I recently finished the Library of America collection of H. P. Lovecraft, titled “Tales“. As a collection it is quite good; a compact volume covering a wide range of his career, with helpful notes to the texts as well. (Did you know that Cthulhu is intended to be pronounced “Khlûl’hloo”? Here I was going “Kah-too-loo” the whole time!) As for the texts themselves, well, let’s just say that Lovecraft was nothing if not thorough. And repetitive. And repetitive.
The man loved his adjectives. Hardly a tome wasn’t dreaded, a secret not eldritch, an odor not noxious, a city not Cyclopean, or a moon not fungoid (!!). He also loved repeating his adjectives. And his descriptions of people, places, and events. I think part of it may have been that many of his stories were published serially, and thus the repetition served to remind readers of the previous chapters. Reading an entire story sequentially, though, became a bit tiring. Especially because it was virtually guaranteed to end with a revelation that had already been telegraphed to the reader, but was in italics nonetheless!
That’s not to say that the stories weren’t good. Many of them were great. His imagination and descriptive skill are fantastic. He also had a great ability to tie together his fictional entities across stories, introducing a new creature or race in a place seemingly consistent with his other creations in some barely-remembered way. (Uh oh, that last phrase sounds like something Lovecraft would have written. He’s getting to me.)
Everyone should definitely read some Lovecraft at some point in their lives. Since I’ve gone to the trouble of reading a whole collection, I’ll just list for you the highlights, so you can skip the rest. In descending order of quality:
- At the Mountains of Madness (the canonical example)
- The Case of Charles Dexter Ward
- The Music of Erich Zann (short and sweet)
- The Whisperer in Darkness
- The Shadow Out of Time
- The Colour Out of Space
- The Shadow Over Innsmouth
That should about cover it; to see the ones you should skip, look at the contents of this collection in the link I provided earlier, and subtract the list I just gave.
One more warning: H. P. Lovecraft was one racist motherfucker. Just so you know.