft's menacing god Cthulhu. His influence stretches from Japanese manga to contemporary philosophy, from heavy metal music to ritual magic and the contemporary writers of hybrid fictions known as the New Weird.