The Transition of H.P. Lovecraft: The Road to Madness

by H.P. Lovecraft
Reviewed date: 2005 Dec 17
379 pages
cover art

The master of horror strikes again! The book starts with his early, derivative stories and follows Lovecraft's progression as a writer into his more well-known tales. His early stories are not worth reading on their own, but are interesting as foils for his later, more mature, works.

Racism: H.P. Lovecraft's racism is more prevalent in his earlier works than his later ones. As Barbara Hambly points out in the introduction, Lovecraft's racism is subtle in that it is more concerned with "'bad blood' or evil and alien ancestry." Lovecraft's racism, then, is not so much concerned with white superiority as it is with racial purity and pure blood lines. However, that doesn't excuse Lovecraft's characterization of his villains as "nameless and unclassified Asian dregs," or a "Negro [who was] a loathsome, gorilla-like thing."

As others have pointed out, Lovecraft's racism was strictly theoretical. It was part of his stories but not of his life. He was even married to a Jewish woman for several years. And the racism evident in his stories grew less and less as Lovecraft matured as a writer.

Illustrated: The cover of this book proclaims in bold words: "Illustrated by John Jude Palencar." I don't know what illustrated means to you, but to me it does not mean a meagre six pencil drawings to accompany a full twenty-nine stories. I believe that if one advertises a book as illustrated then one should make a good-faith effort to actually illustrate the thing, not just throw in a few token pictures. There should have been at least two dozen drawings.

For fans only: There are some good stories in this collection, but on the whole it is only suitable for serious fans of H.P. Lovecraft. Too many of the stories (mostly the early ones) are just not any good.

In addition to containing the entire novella At the Mountains of Madness, some of the better stories in this collection are:

  • Imprisoned with the Pharaohs - Harry Houdini's brush with death in Egypt
  • The Horror at Red Hook - New York City detective Thomas F. Malone investigates illegal immigration and strange goings-on in the Red Hook district.
  • Cool Air - Curious old doctor keeps his apartment at a frigid, near-freezing temperature.
  • In the Walls of Eryx - Explorer on Venus gets stuck in an invisible maze.

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