Monday, July 19, 2010

THE CALL OF CTHULHU by H. P. Lovecraft

The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories is a collection of H. P. Lovecraft works that includes sixteen short stories and the novellas “The Shadow over Innsmouth” and “The Whisperer in Darkness.”

Lovecraft is a master of atmospheric horror. Through suggestion, implication, and vague description (although his faithful “such-and-such” was too terrible to describe shtick gets old after a while), he allows the reader’s imagination to run with his lurking horrors. And yet his descriptions in every other aspect of his stories are so very detailed. This vividness allows him to ground his tales, making them more involving and therefore more moving. In all, Lovecraft is one of the best authors I’ve read when it comes to generating genuine terror.

Lovecraft’s repetition of style and theme begins to wear on the reader toward the end of this volume, but not as badly as in other collections. Structurally, many of the stories are very similar, and it doesn’t help that everything here but “The Haunter of the Dark” is told in the first person. Lovecraft wasn’t a one-trick pony, but he is best consumed in small doses.

This book features notes by S. T. Joshi. These notes are, frankly, obnoxious, primarily because both the introductions to each story and the mid-story notes are filled with spoilers, for their own stories and for others. For a book that could very well serve as many people’s first exposure to Lovecraft, this is unforgivable. And many of the notes aren’t even worthwhile; Joshi spends a lot of time fussing about the trivial: origins of character names and factual errors Lovecraft has made and the fact that cheese is in the story because Lovecraft loved cheese. And he spends a lot of time pointing out and overanalyzing the most obvious topical and thematic parallels between stories (corrupted bloodlines in “Arthur Jermyn” and “The Shadow over Innsmouth,” for example).

This is a solid collection – there are too many highlights to name – and I enjoyed every story here except “The Haunter of the Dark,” which was too slow, vague and been-there-done-that. But while this collection contains many of Lovecraft’s best stories, it seems to have been arbitrarily assembled. There is no discernible unifying theme. These stories aren’t from any particular timeframe; they range from the second published story Lovecraft ever wrote (“Dagon”) to the very last (“Haunter”). Many are not remotely connected with the Cthulhu mythos.

All told, The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories is a fine collection of Lovecraft’s better works, if you can ignore Joshi’s obnoxious notes.