If you have any inclination toward horror or classic authors, you’ve probably at least heard snippets of H.P. Lovecraft’s literary legacy. Strange words like Cthulhu and the Necronomicon have worked their way into a horror subculture that has endured for nearly a century now. I’ve heard that there are some devotees who claim that the forbidden tome Necronomicon is an actual book. I tell you, that’s a legacy.
I had never read any of this master horror writer’s work before. But as I mentioned in my review of The Time Machine, by H.G. Wells, I’m making a point to read more classics. This particular collection is a well put together eBook, compiled by CthulhuChick.com, that publishes Lovecraft’s non-collaborative short story writings from 1917 – 1935.
Lovecraft creates an amazing mythology over the course of nearly two decades. Ageless horrors that transcend time and space lie at the core of a majority of his stories. Various daemons haunt the deep, dark places of the earth (often popping up in New England), and spill over into our realm. His true skill lay in placing his characters, and therefore the reader, in the midst of horror that transcends understanding, thereby amplifying that horror. What I mean is, Lovecraft knew that true terror comes from the unknown. His protagonists are confronted with ancient evils and cults that often predate the creation of the earth, creating a fearful sense that one is battling something that is not fully understood. This magnifies the tension, and is a hallmark of H.P. Lovecraft.
I loved most of the stories in this collection. To my surprise, I was disappointed with two of his signature stories, The Call of Cthulhu, and At The Mountains of Madness. I don’t believe in spoilers, but I feel that the former was anticlimactic, and the latter violated his trademark mastery of the unknown: he gives away too much. One of the longer stories, The Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath, became almost unbearable for me. But aside from some stumbles, there is authentic horror in this book, and lavish writing. Some may get turned off by the descriptions, and I doubt that Lovecraft intended anyone to read these back to back as I did. Some of his favorite descriptors became predictable and annoying (he loves to describe “gabled roofs”, “cosmic gulfs”, and the like). But I highly recommend this book to anyone looking for horror done right.
I feel compelled to add an unfortunate note that I’m sure Lovecraft stalwarts will groan over, but I would be remiss to mention. As I read through these short stories, occasional elements would crop up that were unsettling, in that they came across as incredibly racist. The first time this occurred, I shook my head and thought it may have been a singular reference that had some other meaning in the early twentieth century. But then after a few more such story elements, usually names or unflattering descriptions of some races, I had to do some digging. Sure enough, Lovecraft had well established reputation as a racist, which was more evident in some letters of his that have been published.
My purpose in mentioning it here is just to let the reader know that, though Lovecraft was without a doubt an incredible writer, capable of powerful and dark horror, there are flies in the ointment. As a horror writer, Lovecraft’s legacy is secured. But I think it is impossible to completely ignore some of the taint that was intentionally inserted in a few of the stories in this book.