Book Review: Tales of HP Lovecraft

Posted on February 2, 2010

Lovecraft1934If you’re not interested in sci-fi, fantasy or a series of short stories about 150,000,000 year old part octopus, part human and part winged creatures called the Old Ones, turn around now. We don’t want you. For the rest of us, if you haven’t read any stories by HP Lovecraft now is the time. “Tales of HP Lovecraft” was selected and edited by Joyce Carol Oates, and she did a marvelous job. You  get an in depth overview of the capacity of Lovecraft’s writing. Yes, “The Call of C’thulu” is in there. Yes, you learn all about the Old Ones.

Its impossible not to mention Poe when talking about Lovecraft, but they occupy different literary zones. Lovecraft is the master of what I call, “an indescribable ancient horror”. In almost every story, there’s a moment when the protagonist turns a corner and sees something that defies explanation. Lovecraft’s is a world where a house can be haunted by ancient horrors that reside in a tunnel under a house that was carved not from the house, but from a cave that extents deep into the ground. Its a world where underneath antarctica there are the remains of a civilization 150,000,000 years old still populated by giant albino penguins. His world is one where the lines between reality and fantasy meet under an ancient horrible arch.

If I had to say one thing about his writing its that he is capable of creating intricately detailed images very efficiently. I’m not entirely sure how he does it. There are images in my head that I will take with me to the grave. Its no surprise that there are a wealth of movies based off of his stories. His stories have been wildly influential. For example, he was the one who brought The Necronomicon into the public consciousness.

A bit on Lovecraft himself. Would it surprise you that Lovecraft was not a very happy person? His father was a traveling salesman had a nervous breakdown and died when HP was 5. Raised by his aunts and mother and his grandfather, the holder of one of the greatest names in the history of man, Whipple Van Buren Phillips, HP was a precocious child, eventually writing a weekly column about astronomy for the local newspaper. He had a nervous breakdown before graduating high school, meaning he never got a diploma, and never went to Brown. He lived the life of a recluse for a number of years, got married, did some more writing and then eventually died of intestinal cancer destitute, physically and emotionally. He was a prolific letter writer, spending his latter years alone, only communicating with his friends that way.

He spent the better part of his life in New England, a fact that comes through in his writing. A relative unknown throughout his life, his writing has gone on to influence countless horror, fantasy and sci fi writers. I did not know what to expect when I borrowed this book from my cousin, and I am very happy I did so. Many times I felt that little shiver go up my spine, not from fear, but from reading words that transported me to ancient cities and denizens of horrible beasts.

If you can pick up this collection, do it. Otherwise, just find a collection of his short stories. Read them at night (you should be reading at night anways). Trust me.

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One Response to “Book Review: Tales of HP Lovecraft”

  1. Veronica on February 2nd, 2010 4:35 pm

    How did you feel about the albino penguins story? Did you like that one?

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