- Paperback: 708 pages
- Publisher: Necronomicon Pr (October 1996)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0940884887
- ISBN-13: 978-0940884885
- Package Dimensions: 8.5 x 5.7 x 1.6 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.9 pounds
- Average Customer Review: 15 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,746,118 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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H.P. Lovecraft: A Life
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The basic facts of H.P. Lovecraft's life have long been known, but before this book the only account of his life worth having was L. Sprague de Camp's 1975 biography, which was lively but sketchy, giving a fragmented view of Lovecraft's life and work. S.T. Joshi has delivered the goods. This is not only the finest and most definitive biography of Lovecraft, it is likely to remain so for many decades into the future. While at nearly 700 pages, it's not necessarily a book every Lovecraft fan will sit down and read cover to cover, it's almost as compulsively readable as it is compulsively detailed. Joshi is sympathetic toward his subject but doesn't pull any punches: he includes Lovecraft's less flattering qualities, such as his "contemptible" racism and his "shabby" treatment of his wife. Best of all, perhaps, for fans of Lovecraft's fiction, are the accounts of how the stories came to be written, concise plot summaries, and well-chosen historical-critical remarks.
As Necrofile: The Review of Horror Fiction writes, "H.P. Lovecraft: A Life represents the crowning achievement of Joshi's distinguished career. It offers a concise and eminently readable summary of everything he has learned about Lovecraft, in one fat volume.... Joshi has accomplished no mean feat: writing a biography almost as fascinating as his subject's best fiction." --Fiona Webster
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For myself, I can only say it's been a long wait. I first discovered Lovecraft at my local library in eleventh grade. I picked a book decorated with some macabre illustration off a twirling bookstand, checked it out, and rode my bike home with the volume tucked under my arm. That evening I sat with it in the big white reading chair in our home's living room. The first story I read was "The Picture In the House."
I was hooked.
Within the year I'd read every story Lovecraft wrote excepting one--"Herbert West: Reanimator". (I finally got to that earlier this year.) I became, in a way, obsessed with Lovecraft. I wanted to know who he was, so I read Frank Belknap Long's Howard Phillips Lovecraft: Dreamer on the Nightside. The stories and poetry I was writing at the time became increasingly colored by (or downright imitative of) my hero. Somehow, the man infected my consciousness in a way no other writer--before or since--ever has. I guess it's because in so many ways my inner life has been--with some important exceptions--a parallel to Lovecraft's. I see him as a kindred spirit.
That being the case, it's hardly surprising I relished--nay, wallowed in--this biography. It is detailed beyond imagining. Here we follow Lovecraft on his walking tours, street by street. We see his grocery lists and menu items. We read his letters and amateur publications. By the end of this text you will feel you have lived and breathed right alongside the old fellow and slung arm-in-arm with him through his nightmare worlds. No one could have done it better than Joshi, and it is doubtful anyone ever will. If you are a fan, this is a must read. If just curious, the lengthy detail might be off-putting, but you may find yourself a convert by the end.
Joshi's analysis of the 'Cthulhu Mythos' is, I think, exactly right: he defines the Mythos (not HPL's coinage, of course), as 'a fictional technique' for presenting Lovecraft's philosophy - which Joshi defines astutely as 'an anti-theology' which makes manifest (as we see with the cultists in Call of Cthulhu) the delusive nature of all religious belief, and asserts the meaningless of human existence in a vast, uncaring, mechanistic universe.
This analysis justifies what would otherwise be an excessively lengthy exploration of Lovecraft's political and philosophical beliefs, given that he published no significant writing on those subjects, and was only considered a great thinker by his friends and epistolary correspondents. It also highlights the unalloyed perversity of August Derleth in imposing a Catholic-inflected cosmology onto Lovecraft's atheistic vision. How strange that he was so fascinated by HPL & his work, but couldn't accept what Joshi rightly points out is its absolute core!
Joshi manages to address various differing opinions in the world of Lovecraft Studies without becoming pedantic or petty, and takes trouble to credit other researchers and academics for their insights.
As a biography this book is full of interest, and Joshi's pursuit of detail is relentless - occasionally to the point of obsessiveness, it has to be said, but some of the details he uncovers are highly revealing. His account of Lovecraft's death I found surprisingly moving, but I did not, as I did on finishing the De Camp biography, regret his life - except in the single matter of his clinging on to racist beliefs and self-diminishing prejudices.
I have very few criticisms. There are no photographs, and I think the cover is horrid - & certainly is not a good likeness of HPL. Occasionally Joshi is so aesthetically aligned with his subject he indulges him (as he does with certain of his amateur endeavors); occasionally Joshi is over-definitive in his judgment of the merits of various yarns. I think he slightly misses the mark at various points when he comments of (eg the denoument of Herbert West) that HPL must have been sending up his own style to *intentionally* comic effect. This, I think, is not quite right: rather, it seems to me, he allowed his discipline to slip, and reverted to the garish style of the Argosy yarns that he had read as a child, the style of which had so fundamentally informed his entire notion of the form of aesthetic and psychological self-expression that he could never quite discard it. Lovecraft knew it was a failing on his part, but sometimes let it off the leash regardless. I'm sure he never thought of his verbal pyrotechnics as anything other than, on sober reflection, accidentally funny.
Aside from those very modest quibbles, I found Joshi's judgments & assessments at all times perceptive and thought-provoking, and his 'Life' a highly-readable achievement in biography.