Lovecraft's Word Counts (and what they tell us)

Since literature is divided into categories as much by size as genre (i.e., short stories, novellas, novels, series, etc.), it is interesting to see patterns within an author's body of work just in terms of the word count of his pieces.


Solo Fiction

H.P. Lovecraft wrote mainly short fiction, some of it very, very short.  However, there are two noticeable changes over time.  The first is that the pieces grew in length over his writing career, which is exactly what you would expect as an author gains confidence and skill.  The other, more dramatic change is the quantum transition later in his career from writing short stories to also producing longer, more ambitious works, most of which are usually termed novels or novellas.  The latter is a sudden jump that begins with the writing of The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath followed by his largest work, The Case of Charles Dexter Ward.  Then there's another build-up starting with The Dunwich Horror, followed by The Whisperer in Darkness, peaking (appropriately enough) with At the Mountains of Madness, then ramping back down with The Shadow Over Innsmouth, The Dreams in the Witch House, and The Thing on the Doorstep.  Finally there's The Shadow Out of Time.  Prior to that explosive period, his largest works were Herbert West–Reanimator and The Call of Cthulhu.

You can see this graphically in the image below.  The data are not plotted against time, merely in chronological order (i.e., by "opus number," even though no such system has ever been designated for the author).  Also, the graph includes only Lovecraft's solo fiction since it cannot easily be ascertained how much he contributed in each collaborative work.  I know that information is out there (most likely in the scholarship of S. T. Joshi), but how even to calcuate it for these purposes is beyond me, so I simply stuck to fiction credited solely to him for this assessment.  The data are below.



Solo fiction in chronological order
The Little Glass Bottle
The Secret Cave, or John Lees Adventure
The Mystery of the Grave-Yard
The Mysterious Ship [Short Version]
The Mysterious Ship [Long Version]
The Beast in the Cave
The Alchemist
The Tomb
Dagon
A Reminiscence of Dr. Samuel Johnson
Sweet Ermengarde
Polaris
Beyond the Wall of Sleep
Memory
Old Bugs
The Transition of Juan Romero
The White Ship
The Doom that Came to Sarnath
The Statement of Randolph Carter
The Terrible Old Man
The Tree
The Cats of Ulthar
The Temple
Facts Concerning the Late Arthur Jermyn and His Family
The Street
Celephaïs
From Beyond
Nyarlathotep
The Picture in the House
Ex Oblivione
The Nameless City
The Quest of Iranon
The Moon-Bog
The Outsider
The Other Gods
The Music of Erich Zann
Herbert West–Reanimator
Hypnos
What the Moon Brings
Azathoth
The Hound
The Lurking Fear
The Rats in the Walls
The Unnamable
The Festival
The Shunned House
The Horror at Red Hook
He
In the Vault
The Descendant
Cool Air
The Call of Cthulhu
Pickman's Model
The Silver Key
The Strange High House in the Mist
The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath
The Case of Charles Dexter Ward
The Colour Out of Space
The Very Old Folk
The Thing in the Moonlight
History of the Necronomicon
Ibid
The Dunwich Horror
The Whisperer in Darkness
At the Mountains of Madness
Discarded Draft of The Shadow Over Innsmouth
The Shadow Over Innsmouth
The Dreams in the Witch House
The Thing on the Doorstep
The Evil Clergyman
The Book
The Shadow Out of Time
The Haunter of the Dark
457
563
1276
445
779
2,479
3,681
4,160
2,216
2,039
2,697
1,516
4,316
353
2,982
2,706
2,530
2,695
2,469
1,142
1,628
1,342
5,383
3,679
2,229
2,517
3,040
1,149
3,339
698
5,025
2,768
3,415
2,595
2,030
3,451
11,998
2,810
722
476
2,984
8,164
7,974
2,945
3,659
10,742
8,331
4,262
3,409
1,497
3,413
11,905
5,513
4,983
3,765
42,589
51,112
12,457
2,712
1,212
698
1,761
17,524
26,624
40,881
3,248
27,026
14,789
10,954
1,690
1,166
25,323
9,320

For comparison's sake against Lovecraft's short stories (novels/novellas are discussed below), here are some sample word counts of famous stories by Edgar Allan Poe*:
The Tell-Tale Heart
The Masque of the Red Death
The Cask of Amontillado
The Black Cat
The Pit and the Pendulum
The Fall of the House of Usher
2,093
2,383
2,495
3,998
6,155
7,226

*Poe was not only Lovecraft's favorite author, he also produced some of the most famous and widely-read short stories in the English language.  I had planned to include a few other example stories, but there honestly aren't as many short stories that have been read by so much of the population as these.  Seriously, name three others (I only came up with two).


The Collaborations

Lovecraft's collaborations feature many large works, which fits with the aforementioned pattern in that there were an increasing number of collaborations over the course of his life.  The longest of these was The Mound, which was apparently ghostwritten by Lovecraft based on little more than a suggestion by Zealia Bishop.  (Note also that an abbreviated version of the story has also been published, edited down by August Derleth.)  This is the opposite of The Lurker at the Threshold on which Lovecraft is listed as the author, but was actually penned by Derleth based on a fragment of Lovecraft of just a few hundred words.  Consequently, the latter is seldom listed among bibliographies of Lovecraft's works.  As such, collaborative works should be considered in surveys of word counts, but, as noted above, we must first devise some means of properly quanifying Lovecraft's contributions if they are to be compared amongst one another and/or his solo works.  The closest attempt I've made in that diretion is to assess how much and in what ways Lovecraft contributed to these pieces, presently compiled on this page.

Collaborative works in decreasing word count order

The Mound
The Last Test
Medusa's Coil
Through the Gates of the Silver Key
In the Walls of Eryx
The Horror in the Museum
Under the Pyramids
Bothon
Out of the Aeons
Winged Death
The Night Ocean
The Trap
The Diary of Alonzo Typer
The Electric Executioner
The Curse of Yig
The Man of Stone
The Challenge from Beyond
The Horror in the Burying-Ground
Two Black Bottles
The Disinterment
The Tree on the Hill
Till A’the Seas
The Crawling Chaos
Poetry and the Gods
The Horror at Martin's Beach
The Green Meadow
The Hoard of the Wizard-Beast
Four o'clock
The Battle that Ended the Century
The Sorcery of Aphlar
Collapsing Cosmoses
The Slaying of the Monster
29,573
19,204
16,868
14,389
11,910
11,345
10,962
10,542
10,186
9,987
9,755
8,471
8,196
7,995
6,926
6,441
6,081
5,859
4,850
4,580
4,320
3,307
2,998
2,534
2,380
2,326
2,194
1,778
1,376
910
613
332


Novels or Novellas?

Did Lovecraft write novels or novellas?  There is quite a bit of general discussion about what constitutes a novel vs. a novella (or even a novelette).  The most obvious way to categorize a work is by length, but the cut-off points rely more on intuition than anything inherent in the definition.  Some organizations such as the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (who bestow the Nebula award in several categories) created definitions for novel vs. novella (and so on) based on word count.  However, some literary critics distinguish between categories based on the quantity and quality of themes and subplots.  These approaches are all either subjective or arbitrary, so the best strategy is to assess each work individually rather than applying a formula or rigid rubric.  (See a more detailed discussion here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Novella)

The prospect of surveying the themes and subplots of each work by Lovecraft is more ambitious than I aspire to on this page, so let's focus for the moment strictly on word count.

I often hear people describe At the Mountains of Madness as a novel (and most else seems to be described as novellas).  In reality, that work is only 40,881 words, which is quite a bit less even than Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 (46,118 words) or Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five (words 49,459).  Additionally, it's only his third-longest story.  Both The Case of Charles Dexter Ward and The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath are longer (51,112 and 42,589 words, respectively).  After those three, all other works are less than 30k words.

For reference, here are some sample word counts of some famous and widely-read novels (arranged in increasing order; note that there are much longer novels than these.):

Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451
Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five
Philip K. Dick's Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?
J.D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye
Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray
George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four
Harper Lee's To Kill A Mockingbird
Orson Scott Card's Ender's Game
Joseph Heller's Catch-22
Frank Herbert's Dune
Stephen King's It
J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings (total)
Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged
46,118
49,459
61,237
73,404
78,462
88,942
99,121
100,609
174,269
185,723
436,809
454,000
561,996
645,000


Complete Data Set

Should you wish to explore Lovecraft's works on this front, here is the entire list of word counts arranged in decreasing order.  It is easy enough to parse and sort a data set in a spreadsheet if you add the chronological data (i.e., when each work was written; I should have done that here but didn't have time), so see what else you find within it, and please let me know of anything worth reporting.

All works by Lovecraft (including collaborations; denoted by asterisk in this list) in decreasing order of word counts:

The Case of Charles Dexter Ward
The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath
At the Mountains of Madness
The Mound*
Supernatural Horror in Literature (essay)
The Shadow Over Innsmouth
The Whisperer in Darkness
The Shadow Out of Time
The Last Test*
The Dunwich Horror
Medusa's Coil*
The Dreams in the Witch House
Through the Gates of the Silver Key*
The Colour Out of Space
Herbert West–Reanimator
In the Walls of Eryx*
The Call of Cthulhu
The Horror in the Museum*
Under the Pyramids*
The Thing on the Doorstep
The Shunned House
Bothon*
Out of the Aeons*
Winged Death*
The Night Ocean*
The Haunter of the Dark
The Trap*
The Horror at Red Hook
The Diary of Alonzo Typer*
The Lurking Fear
The Electric Executioner*
The Rats in the Walls
The Curse of Yig*
The Man of Stone*
The Challenge from Beyond*
The Horror in the Burying-Ground*
Pickman's Model
The Temple
The Nameless City
The Silver Key
Two Black Bottles*
The Disinterment*
The Tree on the Hill*
Beyond the Wall of Sleep
He
The Tomb
The Strange High House in the Mist
The Alchemist
Facts Concerning the Late Arthur Jermyn and His Family
The Festival
The Music of Erich Zann
The Moon-Bog
Cool Air
In the Vault
The Picture in the House
Till A’the Seas*
Discarded Draft of The Shadow Over Innsmouth
From Beyond
The Crawling Chaos*
The Hound
Old Bugs
The Unnamable
Hypnos
The Quest of Iranon
The Very Old Folk
The Transition of Juan Romero
Sweet Ermengarde
The Doom that Came to Sarnath
The Outsider
Poetry and the Gods*
The White Ship
Celephaïs
The Beast in the Cave
The Statement of Randolph Carter
The Horror at Martin's Beach*
The Green Meadow*
The Street
Dagon
The Hoard of the Wizard-Beast*
A Reminiscence of Dr. Samuel Johnson
The Other Gods
Four o'clock*
Ibid
The Evil Clergyman
The Tree
Polaris
The Descendant
Notes on Writing Weird Fiction
The Battle that Ended the Century*
The Cats of Ulthar
The Mystery of the Grave-Yard
The Thing in the Moonlight
The Book
Nyarlathotep
The Terrible Old Man
The Sorcery of Aphlar*
The Mysterious Ship [Long Version]
What the Moon Brings
Ex Oblivione
History of the Necronomicon
Collapsing Cosmoses*
The Secret Cave, or John Lees Adventure
Azathoth
The Little Glass Bottle
The Mysterious Ship [Short Version]
Memory
The Slaying of the Monster*
51,112
42,589
40,881
29,573
27,957
27,026
26,624
25,323
19,204
17,524
16,868
14,789
14,389
12,457
11,998
11,910
11,905
11,345
10,962
10,954
10,742
10,542
10,186
9,987
9,755
9,320
8,471
8,331
8,196
8,164
7,995
7,974
6,926
6,441
6,081
5,859
5,513
5,383
5,025
4,983
4,850
4,580
4,320
4,316
4,262
4,160
3,765
3,681
3,679
3,659
3,451
3,415
3,413
3,409
3,339
3,307
3,248
3,040
2,998
2,984
2,982
2,945
2,810
2,768
2,712
2,706
2,697
2,695
2,595
2,534
2,530
2,517
2,479
2,469
2,380
2,326
2,229
2,216
2,194
2,039
2,030
1,778
1,761
1,690
1,628
1,516
1,497
1,482
1,376
1,342
1,276
1,212
1,166
1,149
1,142
910
779
722
698
698
613
563
476
457
445
353
332
*Collaborations.


Further reading
http://indefeasible.wordpress.com/2008/05/03/great-novels-and-word-count/
http://commonplacebook.com/culture/literature/writing/word-counts-of-famous-short-stories/


   

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