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5.0 out of 5 stars The mature works of the Master: essential reading for horror-fans!, 3 Nov. 2012
This review is from: The Haunter of the Dark and Other Tales (H. P. Lovecraft Omnibus, Book 3): Haunter of the Dark and Other Tales No. 3 (Paperback)
H.P. Lovecraft continues to be recognised today as one of the most influential and powerful writers of horror-literature America has ever produced. Only Edgar Allan Poe enjoys a similar status and it is significant that successful writers of later generations such as Robert Bloch and Stephen King, have acknowledged his influence.

Few horror-writers have invoked the sense of creeping cosmic dread, and mounting atmospheric tension one finds in Lovecraft. In the best of his stories there is the impression of shocking alien forces and intangible horrors close at hand, which genuinely make the sensitive reader shudder by the fireside and watch the shadows. He also possesses an incantatory vocabulary which serves to heighten the sense of weirdness and rich atmosphere.

The Haunter of the Dark presents HPL's best -known tales, with established classics like "The Colour Out of Space," "The Shadow over Innsmouth," "The Dunwich Horror" and "The Shadow out of Time." These tales represent weird literature at its very best, and for the reader who has not yet experienced HPL, makes the best introduction. After reading this, the reader will either be hooked forever, or will decide that HPL isn't for them. For the discerning horror-fan, it is essential reading.

In the best of these stories, a feeling of mounting dread, of spheres of existence beyond imagination, and sheer spiritual fright reach pinnacles rarely found in horror. Many of them are rooted in a tradition of American Gothic writing evidenced by Poe and Hawthorne, but also containing an original vein best seen in the tales of the Cthulhu Mythos.

"The Rats in the Walls" tells of an ancient manor house with an evil ancestry of cannibalism and witchcraft. The shocking revelations of vast underground tombs and human sacrifices consign its protagonist to the madhouse: but how much of it is real and how much the deranged imagination of a madman?

In "The Dunwich Horror" a remote New England village is host to a degenerate family with a history of strange worship and black magic. Shunned by the villagers, this evil clan succeed in summoning an invisible force from another dimension which threatens the very existence of humanity. The build-up of tension and the sense of nightmare are virtually unmatched in this tale, one of Lovecraft's best.

In "The Colour out of Space" a meteorite brings an alien force which sucks out the life from everything it comes into contact with, and the description of this force, as seen by terrified researchers once it has occupied a farmhouse and destroyed all life within it, is unforgettable.

"The Shadow over Innsmouth" is one of the best of the Cthulhu Mythos stories, and tells of a long-neglected seaport in New England, the strange inhabitants thereof and their mysterious worship of unknown and malignant gods from under the sea. The atmosphere is richly evoked throughout of a decaying and degenerate race, and there are real flashes of cosmic horror, such as the moment when a young visitor to Innsmouth passes a strange church, the door open, and preceives a hunched figure inside wearing a headpiece associated with an ancient and evil cult. The passage in which he attempts escape from the doomed town pursued by its monstrous denizens is a classic piece of terror-writing.

In "The Shadow out of Time," a remote archaeological expedition reveals the existence of a race of beings older than the Earth who have visited the planet before and who have absolute power of life and death over every living being on it.

These are among the best horror stories ever written and how Lovecraft would have developed had he lived to a full term, we shall never know. Had this been the case he would possibly have lived until the early 1960s, and it is a moot point just how big an influence he would have been in the age of mass media, and the maturing of science-fiction which much of his work anticipates. Although the most glaring of HPL's weaknesses is the ineptitude of his characterisation, most of the stories are not unduly affected by this.

There are less accomplished stories in this collection: "The Call of Cthulhu," "The Thing on the Doorstep" and "The Lurking Fear" fail to reach the pinnacles in the best of the tales, and there are also some early tales such as "The Outsider" which mark a great contrast with the evocation of cosmic fear in the most accomplished works. Nevertheless, in few of the stories is there anything less than a pulse of sheer imaginative frenzy of an unusual level.

"The Haunter of the Dark" is a must for any connoisseur of horror, sci-fi and weird writing. Unreservedly recommended.
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