Review: The Collected Stories of H. P. Lovecraft: Volume One

Review: The Collected Stories of H. P. Lovecraft: Volume One

The Collected Stories of H. P. Lovecraft: Volume One
by H.P. Lovecraft
published by Ignacio Hills Press & E-Pulp Adventures

 “It is an unfortunate fact that the bulk of humanity is too limited in its mental vision to weigh with patience and intelligence those isolated phenomena, seen and felt only by a psychologically sensitive few, which lie outside its common experience. Men of broader intellect know that there is no sharp distinction betwixt the real and the unreal; that all things appear as they do only by virtue of the delicate individual physical and mental media through which we are made conscious of them; but the prosaic materialism of the majority condemns as madness the flashes of supersight which penetrate the common veil of obvious empricism.”
–Jervis Dudley
The Tomb
written by H.P. Lovecraft

Many authors cite H.P. Lovecraft as a major influence, and new works are written in his madness-inducing milieu, the Cthulhu Mythos.  I recently saw Marilyn Manson talking about how his life had been changed by a chance encounter with the Necronomicon…a non-existent* book that Lovecraft invented and referenced several times in his works.  I don’t know if Manson was being deliberately deceptive, or just playing along with Lovecraft’s nudge-nudge, wink-wink “believers”.

Now, when you hear that, and if you know Lovecraft is a horror writer, you might feel like he’s not for you.

That might be true.

I do have to say, though, he’s a good writer…it isn’t just a gimmick.  He’s erudite, evocative…and yes, moving.  If he hadn’t been a pulp writer, I think he might get assigned in school.

Here’s an example:

“As his hammer blows began to fall, the horse outside whinnied in a tone which may have been encouraging and may have been mocking. In either case it would have been appropriate; for the unexpected tenacity of the easy-looking brickwork was surely a sardonic commentary on the vanity of mortal hopes, and the source of a task whose performance deserved every possible stimulus.”
–In the Vault
written by H.P. Lovecraft

 This is a large collection, with 48 stories.  You might think it would get repetitive…I didn’t find that.  There is a wide-range of feels from the poetic to more realistic horror.

You don’t get everything (it does say Volume 1, after all).  You don’t get At the Mountain of Madness, which has been in the blogosphere lately with a possible high-profile movie.  However, many other well-known stories are here, including Herbert West, Reanimator (the inspiration for a series of movies); The Lurking Fear; Dagon; and The Doom That Came to Sarnath.

I particularly liked the inclusion of The Unnamable, a meta-tale in which Lovecraft appears to write himself into the story…and make fun of his reputation at the same time:

“Besides, he added, my constant talk about “unnamable” and “unmentionable” things was a very puerile device, quite in keeping with my lowly standing as an author. I was too fond of ending my stories with sights or sounds which paralyzed my heroes’ faculties and left them without courage, words, or associations to tell what they had experienced. We know things, he said, only through our five senses or our intuitions; wherefore it is quite impossible to refer to any object or spectacle which cannot be clearly depicted by the solid definitions of fact or the correct doctrines of theology – preferably those of the Congregationalist, with whatever modifications tradition and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle may supply.”

Are there negatives?  Yes.  The stories can be horrifying, although that’s the intent.  A bigger issue for a lot of people is going to be the political incorrectness.  While the “n word” shows up in a number of older books I read, this is more than a casual reference.  It’s not just a name…several groups are treated as inferior.

That’s honestly going to be too high a barrier for a lot of people.  It would be possible to put together a collection that didn’t have those stories, but that’s the problem when you try to do a collector’s edition.

There also isn’t much in the way of background information.  I like that they tell you when and where each story was originally published, but there is no author bio.

The price is right at ninety-nine cents, but I didn’t even pay that.  One of my readers, Allison, generously bought it for me from my wish list.  :)  I absolutely don’t expect anybody else to do that…it was a nice surprise. 

Overall, I’d say I certainly enjoyed reading it (it made some long drives a lot more interesting), although the stereotyping did mar the experience for me.

* There have been editions of the Necronomicon written after Lovecraft, including a 1973 and 1980 version.  It’s possible Manson encountered one of those.

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog.

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5 Responses to “Review: The Collected Stories of H. P. Lovecraft: Volume One”

  1. David Says:

    I am a subscriber to your I Love my Kindle blog and I have it delivered to my Kindle 3. Up until now I have enjoyed your postings so far, until this one about H.P. Lovecraft. I have a real problem with his writing and their racist tone. I could rant and rave about him, but I will just leave this link to his page on Wikipedia and leave it at that.

    • bufocalvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, David!

      I did make a point about the concern…it sounds like I may not have made it as strongly as you would have liked. There are others who are going to say I was too strong in the way I addressed it. There are stories by Lovecraft that do not have those elements…it is a traditional and interesting question as to whether you reject an author or reject the individual works.

      It’s interesting that you use the term racist: he not only talks negatively about those of African descent and Asians, and ascribes stereotypical behavior to the Romani people, he also speaks derogatively of those of European descent in the Appalachians. That’s why I said “several groups”.

      I try to present something like that in a way that the person reading it can make her or his own assessment while making it clear what they might encounter. I’m not in favor of censorship. There are many books out there that I don’t enjoy reading. For example, there are explicitly violent novels that don’t appeal to me, but that other people like. I wouldn’t write a review of one of those and say that it was bad writing because of that. I would want to convey a sense of the content, and just as I did here, I would let them know that marred my experience of that book.

      I’m sorry that you didn’t like the post. It will be your decision, of course, as to whether you continue with the blog or not…I hope you do. I doubt there is anybody out there who agrees with everything I write. :)

    • bufocalvin Says:

      David, I did go and read that section of the Wikipedia article…thank you for linking it.

      It ignores Lovecraft’s depiction of the Appalachian people. While the paragraph has a heading that mentions “Race, ethnicity, and class”, the paragraph appears to only address race. That seems unnecessarily reductive. I am offended by stereotypical depictions of many groups in many works. When I recommend against Oz book collections that include The Woggle-Bug Book, it isn’t just because of the use of the “n word”, but because of negative depictions of various groups.

      I am often offended by sexist situations in old science fiction that I read, for example. That doesn’t automatically make me reject the entire work, but I have a visceral response to a “helpless female” portrayal. Similarly, I am offended by H.P. Lovecraft’s portrayals of several groups…but I still can see other good in other things he writes. It sometimes seems like one would be hard-pressed to find fiction which doesn’t offensively portray some group (although some groups are more likely to get that treatment than others). One can approach that several ways…

  2. David Says:

    If you know an author or artist has views and opinions that are counter too your beliefs and they go as far as incorporating those views and opinion in their work, then how can you support them? As was stated, while Lovecraft didn’t express his racist views in all his work, you give credibility to his “racist” work by heaping praise on the “non-racist” work. I don’t want to see his work ban or censored and think it is ridiculous to have it “sanitized for our protection”, like Mark Twain’s works. I am a grown-a#s man, I know how not to read something that might offend me. We will agree not to agree on this point. :-) Oh, and yes, I will continue to read your posts.

    • bufocalvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, David!

      Yes, I’m fine with agreeing to disagree…whew! :) Lovecraft does express racist views in some of his works, as I noted in the post. I don’t like that part of his writing, certainly…I genuinely wish it wasn’t there. Since it is there, I comment on it, so readers will know ahead of time to avoid it, if that is their decision. For me, though, I separate the two. I do, however, totally understand your position, and I respect it.

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