Book Review: The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories By H.P. Lovecraft

9780143106487_CallofCthul_CV.inddAs a fan of science fiction and fantasy literature and artwork, the name H.P. Lovecraft pops up a lot. Trying to improve the suspense and horror factor of my own writing style, I figured it was time to pick up a few of his stories and learn from a master.

We found this book on our trip to New York at one of my favorite bookstores in the world, The Strand. I mean, honestly. Who could pass up a cover like this?

Some Background

A definitive collection of stories from the unrivaled master of twentieth-century horror in a Penguin Classics Deluxe edition with cover art by Travis Louie.

Frequently imitated and widely influential, Howard Philips Lovecraft reinvented the horror genre in the 1920s, discarding ghosts and witches and instead envisioning mankind as a tiny outpost of dwindling sanity in a chaotic and malevolent universe. S. T. Joshi, Lovecraft’s preeminent interpreter, presents a selection of the master’s fiction, from the early tales of nightmares and madness such as “The Outsider” to the overpowering cosmic terror of “The Call of Cthulhu.” More than just a collection of terrifying tales, this volume reveals the development of Lovecraft’s mesmerizing narrative style and establishes him as a canonical- and visionary-American writer.

My Take?

Well, I have to admit Lovecraft was not exactly what I was expecting. This book is a collection of short stories, ranging from a few pages long all the way up to short novels. Starting out, I had to force myself to read this, working through one story or a few chapters of his larger novels in one sitting. The writing style is old, with some odd terms and spellings, but otherwise very understandable, if a bit dry at times.

There was a large and very useful appendix at the back of the book which gave helpful tidbits throughout the collection. Before reading each story, I would glance through the accompanying appendix notes. This was helpful since I didn’t have to constantly page back and forth to understand some of Lovecraft’s writing eccentricities, but I would not necessarily recommend this technique to other readers. Since the appendix for each story begins with a brief synopsis of H.P. Lovecraft’s inspiration and struggles for each particular story, it often included spoilers which ruined the suspense of some of the novellas. Granted, Lovecraft sometimes did a perfectly fine job of that himself… Giving away just a bit too much so that the endings of many of the stories were predictable.

Although this book was a somewhat difficult read for me, I still quite enjoyed it! The stories were unique, though Lovecraft really seemed to enjoy revamping his short story concepts into longer novella’s (a bit repetitive after a while). The stories ranged in topic from psychological horrors, including the insignificance of the human race and cannibalism, to the more monstrous sort of terrors, headless zombies, aliens, or undersea behemoths. Lovecraft loved to mix science and pseudo-religion into pretty much every one of his works. He was also a kick-butt wizard of imagery, painting vivid pictures of some pretty horrific stuff. The guy was a poet at heart.

One of the great parts about this particular book was the background information. With each story, you learned a little more about H.P. Lovecraft’s life and work. It was interesting to learn that he actually only had one of his novels published while still alive. All of his other writing income came from submitting short stories to magazines for subscription readers. One of my favorite pieces, “Herbert West- Reanimator”, was a bit choppy because Lovecraft was forced to include a synopsis at the beginning of each chapter reviewing the events leading up to the most recent installment, but it was neat imagining the way readers would have actually encountered the chapters back in his time.

Overall I give this collection Four out of Five stars. The book isn’t for everyone, kind of a slow, disjointed read. But it’s great finally knowing who/what Cthulhu is!

 

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