GORE ON THE SHELF
REVIEWS BY FANS FOR FANS
5 STAR FAB - 1 STAR RUBBISH
THE CLASSIC HORROR STORIES ****
By H.P. Lovecraft, collection edited by Roger Luckhurst. Published in the UK by Oxford University Press in hardback on 9th May 2013, RRP £14.99
As a horror fiction fan, and having worked in the book industry for a number of years, I knew the name H. P. Lovecraft as a classic writer of science fiction, but until picking up this volume I had never read any of his stories.
Lovecraft was writing in the early 20th Century, publishing tales in science fiction and ‘weird fiction’ magazines; and although never receiving recognition for his writing in his lifetime Lovecraft has gone on to influence a host of sci-fi and horror fans since. In particular, Lovecraft’s work was the inspiration for many of Stuart Gordon’s films, including RE-ANIMATOR and THE BEYONED.
This book brings together a collection of nine short stories written by Lovecraft: THE HORROR AT RED HOOK; THE CALL OF CTHULHU; THE COLOUR OUT OF SPACE; THE DUNWICH HORROR; THE WHISPERER IN DARKNESS; AT THE MOUNTAINS OF MADNESS; THE DREAMS IN THE WITCH-HOUSE; THE SHADOW OVER INNSMOUTH; and THE SHADOW OUT OF TIME. The collection focuses on the ‘Cthulhu Mythos’, Lovecraft’s’ stories of monstrous Gods from other worlds who ruled the Earth long before the human race.
Cthulhu himself will be a familiar creature to many horror fans, with Lovecraft’s monster appearing on screen in film and TV and now taking his place alongside the vampires, werewolves and Frankenstein’s monsters in much horror related merchandise. Indeed, several of the stories in this collection have been the inspiration for films, such as THE CURSE (1987). For anyone interested in seeing the origins of the creature this book of collected stories portrays the true horror of Cthulhu as the writer envisioned it, rather than the cute plush versions you can now pick up in stores.
I found the ideas in this collection of stories interesting and engaging. A meteorite hits a farm and living organisms begin to glow a strange colour; a goat like child is born and people begin to disappear; men hold secretive meetings and worship mysterious unknown creatures through strange rituals. The tales portray strange occurrences happening to normal people, caused by monsters not of this world that are often just out of sight. This portrayal of the horror on the peripheral of vision, or sometimes hiding in plain view, creates an unsettling feeling, and tension is built up well throughout the tales before the final unveil. Even at the end of the story there is always a sense that the horrors witnessed have not quite gone away, simply laying dormant for a while to surface in another time and place.
For anyone new to Lovecraft’s writing, as I was, this collection is a good place to start; the tales do not feature the same characters and can be read individually, as they were originally published, so the book is easy to dip into. However, do not pick this volume up as a quick read just because it contains short stories; although writing in the 1920s and 1930s Lovecraft was obsessed with 18th century poets and writes in an ornate way, often with an excessive use of adjectives. In THE CALL OD CTHULHU the reader is told creatures are of ‘indescribable horror’; this is then followed by several paragraphs describing exactly that creature. Lovecraft also used language and phrases which were dated even at the time he was writing, and he invented names and terms relating to his creatures. This volume does contain a glossary, although it may interrupt the flow of the stories if you chose to look up every asterisked word. I chose to use the glossary sparingly, only looking up terms that I really could not work out.
For readers already fans of Lovecraft’s writing, this horror collection has some nice extras. An interesting introduction to the volume looks at Lovecraft’s life and the increasing popularity of his work, particularly the Cthulhu tales, after his death. It also examines the phenomenon of ‘weird fiction’, and Lovecraft’s place in this cult genre. After the tales an appendix includes the introduction to Lovecraft’s essay on ‘Supernatural horror in literature’, and the aforementioned glossary includes some interesting details on each of the nine stories such as when and where they were first published and the amount Lovecraft was paid by the magazines they featured in.
Overall I felt this book was a decent read. It took me a few stories to really get into the book, but once I had got used to Lovecraft’s writing style I found myself absorbed in the tales. The book is an attractive edition and would make a nice gift for Lovecraft fans, and as a new convert it’s something I can visualise going back to re-read in the future.