Recommended Reading: H.P. Lovecraft

One of my favorite authors at the moment is H.P. Lovecraft, and I've been recommending him to anyone and everyone who reads and/or loves horror.

What makes reading Lovecraft so great

So much started with him.  He's regarded as the most influential horror writer, more so than Poe (who is over-rated as far as I'm concerned, now that I've read a lot of his material).  Lovecraft's work is what got Stephen King writing, among others.  I see his influence on Clive Barker as well.  When you read his stuff, you'll see where so much other stuff in horror and science fiction originated, only you didn't know who originated it.  This guy was years ahead of his time.

No problem for the attention-deficient.  It's all short stories or long stories, only three works that could be characterized as novellas, depending on where your cut-off is.  It's very straight-forward story-telling that is very, very easy to get into.

The descriptions.  No one is more famous for his colorful language than Lovecraft.  As one author described it (paraphrasing), "No author works harder to describe how impossible it is to describe something."  His vocabulary alone is worth the price of admission.  (See also my page on H.P. Lovecraft's favorite words.)

Monsters.  It's not serial killers or ghosts that knock things over late at night.  Lovecraft serves up monsters, and they're the best, most memorable monsters in all of literature, hands down.

It's science.  Granted, Lovecraft was writing in the first part of the last century, so don't expect anything too sophisticated.  There's no biotech or computer science.  However, his stories are grounded in a scientific approach that puts the superstitious fumblings of today's protagonists to shame.  There isn't the usual mumbo-jumbo nonsense about the supernatural.  The universe is ordered, and the characters are thinking people who go to libraries.  I abhor stories that fall back on magic and other cop-outs, and it's refreshing to read an author who never resorts to such cheap and clichéd devices just to advance a narrative.

He has a universe.  If you grew up reading comic books and loving the way they inter-connected across, say, the Marvel Universe, then you will enjoy the connections throughout Lovecraft's works and beyond (i.e., he allowed and even encouraged contemporary authors to extend his universe by using his creations in their works).  The whole thing taken collectively is usually referred to as the "Cthulu mythos."  Many features make regular appearances throughout his works, such as Miskatonic University and his infamous Necromicon as well as several of his monsters.

My introduction to Lovecraft

My first encounter with a Lovecraft story was, naturally, after midnight.  I was renovating our new house at the time.  We hadn't moved into it yet, just a few boxes downstairs, and the place was otherwise abandoned.  I like to paint late at night because I know I won't be interrupted, and I'll put on my iPod with some music or podcasts or an audio book.  That night I started Lovecraft's "The Dunwich Horror."

I was captivated.  I just kept painting for almost three hours, long after I should have finished and gone to bed, but the story wasn't even halfway through as I completed the first coat.  Instead, I went back and started a second coat immediately.  It was latex and this was late summer, so it didn't hurt anything; the first areas I painted were almost completely dry by the time I doubled back to the start.  I had done the entire stairway and the hall at the top twice over, and I still hadn't gotten to the end of the recording.  I couldn't bring myself to pause the story for later, so I ended up staying up late listening to it to completion long after the second coat was complete and the brushes were cleaned and put away.

Apparently I'm not the only one to be swept up with Lovecraft in a big way.  People really connect with him the way they do with few other writers.  In addition to his influence on some very famous authors (such as those mentioned above and Neil Gaiman as well), there are numerous bands who have used his work as a basis or at least inspiration for their music (see this page for a listing).  I'd heard Lovecraft's name for years and vaguely knew about his influence, but I only just recently got into his work.  And now I can't stop until I've read everything all the way through at least once.

Recommending starting points

Like I said, he's very easy to read, and it's all so short that you don't feel like you're making a huge commitment, so almost anything is good, but these are some choice works if you don't already have something in mind:

The Dunwich Horror.  That's the one that got me started, and I think it showcases his best qualities. 

The Call of Cthulhu.  Perhaps his best-known story, at least because it prominently features his most famous creation.

The Lurking Fear.  My most recent favorite.  Just plain good story-telling here.

The Shadow over Innsmouth.  A very cool story that gets at the unseen world and secret histories.

Herbert West, Reanimator.  A Frankensteinian story that was the basis of the popular Reanimator movie(s).

Beyond the Wall of Sleep.  Mind-blowing cosmic horror.

At the Mountains of Madness.  Awesome, epic novella that will hopefully someday get a film adaptation worthy of the work.

Supernatural Horror in Literature.  An essay tracing the history of supernatural fiction and an examination of the elements within it.

Note: I always recomment Lovecraft guardedly.  He once wrote in a letter, "There are my 'Poe' pieces and my 'Dunsany' pieces—but alas—where are my Lovecraft pieces?"  I think the above are some of his best "Lovecraft" pieces.  The Poe stories are from his earliest period.  They're smaller and more focused.  His (Lord) Dunsany works are generally rather spawling in scope and are best categorized as fantasy.  However, the stories that are firmly in the Cthulhu Mythos are rightly his most popular.  They represent him at his best.

Where to go from here

The bookstore.  There are numerous collections of Lovecraft stories, so you can always start with any one of those.  However, if you want everything (solo)* all in one voluminous package, Barnes & Noble have his complete (solo) fiction collected here:

There are also annotated editions of that collect usually twenty storie at a time.  I discuss a selection of these that amounts to a nearly complete collection on my page about acquiring a Lovecraft library.

*There are plenty other works that are collaborations, ghostwritten pieces, or stories re-written by Lovecraft.  These are not collected in this volume, but the aforementioned "library" page gives details about where best to get those.

Ebooks.  While looking up the above, I saw several complete collections on the BN website for a very reasonable price.  It would be hard to pass up one of these if that's your thing or you just want a copy for reference.

Text on the web.
  Not sure you're ready to commit?  Very nearly all of Lovecraft's fiction can be found around the web if you want to sample a bit or throw it onto a portable device.  See this site, for instance:

Audio versions.  As stated above, I have a series of audio collections of a lot of his stuff, which have been awesome.  My first listen was from a multi-volume collection of stories of various lengths read by Wayne June, a case in which the reader was perfect paired with the material.  Additionally, there are many free readings around the web of Lovecraft's more popular works.  Many of these can be found at Librivox.  Additionally, there are plenty recordings (both my amateurs and uploaded recordings by professionals) on YouTube.  For a good example, see this channel.

My preference: The Annotated H.P. Lovecraft.  If you're new to Lovecraft and want to get the most out of your introduction to the author, this is probably the volume to get.  The annotations help new readers accommodate to Lovecraft's sometimes original language and his use of words that were even then antiquarian and archaic (to use two of his own favorite words).  There is also a lot of context in the annotations both from history in general (e.g., "The Rats in the Walls" draws from events surrounding the ancestors of the family at the center of the story) as well as from Lovecraft's own life and literary influences.  The annotations are also on each page rather than at the back of the book, so there's no flipping back and forth.  Finally, this volume contains four of his best stories, and they represent a good cross-section of his work as well as all falling high on my list of essential Lovecraft reading:
The Rats in the Walls
The Colour Out of Space
The Dunwich Horror
At the Mountains of Madness


Copyright 2012 the Ale[x]orcist.  Updated 2014.