The Best of H.P. Lovecraft: Bloodcurdling Tales of Horror and the Macabre

by H.P. Lovecraft
Reviewed date: 2004 May 1
406 pages
cover art

H.P. Lovecraft is among the earliest and best writers of horror fiction. His style tends toward the logical and introspective, and he writes in complex, sophisticated language. Those who are familiar with the terse, plain writing of Isaac Asimov will find Lovecraft's verbosity the antithesis of Asimov's style. But let me quote some opening lines from various Lovecraft short stories:

The Whisperer in Darkness
Bear in mind closely that I did not see any actual visual horror at the end. To say that a mental shock was the cause of what I inferred--that last straw which sent me racing out of the lonely Akeley farmhouse and through the wild domed hills of Vermont in a commandeered motor that night--is to ignore the plainest facts of my final experience. Notwithstanding the deep things I saw and heard, and the admitted vividness of the impression produced on me by these things, I cannot prove even now whether I was right or wrong in my hideous inference.

Lovecraft's stories are written in first person, as an introspective look back on the events that have led the narrator to his current position. This allows Lovecraft to simultaneously show the narrator as the all-knowing guide, and the narrator as the disbelieving, incredulous participant in the activities which he will only later come to understand. So we get the best of both worlds: we see the story as it unfolds, but we have a knowledgeable guide to offer explanation and insight into those events. The forward of the book explains in more detail how Lovecraft does that, and how that device works so well in his stories.

The Call of Cthulhu
The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far. The sciences, each straining in its own direction, have hitherto harmed us little; but some day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifiying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the deadly light into the peace and safety of a new dark age.

The Dunwich Horror
That the kind of fear here treated is purely spiritual--that it is strong in proportion as it is objectless on earth, that it predominates in the period of our sinless infancy--are difficulties the solution of which might afford some probable insight into our ante-mundane condition, and a peep at least into the shadowland of pre-existence.

H.P. Lovecraft is lots of fun. People just don't write like he does anymore. I learned a lot of words from him: hierophant, rugose, eldritch, ennui. And lots more. I don't rate short story collections on my 5-point scale, but I do recommend this collection. Fans of science fiction or horror owe it to themselves to read some H.P. Lovecraft. Maybe you won't like it, but I recommend finding and reading at least one Lovecraft story.

Lovecraft was born in 1890. He wrote in the 1920s and 1930s. He died in 1937.

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