Want to read Lovecraft. But Where to begin?

Joined
Jan 30, 2013
Messages
12
#1
I think all is in the title. Lovecraft wrote a lot of books. I want to read Cthulhu, but is there more than one book for it? Is this a good choice? You know, that kind of questions !
 

kromanjon

Well-Known Member
Joined
Jan 29, 2013
Messages
103
#2
Well acctually Lovecraft wrote alot of short stories, some better than others. I think most people would agree that you find a collection that contains The Call of Cthulhu, one of his best in my opinion.

If I where to write a small list I would suggest the following stories:

The Rats in the Walls
Pickman's Model
The Colour out of Space
The Case of Charles Dexter Ward
The Temple
The Hound
Herbert West - Reanimator
The Quest of Iranon (though others seem to hate this one)

Those would be my picks.
 

EricWard

Fledgling Writer/Editor
Joined
Aug 22, 2012
Messages
182
Location
"The crux of the biscuit is: If it entertains you,
#3
The Rats in the Walls
The Colour Out of Space (another good starter)
The Shadow Out of Time
The Temple
The Call of Cthulhu
Cool Air
The Dreams in the Witch House
The Evil Clergyman
The Music of Erich Zann
The Shunned House

He's great if you can get into him, but he can be tough at times. Very, very wordy for some people. I don't mind, but some people absolutely despise that.

Kromanjon has a good list, too. Definitely best to start with "The Call of Cthulhu." And most collections will have that one.
 
Joined
May 9, 2006
Messages
13,884
#4
Hmmm... nice lists, but I wouldn't quite agree with either entirely. "The Hound", for instance, suffers from being overwritten, more than slightly over the top, quite likely intentionally, judging from the origins of the story as well as certain things included in the text. Fun, but by no means his best. "The Evil Clergyman" isn't actually a story -- hence its rather rough form -- but rather is taken from a letter of Lovecraft's and published as a new piece of fiction by him following his death. "The Temple" tends to be rather turgid at times, and the plethora of supernatural events don't tie together at all well, which makes it much less successful as a whole. However, each of these has its proponents, and you may be one who would greatly enjoy them, so....

My suggestion would be simply to pick up the Barnes & Noble H. P. Lovecraft: The Complete Fiction, which collects together all his original* fiction. It is a very affordable book, and also one of the most textually sound, eliminating long-standing errors in most editions of Lovecraft, as well as replacing portions of text (sometimes quite substantial) which have, inadvertently or intentionally, been excised from his work over the years. Be sure, however, to get the printings of 1911 and after, as earlier printings suffered from an unbelievable number of typos. Below is a link which will take you to the edition I mean:

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/bar...lassics-hp-lovecraft-h-p-lovecraft/1106658815

My own list of his best would include:

At the Mountains of Madness
"The Colour Out of Space"
The Case of Charles Dexter Ward
"The Shadow Out of Time"
"The Shadow Over Innsmouth"
"The Call of Cthulhu"
"The Music of Erich Zann"
"Polaris"
"The Strange High House in the Mist"
"The Whisperer in Darkness"

though I have several others which are also among my favorites....

*that is, neither his few collaborative works nor those he ghost-wrote or revised for others
 
Joined
Jan 30, 2013
Messages
12
#5
A complet and instructive answer (all 3) thanks you. The Barnes & Nobles looks great, I will try to find the same in french ( because even if I write and read english, french will always be easier ^^). If I don't find it, I will probably take a little book first, then the Barnes & Nobles.
 

Ningauble

Lovecraftian
Joined
May 15, 2007
Messages
720
#6
A complet and instructive answer (all 3) thanks you. The Barnes & Nobles looks great, I will try to find the same in french ( because even if I write and read english, french will always be easier ^^). If I don't find it, I will probably take a little book first, then the Barnes & Nobles.
French translations of HPL are supposedly extremely "free", so that may not be a good idea.
 
Joined
Jan 30, 2013
Messages
12
#7
Probably yes. Translations of Edgar Allan Poe were sometimes in fact, Baudelaire was mistaken about Poe, this influenced his work. Could be the same for Lovecraft's .

And I'm falling in love with the Barnes & Nobles collection ^^
 

MontyCircus

Well-Known Member
Joined
Jan 26, 2008
Messages
295
#8
He's great if you can get into him, but he can be tough at times. Very, very wordy for some people. I don't mind, but some people absolutely despise that.
I gave him a try. Picked up Tales, a hardcover collection of his best work by Library of America (nice acid-free paper that will last forever). Read about the first third of it, 13 of the 22 stories (including Call of Cthulhu and The Case of Charles Dexter Ward), and I love the subject matter but am disappointed after finishing each of them and in the end am not entertained. He is indeed wordy and uses old-fashioned language which makes it even harder to read. But the worst is when he info-dumps pages on pages of place names. This home at this address on this street next to this post office...I DON'T CARE!!! It's like reading a hundred year-old newspaper. I've put it down and picked it up numerous times. I'd slog through all of that and then it all ends up in an abrupt ending. Time for me to surrender and move on.

The highlight for me was Herbert West--Reanimator, well just the first part of that, which got my heart racing! Nice re-telling of Frankenstein (which I also liked).
 

w h pugmire esq

Well-Known Member
Joined
Jan 11, 2009
Messages
403
Location
I linger within ye shadows of Sesqua Valley, dream
#9
When I first came to Lovecraft I enjoyed the classic Mythos stories such as "The Duwich Horror," "The Call of Cthulhu," as well as "lesser" tales such as "The Outsider"and "The Hound." All of Lovecraft is wonderful. The language is not old-fashioned or difficult to read, but it is highly Literary, because Lovecraft was a very serious artist. His prose style has, for many of us, an hypnotic effect that draws the reader in. I love his prose style, it is quite fabulous; but just as wonderful as the way he writes are the topics of which he pens, and they are multitudinous. He had a real love for horror, and his weird fiction overflows with morbid characters and chilling scenes. "The Hound" is particularly fine--a perfect evocation of Gothic horror that overflows with mystery and the macabre. Although the story's horror is explicit, it is never fully explained, and that is one of the tale's really intriguing touches. The tale, perhaps, pokes parodied fun at the decadent movement in Literature, but this touch of zaniness does not dilute the potency of its horror. One of the marvelous touches in Lovecraft's work is the thin line drawn between reality and dream. We do not know, cannot now completely state, if "The Outsider" and "The Music of Erich Zann" are meant as narratives founded in memory or mystic mental mirage. Lovecraft is Eternal, for one can return to his weird fiction time and again and never drink its fill. I have been reading H. P. Lovecraft since the early 1970's, and he remains as vital, as potent, as fantastic today as he did when first I read him. He is awesome. My personal favourite books are the three published by Penguin Classics.
 

Sourdust

Well-Known Member
Joined
Feb 15, 2013
Messages
55
#10
The language is not old-fashioned or difficult to read, but it is highly Literary, because Lovecraft was a very serious artist. His prose style has, for many of us, an hypnotic effect that draws the reader in. I love his prose style, it is quite fabulous;
I do find it fascinating quite how divergent the opinions on Lovecraft's style are. There's clearly the devoted cult that considers him one of the Greats, and many others who would dismiss him as a pulp hack. Michael Moorcock, for instance, once described his writing as 'offensively awful'.

While I certainly wouldn't go that far, I find it difficult to consider him 'highly literary'. He clearly aspired to be highly literary, but the strain is visible; it was a stale, borrowed notion of literariness. There's not much point arguing the case, since it seems one either loves Lovecraft or one doesn't, but in purely literary terms I'd rank him far below Lord Dunsany, one of his influences (not that what they wrote is entirely comparable).

The litmus test may be whether one finds the endless repetition of the adjective 'nameless' - which, as I pointed out on another thread, occurs over 20 times in At the Mountains of Madness - to be richly evocative or just hollow and bathetic. That both options are possible is a good argument in favour of aesthetic relativism.
 

w h pugmire esq

Well-Known Member
Joined
Jan 11, 2009
Messages
403
Location
I linger within ye shadows of Sesqua Valley, dream
#11
I, of course, have no training in Literature; but there are many fine books by those who have, such as S. T. Joshi, Barton Levi St. Armand, Donald R. Burleson, Robert H. Waugh and others, and they shew that Lovecraft was very learned in the art of writing, and that he knew exactly what he wanted to do and often accomplished his aesthetic aims. And we know from Lovecraft's letters that he was a student of literature and understood the tools of writing. HPL wrote extremely well, beautifully, poetically, with intelligence and originality. He could also write poorly, of course, and was sometimes woefully uninspired. But it is more than opinion that Lovecraft was a good writer, as the books by those authors mention'd above has taught me. I don't have the intellect to understand Lovecraft's genius in technical terms, and thus I am condemn'd to love his Work as a fan merely. But that he was demonstrably superb as a writer is beyond dispute.
 

Sourdust

Well-Known Member
Joined
Feb 15, 2013
Messages
55
#12
I, of course, have no training in Literature; but there are many fine books by those who have, such as S. T. Joshi, Barton Levi St. Armand, Donald R. Burleson, Robert H. Waugh and others, and they shew that Lovecraft was very learned in the art of writing, and that he knew exactly what he wanted to do and often accomplished his aesthetic aims.
Yes, and I respect the work and opinions of Joshi et al, which is why I periodically return to Lovecraft, but never seem quite able to share their enthusiasm, except in flashes. (Similarly, many readers might find Dunsany, whom I consider a master, to be tepid and thin.) Even among horror fans, there's no absolute consensus: those who prefer Lovecraft might consider the ghost stories of M.R. James too tame and reserved, for instance, while partisans of James might dismiss Lovecraft as unsubtle and overwrought. (It's possible to like both, of course, but probably not in equal proportion.)
 

Glisterspeck

Frozen sea axe smith
Joined
Oct 6, 2007
Messages
489
#13
I think I started with The Rats in the Walls or the Shadow Over Innsmouth, and have read most of the rest listed. (I have the Del Ray editions.) I like Lovecraft, and take a lot of inspiration from his work, but I don't really "feel" the horror in it in the same way as I do in, say, Richard Matheson's or Ramsey Campbell's work. So while I like and appreciate Lovecraft, it's sorta akin to how I like and appreciate Citizen Kane: with a kind of emotional distance, always looking over my own shoulder, mumbling observations on style and mechanics as I read.

I only really love Lovecraft when it's someone else doing the writing, and in that case, I prefer homages to pastiches. I particularly love Lovecraft inspired comics: Hellboy, Locke and Key, anything drawn by Ben Templesmith, and so on. I guess my point is, if you find yourself uninterested in the primary source material, there's a ton of really good derivative work (much of it sanctioned) in which to wallow.
 
Joined
May 9, 2006
Messages
13,884
#14
On James: I'm not sure anyone who is actually paying attention could call his work "tame and reserved"; those are some of the nastiest "ghosts" walking the halls of literature; second only, perhaps, to the "ghosts" of Le Fanu, who so much influenced him. His approach is at times oblique, but it is a very calculated approach which highlights the ghastliness of the spectral phenomena. Think, for instance, of the quite unusual, and absolutely revolting, basis of "A View from a Hill", for instance, or "Lost Hearts"....

I definitely come down on the side of HPL being genuinely "literary", though it is a very idiosyncratic approach... albeit no more so, really, than Henry James or Oscar Wilde. Joshi describes it well when he says that it is a blending of the classic essay form with prose-poetic techniques... such as that repetition of certain phrases, almost always modified differently from one use to the next, to evoke different yet closely related shadings. This is not, however, to say that Lovecraft is going to appeal to or impress everyone in this manner, simply that he has, over a long haul, overcome nearly all the negative critical reaction to his work to actually (gasp!) become part of that elusive thing called the canon....

Incidentally, it is difficult to say just how much reliance to put on Moorcock's comments on Lovecraft, as on Moorcock's Miscellany, when the subject came up, he had this to say (see post #2):

http://www.multiverse.org/fora/showthread.php?t=5829&highlight=Lovecraft
 

Sourdust

Well-Known Member
Joined
Feb 15, 2013
Messages
55
#15
On James: I'm not sure anyone who is actually paying attention could call his work "tame and reserved"
I'd like to think so, but then those raised on, say, Stephen King and Clive Barker might have difficulty getting into him. Later developments in a genre can render its antecedents less accessible, and not every reader has the antiquarian sensibility necessary to appreciate them. (I say that as a fellow antiquarian, of course.)

j. d. worthington said:
Incidentally, it is difficult to say just how much reliance to put on Moorcock's comments on Lovecraft, as on Moorcock's Miscellany, when the subject came up, he had this to say...
Interesting. I suppose many of Moorcock's polemical statements were probably based on thin reading. (His dismissive generalisations about all sf that wasn't published in New Worlds always seemed rather off-base.)

Anyway, I haven't given up on Lovecraft quite yet. Maybe one day I will find something in his oeuvre that just 'clicks'. ('The Outsider' was probably the highlight so far, and stretches of 'Colour Out of Space'.)
 

ekswanson

New Member
Joined
Mar 21, 2013
Messages
1
#16
Hello Aldean. As an avid reader of Lovecraft, I would strongly recommend The Dunwich Horror. It embodies all elements of Lovecraftian horror, from dormant powers under the earth to the sinister, esoteric texts used to give life and form to those ancient horrors. Set in a nightmarish town that is typically Lovecraft both in its isolated location and demented residence, The Dunwich Horror is not only critically acclaimed among his works but is in my opinion one of the highest manifestations of his "unhallowed lands and their attendant deities" theme. The Call of Chthulu would be a fine read as well for these very reasons, and the Shadow Over Innsmouth is another take on offspring of the unholy union of a god and a mortal woman.

Cheers,

Ed Swanson
Author: Mesmer's Disciple
 
Last edited:

JCL

New Member
Joined
Jun 13, 2013
Messages
2
#17
I would say that the best place to start would be my own, which was the Call of Cthulhu in the Penguin Modern Classics edition, which serves as a reasonably short yet quite developed overview of his cosmicism and bleak philosophy. This would be advisable before tackling longer works such as At the Mountains of Madness.

As for his skills as purely a creator of prose, see the car journey scene of Whisperer in the Darkness. In fact that whole story is beautifully written, albeit let down by an abrupt plot.
 
Joined
May 9, 2006
Messages
13,884
#18
In fact that whole story is beautifully written, albeit let down by an abrupt plot.
I'd tend to agree with the gist of this statement, save for a bit of befuddlement over the term "abrupt plot". Not that I'm disagreeing with what you're saying... I'm just not sure what that phrase means.....

I think my reservations on this particular story would be as follows:

1) The introduction of the alien creatures so baldly, so quickly in, without (in my view) proper emotional preparation;

2) The two bits of "infodump", which are a bit much in context (though still often evocative, and a far cry from what we see from so many of HPL's followers, such as Derleth, Carter, Lumley, etc.);

3) The rather shallow "good-vs.-evil" motivation given them, with relatively puerile actions such as the bumbled impersonation of the telegram (with the misspelt signature); surely gaffes beings of such enormous capabilities would be unlikely to pull.

(Granted, the variant of Akeley's name would be the fault of their human dupe, but it still speaks to a certain incompetence on their part that such happened.)

Nonetheless, all these faults still do not prevent it from being, generally, a fine story (just as the obvious flaws in Machen's "The Great God Pan" do not prevent it from being a genuine classic of the genre); I just feel they pull it down somewhat from the extremely high level it otherwise attains.
 

w h pugmire esq

Well-Known Member
Joined
Jan 11, 2009
Messages
403
Location
I linger within ye shadows of Sesqua Valley, dream
#20
"The Whisperer in Darkness" is such a wonderful story, but it is also maddening because of points of business that don't make sense or border on silliness. Usually in Lovecraft I like it when things don't make sense, when the thin dimensions between reality, dream and madness are so thin. I am preparing a careful study of the story, reading from ye Penguin Classics edition, as I want to try my hand at writing a wee essay concerning it. Perhaps the points that confused me will become clear during this rereading. One question is the role of Nyarlathotep in the tale--what is his function. I was just discussing this with Pete Von Sholly, who asked if I thought Nyarlathotep was the whisperer in ye tale, or if the whisperer was one ingeniously disguised fungi. I lean toward ye Big N, who seems to enjoy jest and masks. I also cannot quite remember the part played by Noyes (is that his name) in the story, except that he steals the stone and recording. Another big wtf for me in ye tale is: who is shooting bullets at ye farmhouse? I cannot quite seriously entertain ye idea of pistol packin' Fungi from Yuggoth.
 

Similar threads

Top