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What Do You Think Are H. P. Lovecraft's Worst Stories and Writings

Discussion in 'H P Lovecraft' started by BAYLOR, Jul 3, 2015.

  1.  
    BAYLOR

    BAYLOR There Are Always new Things to Learn.

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    One story that comes to mind Is Herbert West Reanimator. I read it once and no desire ever to read it again.
     
  2.  
    j d worthington

    j d worthington Moderator Staff Member

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    Um, for all its flaws, I don't think I'd choose the Herbert West series (and remember, it was a series originally, published as such). I've read it several times and it has its odd appeal and even shows his concern for literary technique rather more than one might suspect. It also exhibits some of his genuine concerns, albeit in rather distorted form.

    Another such, "The Lurking Fear", I would also not quite put in that category for much the same reasons, though it, too, suffers from many of the same faults.

    On the other hand.... "The Street" would definitely be a contender for his worst original fiction (some of his revision tales would leave it far behind, however). It, too, has its strong points (to my way of thinking), but it is still among his worst. I am tempted to put "The Hound" in this category, save that I have become of S. T. Joshi's view that it is -- at least in the main -- a parody of his own writing as well as of the Decadents which he in many ways admired.

    Then again, a fair number of his juvenile prose works (this is less true of some of his verse of the same period) are truly bad, even for a child. I do not refer to such things as "The Beast in the Cave" which, while a juvenile tale (written between his fourteenth and fifteenth years, if memory serves) actually shows considerable ability, but rather his earliest fictional writings.

    A large proportion of his verse, if considered as poetry, is simply a failure. To me, it has other redeeming qualities and I can often enjoy it on different levels... but, save for a respectable portion of the fantastic verse and some of his satire (and an occasional piece of occasional or nature verse), it simply isn't poetry by any stretch of the imagination.

    Some of his essays are rather dull and lifeless, but most of those are from series which he did for various newspapers, and required a lot of forced repetition. On the other hand, a not inconsiderable number are quite brilliant in one way or another, and some of his travelogues are gems, while some of his literary and philosophical writings show an amazing talent and acute mind.

    Even a few of his letters make me wince... but here the vast majority are scintillating examples of this art form.

    Several of his worst works are his revision tales, particularly those for Adolphe de Castro ("The Last Test" and "The Electric Executioner"), those he touched up for his soon-to-be wife Sonia ("The Horror at Martin's Beach", a.k.a. "The Invisible Monster", and "Four O'clock"), and the first of the Clifford M. Eddy revisions, "Ashes"... which may well (depending on how much of a hand HPL had in it) be counted as the single worst thing he ever touched....
     
  3.  
    dask

    dask dark and stormy knight

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    Gonna have to disagree with you on at least one of these J.D. If I were editing an anthology of the best stories to celebrate Halloween with, along with "Pigeons From Hell" by Robert E. Howard, "The Father-Thing" by Philip K. Dick, and "Window" by Bob Leman, I'd have to add "The Horror At Martin's Beach" by H.P. Lovecraft and Sonia H. Greene. If judging a story by its title were a smart thing to do one would do well to pass this one by. I almost did. "The Horror At Martin's Beach"? One may as well read "The Terror On The Moon." But I read it anyway and discovered by my complete surprise a story of unusual power that left me emotionally turbulent well beyond the reading. The image of all those poor people being dragged off to one of the worst dooms imaginable with absolutely nothing to be done about it will haunt me for the rest of my life. Even worse are the bystanders who, realizing the futility of any rescue attempt, retire to the Inn's veranda to watch the terrible conclusion to this mind-shattering catastrophe. I don't know what comes to mind when you see the word veranda but I see chairs, tables, drinks, casual but intelligent conversation. Would you watch? Would I? Scares me to think about it.

    Waiter, another round, please.
     
  4.  
    j d worthington

    j d worthington Moderator Staff Member

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    Good thoughtful response, dask. I would say, however, that while I agree about these things conceptually, the execution is far too hyperbolic and overheated in many instances, to the point of lapsing beyond bathos into self-parody. This was a fault Lovecraft occasionally succumbed to (normally he walked a fine line very nicely), and Sonia (if "Four O'clock" and her essays which I've seen are any indication) was especially prone to it. It isn't that the words themselves are wrong, but that they are ladled on too thickly and without the proper emotional preparation to allow them to stand. That emotional preparation and care to resonance and association with even the most extreme terms was one of Lovecraft's hallmarks, but here that care simply isn't in evidence.
     
  5.  
    Toby Frost

    Toby Frost Well-Known Member

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    Not counting the revisions, which I don’t know very well, I think "The Street" would have to be my contender. It’s just an outpouring of cranky racist anger without much at all to redeem it. I found quite a lot of the stories in Dagon and other Macabre Tales to be a bit weak: either too whimsical for my tastes (“The Cats of Ulthar”) or just cruder versions of ideas that would be later re-used to greater effect (“Dagon”, to an extent, and the one in the German submarine, whose name I’ve forgotten). One of my great problems with HPL is that he tended to use the same structure over and over again. For me, the best stories often add something to that structure: the use of letters in “The Whisperer in Darkness”, or the action-adventure element of “The Shadow Over Innsmouth”. Some of the more ambitious stories don’t work too well for me, especially “The Shadow Out Of Time”.

    I rather like “Herbert West”, but it’s a bit of a guilty pleasure. It’s as if Lovecraft decided not to bother with the subtle stuff and just to wade in with a big bucket of gore. It is genuinely horrible at points, and the wax-headed man is very sinister indeed. There are problems – notably the black boxer, as you would expect, who Lovecraft seems to think is a literal gorilla – and the need to keep reminding the reader what happened in the last episode, but in terms of Hell-for-leather carnage, it works pretty well. I also remember something called “The Loved Dead”, another gloves-off story, which was startlingly unpleasant.
     
  6.  
    j d worthington

    j d worthington Moderator Staff Member

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    On the recaps at the beginning of each section of "Herbert West -- Reanimator"... Lovecraft was under the obligation to provide such because of the serial nature of the story, or, to be more accurate stories (six installments, published over several months). It was not published as a unit until many, many years later... in the collection Beyond the Wall of Sleep (1943) if memory serves.... "The Loved Dead", again, was a revision tale, one of the four he did for Clifford M. Eddy, Jr. (the others being "Ashes" -- see above, "The Ghost-Eater", and what I think is the most powerful of the bunch, "Deaf, Dumb, and Blind")
     
  7.  
    Extollager

    Extollager Well-Known Member

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    Thought experiment: Imagine that "Pickman's Model" was not be Lovecraft, didn't have the cachet of the Lovecraft name... would it be much regarded? I admit it is years since I read it, but I don't think, even in the first flush of my discovery of Lovecraft around age 15 many years ago, that this corny bit of pulp seemed very successful to me. I could just about say it seems to me closer kin to the intros on Svengoolie than to the achievement of Lovecraft's best efforts, such as The Colour Out of Space.
     
  8.  
    w h pugmire esq

    w h pugmire esq Well-Known Member

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    There is nothing "corny" about "Pickman's Model," an excellent wee weird tale. The question wou'd we admire had it not been penned by Lovecraft reveals in its query the answer: only Lovecraft could have written ye story, it is personal and perfect. The narrative tone is unique in Lovecraft's fiction--I cannot think of any other narrator who comes across as so frantic a character. This gent, who is n ex-soldier, has experienced a fright that utterly overwhelms him. He has seen the curtain drawn a little to thus expose ye sinister core of an artist he admires, and the cryptic realm to which that artist has been exposed. The story contains, in brief, Lovecraft's philosophy re: morbid art--art that touches absolutely the Outside. The suggestion in the story of the foundling myth, and Pickman's link to such myth, is subtle and superb. The evocation of a North End that no longer exists is potent; and one can still roam that section of Boston and imagine the aura is contain'd in Lovecraft's day. I have often stood on ye sod of Copp's Hill and felt the past as Lovecraft hauntingly evokes it.

    The prose style of the story is exactly right for the events it depicts, and for the criticism it conveys. The build-up, of describing a place of uncanny secret horror, and then shewing that place in fact, is entirely effective. Many have condemn'd ye tale's ending and ineffective and predictable--but obviously the ending is the story's least interesting facet, and I find it pleasing and dramatic.

    My favourite presentation of ye tale is in More Annotated H. P. Lovecraft, edited by S. T. Joshi and Peter Cannon (Dell Trade Paperback, August 1999), where ye tale is illustrated by spectral photographs of the sites mention'd in ye text.
     
  9.  
    j d worthington

    j d worthington Moderator Staff Member

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    I wouldn't go quite as far as Wilum on this one, but I would still say that it is far from being "corny" or even pulpish in the usual sense. Like another relatively minor tale, "The Unnamable", its main flaw (in my estimation) is that it almost reads like a treatise on the weird in art (in the former case, pictorial art, in the latter, literary art). Yet that very flavor is extremely important to both the incidents and the narrative momentum of the tale, for it intertwines with the incidents both to justify the weird in art and to adumbrate (as with the opening paragraphs of "The Picture in the House") how pervasive the weird or uncanny actually is in everyday life to those not blinded by the mundane. Leiber, at any rate, cited the final line of the story as one of Lovecraft's unforgettable triumphs, along with that for "The Whisperer in Darkness" and certain others... not as revelatory (for it would take a particularly dense reader not to at least guess the general thrust long beforehand -- but as conformational, dovetailing with the development of the text in such a way that the edifice is carefully built from first word to last.

    Is the tale at times a bit histrionic? Yes. Does Thurber (the narrator) come across as perhaps someone whose nerves were not as ironclad as he protests. Again, quite possibly so, to many (though, as Wilum argues, this can also easily be seen as an indication of just how shattering his experience has been, if it topped what he saw on the battlefields of the Great War). But I think these are relatively minor flaws in a tale which, though perhaps a bit too Poesque at times, is actually a rather powerful piece of atmospheric description as well as as an argument for the weird as an often neglected aspect of realism.
     
  10.  
    Toby Frost

    Toby Frost Well-Known Member

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    To my mind “Pickman’s Model” isn’t in the top league of Lovecraft stories, but it’s a decent one. In a way, it exists to tell a punchline which most readers (these days, if not back then) would have guessed already or not found terribly surprising. But it’s still got some very good bits, especially, for me, the treatise on art. (I have to say that I think it’s miles better than “The Unnameable”). I like that telling bit where Lovecraft talks about paintings, but might be discussing his own work (any hack can throw paint around and call it a portrait of the Devil, but it takes a true artist…).

    There’s one moment in particular that I think is terrific, and it’s the picture of the ghouls laughing at a guidebook to the area where they live. It contrasts the modern world and the mythos brilliantly (J.D.'s realism, perhaps?), and has a black comedy that I don’t see in much of his writing (although I get the impression that he took the Cthulhu Mythos slightly less seriously than one might expect from the intensity of the stories). I really like these modern-world details when they creep in, like Marsh's hat in "The Shadow over Innsmouth" or the discovery of Pluto in “The Whisperer in Darkness”. So while I don’t find “Pickman’s Model” terribly startling, I think the journey to the punchline is pretty strong.
     
  11.  
    w h pugmire esq

    w h pugmire esq Well-Known Member

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    It's interesting to read explanations of why a Lovecraft story exists. I think the majority of today's reader's think that "Pickman's Model" was written merely for its ending. The point of my over-ye-top (and yet entirely sincere) praise of ye tale is to suggest that the story's ending is the least aspect of it that interested Lovecraft, because it was an obvious choice. For me, the story exists to evoke a sinister sense of the past, and how one uncanny and perhaps partially inhuman artist, was able to capture humanity's dark past in his work. Lovecraft is Pickman as he writes the story, painting with language on lined paper rather than oils on canvas.
     
  12.  
    Extollager

    Extollager Well-Known Member

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    Wrapt in meretricious day,

    No true thing could poesy say.

    LOVECRAFT arose, and cried out in his might

    To magnify perdurant night.


    NB "Poesy" should be pronounced in what I take to be the classical manner, i.e. more like "poy-zee" than "po-ess-ee."
     
    Last edited: Jul 8, 2015
  13.  
    j d worthington

    j d worthington Moderator Staff Member

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    I would say that all these are indeed in there (the original impetus of the tale, as you know, being his attempt to convey his impressions of a section of the town he saw on a visit, one which, when he attempted to take Donald Wandrei[?] there later, he found to his dismay to have been demolished), but I would argue that the final line is important as the "clincher" to Lovecraft's argument that, in a very real sense, we are the monsters. It is a very carefully crafted work which builds toward that final reaffirmation.

    As for the final line... (forgive me, Wilum, but I can't resist this one, given your intense interest in all things Lovecraftian): shame on you; you of all people should know HPL loathed lined paper.....;)
     
  14.  
    dask

    dask dark and stormy knight

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    Okay, can't argue with that, still, I urge anyone who hasn't read this story not to let this be the last word on the subject. Give the story a try. I had no problem with the writing and hopefully you won't either.
     
  15.  
    hardsciencefanagain

    hardsciencefanagain Well-Known Member

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    Lovecraft in his longer work can be slightly arduous reading.
    I never finished TMOMadness.
    Shorter work:hard to surpass
     
  16.  
    j d worthington

    j d worthington Moderator Staff Member

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    Ben -- Could you specify what you find so difficult about these longer pieces? I'm pretty sure I know, but don't wish to assume. If you're open to a discussion about such, it's possible it may allow you to enjoy what has previously put you off....
     
  17.  
    BAYLOR

    BAYLOR There Are Always new Things to Learn.

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    At the Mountains of Madness It does take a few pages to get going but the payoff is worth it.
     
  18.  
    j d worthington

    j d worthington Moderator Staff Member

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    I would go so far as to say that, without all that buildup, the emotional impact would be greatly diminished. Not only is the scientific verisimilitude necessary to carry the "hoax" of the tale, but the subtle suggestions in the earlier portions of the story unconsciously prepare the reader for what is to come while at the same time exhibiting the shift in perspective of the narrator, thus building from the obvious horror of the Old Ones to the later horror of the shoggoths, and then the terror of what is revealed in the final paragraphs... for all of which groundwork is laid early on.
     
  19.  
    Extollager

    Extollager Well-Known Member

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    I relish the early pages of At the Mountains. Here is the mature Lovecraft, writing a commanding, convincing prose. He stands as inheritor here of the whole "lost race" genre.
     
  20.  
    John Thiel III

    John Thiel III I'm sitting with a south shoe.

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    I've just read the worst so far, in my estimate, "Winged Death", written in collaboration with someone else. It is just not a sensible story, eluding the "willing suspension of disbelief".
     
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