Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Considering H.P. Lovecraft, Part 1

I can't recall exactly when it was that I first encountered H.P. Lovecraft.  Deduction tells me that I almost certainly heard of him first by way of Stephen King, and it may have been in a piece of nonfiction.  Possibly Danse Macabre, or some introduction; I also have a dim memory of one of his characters (Ben Mears?) mentioning Lovecraft as though his were a name anyone ought to know.

It is a near-certainty that I read several of King's most Lovecraftian short stories prior to reading a single word by Lovecraft himself: "Graveyard Shift," "Jerusalem's Lot," "Crouch End," The Mist, and so forth.  Did I sense that they were homages?  Probably not, although I do distinctly recall understanding that "Jerusalem's Lot" was consciously written in a different style; I don't think I consciously understood it, though, if you can dig that.  I intuited it, is what I mean to say.

Eventually, I was moved to purchase a collection of Lovecraft's stories; specifically, Del Rey's The Best of H.P. Lovecraft: Bloodcurdling Tales of Horror and the Macabre.  Whether this was expressly because of the mention(s) in King's work is an issue that is lost to me; I assume it probably was, based on nothing more than the time period at which I bought the book (early nineties).  But it may have been just as likely that I saw the cover and bought it because I thought it was cool.  And I was right; it was very cool.  I didn't read it for years, though; the early 2000s, to be specific.  But I'm not going to talk about that any further just now; that'll come during part two.  And yes, I'll show you the cover then.

For now, let's fast-forward somewhat.  A few years ago, circa March of 2012, I became a big fan of writer Alan Moore.  I'd known about him for years, and had read a number of his more prominent works (Watchmen, From Hell, V For Vendetta).  I'd long harbored a desire to read him a bit more fully, and one day I was in my local comics shop looking around when a new work by him caught my eye: it was called Neonomicon, and it was obviously something to do with Lovecraft.

I'd reread The Best of H.P. Lovecraft earlier that year for the third or fourth time, and had enjoyed it immensely; it had not gotten out of my head fully as yet.  And since Alan Moore was already there in a semi-permanent way, there was no going back from seeing this paperback: I bought it, I read it, I was pleasantly horrified by it, and I soon thereafter began buying everything by Moore that I could get my hands on.  I also began reading quite a lot that I found via other means; you're a grown-up with the Internet, so you probably know about that.  I bought quite a lot, though, and have been expanding that collection ever since.  Why, just today, I got this in the mail; I was astonished to recently find that it had never sold out, so I got 'em one step closer.

Longtime readers of this blog know that I'm big-time into Moore's work.  For a while, I was writing a regular comic-book-reviews column, and I briefly talked about Neonomicon during the very first one of those posts.  As I recall, it was that book that made we want to write the column in the first place.

Cut to 2015.  I'm not working on my blog as often as I'd like to, for a multitude of reasons.  Because of that, the comics column -- Bryant Has Issues, it was "winningly" named -- has fallen into a coma so deep that John Smith would feel sorry for it. It's been over a year since the last issue, and since then, a new monthly Alan Moore mini-series has begun appearing.  It's called Providence, and it is a twelve-issue sojourn into the world of H.P. Lovecraft.  There has been stuff in it so good that it has actively angered me not to be writing Bryant Has Issues any longer.

When news of the series was announced, I felt as though the time had come for me to explore Lovecraft's work a bit more fully.  I suspected it would enhance my enjoyment of Providence considerably; and thus far, I've been entirely correct about that.  So as to aid that in happening, I bought this:

That, friends, is an 1100-page book from Knickerbocker Classics.  List price is a mere $35, and you can almost certainly find a new copy for considerably less.  I did; I bought it last year, and began reading it.  Initially, I made only very slow progress; maybe a story per week, despite the early stories in the book being mostly very short indeed.

It wasn't due to lack of interest, exactly.  I'd simply gotten tired of reading altogether.  I've read only a handful of books all year: Finders Keepers, a new James Bond novel, a few old Bond novelizations, a few trade paperbacks of The Walking Dead, and a couple of nonfiction books.  It's been a paltry experience as a reader, and I've only read what I've read out of a sense of readerly duty.

Ever heard of writer's block?  Sure you have.  Ever heard of reader's block?  I'm not sure that even exists, but I've got a form of that that pops up every once in a while.  I felt it setting in around October of last year, and that -- combined with an increased work load in my job -- was what brought on the hiatus this blog has been under ever since.

We're very close to the end of that now, though.  At least, the hiatus is close to ending.  Still working on the reader's block thing.

I'm going to describe it now, and let's see if it is familiar to you in any way or if you instead think "wack job acting wacky."

I'll sit down to read, in my blue armchair with the cat-scratched arms.  I'll put my feet up on the footstool, assuming one of my two remaining cats isn't on it; if one isn't, one will be very soon thereafter, as good as clockwork -- and the other will be in my lap.  I'll open the book, begin to read, and . . . almost immediately, whatever song is currently stuck in my head will begin playing.  (Currently, it is the super-awesome Rob Zombie song "Rock and Roll (In a Black Hole)," but it could just as easily be some piece of film score or something else.  I've had a bunch of hair-metal songs popping up ever since reading a Rolling Stone album ranking not long ago, for example.)  My foot will tap a bit, my fingers will drum a bit, and I'll realize I have no clue what the past two sentences said.  I'll tell myself, "Focus on the story, damn your eyes!"  And so I will.  For about two or three sentences, at which point in time I'm tapping and drumming again.

Over and over and over and over and over.

As an amateur psychoanalyst of one, I've got a theory: I'm overstimulated and have trained myself to multitask to too great a degree.  More than one time recently, I have found myself eating a meal while in front of the computer, while checking Facebook or email or IMDb's news or downloading crap from YouTube.  Odds are good that I'm also listening to a podcast at the same time, and it's entirely possible that music is also playing from a separate room.

Therefore, when I sit down to read a book, I think my mind is saying to itself, "Is this seriously all you're going to do right now?!?  You're 41 years old, asshole!  You're going to be dead in a few decades -- sooner, if you don't put in some effort to avoid it -- and you don't have time to single-task things.  So you go ahead and read that book, and I'll play you a few bars of 'Look What the Cat Dragged In' several dozen times."

I now pause briefly to apologize for being so self-indulgent.  We're going to talk about Lovecraft very soon now, I promise.  But first, let me explain why this self-analysis is germane to the topic at hand.  First of all, Lovecraft had a few mental quirks of his own; so having them while reading him seems appropriate.  Second, it's worth mentioning that I can read some books relatively unimpeded despite my brain's insistence on steering me in other directions.  Something like the novelization to Die Another Day requires only so much effort, after all.  And something like Finders Keepers is entertaining enough that it does a mightier job than most of crowding the other interests out.  Good novel; not exactly heavy lifting, though.

You don't approach Lovecraft in the same way you approach most modern books.  He has a more dense style that certainly can be penetrated; but, like many writers of his age, he requires attention and focus.  He's not unlike Tolkien in that regard; one does not simply pick up The Fellowship of the Ring as though it were written by J.K. Rowling.  And please understand that that is an indictment of neither Tolkien nor Rowling; both did great work, just work of vastly different styles.

My point is this: I began reading Knickerbocker's The Complete Fiction of H.P. Lovecraft while my reader's block was in full swing, and because of that I simply couldn't read much of it very often.  However, once the first issue of Providence came out back in late May, I found the urge to accelerate my pace mounting.  I'd only read a hundred pages or so by then, and hadn't gotten to the good stuff.  I felt as if I didn't get on the ball, and soon, I wouldn't finish before Providence finished.  It wouldn't keep me from enjoying the comic; I just figured it would help.

So I stepped up the pace, and though whatever mental difficulty keeps putting stuff like John Williams' main theme to the Robert Altman movie Images into my mind in an irremovable fashion has persisted ever since, I've noticed myself making progress in keeping it at bay.

And finally, I'm finished.  I wish I could report to you that I'd gleaned all there was to glean from the book, but that isn't the case: the reader's block diminishes one's reading comprehension quite substantially; plus, these stories are really quite good, and many of them are going to refuse to serve up all their treasures with a single reading.  (Granted, I'd read a handful of them several other times; but mostly, this was new stuff to me.)

I can report, however, that it was an enjoyable process.  And it's not one I'm stepping away from, as you'll have sussed out from the "Part 1" appended to the title of this post.

(Side-bar: I'd intended to title the post "Fun Guy From Yuggoth" as a riff on a cycle of Lovecraft's poems, but a Google search disappointed me by showing shewing that many, many other people had that idea before I did.  Not surprising, but kind of a bummer.)

The collection is presented in chronological order of when Lovecraft wrote the stories.  I say that under the assumption that it is true; it seems to be, for you can certainly see a progression as the book goes along.  I had this post in mind when I began reading the book, and so after I finished each story, I wrote the (mostly very brief) reviews that will form the rest of the post.  I didn't cover any of the stories very fully; you're not going to find much insight here.  What you're going to find is a post written by someone who was struggling to make himself write something about stories which he was forcing himself to read.

Is it instructive or useful in any way?  You be the judge.  I have inserted copious images to distract us all if the answer should prove to be "no."  I've also did some research and put dates of composition and publication; that comes from the excellent site The H.P. Lovecraft Archive (where you can read most, and maybe all, of these stories, which is due to their being in the public domain).


"The Beast in the Cave"
(written 1905, published 1918)

Lovecraft wrote this tale when he was fourteen years old, and while it's certainly nothing that you'd hold up as being masterful, I'd wager that it's heads and shoulders above what most teenagers would be capable of writing.  It's about an obstinate explorer who has willfully -- and nonsensically -- separated himself from the rest of his group inside Mammoth Cave.  He has become lost, and is in the process of coming to grips with his eventual demise when he begins hearing the padding of non-human feet in the darkness behind him.  Nothing special, exactly, but it is nevertheless an effective bit of dread.

I found an eight-page graphic adaptation of this story online; it's by Jason Thompson, and the full story can be found here.

"The Alchemist"
(written 1908, published 1916)
Another piece of juvenilia, this one involves a Comte whose ancestors for generations have all died at the age of 32.  As his thirty-second birthday approaches, will his studies prevent him from suffering the same fate?  I was not as taken by this story as I was by "The Beast in the Cave," but it's okay; and, again, for a piece of juvenilia it's pretty darn good.

"The Tomb"
(written 1917, published 1922)

A nobleman's son becomes obsessed by a locked-and-chained tomb and begins sleeping outside it.  Then, one of two things happens, depending on how you look at it: either he is supernaturally granted the ability to enter into the tomb; or he goes nuts and thinks he is granted said ability.  Much of Lovecraft's work will deal with madness, and he got to work on that theme fairly early in his career.  This story doesn't do a whole heck of a lot for me, but it's alright.

(written 1917, published 1919)

A sailor is captured by Germans during WW1, but manages to escape from them and, in his stolen row boat, sets off to find his way to safety.  He does find land: what he assumes to be a previously-submerged land mass that was heaved above the surface as the result of volcanism.  The island is littered with the corpses of fish, octopi, and other, less recognizable sea-creatures.  He explores it, and finds a monstrously large monolith which seemingly depicts a sort of fish-man god-thing.  As he watches, a monstrously large sort of fish-man emerges from the ocean, goes to the monolith, and seemingly prays to it.  This is a very short story, but it is vividly rendered and is undeniably impactful.

"Dagon" by Bob Eggleton (image borrowed from http://www.infectedbyart.com/gallerypiece.asp?piece=121)

"A Reminiscence of Dr. Samuel Johnson"
(written and published 1917)
This oddity is one of the few Lovecraft stories which cannot immediately be classified within the horror genre.  [Confession: that sentence is a complete bluff on my part.  Having read relatively few Lovecraft stories in my time, it might be the case that his pantheon is practically drowning in non-horror tales.  But I deeply suspect that not to be the case.]  In fact, its only supernatural element of any sort is the fact that its narrator seems to be over two hundred years old.  Otherwise, it's just an intermittently amusing story about a guy who doesn't fit in particularly well with some of his colleagues.

Whilst reading it, I was mostly interested by the suspense -- generated entirely by my own brain -- over what was going to cause the tale to turn toward the morbid and the freakish.  This never happened, and after I'd finished, I was mostly interested by the degree to which it seemed to mark Lovecraft as a more diverse writer than I'd previously suspected.  (Sidebar: in case you were unaware of this, Johnson was an historical figure.  I do not know his work, which is probably not to my credit; but I was, at the very least, aware of him.)

Image pilfered from http://beholdthestars.blogspot.com/2015/02/the-new-realistic-novel-by-samuel.html

(written 1918, published 1920)
This short, evocative piece is perhaps best described as the musings of a man who, when a certain star is visible in the sky, dreams of being on an entirely different world.  Eventually, he dreams that he lives upon that world as one of its citizens.  The story has very little to it that is outwardly horrific, yet it certainly touches upon some of the elements which will become what we think of as "Lovecraftian": awe at the vastness of the universe, for example.  This is not what I would describe as essential Lovecraft, but it's not bad.

image pilfered from http://club.ados.fr/fallenraziel/lovecraft-137830/photo/polaris-by-hiramf-2716770.html

"Beyond the Wall of Sleep"
(written and published 1919)
Another decidedly dream-focused story, this one is about an intern at an asylum for the criminally insane who becomes fascinated by an inbred murderer living there.  The killer -- found innocent by way of insanity -- evidently enters fugue states wherein he spouts "gibberish" that might actually be communications from some entirely other being.  The intern then -- somewhat implausibly -- hooks up a device he'd cobbled together as an undergraduate that allows him to communicate telepathically with whatever it is that is possessing this insane man during his sleep.  Or something like that.  I must confess that I found this story a bit difficult to follow, and probably did not give it the attention it deserved (possibly because my body was tempting me to breach my own walls of sleep at the time).

Wikipedia informs me that this is an illustration which accompanied "Beyond the Wall of Sleep" when it appeared in the March 1938 issue of Weird Tales.

(written and published 1919)
This page-long story is brief enough that saying anything about it seems kind of pointless.  And yet here I am, saying something about it.  It's recognizably Lovecraft, for good or for ill.  You can read it right here, if you've a mind to.  And now, here is a photo of H.P. Lovecraft with a cat, allegedly named Felis and allegedly the property of noted writer Frank Belknap Long:

Even H.P. Lovecraft was powerless against the cuteness of kitties.

"Old Bugs"
(written 1919, published posthumously 1959)
Given the title and the fact that I was reading a collection of H.P. Lovecraft stories, I expected "Old Bugs" to involve insects.  I mean, why wouldn't I?  Instead, this is a completely non-supernatural tale about an old drunk, a young man considering whether to take his first drink, and the witness to their interaction.  Nobody reputable is likely to mistake this for top-shelf literature, I suspect; but I found myself thoroughly engaged by the story, and even a wee bit moved.  Apparently the story was written by Lovecraft (a noted teetotaler) in an attempt to dissuade a friend from taking his own first drink; armed with that knowledge, I like the story even more.

[Sidebar, written prior to publishing the post: I've referred in numerous instances to some bit of trivia that lurks behind these stories, such as Lovecraft being a teetotaler.  In virtually all instances, this is knowledge that I've gleaned from reading a Wikipedia entry about the story.  I've rarely cited that as the source, simply because doing so would be tedious.  But it seems incumbent upon my to issue a blanket citation at the very least, and so to you, Wikipedia writers of the world (and to whomever you borrowed your own research from), I say that you are doing marvelous work.  Keep it up!]

One element of "Old Bugs" which interests me is the fact that while it is completely free of the supernatural, it nevertheless possesses some of the Lovecraftian flair for doom and gloom.  It may be that I'm exaggerating that somewhat: after all, I've only read the story once, and I spent at least the first couple of pages expecting a horror tale.  Could my expectations be creating my perceptions?  Read the story for yourself and be the judge.

H.P. Lovecraft Memorial Square is in Providence, Rhode Island.

"The Transition of Juan Romero"
(written 1919, published posthumously 1944)
In India, a miner and a Mexican either do or don't experience supernatural goings-on one night.  I've read worse, but this one did not engage me.

Lovecraft by Pat (image from http://patart-pat.blogspot.com/2011/12/hp-lovecraft.html)

"The White Ship"
(written and published 1919)
This plotless story is about a lighthouse keeper who dreams (?) about taking a voyage with a bearded man on a ship of mystery bound for mysterious isles.  I must confess that immediately prior to reading this story, I watched two episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation, and therefore mentally envisioned William T. Riker as said bearded man.  The two episodes, in case you were wondering, were "A Matter of Honor" and "The Measure of a Man," both of which are excellent.

As for "The White Ship," it made little impression upon me.

image stolen from http://www.studio-schell.com/htm_v/start.html

"The Street"
(published 1920)
Another relatively plotless story, this one relates the passage of American centuries via the device of a local street.  I think there's some sort of a terrorist plot, possibly of supernatural origins; but I honestly didn't pay enough attention to be sure.  It's not as bad as I just made it sound (nor am I as bad a reader as I just made myself sound!), but neither is it particularly good; it's a bit on the self-consciously-artsy side.  I've read worse, though.

"The Doom That Came to Sarnath"
(written 1919, published 1920)
In this tale, Lovecraft relates the fate of the ancient city Sarnath, which feuded mercilessly with the strange people of Ib.  The people of that land had strange faces and worshipped a strange god, and the people of Sarnath eventually wiped them out and stole an idol of their worship.  Centuries later, Ib's god gets some payback.

This evocative story is my favorite in the collection thus far.

image stolen from: https://theconceptcollective.wordpress.com/2012/03/19/city-of-ib/, where you can also find some cool sketches of the inhabitants of Ib

"The Statement of Randolph Carter"
(written 1919, published 1920)

In this story, Randolph Carter is questioned by policemen about the disappearance of his friend Harley Warren.  He claims to know nothing, then proceeds to give a very detailed account of what he does remember.  It involves a swamp, a crypt, a telephonic communication device, and a lot of screaming.  It's not a great story, and reads almost like somebody doing a Lovecraft pastiche.

[Side-bar: I'm reading my way through this editorially prior to publishing it, and while I mostly want to leave it alone except for fixing typos, I feel like I have to mention that Randolph Carter ends up becoming a crucial figure within Lovecraft's work.  I'm curious to read the story again with that in mind, and see if my low opinion of it persists.]

image stolen from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AU-JxV6E-RA

"The Terrible Old Man"
(written 1920, published 1921)
This is a very short story, running only about two pages in length.  It's could very easily be referred to as "racially problematic," as it derives at least some of its impact from the fact that the three criminals whose actions motivate the plot are of "heterogeneous alien stock."  Not outer-space-type aliens, but aliens of the Italian, Polish, and Spanish varieties if their names -- Ricci, Czanek, and Silva -- are any indication.  Give Lovecraft credit for this much: he's an equal-opportunity sort of fellow when it comes to being distrustful of outsiders.

That said, one comes away feeling mildly sorry for the three thieves, because it turns out that the titular old man they have selected as a victim is not quite as helpless as he might initially have seemed.

The story makes mention of the old man holding small bottles with pieces of lead inside.  By coincidence, on the same day I read this story, I'd earlier read issue #3 of Alan Moore's Lovecraftian series Providence, which included a very unsettling appearance by those bottles.  So when I read this bit in "The Terrible Old Man," I was very pleased to see where Moore had gotten the idea.

Racial/cultural issues notwithstanding, I like "The Terrible Old Man."  It's creepy, and Lovecraft's tone is strong.  He seemed to be finding his voice by this point (although the story is also said to be very much in the style of Lord Dunsany, so maybe he was appropriating a voice moreso than finding his own).

"The Terrible Old Man" by Mockman (Jason Thompson) (image stolen from http://mockman.com/2012/05/30/lovecraft-sketch-mwf-the-terrible-old-man/); I can't help but note that he looks a LOT like Alan Moore, which makes this whole thing even better, in my opinion.

"The Cats of Ulthar"
(written and published 1920)

It is said that in Ulthar, which lies beyond the river Skai, no man may kill a cat; and this I can verily believe as I gaze upon him who sitteth purring before the fire.  For the cat is cryptic, and close to strange things which men cannot see.

So begins "The Cats of Ulthar," which I read for the first time not ten minutes ago.  I did so with a cat contentedly occupying my lap, which seems fitting.  The story immediately became one of my favorites by Lovecraft.  It's only three pages long, but it's got a lot going for it.  It tells the tale of the town of Ulthar, in which resides an old married couple who, as Lovecraft puts it, "delighted to slay the cats of their neighbours."  The townspeople are afraid of the couple, so nobody does anything about them; when a cherished pet goes missing, they mourn silently and tell themselves to be thankful it wasn't a child.

Then, one day, some foreigners come rolling into town.  The beloved kitten of a child in their group goes missing.  At this point, Lovecraft rolls up his sleeves and gets to work.  When the villagers tell the young boy about the old man and his wife, here's what happens: "he stretched his arms to the sun and prayed in a tongue no villager could understand."  Then, the knockout punch from ol' H.P.: "Though indeed they did not try very hard, since their attention was mostly taken up by what was happening in the sky."


The whole thing comes to a happier end than that portentous moment might indicate.  Good stuff.

Image stolen from: http://viaestelar.deviantart.com/art/Cats-of-Ulthar-265061178

"The Tree"
(written 1920, published 1921)
This brief tale is about two sculptors who are great friends, but whom are commissioned to make competing statues.  One gets sick and dies; the other is killed in a storm.  And that's it.  Oh, yeah: a creepy tree grows on the site where this all happened.

Not by any means one of the better stories covered thus far in this post.

image stolen from: http://mockman.com/2012/04/11/lovecraft-sketch-mwf-the-tree/

(written 1920, published 1922)

In this haunting and dreamlike tale, a man named Kuranes seeks to return to the city Celephaïs, which he created in a dream as a child.  He is older now, and seemingly in dire straits.  He begins taking large quantities of drugs to help him on his quest.  Does he make it there?
Eye of the beholder...
This piece came from http://eilidh.deviantart.com/art/Celephais-495433859, and while I'm not entirely sure what it has to do with Celephaïs, I think it's a lovely piece of art.
"The Picture in the House"
(Wikipedia says, "It was written on December 12, 1920, and first published in the July 1919 issue of The National Amateur—which actually was published in the summer of 1921")
This is a seminal Lovecraft story in that it seemingly served as the first appearance in his canon of Arkham and the Miskatonic Valley.  Both are only present via off-handed mentions, but will certainly be mentioned again.
The story tells the tale of a young man bicycling through rural New England.  He is taken unawares by a sudden storm, and seeks shelter in a rather unappealing house in the middle of nowhere.
I may as well tell you now that houses in the middle of nowhere are one of the things I fear the most.  Tops on that list?  Spiders.  Second on that list?  Black holes, although if they were as populous as spiders, they would handily take the top spot; happily, they are not.
I don't know if run-down houses in the middle of nowhere would be third on that list or not, but it's a top-fiver for sure.  So as soon as the narrator of "The Picture in the House" began talking about old abandoned houses, I knew nothing good was going to happen.
I was right about that, but not in the way I expected.  The narrator, for lack of anything better to do, begins examining the library he finds inside the house.  One book is seemingly a travelogue about a journey to the Congo; disturbingly, the book falls open naturally -- in the way often-visited pages of favorite books do -- to a hideous depiction of cannibalism.
About that time, the narrator is surprised to hear sounds from upstairs; the house's own has been present all along, sleeping.
Maybe sleeping.  He greets the narrator very kindly, but is hugely unkempt and off-putting.  He speaks in a thick regional dialect, which Lovecraft renders capably.  He tells the narrator the story of how he came into possession of such an old and rare book, and soon launches into a speech about how and why he loves one illustration in particular.  You can probably guess which one.
This is a creepy and involving story, one that works for me almost completely.
image stolen from http://mercvtio.deviantart.com/art/The-picture-in-the-house-414805806
"The Temple"
(written 1920, published 1925)
One of the hallmarks of Lovecraft's writing is his tendency to employ witless first-person narrators.  He frequently has them encounter things that are so weird that any normal person would faint, flee, or, at the very least, holler "what the fuck was that thing" at the top of his or her lungs.
One of the criticisms of Lovecraft, then, is that he robs his narrators of realism by having them be perpetually unwilling or unable to see things for what they are.  This is a criticism that mostly does not hold water with me.  After all, don't most of us possess an ability to rationalize our way out of believing in things?  When the desire to do so is upon us, I think we do.  So, then, is it inherently a fault in Lovecraft's work for him to take as his narrators characters who possess that ability?
Not where I'm standing.
The narrator of this particular tale is wearing particularly rose-tinted glasses: he is the captain of a German submarine whose crew one by one goes insane thanks to the influence of a small statue captured from a destroyed American vessel.  He eventually ends up on the bottom of the ocean, observing a sunken temple from which both light and sound is emerging, yet he still can't quite bring himself to admit that something strange is going on.
Even here, I don't mind.  I enjoy the facility Lovecraft has for describing something horrible through a set of eyes that is determined not to see them that way; we are, in essence, seeing those things truly despite wearing the rose-tinted glasses of another person.  The result is a thrilling sort of vertigo.
Lovecraft was a master of that technique, and while "The Temple" is arguably not one of the best examples of this aspect of his work, it is nevertheless effective and memorable.
"Facts Concerning the Late Arthur Jermyn and His Family"
(written 1920, published 1921)
This one starts off strong -- very strong, in fact -- but loses steam and does not end up going anywhere that thrills me.  It's the story of a poet from an old family who discovers some things about his lineage that cause him to...
Well, you'll see.
I'm not a hundred percent sure, but I believe this story mentions the same region of the Congo that is depicted (to much grander effect) in the titular "Picture in the House."
image stolen from http://redbayly.deviantart.com/art/Arthur-Jermyn-296090149
"From Beyond"
(written 1920, published 1934)
In this short tale, a narrator tells us of the day his friend hooked the two of them up to a machine which allowed them to see the secret world of unknown colors and weird beings that is all around us, just out of phase, at all times.
By no means is this what I would call vintage Lovecraft.  It's not particularly well-written, and there isn't much of a story.  However, there are some great ideas, and in writing about the idea that there is a secret world just beyond our senses that we could explore if only we had the scientific means to do so, you can feel Lovecraft on the verge of doing something really tremendous.  He wasn't quite there; but he was getting very, very close.
I was reminded to a small degree of Stephen King's Revival by "From Beyond."  Both are about a contentious relationship between two men, one of whom is scientifically fixated upon the idea of peering beyond the veil that marks the boundary between this world and the next.  I don't get the sense that King was specifically inspired by "From Beyond," but since he was and is certainly a fan of Lovecraft, it's possible.
This dope illustration is by Sean Phillips; I found it at http://theartofseanphillips.blogspot.com/2011/11/h-p-lovecraft.html.
(written and published 1920)
The titular character is one of the frequently-mentioned deities of Lovecraft's mythos, and this is his/its first appearance in his work.  Given that, you'd expect this story to be great.  Instead, it's just a brief, semi-plotless vignette.
It isn't totally uninteresting, but it doesn't add up to much.
Finding an image to represent this particular story (and not merely the titular character) proved to be difficult, so I decided to instead put up the most amusingly incongruous photo that appeared when I did a Google Images search for "Lovecraft Nyarlathotep."  The choice was clear:
Is this a billy-bumbler?

"The Quest of Iranon"
(written 1921, published 1935)
Another story that is apparently in the style of Lord Dunsany, "The Quest of Iranon" is about a wandering young prince who is searching for the way back to the city where he once lived.  It is (to put it mildly) an overly florid story, but the end is very good, and the cumulative impact effective.
This illustration by Virgil Findlay appeared alongside "The Quest of Iranon" in the March 1939 issue of Weird Tales.
"The Music of Erich Zann"
(written 1921, published 1922)
A narrator tells us of his failed attempts to locate the Rue d'Auseil, where he once stayed for a time at a hotel.  At this hotel, he heard the strangest music coming from another room, and eventually learned that it was played upon the viol by a mute old man.  He struck up a friendship with the man, and learned that the strange playing was apparently some sort of attempt by Zann to keep another universe from invading our own.
Or something like that; the narrator doesn't really know what the heck was going on, so neither can we.  It works as an approach; this is a memorable story, and Lovecraft evidently claimed it to be one of his best.  I wouldn't go that far, but I do like it.  The notion of music that is so alien that it can't even properly be described is a tantalizing one; there have been a few attempts by musicians to replicate it, and I'm not going to listen to any of them because I fail to see how they could do anything other than disappoint.
And if they didn't, that might be even worse.
by Angela Demure, allegedly; I couldn't figure out where exactly this came from, which seems appropriate
"Ex Oblivione"
(published 1921)
This brief piece is scarcely a page, and recounts the dream of a dying man.  It shares aspects in common with earlier Lovecraft writings such as "Polaris" and "Celephaïs," and while I wouldn't say it's essential, it's good.

art by R.W. Ware, stolen from http://www.flashfictiononline.com/fpublic0006-ex-oblivione-h-p-lovecraft.html

"Sweet Ermengarde"
(written 1917, published posthumously 1943)
Subtitled "Or, The Heart of a Country Girl," this comedic story was written under the pseudonym Percy Simple.  Ever wonder why Lovecraft didn't write more comedy?  Read "Sweet Ermengarde" and wonder no more.

The story is about a country girl who continually lies about her age, dyes her hair, and finds herself getting wooed by unsavory suitors.  If you are not a believer in coincidence, this is not the story for you.

The small amount of research I have done on the story indicates that it may have been written as a satire of stories of this type; if so, I guess it was a success.

No images of this story seemed forthcoming on Google, so instead I did a search for "Percy Simple" and decided to use the first thing I saw that made me chuckle.  Which was:

I am now planting into your mind the suggestion that the next time you hear Neil Diamond's "Sweet Caroline," you should replace "Caroline" with "Ermengarde."  You are powerless but to obey.

"The Nameless City"
(written and published 1921)
An explorer investigates the "unwholesome antiquity" of an ancient city that lies (seemingly unknown to all but him) somewhere in an Arab nation.  In so doing, he finds a temple that leads him deep underground; here, he will find vestiges of a civilization of a wholly other nature.

There isn't a whole lot to this story, but Lovecraft invests the goings-on with a palpable sense of mystery and dread; of the stories I've covered thus far, this is one of the most Lovecraftian, and I intend that as a compliment.  It also includes the first mention of the mad Arab Abdul Alhazred, frequently mentioned by the author later in his works.  Lovecraft attributes to him a couplet which is well worth mentioning:

          That is not dead which can eternal lie,
          And with strange aeons even death may die.

That don't creep you out, you of a stronger disposition than I am.

There are also references to both Sarnath and Ib; here, Lovecraft has taken a bold step toward crafting his mythos.

image stolen from http://www.deviantart.com/art/Ruins-of-the-Nameless-City-395590282

"The Outsider"
(written 1921, published 1926)
Here's one that is almost certain to appear on any list of vital Lovecraft stories (and, thus, on many lists of the most vital horror stories ever written).

It's hard to say much without spoiling it, so I'll resort merely to quoting what Wikipedia has to say: "In this work, a mysterious man who has been living alone in a castle for as long as he can remember decides to break free in search of human contact and light."

Fair enough, Wikipedia; fair enough.  It's a terrific story, although grumps could justifiably claim that it loses something on rereads.

On the other hand, you could make just as justifiable a claim that rereads are to its benefit.

You be the judge!

"The Moon-Bog"
(written 1921, published 1926)
I like the opening sentence to this story: "Somewhere, to what remote and fearsome region I know not, Denys Barry has gone."  That'll do.

The story is about a man whose friend decides to drain a swamp near an ancestral estate he has inherited; I was reminded a bit while reading it of Stephen King's "Jerusalem's Lot," which makes sense; that story is a terrific Lovecraft pastiche.

As for "The Moon-Bog," it's pretty good.  It has some effective imagery, and while it never really goes anywhere -- plotting was not Lovecraft's strong suit -- it is memorable.

artwork by Stephen E. Fabian, stolen from http://lccomics.narod.ru/image/comic/stephen_fabian/7.htm

"The Other Gods"
(written 1921, published 1933)
Some guys go up a mountain and one of 'em doesn't come back, yadda-yadda.

This story is a sort-of sequel to "The Cats of Ulthar," but it's nowhere near as good.  I was quite bored by it, in fact.

artwork by Jeff Powers (image stolen from http://tentaclenews.blogspot.com/2013/08/lovecraft-101-other-gods.html)

(written 1922, published posthumously 1938)
This one-page piece is a tone poem that slid right off of me.  I'm not even going to try to find an image to go along with it.

"Herbert West -- Reanimator"
(written 1921-22, published 1922)

I haven't talked much (if at all) about the publications of any of these stories thus far, and I don't plan to do much of that; if you are interested, the Internet will happily offer up many places for you to find that info out.

However, the means of publication for what we know as "Herbert West -- Reanimator" is definitely of note.  It was published serially in six parts (once per month in successive months) in an amateur publication called Home Brew, and this is the reason why each chapter begins with a summary of all the events that transpired before it.  I had no knowledge of this when I sat down to read the story for the first time earlier tonight, and while it confused me initially, I concluded on my own that there must be some explanation.  I was not wrong!

The story itself is a riff on Frankenstein, concerning a pair of medical students who are endeavoring to bring deceased bodies back to life.  The problem is, the bodies don't always want to misbehave, and the titular Dr. West becomes convinced that he could correct this if only he could get corpses that were fresh enough.

Wikipedia informs me that noted Lovecraft biographer and scholar S.T. Joshi feels that this story is shabby in the extreme and that it is "universally acknowledged as Lovecraft's poorest work."

I'm skeptical as to whether Joshi ever said that, but whether he did or didn't, somebody must have; Wikipedia doesn't write itself.  I think it's a ludicrous claim; scanning back through the stories covered in this review already, I count a bare minimum of thirteen which are (in my mind) unquestionably weaker, and that does not include some of the shorter tales that are not fully-formed stories.  I would not listen to someone trying to tell me "Reanimator" is a poorer story than "Sweet Ermengarde," for that person would have nothing of value to tell me.

For my part, I rather like the story, especially now that I know the circumstances of its somewhat raggedly serial nature.  There is some unfortunate racism that might hang some people up, although you can write that off to the narrator being an unlikable and unsympathetic cretin if you've a mind to do so.  Apart from that, though, I found there to be several impressively creepy scenes.  Nope, sorry; this one works for me, S.T. Joshi (or person claiming things on his behalf).

I would add in retrospect that Stephen King's Revival obviously owes a bit of a debt to not merely Frankenstein, but also to "Herbert West."

This is art created for the 1985 Stuart Gordon film Re-Animator, which I am ashamed to say I have neever seen, despite its status as one of the more notable cult-classics of the eighties.  Maybe for Halloween this year...!  [Editor's note: I have since corrected this error in home programming, but will not address the movie further at this time.]

(written 1922, published 1923)
Decades before A Nightmare on Elm Street, Lovecraft wrote "Hypnos," the tale of two men who need to stay awake as much as possible lest the horrible things they have seen in their dreams take them.

There aren't many similarities between "Hypnos" and Elm Street, apart from the mildly similar concept of staying awake so as to avoid an evil fate.  In fact, "Hypnos" is a relatively tedious tale; it concludes in a relatively intriguing manner, but not enough for me to rank this highly among Lovecraft's work.

image stolen from http://tentaclenews.blogspot.com/2013/09/lovecraft-101-hypnos.html

"What the Moon Brings"
(written 1922, published 1923)
A very brief story, this one is about a guy who sees something ominous while out walking one night.

There is some appealingly awful imagery, but otherwise I would say there isn't much to recommend here.

image stolen from http://tentaclenews.blogspot.com/2013/09/lovecraft-101-what-moon-brings-azathoth.html

"The Hound"
(written 1922, published 1924)
I was bored to tears by the first couple of pages of this, but once the interminable descriptions ceased and the plot began, it hooked me; and the final few paragraphs are very strong indeed.

The story is about a couple of friends who have a passion for robbing graves -- you know how it is, I'm sure -- and eventually find a really good one that holds the corpse of another legendary fiend, one who apparently stole (and was buried with) an amulet mentioned in the Necronomicon, the fiendish book written by the mad Arab Abdul Alhazred.

The Necronomicon, contrary to what certain pockets of the Internet might want you to believe, WAS an invention of H.P. Lovecraft's, and it seems that it was "The Hound" in which he first mentioned it.

image stolen from http://kxg-witcher.deviantart.com/art/The-Hound-H-P-Lovecraft-427748211

"The Lurking Fear"
(written 1922, published 1923)
An adventurer hears tell of a "lurking fear" (whatever that may be [and the point is that he has no idea but wishes to find out]) in the Catskills.  A large number of immigrant squatters have been brutally killed; he goes to investigate, beginning with a deserted mansion left behind by a Dutch family of ill repute.

Like "Herbert West -- Reanimator," this story was serialized in Home Brew.  It is not weighed down by the recaps at the beginning of each section, but is otherwise -- in my opinion -- inferior to "Herbert West" in most regards.  That's not to say that this is a poor story, though.  It has several memorable scenes, and while the revelation that caps the story is ridiculously obvious, it nevertheless caught me by surprise.  I'm not all that canny a reader, sometimes.

In some ways, this reads a bit like a reworking of ideas found in stories like "The Beast in the Cave" and "Facts Concerning the Late Arthur Jermyn and His Family," which is fine by me.  I don't see any reason why a writer shouldn't be given room to rework ideas from time to time.

"The Rats in the Walls"
(written 1923, published 1924)
If I were to be placed in charge of compiling an Essential Lovecraft anthology, this is one of the tales that surely would make the cut.  It's a classic.

In this tale, a man who lost his son to World War I decides to divert himself from his bereavement by taking an interest in Exham Priory, an estate that has been in his family for centuries.  He has the house more or less completely rebuilt -- excepting the walls, of course -- and moves in with a fleet of servants in tow, as well as a fleet of cats.

His favorite and eldest cat is named Nigger-Man, and I guess we may as well stop and talk about that for a moment.  We are now approaching the point of this story -- and all Lovecraft stories -- being a century old, and it ought to go without saying that "The Rats in the Walls" was written during a very different time in American history.  There were, at the time of its publication, undoubtedly thousands upon thousands of Americans still living who had been alive when slavery was still legal.  There would have been former slaves still living; there would have been former slave-owners still living.

Think about the horrible, bigoted things you may have heard people in their seventies say during your own life.  Now, imagine those same people in the early 1920s; they would have grown up with slavery as a reality, and then lived to see it ended partially due to a bloody civil war.  Odds are, many of these people would have had very, very negative things to say about the way that whole thing turned out.  Do you suppose they were still saying those things in the twenties?  Why, of course they were.

A man like H.P. Lovecraft would have grown up hearing sentiments like that on a regular basis.  The odds of him NOT turning out to be at least a little bit racist are slender.  Based on what I've read of his writing, and of his life, he seems like he was probably a fairly average fellow in that regard.  He seems to have been an equal-opportunity racist: he loathed and feared pretty much everyone who wasn't of his own type.  Different times; it was a bad mindset to have, but I'm not sure how quick I'd be to label him as a bad person because of it.  We're all hard-pressed to get out from under the bigotry of whatever time we live in, and I'd say that Lovecraft probably did about as well as most people manage to do.

Which is a long-winded way of saying that if a cat being named "Nigger-Man" in a story is a bridge too far for you, then I consider that to be a case of losing the baby along with the bathwater.  I find Lovecraft's body of work to be primarily focused on what it means to be afraid, and racism certainly comes from a place of (among other emotions) fear.  Here, you have a prime opportunity to learn something significant about the mindset of fear turned outward and focused toward The Other; you will learn it mostly at a remove, by virtue of having the feared things be monsters and aliens and whatnot, but the dots are there if you choose to connect them.  And lest we think too harshly of Lovecraft, I'd point out that many -- if not all -- horror writers find plying their craft to be cathartic and healing.  So in a way, Lovecraft's stories may represent an attempt to self-diagnose and self-correct the fearful tendencies he saw -- or, perhaps, couldn't quite see -- in himself.

In any case, "The Rats in the Walls" is a terrific tale, one in which the question of madness versus sanity is raised for what certainly will not be the final time in Lovecraft's work.  For you Stephen King fans, you will absolutely recognize the genesis of both "Jerusalem's Lot" and "Graveyard Shift" in this story.  You may also recognize an influence upon "1922," which remains my favorite of the novellas in Full Dark, No Stars.

This reading can (as of this writing) be found on YouTube; I've not listened to the entire thing, but what I've heard is terrific.

"The Unnamable"
(written 1923, published 1925)
In this story, a writer -- who calls himself "Carter" but sounds an awful lot like Lovecraft himself -- describes to a friend a local legend about an "unnamable" thing that may or may not have been active in the area.  The story seems to be droll metafiction in the beginning, but gradually turns into something else altogether.

Not one of Lovecraft's best, but good nonetheless.

I've never heard of this movie; I assume it is shite.

"The Festival"
(written 1923, published 1925)
A nameless narrator visits the town of his ancestral roots, intending to take part in a Yuletide festival that his family evidently attends once a century.  At his relatives' house, he meets someone he assumed to be a kinsman.  Say . . . is it weird that the guy seems to have a mask instead of a face?

This is a fairly horrifying piece of work that could theoretically be classified as a Christmas story, if one were inclined to do so.

image stolen from http://thatsummersguy.deviantart.com/art/The-Festival-HP-Lovecraft-426491724

"Under the Pyramids"
(written and published 1924)
Known variably as "Imprisoned with the Pharaohs" or "Entombed with the Pharaohs," this story was originally published under the byline of Harry Houdini.

Yes, that Harry Houdini.  The magazine Weird Tales commissioned Lovecraft to ghost-write a story based on what Houdini claimed to be a true account of an incident that had befallen him in Egypt.  Lovecraft spoke with Houdini and became friendly with him, but seemingly did not believe the majority of the man's account.  He asked Weird Tales for permission to fictionalize it, permission was given, and the story was written, apparently to Houdini's acclaim.

I knew none of that backstory when I read the story for the first time earlier tonight (September 25, 2015, for posterity's sake); and I found myself wondering on occasion why Lovecraft had elected to employ a real-life celebrity of the same time period rather than invent a protagonist.  I enjoyed the story quite a bit even with that persistent question mark in my mind, and now that I know a bit about how and why the story happened, I think I like it even more.

What, you may be wondering, happens to "Houdini" under the pyramids?  Well, let's put it this way: he doesn't get there of his own accord, and before he makes one of his famous escapes he sees a creature that...

Anyways, it's like that.  Good stuff.

Dark Tower aficionados will be interested to learn that the tale makes repeated mentions of "ka."  It is used in a very different context here (where, if I understand it correctly, it represents a vague sort of life-force that it similar to, but separate from, the soul), but it's entirely possible King was introduced to the concept by Lovecraft.

Pardon me; by Houdini.

image pilfered from http://tentaclenews.blogspot.com/2014/02/lovecraft-101-under-pyramids.html

"The Shunned House"
(written 1924, published 1928)
This excellent story begins with a device in which the narrator mentions Edgar Allan Poe visiting Providence on many occasions to (unsuccessfully) woo a poetess who lived there.  The narrator expresses interest in the fact that a man known for his tales of the horrible must on many occasions have walked unknowingly past a house the history of which was more horrible than anything in one of his tales.

That, friends, is a good way to begin a horror story.

From there, the narrator relates to us the centuries-long history of this "shunned house," and eventually tells of the efforts he made with his uncle to rid the house of that which ailed it.

It's an effective and creepy story, and comes to a memorable conclusion.  In other words, it's prime Lovecraft.

This piece of Virgil Finlay art accompanied "The Shunned House" when it was published in the October 1937 issue of Weird Tales.

"The Horror at Red Hook"
(written 1925, published 1927)
This story seems to have earned itself the reputation of being the most xenophobic of all Lovecraft's fictions; whether it's THE most xenophobic of them or not, it's certainly xenophobic enough to cause one to raise an eyebrow at it.

The plot concerns a police detective's efforts to discover the source of illegal-immigrant lines in Red Hook, Brooklyn.  While doing so, he also becomes involved in the case of Robert Suydam, a man whose family fears he has gone insane.  Might the occult figure into this in some way?  Odds are good.

Red Hook is a real neighborhood in Brooklyn, and Wikipedia informs me that it derives its name from Dutch immigrants, who actually named it Roode Hoek after the point of red-clay land upon which it lies.  Be that as it may, give Lovecraft credit for realizing that something creepy HAD to be happening in a place named "Red Hook."  Nothing good has happened upon the point of a red hook, guys.  I'm sure it's a lovely place, though.

[Editor's note: notice how utterly I managed to fail at divulging an opinion of the story.  I'm going to consciously opt to continue that, mostly because I am struggling to actually remember much about the story these weeks later.  I think I liked it, but I kind of don't remember.]

This is a fake issue, but my admiration for it is real.  I borrowed the image from http://hplovecraftart.blogspot.com/2014/02/the-horror-at-redhook.html.

(written 1925, published 1926)

More xenophobia awaits in this tale of an unnamed narrator who is disillusioned by his time in New York City.  This is not lessened when he meets a wizened old man who shows him both the past and the future through a magic window.

Not by any means a bad story, but something about it (and not merely the title) is a bit on the bland side.

art by Virgil Finlay

"In the Vault"
(written and published 1925)
This one tells the tale of a skinflint undertaker who receives a just comeuppance as the result of a poorly-done job.

Lovecraft hasn't reminded me of EC very often, which makes sense given that he predated those comics by several decades; but here is a story worthy of EC.

I had a hard time getting into this one, but it had me by the end.

"Cool Air"
(written 1926, published 1928)
There is a major plot point in issue #1 of Providence that confused me when I read it.  That plot point is clarified by a familiarity with "Cool Air," so when I read it tonight, I remembered that issue of Providence and nodded, pleased by my newfound sagacity.

The story is about a man whose upstairs neighbor, a doctor, must keep himself cool at all times as a result of his "condition."  Will we discover the nature of that condition?  We will, but perhaps not until the story's final paragraph.

It's a solid story, and Rod Serling adapted it for an episode of Night Gallery.  Berni Wrightson, meanwhile, adapted it for a comic-book anthology called Eerie in 1975, and I now present that adaptation to you:


"The Call of Cthulhu"
(written 1926, published 1928)
The character of Cthulhu is unquestionably Lovecraft's most enduring creation; if indeed Cthulhu can be called a character.  Can a tornado be called a character?  Can a black hole be called a character?

I exaggerate.  Somewhat.

When I read this story for the first time, it had a big impact on me.  It tells the tale of a man who, through finding papers left by his uncle (most of which were themselves merely reports from other people still), gradually becomes aware of an unbelievably ancient religion known as the Cthulhu Cult.  The short version of that story: Cthulhu was an enormous extraterrestrial who came to Earth, fell into a death-like slumber within his stone city of R'lyeh, and waits in the midst of his dreaming eons for the time when the stars align properly and allow him to rise from the deeps to once again walk the surface of the planet.

Wrapped around this idea is a period of several weeks during which untold numbers of people worldwide -- sensitive sorts like poets, artists, and the like; not practical folk like bankers and lawyers -- experienced terrifying dreams of alien landscapes and horrifying figures.  As it turns out, there was a reason this happened: for a brief period of time, Cthulhu did rise again.

This is all tremendously exciting stuff, as far as I'm concerned.  I can't deny that the tale comes to a mildly unsatisfying close -- Cthulhu is loosed (though not really), vanquished (though not really), and returned to his ageless slumber (really) -- but even so, as globe-spanning horror goes, this is top-notch stuff.

I'm very fond of the manner in which Lovecraft tells the story.  The narrator is telling us about all these things he has learned from other people, many of those things having been learned from yet other people.  The events happen at a remove of two or three or more degrees, and whereas that ought to drain the story of any of its power, I find that it actually deepens it.  It adds to the sense that these are events which are wholly beyond the control of the narrator; and that layer of helplessness increases the horror substantially.

Lovecraft describes Cthulhu -- the depictions of him encountered by the narrator, at least -- in substantial detail.  He has (approximately) the head of an octopus, the body of a snake, the wings of a dragon, and humanlike arms and legs.  He's taller than a skyscraper, too.

Now, here's the thing about that.  You and I, we've grown up in an era in which digital imagery can be made to depict literally anything.  We've seen CGI versions of everything from bullfrogs to balrogs in our day, you and I.  Could somebody depict Cthulhu accurately via that method?  Well, yeah, sure they could, and so could more traditional art forms such as painting and illustration.  Google Images will show you a whole bunch of artists' depictions,

And somewhere in that, the idea of what Cthulhu actually is has been utterly lost.  Nowadays. you can buy plush cthulhu dolls; you see sexy cthulhu cosplay at cons.

As Lovecraft writes it, Cthulhu is so terrifyingly awesome a sight that most people die when they see him.  His mere awakening is enough to inspire nightmares in people for weeks.  Depicting that visually is, of course, impossible.  Therefore, any depiction at all is beginning from a hugely disadvantaged place.  But people will persist in trying, the fools; and as a result, eventually somebody thinks that doing a mashup of Lovecraft and Dr. Seuss is a good idea.  And guys...?  It isn't.  That's a lack of imagination masquerading as imagination (which is what mashup culture seems to mostly be about, in my estimation).

This Lovecraft original, though, is the real deal.  "That is not dead which can eternal lie / And with strange aeons even death may die."  In his house at R'lyeh, dead Cthulhu waits dreaming, y'all.  Pray that his slumber outlives you.

By the way, a quick note: ever since I first read this story, I've been mentally pronouncing Cthulhu as "kuh-THOO-loo."  However, it recently came to my attention that this is wholly incorrect.  I quote now from Wikipedia:

Lovecraft transcribed the pronunciation of Cthulhu as Khlûl′-hloo and said that "the first syllable pronounced gutturally and very thickly. The u is about like that in full; and the first syllable is not unlike klul in sound, hence the h represents the guttural thickness."[3] S. T. Joshi points out, however, that Lovecraft gave several differing pronunciations on different occasions.[4] According to Lovecraft, this is merely the closest that the human vocal apparatus can come to reproducing the syllables of an alien language.

I'm fascinated by this sort of thing.  I mean, let's be honest: who would ever suspect that the "t" would be silent?  I confess that I will almost certainly continue to think of it as "kuh-THOO-loo," but I kind of dig the idea that you are supposed to pronounce it in a similar fashion to "Kahlua," and I really dig the idea that you're not supposed to be able to pronounce it at all and "Cthulhu" is just some fictional a-hole's best-guess transcription.

"Pickman's Model"
(written 1926, published 1927)

This is another big-time winner, in my book.  It consists of a first-person narrative told to another character (never actually present in the story, and essentially just a stand-in for us readers) of a Bostonian artist who has been expelled from an art club.  A colleague is telling us about paying a visit to the studio where that artist (the Pickman of the title) does his work.  Pickman shows the narrator paintings of increasingly horrific incidents and scenes, but that isn't what really frightened our narrator; it was the skill -- the intense sense of realism -- with which Pickman achieved his effects.  The paintings eventually become so awful -- so wonderful -- that they drag screams from the narrator.

In my estimation, Cthulhu (who, to be clear, neither appears nor is references in this story) cannot properly be depicted; his visage and presence is enough to cause madness and death.  So, too, would it be impossible to actually try to depict the work of Pickman.  It can't be done.  And yet, if you go to Google you can find any number of people who have tried to do so anyways.  Doomed to failure, yet they try valiantly.

Rather than show you any of those failures (some of which are actually quite good in their own right), I'm going to show you some images by some of the real artists who Lovecraft name-checks during the course of the story:

Lucifer, King of Hell [by Gustav Dore]

Saturn Devouring His Son [by Francisco Goya]

The Empyrean [by Gustav Dore]

The King of Elfland's Daughter [by Sidney Sime]

The Night-Hag Visiting Lapland Witches [by John Henry Fuseli]

The Shadow on the House [by Sidney Sime]

"The Strange High House in the Mist"
(written 1926, published 1931)
We've been dealing for a while now with stories that are relatively plot-heavy and/or concept-rich; "The Strange High House in the Mist," however, returns to the more dream-focused and surrealist type of story that Lovecraft wrote frequently early on.

I find that most of those tend not to stick with me, and to some extent that is the case with this one, too.  There is a cool idea in the middle of it -- a house at the top of a cliff where it kind of has no right to naturally be -- and some of the prose is lovely; it just didn't stick with me.  It might well be the case, though, that these more dream-like stories of Lovecraft's deserve (demand?) to be read multiple times and with a bit more attention than I have given them.  I wouldn't go so far as to call "The Strange High House in the Mist" a prose poem, but it, and other Lovecraft stories like it, certainly have leanings in that direction.

So maybe it's not the story; maybe it's me.

By the way, let's take a look at a two-paragraph passage:

     Stuck out of a west window was a great black-bearded face whose eyes shone phosphorescently with the imprint of unheard-of sights. But the voice was gentle, and of a quaint olden kind, so that Olney did not shudder when a brown hand reached out to help him over the sill and into that low room of black oak wainscots and carved Tudor furnishings. The man was clad in very ancient garments, and had about him an unplaceable nimbus of sea-lore and dreams of tall galleons. Olney does not recall many of the wonders he told, or even who he was; but says that he was strange and kindly, and filled with the magic of unfathomed voids of time and space. The small room seemed green with a dim aqueous light, and Olney saw that the far windows to the east were not open, but shut against the misty aether with dull thick panes like the bottoms of old bottles.
     That bearded host seemed young, yet looked out of eyes steeped in the elder mysteries; and from the tales of marvellous ancient things he related, it must be guessed that the village folk were right in saying he had communed with the mists of the sea and the clouds of the sky ever since there was any village to watch his taciturn dwelling from the plain below. And the day wore on, and still Olney listened to rumours of old times and far places, and heard how the Kings of Atlantis fought with the slippery blasphemies that wriggled out of rifts in ocean’s floor, and how the pillared and weedy temple of Poseidonis is still glimpsed at midnight by lost ships, who know by its sight that they are lost. Years of the Titans were recalled, but the host grew timid when he spoke of the dim first age of chaos before the gods or even the Elder Ones were born, and when only the other gods came to dance on the peak of Hatheg-Kla in the stony desert near Ulthar, beyond the river Skai.

I could not help but mentally envision Alan Moore when I read those paragraphs.  Boy howdy do I wish Moore would record an audiobook of Lovecraft's Greatest Hits.  I'd pay numerous American dollars to own a copy of that.

image stolen from http://gothicprincess1974.deviantart.com/art/The-Strange-High-House-in-the-Mist-Take-2-547965983

"The Silver Key"
(written 1926, published 1929)
Another dream-cycle story, this one featuring Lovecraft's recurring character Randolph Carter.  It isn't unlike "Celephaïs" in that it is about a man who has somehow lost the ability to travel to a place he once knew.  I liked that story pretty well, and I like this one pretty well also; it actually makes me appreciate the ideas behind some of the other dream-cycle stories more.  This may be because Lovecraft's yearning prose is a bit more effective here than before, or it may be because the dreaminess is tied to a more interesting central character.

I didn't find an image specific to "The Silver Key" that I liked, so I went with this map of the Dreamlands.  It came from http://mockman.com/2011/10/11/map-of-the-lands-of-dream-bw-version/.

The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath
(written 1926-27, published posthumously 1943)
One of three Lovecraft tales that are long enough to be considered novels, The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath is a fascinating piece of work.  It is -- like many of Lovecraft's other dream-stories -- difficult to penetrate at times, and the prose does not always prove beneficial; Nyarlathotep is referred to many, many times, almost always as "the crawling chaos Nyarlathotep."  H.P., dude; we get it.

You will also encounter heaping helpings of Lovecraft's racist tendencies.  Yes, let's have no doubts about it: The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath is a showcase for virtually all of Lovecraft's worst tendencies.

It is also spectacularly imaginative, and is so densely packed with imagery and inventiveness that it feels (for good and ill) five times as long as it actually is.  It is not unlike The Silmarillion in that regard, and while I think Tolkien's achievement massively outclasses Lovecraft's, I don't think it is by any means improper to mention the two of them in the same sentence.

I was reminded at other times of L. Frank Baum's Oz books, and to some degree of Edgar Rice Burroughs' John Carter tales (which I confess to only knowing via the Disney movie).  Wikipedia tells me that it owes much to Lord Dunsany, too, and if that's the case then I suppose I am going to have to read some Lord Dunsany before much longer.  Reading my way through Lovecraft has me very interested in exploring some of those writers who heavily influenced him, such as Dunsany and Poe and Machen.

It also makes me want to go back and reappraise some of the earlier dream-cycle tales in this very book, many of which I shrugged off on first reading them.  I suspect Kadath was the key to enjoying them -- or, at least, appreciating them -- and that I would enjoy them more the second time.

But I've said nothing of what the novel is about!  Well, summarizing it would be impossible for me to do, and I won't attempt it.  The logline goes like this: Randolph Carter embarks upon an epic-fantasy-style quest while asleep and dreaming, and the purpose of this quest is to find and enter the legendarily difficult-to-reach dreamland of Kadath.  Along the way, he encounters many bizarre and hideous foes, and more than a few bizarre and hideous allies.  Did you ever want to read about a man being rescued from moon-beasts by an army of cats?  H.P. has gotcha covered.  Did you ever want to read a story in which an army of corpse-eating ghouls are the good guys?  Covered.

And so forth.  It is not by any means flawless, but if you adopt a warts-and-all mentality, you may find yourself loving this one.  I sure did.

The novel was unpublished during Lovecraft's lifetime, by the way.  What a shame.

The Case of Charles Dexter Ward
(written 1927, published posthumously 1941)
Here's another short-novel-length work.  I'd say this one is moderately inferior to The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath, but only moderately; this is a very engaging work that on occasion threatens to become tiresome, but never does.

It's an impressive feat.  The story is told in the manner of several other Lovecraft tales, i.e. through the narration of a character who does not himself appear in the story at any point.  Rather, he relates all the events on the basis of accounts he has gotten through various secondhand sources.  Whoever this guy is, he's read and has been told a great many things.  It ought not to work, but I tend to assume that the narrator is Lovecraft himself (not in a literal sense, mind you), at which point I can roll with it easily.  Here, an argument could be made that the provenance of the narrative voice gets away from Lovecraft on occasion, especially right at the end.  Complain about that if you've a mind to, but leave me out of it.

The story itself concerns the titular young man, who learns of a previously-obscured ancestor whose studies reached very far indeed into the occult.  He becomes obsessed with the ancestor's work.  Does he resurrect that ancestor from the dead?  Well, maybe.  Is there an alarming uptick in incidences of grave-robbing and vampirism?  Well, kind of.  Do the unearthly malodorous emanations from beneath his attic door mean anything ominous?  It's likely.  Does the frequent appearance of the name "Yog-Sothoth" serve as a cause for concern?  Yeah, it sure does.

Lovecraft himself was evidently not a fan of the novel, and it was never published during his lifetime.  Methinks he was too hard on himself; this is a creepy, entertaining horror story.

Before we move on to the next story, I've got a couple of questions.  They require me to post an image of an excerpt from Dexter Ward:


You will perhaps note that there are some unusual abbreviations in that text.  I can figure some of them out ("yr," with the raised r, is obviously "your," and a g with an apostrophe in front of it represents "-ing."

But what does a y with a raised e mean?  I think it stands for "the," but why would that be the case?  Was "y" pronounced "th" at some point in time?  Is this any particular form of antiquated English, or is it something Lovecraft made up?

The problem is, I can't figure out how to do the research myself; not from a computer, at least, because Google thinks I'm searching for "ye" and I'm not. Also, apparently Google thinks "ye" is a diminutive for Kanye West; (a) which it might well be, in which case (b) *insert image of meputting my face in my hands and shaking my head in horror -- vaguely Lovecraftian horror -- at that fact*.



While I was typing this -- literally at the same time -- I received an answer to my question from a friend on Facebook.  I'd posted the question there, too, and he came up with this:

He got there by Googling "ye" combined with "Lovecraft."  I'd not thought to add "Lovecraft" to my search, and thereby I proved that where others are Masters, I am still a mere Padawan.

Thanks to author William Thornton for his literary-Jedi skills!

"The Colour Out of Space"
(written and published 1927)
Say, Stephen King fans; stop me if you've heard this one before: on a rural farm, a farmer finds a crashed-to-Earth meteorite.  He puts a piece of it in a metal pail, and takes the pail to scientists for examination.  Bad things ensue.

That's the setup to "The Color Out of Space," but it's nearly the setup for the Creepshow segment "The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verrill" (as well as the King short story upon which it was based, "Weeds").  Ol' hapless Jordy never actually visits any scientists; he merely fantasizes about doing so.  Otherwise?  Pretty close.

From there the tales diverge almost completely, though; so even if one were to choose to accuse King of ripping off Lovecraft, he's ripping off only one edge of the story's shell.  "Weeds" might be a riff on "The Colour Out of Space," but that's all it is.

A pretty good one, too, although it doesn't hold a candle to "The Colour Out of Space."  This is one of the stories which is occasionally mentioned as being Lovecraft's best, and while I would not quite agree with that assessment, it's certainly on the short-list.

So, what happens in this one after the point at which it and "Weeds" diverge?  Well, the people who examine the meteorite see coming from it colors colours that are unlike any ever (so far as they know) glimpsed before.  In fact, they know to call the visual phenomena "colours" only by way of analogy; they cannot be described.  This leads to strange crops growing in the farmer's field; and to strange mutations among his livestock; and to certain . . . alterations . . . in his wife and sons.  And say . . . what's going on in the well?

Nothing good.

As with many Lovecraft stories (as you might recall me saying precisely one story ago), this one is told by a narrator who heard all the events described by someone else.  The more I consider it, the more I both like and appreciate this approach.  It creates an air of detached immediacy, and when it's done well -- as it is here -- it works really well for a tale of the bizarre.

Since I've mentioned Stephen King once already, I may as well do so a second time and say that "The Colour Out of Space" also put me in mind of his novella "1922."  That novella has little (if any) supernatural or science-fictional content, but its focus on both a disturbed rural farmhouse and ominous goings-on in and around a well are reminiscent of Lovecraft.  That novella, unlike "Weeds," gets pretty close to "The Colour Out of Space" in quality, as well.

I think I'd still give ol' H.P. the edge, though.  This is creepy stuff, and I'm especially taken with the author's notion of trees that sway even when there is no wind blowing.  That's good stuff, that is.

"The Descendant"
(published posthumously 1938)
This four-page story fragment deals with a young man who purchases -- for what seems like entirely too reasonable a price -- a copy of the Necronomicon (which, as you know, was written by the mad Arab Abdul Alhazred).  It seems to have been a promising piece of work, but Lovecraft abandoned it.

I couldn't find a decent image to represent it, so here is this shameful fucking travesty:

This comes from something called catthulhu.com, and while I don't wish to mock anyone's fandom, I find that life is often filled with things one wishes not to do.  As Al Swearengen might say, that's what life is: one vile fucking task after the next.  And so while I might not wish to mock anyone's fandom, I will step the fuck up and mock it severely when the occasion seems to call for it.  Such as now!  So while it's nice that you young ladies have discovered the allure of dressing in black and not going outside, can't you just watch Twilight like other girls?  Do your kind no longer listen to Type O Negative and cut yourselves for fun?  MUST you get your simpering little hands all over Cthulhu and turn him into a cheap toy?  Well, when and if he wakes from his slumber in R'lyeh, you'll regret these actions...and many others, too, oh yes.

"The Very Old Folk"
(written 1927, published posthumously 1940)
This brief story is in the form of a letter written by a Roman soldier to a friend.  He tells his friend about a dream he has had in which he and some other soldiers are sent to wipe out a band of "very old folk" living in the hills.  These folk apparently perform malicious rituals during the Sabbath, and need to be put to an end.

Things don't exactly pan out that way.  But since it was a dream anyways, does it matter?

Beats me.  The story is not one of Lovecraft's better works, and it apparently was itself merely an excerpt from a letter he wrote to his friend Donald Wandrei!

Ah, the old days.  People were so classy that they wrote letters long enough to contain a short story within them.

I couldn't find any decent images to represent this story, but Google immediately offered up a naked girl dressed as a night-gaunt.  I don't traffic in NSFW images, so you're on you own there.  I will, however, include a safe-for-work GIF which has seemingly hypnotized me.

This ain't got nothin' to do with Lovecraft, unless it's set in Ulthar.

There's something going on here.  I'll keep staring at it for a while in the hopes of figuring it out...

"History of the Necronomicon"
(written 1927, published posthumously 1938)
Guys.  It was invented by H.P. Lovecraft.  Seriously.  Get over it.

This very brief story is on the order of an encyclopedia entry, detailing a bit about the book's origins and history.  It's enjoyable; and lest it seem like I'm purely a grump, I think it's fun that the Necronomicon has spread so far into popular culture.  The attempts to spread it beyond those confines and into mainstream culture, on the other hand, are lame.

"The Dunwich Horror"
(written 1928, published 1929)
I think that if I had to pick a favorite Lovecraft story, this'd be the one I picked.  Or possibly "The Call of Cthulhu," but if so, not by much.

This story relates the events surrounding the Whateley family of (the fictional) Dunwich, Massachusetts.  Old Whateley -- variably referred to as Wizard Whateley -- had a daughter, an albino named Lavinia.  Then, at some point, despite not being married (horrors!), Lavinia gave birth to a somewhat goat-faced baby, Wilbur.  Wilbur was a normal goatish-looking baby, except insofar as he began to walk at seven months and to talk not long after, and had a full beard and was six feet tall and was writing to librarians in Paris by the age of four.  You know, just trying to track down a copy of the Necronomicon; as you do when young, I guess.

That's only the beginning of the story.

I'm very impressed by the thrilling sense of dread Lovecraft conjures in this story.  He writes in a more straightforward style than has often been the case, employing what seems to be merely a third-person narrative.  Rather unusual for him, in some ways.  It works extremely well, though.

If you've ever seen the excellent 1956 sci-fi film Forbidden Planet, you might nod knowingly at some of "The Dunwich Horror" 's scenes of a building-sized invisible enemy roaming the countryside, devastating houses and terrifying livestock and villagers alike.

It was made into a Dean Stockwell movie in 1970.  One suspects a top-notch modern remake might join the upper echelons of horror cinema.  Get on it, Hollywood!

I've never seen this, but odds are decent that I'll have rectified that before I finish this post.  Will I remember to come back and update this caption if that transpires?  We shall see.  [Editor's note: I remembered.  But again, I'm going to opt not to address the movie at this time.]

(published posthumously 1938)
If you want a chance to read a short comedic piece by Lovecraft, well, here it is.  I won't explain beyond that.  It's not going to play to everyone, but I found it to be enjoyably droll.

And now, here is the strangest image that Googling "Lovecraft Ibid" produced for me:

A possibly-inadequate amount of research informs me that this is "Adulatori" by Peter Breughel.  I am going to think of it as "huh?!?" by "what the fuck?!?"

"The Whisperer in Darkness"
(written 1930, published 1931)
Here's another one which would make my list of essential Lovecraft stories.  In it, a professor at good old Miskatonic University (in Arkham, Mass.) is contacted out of the blue by a stranger who lives in the wilds of Vermont.  This stranger, Henry Akeley, has been following Professor Wilmarth's engagement in a debate in a newspaper's letters column.  The debate has to do with the alleged discovery of strange bodies in a river in Vermont, and of the assertions of locals that the bodies may be related to a race of monstrous inhumans living in the isolated hills.

The professor begins a steady correspondence with Akeley, who has much to say on the subject.

I find this story to be gripping.  Your mileage may vary, because there will come several points in the story at which you are apt to find yourself wondering why any rational person would do the thing(s) that Professor Wilmarth finds himself doing.  I'll grant you that a large buy-in is required to make this story's best moments work: it must come in the form of suspension of belief that your narrator must and would behave as you would in similar circumstances.  If you're willing and able to commit to that buy-in, you are in for a treat.

If you are not, you are more apt to find this to merely be a well-written and imaginative sci-fi story that bears very little logical scrutiny.

Me?  I'll buy in every time.  Much of Lovecraft's fiction works for me because of its willingness to say that even in extreme circumstances, the human mind is simply not cut out to truly believe that supernatural or extra-human things are afoot.  For a great many people, I am sure that that would absolutely be true.  And so I don't have a particularly difficult time lining myself up mentally with Wilmarth.

As I write this, Pluto -- which, under the name "Yuggoth," features very prominently in this tale -- has been in the news a great deal due to all the photos sent back of it and Charon by New Horizons.  Pluto was discovered in February of 1930, which is when Lovecraft began writing this story.  The mix of existential awe and dread he seems to have felt as a result of the discovery is palpable in its pages, and it was rewarding to revisit this story -- which I'd not read in several years -- at a time of peak interest in our solar system's outermost planet.  (Don't care that it technically isn't one; at The Truth Inside The Lie, Pluto has remained a planet.)

If you've a mind to, you can imagine that this image of Yuggoth Pluto is an eyeless face with a screaming and toothless mouth.  Have fun with that!

At the Mountains of Madness
(written 1931, published 1936)
This short novel is unquestionably one of the most popular and well-known of all Lovecraft's stories.  The question is: does it deserve that status?

Yep.  Sure does.

The setup: an Antarctic expedition discovers a previously-unknown range of mountains that is higher even than the Himalayas.  Then, improbably, they discover an even more astounding thing: long-buried bodies of a race of beings that must, based on surrounding evidence, have lived millions of years previous to mankind's emergence from the seas.

Guys, you've all seen The Thing, so you know how this sort of shit turns out.  The bodies prove to not really be all that dead, and so forth.  (My reference to The Thing was only somewhat appropriate; apart from the alien-buried-in-Arctic-wastes logline, there isn't much of similarity.)

The bulk of the story is taken up by a pair of scientists exploring a cave system within the mountains.  They find much of interest there, including six-foot-tall blind penguins, extensive carved murals depicting an entire pre-human history, shoggoths, and so forth.

It's all pretty great, really.  I suppose you could justifiably claim that it's "boring" and that "nothing happens," but if that's your take, we see things differently.

"The Shadow Over Innsmouth"
(written 1931, published 1936)
Wikipedia informs me that this story was the only thing Lovecraft wrote that was published in book format during his lifetime; and then only as a error-riddled 400-copy limited edition, half of the copies of which were destroyed before being bound.

This makes now as good a time as any to cover the sad fact of Lovecraft's failure in his own time.  He died at the age of 47 having only been published in magazines (many of them amateur publications), generally with no fanfare whatsoever.  He would almost certainly have considered himself a complete failure as an author.  Cut to decades down the line, and he is unquestionably one of the most revered supernatural-fantasy writers in the history of the world, and arguably one of the most revered American writers from his era regardless of genre considerations.  I find it be appallingly sad that there is no way to let Lovecraft know that he ended up becoming a big deal.

It's also sad that he didn't live another several decades, especially given that his writing seemed only to get stronger as he got older.  "The Shadow Over Innsmouth" is not by any means a perfect story, but it's a powerful and effective (if somewhat overlong) one; and its cumulative effect outweighs the sum of its constituent parts.

The story is about a student (and amateur antiquarian) who is touring New England.  He hears tell of a town that people avoid, and is intrigued.  He visits the place, despite being disgusted by the loathsome appearance of the resident who gives him a bus ride there; and is told much unbelievable history by a drunk nonagenarian who has witnessed it all.

The old drunk is observed in his tale-telling, and the student's bus ride out of town is canceled by suspicious engine trouble.  He'll have to spend the night in the hotel, and he may not be particularly safe.

There's more to it than that, but that's sufficient as a setup for our purposes.

Very good stuff; yet another essential tale from ol' Lovie.

Dunno if this is real or fake, but it's real creepy, and I ain't fakin' that.  I got it offen https://www.pinterest.com/pin/391320655101269266/.

"The Dreams in the Witch House"
(written 1932, published 1933)
A perusal of Wikipedia informs me that this story is generally considered to be a loser among Lovecraft's canon.  Lovecraft didn't like it; August Derleth (who sounds like a bit of a prick) didn't like it; S.T. Joshi doesn't like it.

Know who likes it?  Bryant Burnette likes it, by gum. Methinks Alan Moore likes it, too, judging from the use to which he put certain aspects of it in issue #5 of Providence.  Anything good enough for Bryant Burnette and Alan Moore is good enough for, um, me.  Probably.  (Although it's the "Alan Moore" in that equation that convinces me, not the "Bryant Burnette."  Yes, I know that's me.)

The story is about a mathematics student who becomes obsessed with strange geometry when he rents out a room in a boarding house that once housed an infamous witch.  The room can perhaps travel to other dimensions, or maybe that's just what it seems like when the sleeper within it dreams.  Yeah; yeah, I bet that's it, it's just dreams.

Like the dreams of the witch's familiar, Brown Jenkin, a ratlike creature with an all-too-human face and small human hands.  And say, do you think it means anything that the student is having dreams of a child being sacrificed?  There's one missing in town, but maybe it's just a coincidence...

I wouldn't necessarily rate this as top-flight Lovecraft on the level of "The Dunwich Horror" or "The Call of Cthulhu," but it's good nonetheless.

Might have to get me one of those.

"Through the Gates of the Silver Key"
(written with E. Hoffman Price 1932-33, published 1934)

The story behind the story this time out is that E. Hoffman Price, a pulp writer who was a contemporary and pen-pal of Lovecraft's, was a big fan of "The Silver Key."  He wrote a 6000-word first draft for a proposed sequel, which he sent to Lovecraft.  Lovecraft kept many of Price's concepts, but rewrote the story almost entirely, eventually producing a 14,000-word final draft.

The results don't seem to be all that well-thought-of by most Lovecraft fans, but I found it to be a blast.  Like some of the other Randolph Carter stories, it tends to be a bit impenetrable in places, but so what?  Pay attention, and you'll get it.  Whether you'll be entertained is another matter; I was, because I found its trippy sense of super-cosmic scale to be invigorating.  If you have less tolerance for that sort of science-fictional conceit than I have, you may find yourself bored to tears.

I, however, found it to be a worthy ending to the Randolph Carter saga.

One issue I'd like to bring up: toward the end of the story, a character uses the word "nigger" as a direct pejorative several times.  We've touched on Lovecraft's racism elsewhere, but in this story it is much more emphatic, and is more likely to be perceived as offensive by modern readers.

Is it offensive, though?  I'd point out that Lovecraft uses the word here in a manner not at all unlike the way Stephen King uses the word to this day: he is putting it in the mouth of a character the reader is expected to dislike.  In other words, "Through the Gates of the Silver Key" could arguably be seen as a turning point for Lovecraft, one in which the xenophobic tension of his previous career is resolved somewhat (you'll have to read the story for specifics on how that happens) and in which the bigoted character is suddenly an antagonist and not a protagonist.

This illustration by Jason Thompson comes from http://mockman.com/2012/06/27/lovecraft-sketch-mwf-through-the-gates-of-the-silver-key/.  Lots of good stuff to check out on that site.

"The Thing on the Doorstep"
(written 1933, published 1937)
In which the narrator's best friend gets married to a woman considerably his junior.  As it turns out, she's a sorceress who is attempting to take over his body so that she can live as a man and really stir some shit up.

Here's another Lovecraft tale that seems to be generally disliked.  I don't get it; why?  As I believe I've said several time now, I wouldn't rank this in the upper echelon of his works, but is it good?  Why, certainly it is.  It has a very memorable conclusion, and also has a great hooker of a first line: "It is true that I have sent six bullets through the head of my best friend, and yet I hope to shew by this statement that I am not his murderer."  If that doesn't get you to keep reading, I don't know what would.

This story also (arguably) contains Lovecraft's only notable female character.  I don't think I'd consciously taken notice of how bereft of women Lovecraft's work is until Asenath showed up in this story, at which point I mentally hollered "It's a girl!!!"  It's a flaw in his work, one which would not fly in 2015; but let's remember that the thirties were very much not 2015.

Art by Mark Foster, image stolen from http://hplovecraftart.blogspot.co.uk/2014/07/asenath-waite.html.

"The Evil Clergyman"
(written 1933, published posthumously 1939)
This brief story, so Wikipedia informs me, was actually an excerpt from a letter from Lovecraft to a friend wherein he described a dream he had had.  It was published in Weird Tales posthumously.  If it seems rushed and ill-formed, it's because it was only intended to serve an audience of one.  Lovecraft might have had plans to revise and elaborate upon it, but he never did so; and as such, this should probably be considered only to be a story fragment, not a full-fledged story.

This actually exists.  Read more about it here.

"The Book"
(published posthumously 1938)
Speaking of unfinished story fragments, here's another; but this one is even more fragmentary than "The Evil Clergyman," and despite the fact that I read it only a half-hour ago, I already remember nothing about it.  I think there was a book in it, but I'm not even sure of that.

"The Shadow Out of Time"
(written 1934-35, published 1936)
Probably THE most cosmic of Lovecraft's cosmic-horror stories, "The Shadow Out of Time" is a marvelous info-dump masquerading as a novella.  Your enjoyment will hinge entirely upon whether or not you care enough about Lovecraft's overarching mythos to engage with the material on that level.  If you can, you're in for a real treat; if you can't, you may find this to be about ten pages' worth of story expanded by means of forty pages' worth of exposition.

By now, I suspect you know which camp I'm in; but, just in case, let me formalize it: I was riveted.  Lovecraft, here, is ambitious to an almost ridiculous degree.  He has, previously in his fiction (particularly At the Mountains of Madness), written of the idea that mankind is not only THE singular master of Earth, but that there was a race on the planet that was already unspeakably old prior to mankind evolving beyond the stage of simple organisms in the oceans.

In "The Shadow Out of Time," he writes of another race that is almost immeasurably more ancient and powerful than even that.  This story comes close to encompassing the entirety of the universe; it is compelling stuff indeed.

The story wrapped around all of this is one of an economics professor who loses consciousness and falls into a coma one day in the middle of a lecture.  When he wakes again, he is . . . not himself.  Years pass, and he eventually regains his original consciousness; when he does so, he comes to by resuming the hastily-abandoned lecture he'd begun years before, as if no time had passed at all.  In the style of Randolph Carter, he begins a series of most peculiar dreams and he eventually begins trying to find out what he -- his body, at least -- had been doing all those lost years.

One admirable element of this story specifically and Lovecraft's body of work overall is how incredibly alien the aliens are.  I'm in the midst of a rewatch of Star trek: The Next Generation, and I love that show, but doggone it, sometimes you want your aliens to not speak English and look totally human apart from having knobby foreheads.  Lovecraft won't give you any of them shenanigans; his aliens are as alien as it gets.  Sometimes they're so alien that even other aliens have trouble comprehending what they're seeing, which is pretty cool if you ask me.

Lovecraft is generally thought of as a horror writer, but the truth is that he wrote a LOT of science fiction, too; and while he didn't write hard-sci-fi per se, his concepts do have very grand scientific implications.  He probably ought to get more credit for that element of his work.

Wouldn't you love to have a copy of that?  Me, too.

"The Haunter of the Dark"
(written 1935, published 1936)
Here's an interesting case: Lovecraft's final story.  It wasn't his final one to be published, but it is the final completed work that he wrote, so far as anyone knows.

Interestingly, it is a quasi-sequel to a Robert Bloch short story called "The Shambler from the Stars."  I've never read that story, but it's in a collection of Lovecraft-inspired tales that I own, which means I'll be getting to it pretty soon.  I wish I had read it prior to reading "The Haunter of the Dark," though,  Ah, well; whatcha gonna do?

For Lovecraft's final tale, he returned for the umpteenth time to the notion of a dude finding a bunch of dusty old books that represent all (or much) of the "hidden" and/or "forbidden" occult knowledge of mankind.  It's the usual suspects: the Necronomicon, De Vermis Mysteriis, Unaussprechlichen Kulten, and so forth.  ANYONE writing a Lovecraft parody or pastiche would be obligated on a near-legal level to include such a scene.

Anyone criticizing the man's work could surely use that as a starting point, but it never bothered me, despite its happening what seems like three dozen times over the course of the 1100-page collection this post reviews.  Is it an overused device?  Yeah, sure.  But it creates a continuity of experience, too; it hints that the world is near to brimming over with cosmic horrors of a varied-but-also-specific variety.  It's a device, but it's also a worldview.

Anyways, in this final tale -- which is effective and well-written -- a writer of weird tales becomes obsessed by a long-abandoned church where terrible things happened.  Guess what?  A few more terrible things happen soon thereafter.

The story is somewhat unusual for Lovecraft in that it contains both melancholy and humor, qualities not overabundant in his work.  The beginning of the story contains a feeling of bittersweet reflectiveness that made me wonder if maybe Lovecraft didn't have some premonition that he would be passing soon; the remainder of the story failed to reinforce that notion for me, so it was probably just my imagination.

It's also got a sense of humor, particularly in a set of titles to stories written by the fictional protagonist: "The Burrowers Beneath," "The Stairs in the Crypt," and so forth.  Very droll, good sir; very droll.

It's a perfectly good -- and thoroughly Lovecraftian -- story, which means that it works fairly well as a career-capper.  I don't think most people would call it a masterpiece, but it finds H.P. doing what he did well, and stretching himself just a bit for good measure.

We shall now have a look at the Marvel Comics adaptation of the story, which appeared in the April 1973 fourth issue of Journey Into Mystery.  Enjoy that, and then I'll be back briefly to wrap things up:

Don't sue me, Marvel!

God almighty, is there any echo of the past more echoey than comic-book advertisements?

Gene Colan!  Damn right.  Colan is a comics legend who (among other achievements) co-created Blade with the delightfully-named Marv Wolfman.

I mean, if you can, always buy below wholesale.  Also, has anyone written a book about BOYS selling GRIT and making the astonishing wage of $6 per week?  If so, why the fuck not?

A few pages ago they were trying to lure young boys into selling Grit.  Now, they are trying to find guys to be drafters.  That's a heck of a demographic this comic must have been reaching in 1973.

Oh, my.  Now they want to teach you karate and sell you a replica German soldier helmet.  This is the sort of thing the acronym "WTF" was made for.

Sorry this is all sideways and stuff.

And thus our review of the Knickerbocker edition of The Complete Fiction of H.P. Lovecraft comes to a conclusion: with me illegally posting a Marvel comic and snarking about the ads.

It's been fun plowing my way through this book.  It's taken several months, but it's been time well spent.

I've got more to say than that, but this post is already overlong to the point of desperation, so I'll say adieu until part two rolls around.

art by Antonio Caparo

See you then!  At which point in time I'll explain to you how it is that The Complete Fiction of H.P. Lovecraft does not in fact include the complete fiction of H.P. Lovecraft.  It doesn't even get all that close, really.

I know...!  Sadly (for you; happily for me), I've got a whole 'nother book to read first before we'll get to that.  But it won't be too long a wait.

So see you then.


  1. It's these projects one moves along slowly but surely, advancing it inevitably to completion, that are the most satisfying.

    I look forward to making my way through this. I've bookmarked it and will add it to my morning ritual until I get all the way through. I've never read word one of Lovecraft and have the exact same introduction (Alan Moore, although as a Rhode Islander I'd heard of him long before that, I just didn't know his work/ouevre very well). One can't say enough about Neonomicon.

    I haven't read Providence yet. I'll have to double back to that one. I've got Sandman Overture in queue as well.

    1. "It's these projects one moves along slowly but surely, advancing it inevitably to completion, that are the most satisfying." -- Brother, ain't that the truth! Can you imagine how that must feel if you are, say, Stephen King finishing "The Dark Tower"? The mind reels.

      "One can't say enough about Neonomicon." -- I'm fighting the urge to cap this series of posts with a hell-in-depth look at Moore's Lovecraftian work. I'm undecided as to whether this will actually happen, but I certainly want to do it.

    2. I love that Journey Into Mystery adaptation. Gene Colan seems well-suited to the material.

      This was a great overview of stories I've never read but all (practically all) sound like they'd be right up my alley. I've got a shelf worth of late Victorian ghost stories by MR James and other luminaries, most of which I've never read. I've got to add Lovecraft to this shelf one of these days.

      There are a few topics/ authors I'm deliberately keeping at arm's length as I know I'll get into them to the point of crowding out all other interests: the War Between the States, John Steinbeck, and Lovecraft.

      "Anything good enough for Bryant Burnette and Alan Moore is good enough for, um, me. Probably."

      Using your criteria of only employing the term when it describes the literal truth, I LOL, sir.

      That story sounds pretty cool to me, as well.

      I think my first intro to Lovecraft (if it wasn't my older brother) was Iron Maiden. If it wasn't those guys, though (Up the Irons!) it was "Jerusalem's Lot." Somewhere around here, too, I discovered "Ride the Lightning," which had the Chtulhu song. I think that's where it plateau'd until Alan Moore came into my life.

      Like Doctor Who, I've found the popularity of Lovecraft has really skyrocketed in recent years. Hardcore genre-fans have always carried torches, of course, and maybe it's just the advent of memes and social media, but sheesh: somewhere along the way, people whom I KNOW have nothing more than superficial interest in ANYTHING are posting Chthulu-and/or-TimeLord memes. Strange days have found us.

    3. "There are a few topics/ authors I'm deliberately keeping at arm's length as I know I'll get into them to the point of crowding out all other interests" -- I certainly sympathize with you there. It comes with the territory of being interested in things, I guess.

      The Cthulhu thing and the Doctor Who thing do seem similar in some ways. I think the Cthulhu thing is attributable almost entirely to cons -- you can buy snarky Cthulhu t-shirts, and cute Cthulhu plush dolls. Oh, and I guess there's a hugely popular RPG. But I'm not sure any of that reflects Lovecraft's actual work. I guess it's better than nothing, though; you've got to figure that even if 100% of those fans are discovering he exists for the "wrong" reasons, __% of them then end up remaining fans for the "right" reasons. So even if you buy into notions of right/wrong when it comes to fandom (as I certainly do, even though it makes me feel guilty), it's a net win for Lovecraft.

      As for "Doctor Who," it's all about David Tennant and Matt Smith. Most Who fans, so far as I can tell, have no sense of the show's history prior to 2005 or so. Which is fine; the new series doesn't demand it of them, no should it.

      "That story sounds pretty cool to me, as well." -- Well, sir, then I'm declaring it officially: it's cool.

    4. I'm sorry, I gotta say, I'm one of those who is irritated that people only started caring about Doctor Who when he started being played by "cute" actors. It does seem like ratings have fallen since Peter Capaldi took over, and that just proves that there were people who were only watching because they found Tennant or Smith attractive.

      Doctor Who has a fascinating mythos, and though the series may be older than I by over a decade, I own, and have watched, numerous adventures of each Doctor.

    5. I think of Whovians of that sort as tourists. (I stole that usage of the word from someone, but I don't know who.) Whereas fans like you are residents.

      I'm somewhere inbetween. I'd heard of "Doctor Who" my whole life, but never saw any until the Paul McGann movie, which I didn't like. But when the Eccleston series began airing on Sci-Fi, I watched it and liked it. After a couple of seasons, I got curious about the older stuff, so I bought a Hartnell box set, liked it, and then started Netflixing everything else I could get.

      At the same time, I never quite managed to fall in love with it. I enjoy most of it, and appreciate its status, but I don't have the connection to it that I have for other shows of the genre.

      I like Capaldi just fine, but have only seen the first episode of the current season. I disliked it intensely, and while I'll get caught up eventually, I'm in no rush to do so.

    6. Yeah, count me as a resident.

      I first discovered Doctor Who in the late 80's. I'm pretty sure Sylvester McCoy was already the concurrent Doctor, but my local station was, at the time, airing the Colin Baker era. I had no idea the Doctor had ever been played by anyone else. I saw books at the book store that were supposedly about Doctor Who, but had pictures of some guy that "didn't look anything like the Doctor". I was stunned when they started airing Peter Davison episodes, and I kept wondering how they expected us to believe this was the same character when he was played by an actor who looked nothing like the "last guy" (I had no idea Davison came first).

      Over the years, I learned more about the series, including the fact that there were several Doctors I'd never even seen, but like you, my first "full episode" was the TV movie. At the time, I liked it.

      Once the 2005 series started, I figured I'd better learn about what came before and today I am a confirmed Whovian.

    7. Who's (pardon the pun) your favorite?

    8. Tom Baker, unquestionably. He is the man who embodies the qualities I think the Doctor should have; intelligence, arrogance, a touch of madness, eccentricity, and above all, compassion. Of the new Doctors, I think Smith and Capaldi have come closest to embodying all of that.

      While I think all the actors chosen to play the Doctor have done an amazing job, I wasn't always a fan of the way the Doctor was written. David Tennant is a very good actor, and he was a lot of fun to watch. But his Doctor was too selfish, self-indulgent, and his era was marred by too much will-they-or-won't-they between him and his companions. There was some of that with Smith and Clara as well, which is why I was so glad to see that tossed out the window when Capaldi came on board.

    9. T. Baker is my favorite, too. Although Eccleston comes close, since he's the guy who got me onboard the whole thing.

  2. My comment was eaten, so I'm trying again:

    I sympathize with you on the reader's block. I went through a bout of it myself recently, and for some reason, all I could read was nonfiction. Novels kept inducing a kind of attention span-related panic: who were these people? why should I care about them? I'm back to my usual reading habits now, thank God, but it was an unpleasant and stressful time. I'm glad you had the Lovecraft project to (partly) help you through it.

    This kind of colossal project is always fun to read about (witness my weakness for all those gimmicky blog-turned-books about people doing something exceptionally strange for a year), and I greatly enjoyed your commentary and the accompanying illustrations. Lovecraft's writing has always attracted some really exceptional art.

    I have a great affection for Lovecraftian pastiche/homage, especially of the nameless cosmic horror variety (getting into the detailed specifics of his mythos always seems to lessen the fear a little or me--it tilts the horror more towards fantasy, where the world-building can be understood, even though the stories are still terrifying, but that's very much a personal taste kind of thing). There have been some good ones lately: S. T. Joshi's Black Wings books, Ellen Datlow's Lovecraft's Monsters and Lovecraft Unbound (only 99 cents on Kindle right now), and Paula Guran's New Cthulu. I own the last one and can e-lend it out if anyone's interested: it's a strong reprint collection with some really great, eerie stories.

    1. "My comment was eaten, so I'm trying again" -- Sorry about that, Zoe! It's happened to me many times, so many that I've gotten to the point where I never hit post on a comment without copying the entire thing. That way, if it gets lost, I can paste it in again and give it another try.

      " I went through a bout of it myself recently, and for some reason, all I could read was nonfiction. Novels kept inducing a kind of attention span-related panic: who were these people? why should I care about them? I'm back to my usual reading habits now, thank God, but it was an unpleasant and stressful time." -- Well, I'm sorry for you, but glad to find that it isn't just me who has occasional issues like that. I've never had that particular struggle, but I've had the inverse wherein I find it nearly impossible to read nonfiction. Humans are so weird.

      "Lovecraft's writing has always attracted some really exceptional art." -- I forced myself to not fall into any number of rabbit holes when doing the research for this, but I'm sure that eventually I'm going to circle back and jump into them willingly.

      "getting into the detailed specifics of his mythos always seems to lessen the fear a little or me--it tilts the horror more towards fantasy, where the world-building can be understood, even though the stories are still terrifying" -- That's very true. Even Lovecraft could be said to be guilty of over-exploring the mythos in that fashion with a few of his stories ("Through the Gates of the Silver Key" and "The Shadow Out of Time," for example).

      I've only read a few Lovecraft pastiches, but that's an area I'm considering exploring for a while when I reach the end of this series. I've got two Lovecraftian collections which I've owned for YEARS and have yet to read, so at the very least I am going to check those out. I'm bookmarking those you've mentioned, so when and if I descend into this thing all the way, I'll pick all of them up. (I also want to get "The Starry Wisdom," a collection in which Alan Moore's prose shorty story "The Courtyard" appeared. It was later adapted as a comic, and "Neonomicon" is its sequel.) Thanks for the recommendations!

    2. I also know about Reader's Block. I suffer from it constantly. In my case, what it does is make me go to sleep.

      I'll start reading, and almost instantly I feel the desire for a nap steal over me. I keep going, and my eyes forcibly close themselves. I give my head a shake, stand up and walk around for a while, if that's an option, then back to the book. Sleeeeeeep...

      Even worse, sometimes it's just a case of impatience. I read a lot of series, and I have a bad habit of buying in bulk. I get really excited about a new series I just got, and despite the fact that I haven't finished the one I'm on, I'll skip to the next one. And then the next next one.

      I'm forcing myself not to do that for my Stephen King re-read, and oddly enough, it's not all that hard so far. Maybe it's because most of his novels, though they build a larger mythos, are self-contained.

    3. All that sounds familiar, although I'm much more likely to be attacked by a Nap Monster if I'm watching tv than if I'm reading. The impatience thing also rings a lot of bells; in my case, I think it's simply the desire to do EVERYTHING, whereas time simply does not permit it.

      Interesting that King isn't hitting you that way.

  3. Reader's block, huh? I wish I had that problem! Mine is more of the classic Henry Bemis "no time to read" variety. I just want to sit down, shut myself deep inside a book, but people keep insisting I participate in life! Life's fine, but when am I going to get to read all this stuff??

    Just an excellent post, really enjoyed it. For all his faults, there's no writer with a more impressive lore than Lovecraft, whose influence is, to borrow one of his favorite adjectives, cyclopean (wait, does that mean "giant" or having only one eye? This is why I'm no Lovecraft.) I just finished studying and writing about Pickman's Model, which I agree is one of his best.

    First time I saw Lovecraft was at my uncle's, the man who got me into Stephen King. After my uncle passed away, I inherited his collection of stories which I return to constantly, though typically as a casual reader - whenever I hear something like Dan O'Bannon loved The Outsider, I flip to it and give it a read. For my money, it's hard to beat The Colour Out of Space. Have you read Michael Shea's sequel, The Color Out of Time? It's pretty great.

    Hope you enjoyed Re-Animator. If you did, I can't recommend From Beyond enough - I like it even better, it's one of my all-time favorite horror movies. I like all the Stuart Gordon Lovecraft adaptations: Castle Freak, Dagon and Dreams in the Witch House (one of the Masters of Horror episodes that was actually good). But you know I had NEVER heard of Evil Clergyman! And I'm meeting Barbara Crampton at a horror convention this weekend, I better track it down quick, thanks for clueing me in!

    1. Well, when I don't have reader's block, I've got that same thing: a screaming urge to read ALL the books. And see ALL the movies. And listen to ALL the music. And somehow find the time to take up gaming. Probably ought to exercise on occasion, too. If I ever crack the code on how to have a life and get all that stuff done at the same time, I'll let you know. For a modest fee, of course... ;)

      I *think* Lovecraft uses "cyclopean" to denote "huge," but I could be wrong about that.

      Re.: Dan O'Bannon. Yeah, somehow it doesn't surprise me that he was a Lovecraft fan. "Alien" is practically oozing Lovecraft; it's probably no mistake. I'm not as well-versed in O'Bannon as I'd like to be. I've never seen "Return of the Living Dead," for example (though I plan to fix that this month). Have you ever seen his film "The Resurrected"? I have not, but it's based on "The Case of Charles Dexeter Ward," and is generally well-thought-of.

      I did enjoy "Re-Animator." "Bride of Re-Animator," not so much. Or at all, really. But the first one is fun. All those other Gordon movies you mention are on my Halloween-season viewing wishlist, so hopefully I'll be able to make a good deep dent in it.

    2. I watched "From Beyond" last night. I thought it was a lot of fun.

  4. Yeah, the Re-Animator sequels are garbage. Stuart Gordon is the key to its greatness and without him it's just not there.

    Saw Resurrected a few years ago - sadly, it's not as great as you'd imagine an O'Bannon take on Lovecraft to be. Certainly not as fun as Return of the Living Dead, or Dead and Buried for that matter. Plus I remember there being budgetary issues. But worth seeing.

    I'm sure it would be a long way down the line, but I'll be looking out for your cyclopean list of worst-to-best Lovecraft movies sometime in the future! I've never heard anyone say anything about 1987's The Curse (an adaptation of Colour Out of Space) one way or another. Guess you'd have a controversy on your hands whether to include movies that aren't straight-up adaptations but are clearly inspired by H.P.

    1. I hadn't considered writing a post ranking Lovecraft (or Lovecraftian) films, but it's an idea that appeals to me. I'll certainly need to see a few more of them first, though.

    2. Definitely do From Beyond first! Terrible movie, but, like Return to Salem's Lot (and absorbed in the same window of time in my life) I've a soft spot.

    3. I'd hoped to plow my way through most of them in the weeks leading up to Halloween, but it never happened. It's on the back-burner for now, but not all that far back.

    4. Having now seen "From Beyond," I don't think I'd go so far as to say it's terrible. It's certainly SOMETHING, though. The comparison to "A Return to Salem's Lot" makes sense, because they do both occupy that trash-cinema space. But I'd put "From Beyond" a notch or three above "A Return to Salem's Lot" because I think there's some interesting stuff going on beneath the surface.

  5. Having never read any Lovecraft before, this really has me interested. Once I've finished my Dark Tower reading I just may pick up a Lovecraft best of. thanks for including all the covers/art/pictures as well - there really is some great book covers out there! I'm gonna go back through and save some.
    It seems readers block is fairly common too. I read a lot but sometimes I'll have a whole year where I only manage a few. Nothing worse than realising that you've somehow read a couple of pages without actually taking anything in. It's like your eyes are going through the motions while your brain thinks of something else.
    Looking forward to part 2!
    I also haven't read(heard of) Alan Moore. Not really familiar with comics except some batman/spiderman/x-men and Mad magazine when I was a kid. Any suggestions of where to start with Moore?

    1. There are several Alan Moore works that you could go with as an introduction. For horror fans, it would be hard to beat "From Hell," his take on the Jack the Ripper story. It's GREAT. People (including me) use the word "great" all the time when it arguably doesn't apply, but in the case of "From Hell," it applies. It's a very thick book, though, so it is a substantial time investment.

      For superhero stuff, "Watchmen" is probably the one to go with. It also is the not-at-all-exaggerated sort of great.

      For something that is sort of a dystopian sci-fi story, there's "V For Vendetta," which is very good. I'm not quite as huge a fan of that one as a lot of Moore aficionados are, but it's certainly worth reading.

      You could also go with "Neonomicon," which is awful in all the right ways and could serve as an introduction to Lovecraft, in a way. It benefits from having a knowledge of Lovecraft going into it, but I don't think it's necessary; it's an enhancement, not a requirement.

      So I'd pick one of those, if I were you.

      Part 2 of the Lovecraft post will hopefully be out before Halloween, by the way. Thanks for reading this one!

    2. Thanks for the suggestions, I've done a bit of research and can't believe i'd never heard his name. it looks like "from hell" is what I'm choosing, after King and some lovecraft.
      man, I wish there were more days in the year.

    3. Me too. If you figure out how to get 'em, sling a few my way!

  6. Not gonna lie, I was really excited to see a new post, and kinda bummed that it wasn't King-related, and since it's super-long, I haven't read all of it. I do understand the reader's block, though. I think about all the things I want to do, and as much as I love books and movies, I don't want to neglect family, friends, work, and all the great stuff there is to be experienced out there, so there's just not enough to time to get to all of it even if nothing new came out for the remainder of my life. There is plenty that is worthwhile out there, and time truly is the most precious currency.

    Having said that, I'm about two-thirds of the way through Danse Macabre. I'm not sure I'd rate it quite as highly as you, but that's not really due to any failing of its own, but rather because it's so outdated, including only the horror books, movies and TV through about 1980. In a perfect world, there would be a way to snap our fingers and have another 200 pages or so including a thorough King critique of The Ring, and The Walking Dead, and so on.

    1. "I was really excited to see a new post, and kinda bummed that it wasn't King-related" -- I feel your disappointment, and plead guilty to causing it. But have no fear; there's a new King-related post on the way before Halloween, and after I've finished off this Lovecraft series, I'm planning to dive back feet-first into writing about King. What I haven't decided yet is whether I want to do that with a long series of posts about each story in "The Bazaar of Bad Dreams," or if I want to put that one off for a while and (A) return to and finish my "Needful Things" posts or (B) go back and deal with "Revival" and "Finders Keepers" first. Or both of those.

      Regardless, whatever ends up happening, it'll be directly King-centric in a big way.

      Regarding "Danse Macabre," man, I do wish that he'd write a sequel. I might be even more excited if Joe Hill would write the sequel; that'd have poetry to the very idea.

      I hear what you're saying about it being outdated. It probably is best considered as a historical document at this point, but I think it's an exceptional example of that.

      "There is plenty that is worthwhile out there, and time truly is the most precious currency." -- Speaking of poetry...

      It's totally true, of course. I've been really feeling that for the past year or so, which may or may not have something to do with turning 40. I'm not an age-focused person; in many ways, I still feel like I'm 20. But I've had a hell of a time finding the right balance among my interests, my friendships (some of which I've neglected pretty badly), my job, etc. Plus, in my case, I really need to set all of that to the side and focus on losing weight; can't read Stephen King books from six feet under, after all. I don't think that's an issue, but it will be if I keep heading down this particular road.

      Ah, well. I don't have to worry about being kidnapped and beheaded (for now), so who am I to complain about anything?

    2. Well, my vote would be Revival and Finders Keepers first, since I've seen almost nothing about them and they've been out several months, and the Needful Things thread sounds interesting. I thought that was a terrific book, but it never seems to get much love as a classic, and I think it's deserving. I'll have to search for what you've already written on it; I was unaware you'd devoted entire posts to it.

      I turned 36 in August, so I'm right there with you. Including a desire for weight loss, without the desire to watch what I eat, unless it's to watch it disappear down my throat. Good luck with that.

    3. Yeah, I had a series on "Needful Things" going around this time last year. I made it through the entirety of the novel, and had a (if I do say so myself) rather good review of the movie going. Then shit jumped up, and I just didn't finish it. It bothers me that I didn't, so I'd like to get back to that, and also do my final planned post, a review of the King-narrated audiobook.

      I might work on those first, but I think I'm more likely to do a full post on "Revival" and then one or two on "Finders Keepers."

      Thanks for the input!

      As for the other thing, I ate some fried chicken right before leaving this comment. So...yeah...maybe next year. ;)

    4. I'm in the same boat, nearly 38 and quite overweight, though other than a bad back and knees I don't seem to be affected by it. The knees, for that matter, are more likely to be from a few bad falls on ice last winter, where they took the full hit all three times.

      Is it bad that I have no desire to read King's non-fiction? I mean, I understand it's pretty damn good, but I deliberately excluded it from my re-read and I just can't get interested in that aspect of his writing at all.

    5. Falls on ice can't be good for much of anything, unless it;s unlocking your dormant ability to see other peoples' futures. If you go to any Presidential rallies, do your best to shake their hands!

      I wouldn't say it's bad that you don't want to read King's nonfiction. I think you are probably in majority company among King fans with that sentiment. It all depends on what you're into his work for; for me, it's the voice so much as anything else, so I'd read almost literally anything he wrote. And you can probably scratch the "almost" from that sentence.

  7. Readers Block. I have to say that strikes me as a somehow more frightening concept than anything Lovecraft or King can come up with (although this is not to know the long since discovered talents of either authors). As a longtime bookworm since about the age of 7 I can imagine no worse outcome than to one day open, say, one of my favorite volumes and...discover that every last ounce of enthusiasm has either dried up, or else just plain doesn't exist anymore.

    I think if the day comes when that ever happens it'll prove more that there is something "very wrong" with me than I'm not even aware, more than a comment on the quality of the great majority of the books I own.

    Great to see things picking up around here. As for Lovecraft, while I haven't been around him for a while, this post has given me an excuse to pick him up again, thanks.

    Speaking of which, I've seen at least two (yes, two!) films made by the HPL Historical Society, one of which seems pretty good, and the second is at least a decent try.

    The two stories are "Call of Cthulhu":


    And the Whisperer in Darkness:


    The Website containing links to both films can be found here:

    Main Site:


    Film links:


    Both films are now available on Amazon (or at least they were last I checked), but they can also be order from the HPLHS site itself.

    As for the stories in this post, I actually own a copy of the same Del Rey Books version of "Dream Quest", complete with intro by Lin Carter (how cool is that!). I'm still working my way through it, but so far its been a blast. Along with the influence of Dunsany, another name I think hearing raised in connection with the Dream Cycle is a Scottish writer named George MacDonald. What's "may" be of note here is that another one time fan of MacDonald went by the name of J.R.R. Tolkien, who was supposed to be famous for running some kinda jewelry factory or some damn thing? I dunno maybe it'll come to me.

    However you have to admit, the idea that there might be a writer who connects Lovecraft to Tolkien just sounds way cool.

    To be concluded.


    1. Concluded from above.

      As for Lovecraft's racism, I've given it some thought and I came to a sort of funny conclusion. Sadly, I think he did display a lot of the prejudices of the Post-Civil War Era, however, without letting such things off the (red, har!) hook, I think it needs to be seen in terms of other elements in his life, such as the history of illness in his family. His first biographer, L. Sprague De Camp labeled Lovecraft as a "Borderline" personality, yet theorizes that he did begin to improve near the end of his life. One thing I do know, I think I pointed this out before, is how another way of looking at both his racism and cosmicism is in relation not just to ethnicities, but also his relation to religion/philosophy itself.

      You mention how he writes narrators who seem "unable to grasp reality". Well, my theory is, what if this motif reflects Lovecraft's paranoid reaction to both philosophy, as a well as his fellow man? What if, in other words, the Necronomicon, Al-Hazred, and the Cthulhu cultists are all in some way Lovecraft's attempts to somehow "grasp" those elements of reality that most people take for granted, and yet, because he seems to have led such a sheltered life, the most common aspects of life take a fearful, paranoid aspect? As such, it could be argued that all Lovecraft's fiction centers around three recurring personal fears for him: race, belief, imagination (possibly due to his awareness of family instability). With the Dream Cycle and a few other tales, Lovecraft could (conceivably, at least) be seen as trying to work these issues, like you say.

      I don't know, that's just one way of looking at it.

      One thing I will say about Lovecraft as a writer is his way of somehow getting under one's skin and making it crawl. For instance, I heard this radio adaptation of "Colour" not long ago, and even though nothing all that grotesque is described, I came away feeling sick to my stomach.


      I don;t know how the hell that happened, the story just seemed to do that all by itself. Weird!


    2. Lots of great stuff in these comments, Chris; let me try to tackle things one at a time:

      "As a longtime bookworm since about the age of 7 I can imagine no worse outcome than to one day open, say, one of my favorite volumes and...discover that every last ounce of enthusiasm has either dried up, or else just plain doesn't exist anymore." -- Right?!? That's not what's happening in my case. In my case, I'm beginning to wonder if I mightn't have developed a touch of ADD. I'm going to keep working the problem for a while and see what happens; I suspect it's long-term ongoing lack of sleep as much as anything else.

      "Great to see things picking up around here." -- Indeed! For me, too.

      "Speaking of which, I've seen at least two (yes, two!) films made by the HPL Historical Society, one of which seems pretty good, and the second is at least a decent try." -- I've seen the Cthulhu one, and I enjoyed it both as a Lovecraft adaptation and as a loving tribute to silent-era moviemaking. I hope to see more of what the HPLHS has done soon.

      "I actually own a copy of the same Del Rey Books version of "Dream Quest", complete with intro by Lin Carter (how cool is that!)." -- VERY cool. In fact, your comment spurred me to get onto Amazon and find a used copy of my own.

      "J.R.R. Tolkien, who was supposed to be famous for running some kinda jewelry factory or some damn thing? I dunno maybe it'll come to me." -- I believe he was an actor on that show Dallas in the eighties. Don't quote me on it, though.

      "However you have to admit, the idea that there might be a writer who connects Lovecraft to Tolkien just sounds way cool." -- It does, which means I'd like to check MacDonald out at some point. I actually found myself thinking of Tolkien several times while reading my way through Lovecraft; he doesn't go into quite AS deep an achievement in world-building as Tolkien did, but he makes a pretty solid run at it.

      "I think it needs to be seen in terms of other elements in his life, such as the history of illness in his family." -- That's a great point! I had not thought of it, but it makes sense.

    3. "One thing I do know, I think I pointed this out before, is how another way of looking at both his racism and cosmicism is in relation not just to ethnicities, but also his relation to religion/philosophy itself." -- In some ways, you could view his fiction as examples of the process of a worldview defining itself. At many points, he views "outsiders" (those are racially distinct, up to and including being aliens or monsters from other worlds and dimensions) as being inherently lesser than himself and his own race. But there are other times when he makes it clear that his philosophies can include other races, and that his fear of outsiders may be based more on perceived behavior than on any inherent qualities. I'm not sure the tension ever gets fully resolved in his fiction; but toward the end of his career, he does SEEM to be more open-minded, at least in a metaphorical sense. It's a very interesting subject, and while I can understand people being exasperated or offended by it, I found myself very engaged by it.

      "As such, it could be argued that all Lovecraft's fiction centers around three recurring personal fears for him: race, belief, imagination (possibly due to his awareness of family instability)." -- I think you're really onto something there, Chris. It does feel as if all those things are somehow one and the same for Lovecraft. If so, I think his work reflects it; and that is almost certainly a big part of why he has become more and more popular over time.

      "For instance, I heard this radio adaptation of "Colour" not long ago, and even though nothing all that grotesque is described, I came away feeling sick to my stomach." -- I look forward (I think...?) to listening to that. You know, dammit...the ARTC used to (and may still) do live shows at DragonCon during the years I was attending. Never once did I go and listen to them. I had a feeling at the time that that might be a mistake, and if this is as good as you indicate, then I know it was a mistake. Ah, well! That's the nature of a big con: too much to see and do to ever hope to get it all seen and done.

  8. Lovecraft is name-checked in "The Bazaar of Bad Dreams," during the introduction to the story "Premium Harmony." Check it out:

    "One of" [my mother's favorite sayings] "was 'Milk always takes the flavor of what it sits next to in the icebox.' I don't know if that's true about milk, but it's certainly true when it comes to the stylistic development of young writers. When I was a young man, I wrote like H.P. Lovecraft when I was reading Lovecraft, and like Ross Macdonald when I was reading the adventures of PI Lew Archer."

  9. I confess to not having read much Lovecraft. I read The Music of Erich Zann, and found it suitably terrifying. I read The Call of Cthulhu and try as I might, I just couldn't make it look scary in my mind. More "cool" than scary. I read pieces of others, and I feel like the most horrifying aspect of them are the implications.

    I love the concept of horror of the unknown, the idea that there are things moving behind our perception of reality, eldritch abominations that would drive us mad at the utterance of their name. I love the concept that there are things man was not meant to know. When horror goes that route, I'm right on board and suitably creeped out.

    I think this is one of the reasons why people insist Stephen King "isn't scary"; it's because they're mostly acquainted with King through movies based on his works, and without fail these movies simply do not communicate the implications of the story. King's stories aren't about jump-scares or gore or "dead teenagers" as Roger Ebert might call them. His goal isn't to make you temporarily frightened in such a way that you forget about it later and just remember having a good time with the movie. His goal is to unsettle you, to make you question reality, to create a sense of unease that will stay with you after you've closed the book, and to do so in a way that emotionally devastates you.

    1. This is a very good analysis, although I would add that sometimes, I think King does try to temporarily frighten in that manner. But he mostly does it as a screenwriter, in things like "Creepshow" and "Sleepwalkers."

      But in his prose, yeah, absolutely. And he's been very good at it for a very long time. I just read the new(ish) short story "Bad Little Kid" last night, and was struck by his abilities in that regard. Not scares, exactly; unease, which sticks with you. (And, by the way, is what makes both King's "The Shining" and Kubrick's "The Shining" such enduring classics. They got there via different routes, but they both got there.)

    2. I've said before, Stephen King the novelist is a different man than Stephen King the screenwriter. The novelist is, nine times out of ten, well worth your time. The opposite is true for the screenwriter.

      Then again, with Creepshow at least, it almost seemed like he was out to make you laugh more than anything.

      The less said about Stephen King the director, the better.

    3. I think Stephen King the screenwriter was successful at creating a sense of unease with The Storm of the Century. I think it unfolds in a similar way to many of his novels. The Storm of the Century, (if none of his other screenwriting efforts) is well worth your time in my opinion.

    4. Well, there's always exceptions. Blind squirrels, and all that.

    5. I do think the "Storm of the Century" screenplay is great, as is "Creepshow." Beyond that, not so much.