“The Dunwich Horror”

The Lovecraft series continues while I write up some new reviews.

Raw Feed (2005): “The Dunwich Horror“, H. P. Lovecraft, 1928.Dunwich Horror and Others

This is at least the second time I’ve read this, one of Lovecraft’s more famous stories.  I suspect that’s mostly because a not very good movie was made from it.

For the Lovecraft fan, it does contain mention of Miskatonic University professors, occult books including the Necronomicon, and Arkham, but I don’t think it’s one of Lovecraft’s better efforts.

I think it’s too long, and I think the part that’s too long is the lengthy descriptions of the havoc and evidence left by the invisible Dunwich horror when it finally bursts out of the Whateley house.

As with his “The Colour Out of Space“, written a year earlier in 1927, this is not a tale told in the first person by a highly distraught or doomed narrator. (It does share similar images of blasted heaths in rural New England.)

Lovecraft could get away with minute descriptions of events in the other tales because we are interested in watching intelligent, rationale men try to fit new horrors of the cosmos in their old paradigms. We cry in frustration at their refusal to see obvious — if novel — truths. Continue reading

“The Call of Cthulhu”

The Lovecraft series continues.

Raw Feed (2005, 2012): “The Call of Cthulhu“, H. P. Lovecraft, 1926.Dunwich Horror and Others 

This is it, perhaps Lovecraft’s keystone story, certainly the one that not only leant its name to the Cthulhu Mythos, but also the first that seemed to have combined his cosmic horror and New England setting.

Reading it again in 2005, for the second time, I was struck how this is Lovecraft’s most frenetic tale in the sense that its plot covers not only a lot of time — not that unusual for Lovecraft who liked to frame historical horrors in a modern narrative — but spatially as well.

The action hops from Boston to New Orleans to the Pacific to England and Norway.

The cosmic horrors are portrayed through three subplots separated in space and (in the case of New Orleans and the rest) time.

The narrator’s grand-uncle investigates the odd dreams of a certain artist in Providence. A police inspector in New Orleans uncovers a sinister cult. And both those stories are linked to the appearance of Cthulhu in the Pacific when R’lyeh rises. Surprisingly, Cthulhu is stoppd by the turning wheel of a steamer, but the cosmic horror of what his presence reveals haunts the narrator. Continue reading

“The Picture in the House”

With Carmilla, I’ve caught up on my backlog of reviews, so I’m continuing my Lovecraft series until I finish something new.

Raw Feed (2005): “The Picture in the House“, H. P. Lovecraft, 1920.Dunwich Horror and Others

This story demolished a theory I was forming as I worked my through this collection where the stories are not the chronological order of their composition.

I thought that somewhere between his 1923 story “The Rats in the Wall” and his 1925 story “In the Vault“, Lovecraft abandoned vaguely European settings and begin to set things in his native New England.

However, this 1920 story, the earliest I’ve read so far in the collection, is set in New England. While its horror may involve a traditional motif of cannibalism, there are already several characteristic Lovecraft elements here:  evil, degenerate rural New Englanders of Puritan stock; horror revealed through old books and pictures (no mention of the famous Necronomicon yet, though); chunks of New England dialect; and even the fictional geography of the Miskatonic River and Arkham.

 

More reviews of Lovecraft are indexed on the Lovecraft page.

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“The Haunter of the Dark”

Raw Feed (2005, 2012): “The Haunter of the Dark“, H. P. Lovecraft, 1935.Dunwich Horror and Others

This story is dedicated to Robert Bloch, then one of the youngest members of the Lovecraft circle. I don’t know if he had started writing then, but the titles of tales the protagonist-writer Robert Blake has written sound like some Bloch Cthulhu mythos stuff I’ve read. The Cthulhu Mythos was never a planned, internally consistent series, but by this time Lovecraft and others had written enough of the stories that Lovecraft mentions Azathoth, Yuggoth, Khem, and Nyarlathotep and the Necronomicon and several other of the fake books of the Mythos.

On reading the story for the third time in 2012, I noticed this time that this story – perhaps because I knew he was jocularly responding to Robert Bloch’s “The Shambler from the Stars” – is Lovecraft’s most personal in that he goes on and on about the architectural details of the building housing the Church of the Starry Wisdom and Providence in general.

Also, this story has a similarity to “The Music of Erich Zann” in that, with the area around the church and its strange power and seeming portal to other dimensions, is reminiscent of the apartment building that story takes place in.

Also, I forgot the addition to the Mythos’ blasphemous library and scholarly (including a play on the Bloch invented Black Pharaoh) that Robert Blake finds.

 

More reviews of Lovecraft are indexed on the Lovecraft page.

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

“The Music of Erich Zann”

Raw Feed (2005, 2014): “The Music of Erich Zann“, H. P. Lovecraft, 1921.Dunwich Horror and Others

Another early story that shows Lovecraft operating in a less characteristic way than he was to become famous for.

This is another European story in that its locale is vaguely European. The only specific geographical reference is to Rue d’Auseil street yet the language of the narrator is unstated as is his purpose for being in the city.

The story is less explicit than Lovecraft’s most famous stories; it is almost entirely a mood piece.

The Rue d’Auseil, supernaturally disappearing and abutting alternate dimensions, is an extreme example of the lost Pickman apartment in Lovecraft’s “Pickman’s Model“.)

And yet, there is something of Lovecraft’s cosmic horror here in that Erich Zann, whose motives are never made clear, seems to look out his window at cosmic dimensions and play his strange, original music as much to keep monsters at bay as call denizens of the cosmos to him. Continue reading

“The Colour Out of Space”

The Lovecraft series continues with the first Lovecraft story I ever read.

Raw Feed (2005, 2013): “The Colour Out of Space“, H. P. Lovecraft, 1927.Dunwich Horror and Others

Before reading this story again — which is probably the fourth or fifth time — I would have name it as one of my top three Lovecraft stories. After reading it again this time, I regard it as Lovecraft’s best work.

The horror and creepiness stand up after several re-readings. The pacing is good; the story never sags.

There is a great line:

 It was nothing of this earth, but a piece of the great outside; and as such dowered with outside properties and obedient to outside laws.

Not only is the story a great work of horror but also a great work of sf.

I suspect Lovecraft, an enthusiastic follower of science as shown by the learned interlude where the Miskatonic University chemists analyze the “meteorite”, was smart enough to know some of the implications of something so radically different, at the quantum level, from our universe that it doesn’t even produce colors known to us.

As with “In the Vault” from two years earlier, Lovecraft chooses, for whatever reason, to set the main bulk of his story in the 1880s, the decade before his birth.

However, he also shows some characteristic plotting.

The story is told in the first person in contemporary times by a man who has discovered an historical horror. There’s even a passage of dialect from old Ammi (as with Zadok in Lovecraft’s “The Shadow Over Innsmouth” — though not as long).

On re-reading the story in 2013, I still found it an impressive piece of work.

I was struck by a few things.

Since I’ve read Algernon Blackwood’s “The Willows” since last reading this story, I can see the debt in the imagery of the moving trees and open skies.

There is an element of Job in Nahum Gardener wondering what he did to deserve such divine punishment.

The story, because of its frame and foreshadowing constantly moves and doesn’t, apart from the opening paragraph, spend much time building atmosphere without mentioning the menace of weird events.

If the story has any faults, it may be a trifle wordy. For instance, we are told at least two times the “blasted heath” is advancing every year.  Perhaps one would have been enough but, given the unstudied account of the narrator, it is in character.

 

More reviews of Lovecraft are indexed on the Lovecraft page.

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

“The Outsider

Raw Feed (2005, 2016): “The Outsider“, H. P. Lovecraft, 1921.Dunwich Horror and Others 

This is one of Lovecraft’s most celebrated story — if for no other reasons than its short length makes it one of Lovecraft’s most easily anthologized works and because of the strong temptation to see, in the solitude and naïvete and hideous and scholarly pursuits (the narrator improbably teaches himself how to read and speak — a literary tradition going back to at least Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Tarzan) of its narrator, a mirror of the odd-looking young Lovecraft bereft of a father who died mad in an asylum and a mother who thought him ugly and left him to his books and his homemade altars.

This 1921 story finds Lovecraft working in a European mode because, in terms of architecture (castles) and setting.

Specifically, there are elements of Edgar Allan Poe here. The end of Poe’s “William Wilson” also features a shock ending of self-revelation via a mirror. The isolated childhood brings to mind Poe’s “Berenice” with the narrator who grow up in the “mansion of my fathers”. Poe scholar Stephen Peithman has suggested the tone of Poe’s “The Masque of the Red Death” influenced the tone of this story. All quite probable since Lovecraft later dismissed this story as his imitation of Poe.    Continue reading

“The Rats in the Walls”

Raw Feed (2005, 2013): “The Rats in the Walls”, H. P. Lovecraft, 1923.Dunwich Horror and Others

I noted, when reading the anthology Shadows Over Innsmouth (sequels to Lovecraft’s “The Shadow Over Innsmouth”) how many British writers fruitfully used their Roman past for horror stories, so I was surprised that Lovecraft, in this 1923 story, used that very setting — in fact, he refers to horrors that are pre-Roman.  (If I read this story before, I had completely forgotten it.)

The story also features subterranean horrors which also featured prominently in several of the stories in Shadows Over Innsmouth (as well as several Lovecraft stories — the underground horrors are ghouls in 1926’s “Pickman’s Model” and rats here).

This story shows, already at this point in Lovecraft’s career, the framing device of starting the story in near contemporary times (the given date at the beginning is in 1923) and then relating a scholarly historical account of discovered horrors. Continue reading

“Pickman’s Model”

Raw Feed (2005, 2014): “Pickman’s Model”, H. P. Lovecraft, 1926.Dunwich Horror and Others

This is the second time I’ve read this 1926 story, and I think it’s a good, mid-level Lovecraft effort.

It’s set in New England, Boston to be specific.

What I found most interesting on rereading this story was the narrator and Pickman’s love of the macabre in art which places the very talented Pickman outside the pale as far as the conventional, conservative Boston art community is concerned. One gets the sense that Lovecraft considered the aesthetic of horror seriously, regarded it as a serious and worthy subject of art and disdained the conventional society that probably didn’t agree. (It’s hard to conclusively. Horror in the pulps was probably not too highly regarded because of its context, but I suspect there were well regarded “mainstream” horror events that society creatures and elite taste setters might have approved of). The taste seems to have extended to the visual arts since he mentions some not only Dore but Goya and also Lovecraft’s friend, the visual artist Clark Ashton Smith (who was also a poet and fiction writer).  He also mentions a couple of painters I’ve never heard: Angarola and Sime.  [I’ve since seen some of their work, and Sime illustrated Lord Dunsany, William Hope Hodgson, and Arthur Machen.] 

The narrator of the story, mirroring Lovecraft, remarks on the wonder and terror to be found in ancient places.  Continue reading

“In the Vault”

H. P. Lovecraft gets mentioned a lot here — but in relation to other people’s works. I haven’t talked about Lovecraft’s own fiction.

Part of that is that I’ve read a lot of his work multiple times and often — but not always — made notes on each reading. I’ve talked a bit about my reading history with Lovecraft in “Yog-Sothothery“.

Putting those notes together in a coherent form is time-consuming. And I have to do multiple index entries each time.

However, some regular followers of this blog are interested in weird fiction and Lovecraft, so I’m going to start covering individual Lovecraft stories between reviews of new and mostly unrelated books.

All these entries on Lovecraft’s fiction will use S. T. Joshi’s corrected texts.

Raw Feed (2005)eview: “In the Vault“, H. P. Lovecraft, 1925.Dunwich Horror and Others

This 1925 story is a biter-bitten tale.

A cheap, but not malicious, undertaker is maimed by the man whose ankles he cuts off to put him in a cheap coffin.

The story is set in New England, and I find it interesting that Lovecraft not only adopts a characteristic framing device — the story is told by a narrator in contemporary times and related second-hand by the doctor who treated the protagonist’s injuries after he was accidentally locked in a burial vault — but that Lovecraft’s antiquarian interests cause him to set the story in 1881 — nine years before he was born.

The beginning two sentences

There is nothing more absurd, as I view it, than that conventional association of the homely and the wholesome which seems to pervade the psychology of the multitude.  Mention a bucolic Yankee setting, a bungling and thick-fibred village undertaker, and a careless mishap in a tomb, and no average reader can be brought to expect more than a hearty albeit grotesque phase of comedy.

reminded me of Sherlock Holmes admonitions about the crimes committed in lonely rural areas in Arthur Conan Doyle’s “The Adventure of the Copper Beeches”.

It is also a self-conscious opening by a horror theorist who is deliberately going against what he regards as common prejudice.

 

More Lovecraft related entries are indexed on the Lovecraft page.

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