H. P. Lovecraft: A Life

The Lovecraft series continues with a look a S. T. Joshi’s biography of that writer.

Joshi has expanded this 708 page book into 1,200 pages with the updated edition called I Am Providence: The Life and Times of H. P. Lovecraft. I haven’t read it yet, but I’m going to do my wrists a favor, when I do, and get the kindle edition.

Raw Feed (2005): H. P. Lovecraft: A Life, S. T. Joshi, 1996, 2004.H P Lovecraft A Life

Joshi is such a concise writer that it would do little good to sum up all the points of interest in this book’s 655 pages of text, and some it, expectedly, repeats Joshi’s H. P. Lovecraft and H. P. Lovecraft:  The Decline of the West. Since Joshi sums up all of Lovecraft’s fiction including some of his most important revisions, I think this book comes about as close as you can get to a one volume introduction to Lovecraft without reading his work.

He gives brief summaries of Lovecraft’s most important correspondents and professional contacts, the magazines he published in, and other matters related to Lovecraft’s interests, life, and times.

Granted, some of this gets a bit far afield.

Is it really necessary to give a summary of Antarctic exploration when mentioning Lovecraft’s interest in it even though it is, of course, relevant to his “At the Mountains of Madness“?

Still, I learned a lot about Lovecraft. Continue reading

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H. P. Lovecraft: The Decline of the West

The Lovecraft series continues with a long look at a title S. T. Joshi still considers one of his most important works on Lovecraft.

For those who want something else of mine touching on some of the themes of this book, check out my review of Lovecraft’s Letters to James Morton.

Raw Feed (2005): H. P. Lovecraft:  The Decline of the West, S. T. Joshi, 1990.H P Lovecraft

This was a fascinating, illuminating book.

It is not that Lovecraft’s individual ethics, philosophical notions of materialism, politics, and notions of aesthetics were that unique. It is the combination that was somewhat unique and, most importantly — as Joshi convincingly shows — how those views consistently show up in his fiction.

In the first half of the book, Joshi documents (mostly through Lovecraft’s voluminous correspondence) the development of Lovecraft’s philosophy and how it was influenced by others — philosophers ancient and modern and science.

Lovecraft, descendant of a wealthy New England family that, in his childhood, fell on hard times, was a lifelong aristocrat. Always suspicious of democracy, Joshi shows how he moved from notions of an aristocracy of birth to (with relapses expressed in his letters and often involving race) an aristocracy of intellect. Thus he moved from a sentimental “royalist” (of course America has no official royalty but Anglophiliac Lovecraft earlier expressed, in his associated love for 18th Century England and Colonial America, a love of English royalty — or, at least, Queen Anne) and Republican to an advocate of “fascistic socialism” and voter for Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Continue reading

H. P. Lovecraft

Another day and another day without a new review.

However, I’ll continue the Lovecraft series.

We’re done with Lovecraft’s fiction and moving into books about Lovecraft.

Raw Feed (2005): H. P. Lovecraft, S. T. Joshi, 1982.H P Lovecraft

I paged through this book for 21 years without actually reading it, before this, cover to cover (as well as looking through other Joshi writings on Lovecraft), so there wasn’t a lot here that I found new.

Still, I found some stuff new and interesting.

Concerning particular stories, Joshi makes the intriguing claim that Rome-loving Lovecraft was inspired by Constantine taking the treasures of the Western Empire to Constantinople when he had the Old Ones of “At the Mountains of Madness” stock, in their declining phase, their capital city in the Antarctic with treasures from their other cities. Furthermore, Joshi makes the claim (and I shall have to pay attention next time I read it) that “The Haunter of the Dark” is, like “The Thing on the Doorstep“, a tale of psychic possession. Continue reading

“The Night Ocean”

The portion of the Lovecraft series involving his ghostwriting efforts concludes with another story by R. H. Barlow.

Barlow was about 18 when he wrote this story and would go on to significant things in his short life.

Lovecraft named him his literary executor though August Derleth seized that title.

In 1942, he moved to Mexico where he became a professor at the University of Mexico and did landmark research in the Indian languages of the area.

He died by his own hand in 1951 after an academic scandal threatened his exposure as a homosexual.

If the title “The Night Ocean” sounds familiar, it’s because it’s also the title of Paul La Farge’s 2017 novel which improbably imagines a sexual relationship between Lovecraft and Barlow. (Lovecraft strikes me as being uninterested in sex of any sort.)

Raw Feed (2005): “The Night Ocean”, R. H. Barlow [and H. P. Lovecraft], 1936.hm

This is the last piece of fiction Lovecraft worked on before his death. S. T. Joshi says his hand on the text was light and that seems probable.

Despite the thematic linking of the external landscape and the narrator’s internal emotional landscape being an element in some of Lovecraft’s solo efforts (and, one suspects, influenced by Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Fall of the House of Usher”), I really only saw a few lines in the last two paragraphs which seemed Lovecraftian.

This is a literary type fantasy, a skillful creation that sustains its tone and atmosphere as the narrator becomes fascinated by the strange moods of the ocean outside of the house he is vacationing in.

He sees something enigmatic come out of the ocean, but it is never explained. The ocean is linked to death of several swimmers, but we see no monsters or aliens.

As story’s end, the night ocean becomes the one constant of the universe, a feature of horrible beauty, a power and beauty and mystery the narrator must “abase myself before”. The ocean is a link to mystery — perhaps extradimensional life (though, again, that is not explicitly said or explained) — and its dismal beauty will outlast life on Earth: “Silent, flabby things will toss and roll along empty shores, their sluggish life extinct.”

That line seems Lovecraftian and reminiscent, as is the Barlow-Lovecraft collaboration of “‘Till A’ the Seas'”, of H. G. Wells.) An exquisite mood story.

Barlow is the only one of Lovecraft’s collaborators whose solo efforts I would be interested in reading.

[Hippocampus Press collected Barlow’s fiction and poetry in Eyes of the God: The Weird Fiction and Poetry of R. H. Barlow.]

 

More reviews of Lovecraft related titles are indexed on the Lovecraft page.

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“‘Till A’ the Seas'”

The Lovecraft series continues with another one of his secondary revisions.

Raw Feed (2005): “‘Till A’ the Seas'”, R. H. Barlow [and H. P. Lovecraft], 1935.hm

A Wellesian tale in style and plot very unlike Lovecraft. (S. T. Joshi states his revision of the story was very light.)

It is not Wellesian in a time travel sense like Lovecraft’s “The Shadow Out of Time” is, but, rather, like H. G. Wells’ “The Star” a tale of impersonal disaster and the extinguishment of the human race.

The Earth has grown closer to the sun. The increased heat kills whole animal and plant species, deserts spread outward from the equator, the oceans vanish, and man is pushed into the polar regions.

The story begins by introducing us to the last man, Ull, as he stands overlooking a valley looking for a legendary habitation of humanity. But he finds nothing, and suffers the horrifying revelation that he is, in fact, the last man on Earth. Continue reading

“The Disinterment”

The Lovecraft series continues with another one of his secondary revisions. (Yes, I am slowly working on writing up some new material.)

Raw Feed (2005): “The Disinterment”, Duane W. Rimel [and H. P. Lovecraft], 1935.hm

I found this 1935 story interesting because it describes zombification in pharmaceutical terms much like Wade Davis discovered it to be in his The Serpent and the Rainbow.  Unfortunately, I don’t know enough about the fictional uses of zombies to know if this is really innovative. (The Encyclopedia of Fantasy was not a real help.)

The narrator’s surgeon friend was of the same vein as Lovecraft’s Herbert West except he actually does experiment on his friend.

The horrific “revelation” at story’s end — that not only has the narrator’s friend given him a zombie drug and dug him up but also transplanted his head to another body — is hardly a surprise. Still, that’s hardly uncommon for Lovecraft’s solo efforts.  Continue reading

“The Tree on the Hill”

The Lovecraft series continues with another one of his secondary revisions. (Yes, I am slowly working on writing up some new material.)

Raw Feed (2005): “The Tree on the Hill”, Duane W. Rimel [and H. P. Lovecraft], 1934.hm

This is another Lovecraft revision (S. T. Joshi says he probably wrote the second half) that is too vague or inchoate to have much of an effect.

A blasted clearing (rather reminiscent of that in Lovecraft’s “The Colour Out of Space” — though I suspect Rimel contributed that image) and its sole tree and photographs of them are the facilitators of an apocalypse narrowly avoided.  What appears to be a tree with three shadows at story’s end seems to be a hand groping into this world from another dimension.

 

More reviews of Lovecraft related titles are indexed on the Lovecraft page.

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“The Trap”

The Lovecraft series continues with another one of his secondary revisions.

Raw Feed (2005): “The Trap”, Henry S. Whitehead [and H. P. Lovecraft], 1931.hm

An interesting fantasy  involving a magic mirror. I suspect Lovecraft not only provided the details of Axel Holm, master of glassmaking, science, and the occult, but also provided the many details (complementary colors, reversal of chirality, the merging of the worlds the mirror has reflected and captured) of the magic world in the mirror.

These carefully thought out details of the world and how to escape from it, the references to how Holm’s studies of the fourth dimension anticipated Einstein, not only reminded me of Lovecraft’s own “The Dreams in the Witch-House” (in fact the stories were written back to back with this one coming first), but Robert A. Heinlein’s later mathematical fantasy “And He Built A Crooked House”.

 

More reviews of Lovecraft related titles are indexed on the Lovecraft page.

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“Two Black Bottles”

The Lovecraft series continues with another of ghostwriter Lovecraft’s clients.

Raw Feed (2005): “Two Black Bottles”, Wilfred Blanch Talman [and H. P. Lovecraft], 1926.hm

The main point of interest in this story about a church that falls under the sway of a devil worshipping cleric who stole and bottled the soul of the sexton who learned his secret — and the sexton in turns steals the soul of the following cleric — is that the corrupted church reminded me of those in Lovecraft’s own “The Shadow Over Innsmouth” and “The Haunter of the Dark”.

S. T. Joshi says the evidence from correspondence says Lovecraft wrote the middle of the story, but he doesn’t say who plotted it.

 

More reviews of Lovecraft related titles are indexed on the Lovecraft page.

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“Deaf, Dumb, and Blind”

The Lovecraft series continues with another secondary revision.

 

Raw Feed (2005): “Deaf, Dumb, and Blind”, C. M. Eddy, Jr. [and H. P. Lovecraft], 1924?.hm

This has the flavor, with its plot of its wounded protagonist — deaf, dumb, and blind — sensing some hideous presence, of an unfinished story since the horror his furious typing relates is inchoate.

 

More reviews of Lovecraft related titles are indexed on the Lovecraft page.

More reviews of fantastic fiction are indexed by title and author/editor.