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The evolution of Lovecraft
on July 13, 2008
Among the most influential of horror novelists is H.P. Lovecraft, and this is appropriate. His tales of weird fiction are still in their own little niche. Thematically, most of his stories fit into two categories which are not exclusive: there are things that man is not meant to know, and there are places that have a certain wrongness. Unlike most horror novelists who may provide a typical happy endings with evil vanquished, there is little such joy at the end of a Lovecraft story; for Lovecraft, merely surviving the horror with sanity intact is the best that can be hoped for.
The Transition of H.P. Lovecraft, subtitled The Road to Madness offers glimpses into some of his earliest work and shows how it evolved over time. As would be expected, the very earliest tales are not all that great. Tales like "The Beast in the Cave" are purely second-rate, but even here, Lovecraft's narrative style can be seen.
Most of the early stories are short (less than 10 pages), but as you progress through these 29 tales, the stories get generally longer. Rather than discussing all of them, I just want to point out a noteworthy few. "Herbert West - Reanimator" is the source story for what is probably the most well-known Lovecraft adaptation, Reanimator, and though many of the details differ between text and film, the premise remains the same: Herbert West seeks a method for bringing life to the dead (a la Frankenstein) and becomes one of Lovecraft's victims to the pursuit of forbidden knowledge.
"Imprisoned with the Pharaohs" is a collaboration with Harry Houdini (of which Lovecraft did most of the work) featuring the celebrated magician trapped in an Egyptian tomb. "At the Mountains of Madness" - by far the longest story at nearly 100 pages, follows an Antarctic excursion that unearths an ancient city that hints at a dark history from many years past. This novella is the most Lovecraftian story in the collection, with plenty of references to Cthulhu and the Old Ones. On the other hand, perhaps the most atypical in the bunch is "In the Walls of Eryx", a straight science fiction story dealing with a treasure hunter on Venus lured into a sophisticated trap by the locals; there are a few Lovecraftian touches, but for the most part, this is old-fashioned sci-fi, probably a change of pace due to the collaborator, Kenneth Sterling.
Just because you might enjoy authors like Stephen King, Clive Barker or F. Paul Wilson (all of whom have been influenced by Lovecraft) does not mean you will enjoy this book or Lovecraft's other works. Lovecraft's narrative style has a definite Nineteenth Century feel, with an emphasis on description over action, dialogue or even character. Lovecraft is also a product of his era with racial views that are, to say the least, not politically correct, and females have almost no presence at all in his stories. In short, you may need patience to enjoy Lovecraft, but - even if this collection is not his "greatest hits" - there is definitely some material to enjoy in this book.