Where to start

Fried Egg

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#1
I am thinking about reading some HP Lovecraft because I have heard it recommended to me and I have never read any before. But I don't know where to start.

I am not normally a fan of horror reading predominately scifi and fantasy. I do like Clark Ashton Smith and Richard Mattheson.

What would be a good book to read to introduce me to his work?
 
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#2
Depends largely on what sort of stories you want. Lovecraft wrote horror, Dunsanian fantasies, and proto-science-fiction. Probably the best would be one of the Penguin collections (there are three). For a good sampling from throughout his career: The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories. For more of a sampling of his traditional horrors, and some of his proto-sf, The Thing on the Doorstep and Other Weird Stories (which includes two of his novels: The Case of Charles Dexter Ward and At the Mountains of Madness). For more of the Dunsanian fantasies, but still having some of his best work in it, The Dreams in the Witch House and Other Weird Stories. All are edited, with notes, by S. T. Joshi, all trade pb.
 

Fried Egg

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#3
Thanks for your advice. I will see what I can find...

I presume by "Dunsanian" you mean in the style of Lord Dunsany?
 

HoopyFrood

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#5
Woot! I had the same thought not long along, seeing as everyone seems to rave about the guy :)D) so I bought...hang on, let me think...I know I bought the Thing on the Doorstep...and I think The Call of Cthulhu. Of course, if Amazon ever gets round to sending them to me, I might actually be able to read them!
 
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#6
Thanks for your advice. I will see what I can find...

I presume by "Dunsanian" you mean in the style of Lord Dunsany?
Hmmm. Easy answer: Yes. But no one really imitates Dunsany successfully. But at least very heavily influenced stylistically, though having Lovecraft's own philosophical underpinnings, which were quite different in many ways from Dunsany.
 

Fried Egg

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#7
Well, I've read "The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories" and have "Thing on the Doorstep and Other Weird Stories" lined up to read next.

My general opinion is that his knack for writing a good horror tale tended to improve towards the end of his career. Towards the beginning of the book, the stories are more hit and miss, good but for other reasons.

The stand out tales for me were:

"The Outsider"
"Herbert West -- Reanimator"
"The Rats in the Walls"
"The Colour Out of Space"
"The Whisperer in Darkness"
"The Shadow Over Innsmouth"
 
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#8
It's interesting that you'd list "Herbert West -- Reanimator". "The Outsider" seems to be the favorite with quite a few people and, while I think it has a lot of interest, I wouldn't include it in his best (nor would he, apparently), but "Herbert West" seldom gets put into that category. What was it you liked especially about this set of tales? I'd be interested in hearing your thoughts on each of the stories you mention...

I have a few problems with "The Whisperer in Darkness" on some points, but it is nonetheless a wonderful tale in many ways. "The Rats in the Walls" is one that's grown on me over time, though I've always had a certain fondness for it. "The Shadow over Innsmouth", I think, continues to grow with repeated readings (as does At the Mountains of Madness), while "The Colour out of Space" is very high on my list; it's been called almost an extended prose-poem, and I think that's very accurate. It's certainly one of the most atmospheric regional pieces I've read....
 

Fried Egg

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#9
Well, I'm not really one for analyising stories too deeply after I've read them but I'll give a brief overview.

Each story in this collection I've only read once and so my evaulations are based entirely on my first impressions and my selections as to which stories standout are simply those that left the deepest impressions on me.

I loved the imagery in "The Outsider" as well as the unusual way the story was approached. The shock or twist at the end was obvious but that was besides the point really.

"The Rats in the Walls" is a deeply thought provoking tail and probably the scariest that I have read so far. There's still so much that I don't understand about this story and is probably why my urge to re-read this is stronger than any other.

The other stories were just all great horror tales in a more conventional sense. Even "Herbert West -- Reanimator" I thought was great despite the flow being often disrupted by recapping and multiple climaxes. It still had great suspense and the ability to send shivers down my spine.

"The Shadow Over Innsmouth" particularly appealed to me because it reminded me of somewhere I knew. I used to live in Cornwall and there was a costal village (on the Lizard Peninsula) called Porthoustock that incites all kinds of strange gossip from Cornish locals. It is rumoured to be overwhelmed by witches or practitioners of black magics. It is known to be quite hostile to outsiders and has a particularly bleak feel to the place (contrasting quite starkly with with the otherwise picturesque and chocolotate box villages in that area). I'm sure that it's secrets are nearly so dark as that of Innsmouth (although after reading this story I am having second thoughts!) but the story struck a chord with me nonetheless. My only criticism of this story is that I thought the bit at the end (after he had escaped from the town) seemed a bit unnecessary in my view.

What can I say about "The Colour Out of Space" and "The Whisperer in Darkness" other than the fact that as I am generally a fan of Sci-fi, I really enjoyed Lovecraft's take on alien horrors.
 
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#10
Ha, another soon to be dyed in the wool Lovecraft fan :D

From what you've said so far, I'd say go ahead and read any Lovecraft you get. The only ones you're likely to dislike are the ones that are actually below par...it happens sometimes with his short stories and I personally don't think highly of The Dunwich Horror (yawn!) or The Case of Charles Dexter Ward (OK, too long and nothing special).

btw I recommend you see the film Dagon, based mainly on the Innsmouth story. You'll find the last twist incorporated in a more natural fashion in the movie (and special mention made of it in the director's commentary)
 

Fried Egg

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#11
From what you've said so far, I'd say go ahead and read any Lovecraft you get. The only ones you're likely to dislike are the ones that are actually below par...it happens sometimes with his short stories and I personally don't think highly of The Dunwich Horror (yawn!) or The Case of Charles Dexter Ward (OK, too long and nothing special).
Oh dear...two stories which are included in my next Lovercraft collection...:(
 
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#12
Well, I'll venture to disagree with Ravenus to some degree. I find The Case of Charles Dexter Ward to be slightly flawed, but overall a brilliant performance; it certainly has the most profound sense of "haunted history" of any of his work, though the climactic scene seems a bit too stagey... other than that, this remains one of those for which I have a very high regard. "The Dunwich Horror"... a lot of good there, especially his depiction of the region, the feel of an unnatural history (again), but the simplistic "good-vs-evil" is a bit of a letdown to me, personally (though it remains one of his most popular stories). Still, well worth reading.

As for the ending of "Innsmouth"... the first time I read it, that was my impression too, but on later readings I realized that it was anything but; in fact, it was hinted at from the opening lines, and with a very subtle development throughout the entire tale, and provides the ultimate "punch", if you will, by having not only his physical alteration, but a complete change in his personality take place... he loses his humanity on every level, in the end, so much so as to not even realize that it's a loss... (though it's been argued that it's a gain, really).... It's also a nice touch to have the final lines echoing Psalm 23 (not an original observation on my part; I first ran across it being noted by S. T. Joshi....)
 

Fried Egg

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#13
I would add that one of the things I like about Lovecraft is that it is subtle. Hardly ever do you see acts of actual violence or horror. It is usually merely hinted at and gleaned from third parties.
 
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#14
I would add that one of the things I like about Lovecraft is that it is subtle. Hardly ever do you see acts of actual violence or horror. It is usually merely hinted at and gleaned from third parties.
Very true. And while I've no problem with violence in a tale if it serves some purpose other than simply the "gross-out" -- if it is more than simply violence for the sake of violence, and has some greater symbolic or emotional resonance -- building an atmosphere of suspense and "otherworldliness" takes a great deal more skill than a catalogue of physical horrors....
 

Fried Egg

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#15
I've started reading "The thing on the doorstep and other weird stories" and am continuing to enjoy Lovecraft's work.

I'm currently about 10 pages into "The case of Charles Dexter Ward" and the standout stories for me so far are probably "Beyond the walls of sleep", "The Music of Erich Zann" and "Pickman's Model".

In "Beyond the walls of sleep", I just found the whole concept so fascinating. That these angelic like creatures have been entrapped in human bodies by some strange "adversary". Their brief taste of freedom only comming when their human host sleeps, and only dimly remembered as dreams by some.

Lovecraft's description of music in "The Music of Erich Zann" was quite intriguing. Particularly when one bears in mind that he wasn't musical himself (I think).

"Pickman's Model" was excellent. The descriptions of the demons and their actions made so much more insideous by the fact that they were in paintings and not supposed to be real. Far more effective and scary to write about them in that way rather than as some actual character's experience.

I must say that I am not so much a fan of his "Dunsanian" styled fantasies. Best left to Dunsany in my opinion.
 

Fried Egg

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#16
Just finished "The Case of Charles Dexter Ward".

I must say, what a fantastic, gradual build up of mystery and horror. HPL went into an impressive amount of detail building up this story and probably slightly too much because it did slow down the pace considerably. I've had to give myself a break after reading that one (before continuing with the rest of the collection) to give me time to absorb it. And I definitely need something a little lighter after reading that!
 
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#17
This is one of those that, should you revisit it later on, I think you'll find every bit of that detail is actually required to give the story the tightly-woven texture and verisimilitude it possesses... and an enormous amount of the history included there is quite genuine; what isn't is blended with actual history very skillfully indeed. This gives it a feeling of being an actual, but unknown or forgotten part of history... something that becomes even stronger once you start investigating things.

It's interesting... the first story I read by HPL was "The Colour out of Space", when I was quite young, about 10 or so... went rather over my head at that point, I'm afraid. The next two (at age 13) were "The Call of Cthulhu" and "The Haunter of the Dark" (in Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos). Then I picked up At the Mountains of Madness and Other Novels... and both MM and CDW are in that volume, and both of them (in different ways) completely captivated me... they continue to be favorites to this day, and they also continue to grow with each rereading. I'm more aware of what I'd call their slight flaws than I used to be, but I find their strengths grow each time, and far outweigh their flaws.
 

Fried Egg

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#18
When HPL describes the tactics used by the militia when it stormed Joseph Curwen's farm house, I can't help feeling that the level of detail was excessive. I actually enjoyed reading about that (being somewhat interested in military tactics) but I can't see what it really added to the story.

Still, as you say, re-reading it later on may make me aware of subtle connections with wider the story that I missed on first reading.
 
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#19
One of the things involved there is, again, the verisimilitude; giving the feel of a genuine engagement. But even more important, I think, is the fact that the only witness we have who was involved, was thereby put at a remove... which allows a lot more in the way of possibilities of what happened to Curwen. We are left -- as Charles is -- wondering whether he did "call up" something he couldn't "put down", whether the interference of the interlopers caused something to go awry... or whether, knowing something was in the air, this was part of his plan to outlast them and come back. Even if that last... was it Curwen the witness heard screaming... or someone (or thing) else? By leaving the door open this way, Lovecraft allows for a multiplicity of very nasty possibilities....

Also, the hard-nosed, matter-of-fact approach presented by such planning -- showing that, even with all the evidence, the raiders were still very much men of the "Age of Reason" and not given to quickly accepting that there was something supernatural going on -- contrasts well with the fact that afterward even the hardest of them would be shaken if asked about it. The meticulous detail, giving that prosaic approach they took originally, complements the starkness of what they must have seen and experienced to so disturb men who were so capable and iron-nerved.

There are other things there, I think; but these are the ones that immediately come to mind....
 

Fried Egg

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#20
Like I said, I wouldn't call any of the detail entirely superflous. It is all interesting and adds to the richness of the story, background or atmosphere. But I still feel that the flow of the story was slightly hampered as a consequence. A price worth paying in my book. But might prove an insurmountable to some potential readers...
 

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