on 13 April 2003
Not only is Lovecraft the orignal master of the horror genre, to my mind he is among the greatest authors of all time. I can't explain quite how appealing his work is, but among other characteristics it is his style of thoroughness. He never leaves a loose end or an unexplained point. His is methodical and full. A writer really in touch with his imagination, his work comes across with the feel of an unlimited universe to which the reader is invited, if they dare. I go back to his stories over and over again.
Many critics talk of his early death and connect it with his imagination and an all too real link with the dark world about which he writes...maybe so, maybe not. But for sure his death was all too early because I believe his best was yet to come. You will not be dissapointed with this work whether or not you are a fan of horror or just a fan of good writing.
on 18 September 2013
A good collection of six H. P. Lovecraft stories - "The Dunwich Horror", "The Dreams in the Witch House", "The Lurking Fear", "The Thing on the Doorstep", "Hypnos" and "The Outsider" (presented in this order) - which have received varying critical responses. "Dunwich" and "Outsider", the latter of which has been described as Lovecraft's best story, are among those generally accepted as his greatest, while "Witch House" and "Doorstep", both late period Lovecraft, are less well-regarded. (Critic Lin Carter called "Doorstep" a "sordid little domestic tragedy", and "Witch House" "singularly one-dimensional, curiously unsatisfying.") Ironically, these stories are two of my favourites in this collection. "Doorstep" is perhaps the most plot-driven story here, and those who've read The Case of Charles Dexter Ward, Lovecraft's posthumously published novel, may recognise its themes and characterisations. It's about a young scholar and his strange new wife, whose personality overwhelms his. "Witch House" is a delightfully grim story which showcases Lovecraft's gift for mixing horror and sci-fi tropes. On the one hand you have a haggard old witch and her rat familiar, but on the other there's strange alien landscapes populated by cosmic races. The plot follows a student obsessed with the legend of a Salem witch who vanished from her cell.
The most poignant and well-written tale, however, is "The Outsider"; told solely in monologue, it gives us a nameless, faceless character who, raised in darkness, discovers his true nature. This is a very short story which is wrought like a tiny diamond; bold, complete and beautiful, almost a poem. Though ostensibly supernatural, it can be used as a metaphor for anyone who's ever felt like an outsider, alone and cut off from the party. It can be applied, in fact, to Lovecraft's own life; as a young man he lived hermetically for several years, speaking to no-one but his mother. "Hypnos", rightly placed in this book just before "The Outsider", is also a very short story told without dialogue by a nameless figure. Using obscure drugs he explores, with a mysterious man he met at a train station, realms normally hidden from human consciousness. Naturally, this leads to mayhem and madness. The story is named after the Roman personification of sleep, sleep being what our narrator now fears.
"The Dunwich Horror" opens beautifully, with a lengthy evocation of the Gothic Dunwich, a New England town populated by a people who've slipped into rural decadence. A sense of strange mystery then envelops as its main characters, Old Whately and his bastard grandson Wilbur, are introduced. Together they perform dark rituals, while Wilbur mentally and physically matures at an unnatural pace. The story loses steam towards the end when a protagonist, Dr. Armitage, turns up to thwart the nominal horror and a standard action climax develops, but it's mostly thrilling. "The Lurking Fear" takes the form of a classic ghost story, centring on a haunted mansion - once home to an eccentric Dutch family - from which a monster is said by locals to depart on stormy nights, devouring their neighbours. The mystery's solution, however, is more Darwinistically cynical. I defy anyone of sensitive mind not to be chilled by this tale's existential conclusion.
Lovecraft's dominant themes and tropes are present here: scholarly heroes, cosmic villains, human decadence, and the folly of man's curiosity. In Lovecraft's world, the cosmic explorer faces death at best and mind-shattering terror at worst. If the Mayans taught us to study the stars, Lovecraft taught us not to wonder about what lies beyond them.
on 29 December 2015
"Considerable talk was started when Silas Bishop--of the undecayed Bishops--mentioned having seen the boy running sturdily up that hill ahead of his mother..." "That hill" is the captivating Sentinel Hill, one of Lovecraft's haunting creations. E'ch-Pi-El didn't simply invent a town he called 'Dunwich'--he CONJURES a mythical setting that magnificently enhances ye sinister atmosphere of this remarkable story, atmosphere that was all-important to this outstanding Literary Artist, as we can see from his constant expositions on the "art" of good writing that was his aim as an author. The potent opening paragraphs set the mood perfectly, with poetic language and spectral imagery; and then, at ye end of the third paragraph, Lovecraft gives us one of his finest sentences (fine in that it perfectly sums up the mood he has sought to establish): "Afterward one sometimes learns that one has been through Dunwich."
Why was it seemingly essential to Lovecraft to create his own mythical towns of Dunwich, Arkham, and Kingsport? I don't know if he ever fully articulated his reasoning for those inventions; but perhaps, in part, it was in order to give him complete artistic and creative control as far as atmosphere is concerned. These are pockets touch'd by the Outside, intimately so; and those unfortunate souls who dwell within these warped regions of unearthly horror are absolutely tainted, and aware of their contagion.
My soul-bro, S. T. Joshi, has been severely critical of "The Dunwich Horror", to ye point of suggesting that it's one of Lovecraft's artistic failures. Oh, honey, he is SO wrong. In I AM PROVIDENCE (page 719), S. T. states: "In an important sense, indeed, 'The Dunwich Horror' itself turns out to be not much more than a pastiche," and then goes on to list those other works from which Lovecraft got his ideas for the tale. Rather, Lovecraft has taken his myriad influences of theme and plot and, with his expert artistry, created a story that that is uniquely his own in every way. One of the story's powerful components is its use of character. The criticism aimed at Lovecraft that he was incapable of creating interesting or realistic characters is totally smash'd by "The Dunwich Horror", and his use of character is one of ye points of perfection in this story, as in so many others that he compos'd. Most fascinating, for me, is the bizarre and tragic figure of Lavinia Whateley. She is deftly painted with very few strokes, and her story has untold depths. A clever writer could create an entire novel based on the hints that Lovecraft has given us; and one supreme poet, Ann K. Schwader, has written an entire sonnet-sequence concerning Lavinia.Miss Whateley is a symbol of all that is fabulous and awful in Duwich. She is an innocent who was, perhaps, ravaged by her father when he was possessed by the force known as "Yog-Sothoth". She loved Wilbur absolutely, and was perhaps murder'd by him. She was the innocent child who became corrupted by the books she studied with her insane sire.
This is a story of supernatural horror. Some have claimed that Lovecraft's monsters are "merely" aliens from outer space. Bollocks! Yog-Sothoth is not a monster that has filter'd to earth through cosmic realms (that wou'd be Tsathoggua) but rather a completely supernatural daemon call'd forth by black magick. What kind of :"alien" can be summon'd by ye arcane language found in ye Necronomicon? This magnificent daemon comes not from ye cosmic abyss but from ALTERNATIVE DIMENSION--the Outside. It is, in every way, not of this universe. Its nature is impossible to comprehend. Yog-Sothoth is, inits way, as perfect a symbol of ye unearthly as is the stigmatic alien featur'd in "The Colour out of Space"--which is indeed, as ye story's title informs us, cosmic.
The portrait of the "Dunwich Horror" itself, although mildly effective, is the story's weakest point. It is a wonderful effect of plotting, to center the focus of the first portion of the story on Wilbur, and then to do away with that main character. Robert Bloch performs a similar feat in PSYCHO--indeed, Wilbur's graphic death may be thought of (irreverently) as the "shower scene" in Lovecraft's tale. But then things get just a bit silly. Ye image of a bloke wielding an insecticide spray-gun filled with hoo-doo powder, which is then sprayed at ye Invisible Titan so as to give it a shape that can be described, is inept. Lovecraft obviously thought it wou'd be effective to have the scene described by simple-minded yokels who watched the action atop ye hill; but I think it wou'd have been far more captivating to have described that final scene from the perspective of the three courageous men that climbed Sentinel Hill and closely confronted the Horror, and thus described the close-at-hand presence of the beast from their unimaginable proximity to this madness out of time.
The trick with the magick powder that allows all to see the Horror may seem a gaudy melodramatic gimmick, but it actually has a strong plot point in that it links, absolutely, the Horror and the Whateley clan. For the Dunwich Horror IS a part of that clan: "Oh, oh, my Gawd, that haff face--that haff face on top of it...that face with the red eyes an' crinkly albino hair, an' no chin, like the Whateleys . . .they was a haff-shaped man's face on top of it, an' it looked like Wizard Whateley's, only it was yards an' yards acrost..." The albino taint, the lack of chin, the family resemblance, all add up to the earthly origin of this Monster from Outside, and the hints there supplied are a monstrous horror indeed.