Where strange fact and stranger fiction collide
I get a lot of people telling me that they have never read any Lovecraft, and asking what would I suggest as good story to start with? I had a friend who said he wanted to read Lovecraft in order it was written. I suggested that maybe he doesn’t want to do this, because Lovecraft got better as he became a more experienced author.
Since HPL is in public domain you can find some inexpensive anthologies or his stories on line for free. If you can, I would suggested getting an annotated version of his stories. Not only do these give you some background info on HPL, it also helps you with the way English has changed since the 20’s & 30’s. Back then the word flashlight didn’t mean what we use it for today, that was an electric torch. A flashlight was what we now call a flashbulb for a camera. Leslie Klinger does a great job, but all of HPL’s stories are in one book, so you need to be willing to drop 40 bucks. ST Joshi does a great job with his Penguin Classic trade paperbacks that can be picked up pretty cheaply. If you are like me and a hyperactive reader you may want to consider listening to his stories. Audio versions of his works are available for free on Youtube.
Later this week I will make a suggested reading list of non-Lovecraft Mythos stories.
The Outsider – First published in the April 1926 issue of Weird Tales. This coincidentally was the first Lovecraft story I ever read. You may want to start with a shorter story rather than one of his longer ones, so you can stick your toe in the water so to speak. This is a classic tale of alienation, and I can’t think that HPL felt spiritually connected with his protagonist. It also reflects his Gothic roots, Poe’s and Hawthorne’s influence can be clearly seen. He would find his own voice as he continued but never truly outgrow those who went before him.
Call of Cthulhu – First published in Weird Tales February 1928. This is probably Lovecraft’s most famous story. It defiantly lays the foundation for what we now call The Cthulhu Mythos. Like the Australian classic Picnic at Hanging Rock, it is an expository story, and unfolds as evidence collected by the narrator. It is actual three stories tied together. The first is about a disturbed artist who is tormented by bad dreams and is forced to make a statue of an arcane god. The second is the story of a New Orleans police inspector who raided a mysterious cult in the bayous. The finial story is the most famous about a sailor who survives an encounter with the momentarily freed Cthulhu.
The Dunwich Horror – First published in Weird tales April 1928. This story is probably his second best known work, if for no other reason than Sandra Dee took her top off in the movie version. This was one of Lovecraft’s personal favorites. And he was overjoyed that he was paid $240.00 for it. In ways it is a throwback to an earlier style. It can be seen as a battle of good versus evil with the humans having at least a chance at winning. Some hard core fans bemoan the lack of comicism in it. Scholars facing off against an invisible monster could be seen more as classic pulp than Lovecraftian. But the stylistic elements, the description of rural New England, its folklore and wordplay are classic Lovecraft.
Rats in the Wall – First published in Weird Tales March 1924. Way more than a Gothic tale, this tells the story of the last Delapore, a man who travels from America back to England, to renovate his family’s estate, Exham Priory. He discovers that his family was not quite the pillars of society that he thought they were. It centers on Lovecraft’s pet themes of race and ancestral memory. A word of warning this story has a cat whose is named after the N-word. I am not defending Lovecraft’s racism here, and we all know he was a racist. It is just that was a common name for animals up to the fifties. Lovecraft’s childhood cat was named that. The true story The Damn Busters, has the squadron’s dog named the N-Word too.
The Color Out of space. First published in Amazing Stories in September 1927. As a youth I once read that this was Lovecraft’s only science fiction story. I am not sure if I believe that now, but it set up future stories of non-hominid aliens invading Earth, that we see in The Day of the Triffids and Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Lovecraft himself was upset that so many writers made aliens look like weird colored humans with antennae, so he made an alien race that was a color. I wonder what he would have thought of the Vulcans and Roumulans of classic Trek.This, I think is evidence of Lovecraft’s genius that is often overlooked. It has classic HPL scenery porn in his description of New England landscape.
The Doom that Came to Sarnath. – First Published in The Scot in 1920. Lovecraft went through his Dreamland’s phase where he basically wrote fantasy. This was highly influenced by the Pangea series by Lord Dunsany. He eventually ties The Dreamlands to the Cthulhu Mythos in his novella Dream Quest of the Unknown Kadath. But I think this is a good Dreamlands tale to start off with. The people of Sarnath kill off all the beginnings of Ib an intelligent reptilian race. 10,000 years later the gods of Ib and the race’s ghosts claim vengeance. I am not an apologist for Lovecraft’s racism, but when I read this I got the message that racism and genocide lead to the perpetrators eventual destruction. I actually saw this as a cautionary tale. I am sure that is not how Lovecraft meant it, but it is a good example that once a writer puts something down on paper it is no longer his, but jointly shares it with their readers.