On reading Lovecraft. All of him.

H.P. LOVECRAFT: THE FICTION—COMPLETE AND UNABRIDGED is the HPL collection I’ve alluded to in a couple of past Books I’m Reading posts. It reprints all of Lovecraft’s fiction (with the exception of the ghost-writing he did for others) in the order he wrote it, plus his essay on Supernatural Horror in Literature. It includes the various fragments he worked on, and several comic pieces he did (and the melodrama parody Sweet Ermengarde really is funny).
Reading in sequence really gives a sense of Lovecraft developing his world. Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath incorporates lots of references and characters from previous stories; the Antarctic Old Ones from At the Mountains of Madness turn up in a couple of subsequent stories.
On the other hand, it also shows Lovecraft’s flaws. I happen to like his rather purple, over-adjectived prose; it violates most of the rules of good writing but he makes it work (almost nobody else can; like many HPL admirers, I’ve tried and failed). Reading story after story, however, even over a year’s time, it does become more annoying, particularly his fondness for “blasphemous” as a term meaning “it’s really really horrifying but I can’t think of any details.”
His plotting ability is erratic. As Fritz Leiber points out in his essay, The Whisperer Revisited, Lovecraft believed the purpose of supernatural fiction was to induce a feeling of terror and sometimes he sacrificed the plot to that. Whisperer in Darkness has terrific atmosphere but an idiot plot; the Plutonians play cat and mouse with the narrator when they could easily have captured him and the narrator is oblivious to the fact he’s walking int an obvious trap.
Rereading Mountains of Madness, I can see why I didn’t care for it in my youth: The Old Ones’ city is an eerie setting and Lovecraft’s vision of prehuman history is sweeping, but very little happens. There’s pages and pages of exploring the dead city, not to mention the too-lengthy description of Antarctic exploration (Shadow Out of Time had similar elements, but shorter and more active, it works better) before the shoggoth shows up and starts hunting them.
Then again, Dunwich Horror is solidly plotted as well as creepy, ditto Charles Dexter Ward; I liked both of those before and like even more rereading now.
Becoming more aware of HPL’s flaws, in short, doesn’t make me any less of an admirer. Cthulhu, f’htag’n!

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5 responses to “On reading Lovecraft. All of him.

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