I am totally new to this whole HP Lovecraft experience. I know there are whole tribes out there with an obsessive love for this man’s work, but I have never read a thing. So, I am very excited to crack open this book here. I bought the Penguin collection of short stories named The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Shit. The book has some 20 stories and I’m delighted to go through them with you. They go from old and short to newer and longer.
- Dagon ****
- The Statement of Randolph Carter ***
- Facts Concerning the Late Arthur Jermyn and His Family ***
- Celephais ***
- Nyarlathotep ****
- The Picture in the House ***
- The Outsider ****
- Herbert West-Reanimator **
- The Hound ***
- The Rats in the Walls ****
- The Festival ****
- He ***
- Cool Air ***
- The Call of Cthulhu *****
- The Colour Out of Space *****
- The Whisperer in Darkness ****
- The Shadow Over Innsmouth ****
- The Haunter of the Dark ****
The last 5 stories are half of the total page count. They are also the best, I think. The Call of Cthulhu is a classic story by now and an excellent piece of world-building. It lays down the whole background of the Mythos about gods from outer space. The Whisperer in Darkness deepens it further. The Colour Out of Space is a great story of sustained weirdness and feels like the great inspiration behind Jeff VanderMeer’s Southern Reach (2014) trilogy.
Some stories, like Celephais, seem to be lifted right out of a Lord Dunsany collection. But, I’m sorry to say, Dunsany remains the master when it comes to the melancholy beauty of fantasy and dreams. Lovecraft’s fantasy is decent in comparison, but overly wordy. Lovecraft also has an Edgar Allan Poe mode of haunted mansions and ghosts and crypts. I have no knowledge of Edgar Allan Poe, but the stories that interest me the most are the cosmic horror ones, which seem to be Lovecraft’s very own style.
He also likes throwing in references to classical literature. Dagon, the first, is a nice introduction to his themes, I suppose. It is short and simple and tells about a man having an encounter with an ancient terrifying god, and the mere sight of it drives him mad. Dagon talks about a sea creature that reminded the narrator of Polyphemus, the Cyclops from the Odyssey. In the same line, words like Cyclopean and Stygian (referring to the river Styx) come up. Although Lovecraft’s stories and basically pulpy horror stories, this gives him an aura or learnedness and respectability.
Lovecraft’s writing is quite heavy and wordy. I can’t burn through it. It is like I need to push against the text and sink into it. He is very heavy on the description when it comes to historical backgrounds, which makes the stories feel realistic and grounded. He is also fond of landscapes; he talks about moonshine and dark chasms and rotting swamps. But when it comes to the feelings and memories of the characters, he avoids giving precise descriptions. He says that they cannot recollect them for their awfulness. Things are always unthinkable, unmentionable, indescribable, inconceivable.
His main characters seem cowards, or at least nervous wrecks with suicidal tendencies. It’s because they narrate the stories and they describe every surrounding in some uncomfortable way: odious, pallid, wan, repellent, terrible. He has hundreds of these words. His characters are often high class English nobility, repulsed by anything that is other.
He weaves so much local character and personal impression into the stories, that you can’t help wondering about the man himself. Was he personally terrified all the time? The editor S.T. Joshi has added a handy biography and Lovecraft seemed to have been sickly both physically and psychologically. After reading these stories, I’m not surprised. He blessed us with some extraordinary tales though.