Tales of H.P. Lovecraft by Howard Phillips Lovecraft (1890-1937)
Published by HarperCollins
First line: “The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents.” (The Call of Cthulhu)
Book Rx: Best read at night, alone.
I remember my first Lovecraft story very well. “The Rats in the Walls” was one of the stories in Great Short Tales of Mystery and Terror, a Reader’s Digest compilation I loved so much, I tried to steal it from my high school library. (More on that in a future post.) The story made such an impression on me I nightmare-d about the underground ruins and “flabby, fungous things” that night. Awesome.
Lovecraft is probably best known for his fantastic, macabre imagination and the way he blends the weird with the horrifying to come up with truly original creations. I think his stories don’t scare in a jump-out-of-your-skin sort of way, but in the primitive sort of fear that they inspire.
My compendium of Lovecraft stories is edited by Joyce Carol Oates; in her introduction she mentions the ‘Cthulhu Mythos’ which is an alternate mythology where “there are no gods, but only displaced extra-terrestrial beings, The Great Old Ones who journeyed to Earth many millions of years ago.” Cthulhu is one of these Great Old Ones, with its “cuttlefish head, dragon body, scaly wings,” “a green, sticky spawn of the stars” with “flabby claws,” and the awful ability to fuse itself right back despite being stabbed in the stomach by a “sturdy yacht.” (“There was a bursting as of an exploding bladder, a slushy nastiness as of a cloven sunfish, a stench as of a thousand open graves, and a sound that the chronicler would not put on paper.”)
Reading Lovecraft describe “distant wastes and dark places” in 1920s Providence had a dreamlike aspect to it (my mind imagined his words in soft focus). His horrors were ancient — monsters that lived in the dark depths of the sea, humanoid water-beasts, alien colors — far away from where I was, lying tummy-down next to the brightness of my laptop.
That said, Lovecraft’s stories continue to fascinate and draw me in. Whatever the setting, fear itself is timeless. As Lovecraft himself said, “The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.”
P.S. Blogger-artist Michael Bukowski is on a project drawing Lovecraft’s monsters, one at a time. Check it out here.
Halloween Reads 2014: This October my blog posts will be about all things scary, since I realize I have a LOT of horror/ghost/weird/zombie books on my shelves. Happy Halloween, all.