Library and Information Science
Like, I can see why people would describe Welcome to Night Vale in terms of Lovecraft, because for better or worse it’s pretty hard to draw on themes of cosmic horror these days and not invoke Lovecraft in some way, shape or form. The guy’s worldview was totally steeped in godawful racism and his prose just plain sucks, but his descriptions of a cold, uncaring universe in which humanity is utterly insignificant taps into a fear that’s very deep and very real: what if we really don’t matter? On an individual level, or a cultural one, or…hell, even a species-wide one? What if we really and truly don’t matter at all.
To be perfectly honest, I don’t think that’s what Lovecraft was attempting to explore; I think he was writing out his (RACIST) boogeymen and accidentally stumbled upon something that’s resonated deeply with a lot of people in the years since, and it’s also why I think WtNV is more a reaction against Lovecraftian philosophies than anything. It’s transformative, in the very best of ways.
Because when you drill down far enough, most of Lovecraft’s work comes back to the idea of, “The universe is vast and terrible and we’re right to be afraid of it. We’re small and our minds are fragile, and to look upon the unknown is to realize how truly alone we really are. It’s better that we don’t look.”
Whereas Welcome to Night Vale takes a different course. It freely acknowledges that the universe is vast and terrible, and that we’re right to be afraid of it…because fear is one of the many things that makes us human. We’re small…but we’re resilient. To look upon the unknown is to confront the chasms of our knowledge, and to realize there are things we may never, ever know.
More importantly, Welcome to Night Vale reminds us that when we look upon the unknown, we are not the first to do so, nor the last. It’s simply part of the shared human condition, this fear of all things dark and mysterious and strange, and our insatiable desire to look at them anyway.
I mean, sure, yeah, conspiracies and cosmic horror, all very Lovecraftian things. But what it ultimately comes back to is the resilience of the human mind, and what it means to face the things we fear. Lovecraft thought we should never look.
Welcome to Night Vale thinks we should.