H.P. Lovecraft: Uncanny Tales of Cosmic Horror and Unspeakable Terror (book review).

There have been any number of Lovecraft anthologies over the years, evidence if it were needed of his enduring popularity and influence on weird fiction. But when it comes to describing Lovecraft’s writing, the fact is that he ranged across several different genres, from straightforward fantasy through the supernatural and finally into what ultimately became the famous Cthulhu Mythos.

More than anything else, it’s the core mythos stories that make up the present collection. Now, some readers might regret the absence of his earlier work, including those most consciously emulating Edgar Allen Poe and Lord Dunsany. But the ten stories that are included here are unquestionably among his best works and certainly the most influential, with such stories as ‘Herbert West: Reanimator’ and ‘The Call Of Cthulhu’ having inspired not just other writers, but filmmakers, artists, musicians, artists and even game designers through to the present day.

The second half of the ‘The Dunwich Horror’ for example is virtually the prototype for any horror-based role-playing game you’ve ever encountered. Not only do we have an assorted group of protagonists assembled against the eponymous horror, each has their own set of skills and equipment from spells to weapons that come into play at the final moment.

But if ‘The Dunwich Horror’ is essentially an adventure story, some of the others in this collection are much more cerebral. As has been commented on many times, ‘The Shadow Over Innsmouth’ isn’t just a monster story set in a decaying seaside town, but it’s also a powerful expression of Lovecraft’s deep fear of miscegenation, the mixing of races, Few stories have explored racism as subtly as this one and because it can be understood at so many levels, it remains one of the most important of all Lovecraft’s stories.

Then there are two of Lovecraft’s longer stories, ‘At The Mountains Of Madness’ and ‘The Shadow Out Of Time’, both absolutely central works to the whole conception of the mythos. In different ways, they both critique our own civilisation by exploring those of two very ancient, very alien civilisations. Both are scientific rather than fantastical in set-up, relying on geological data to provide the necessary time axis, while allowing the reactions of the human protagonists to throw a light onto what Lovecraft termed ‘cosmic horror’, that is the profound terror that comes from suddenly glimpsing the true nature of the universe beyond mankind’s puny understanding.

The other stories in the collection are ‘The Haunter Of The Dark’, ‘The Whisperer In The Darkness’, ‘The Rats In The Wall’ and ‘The Case Of Charles Dexter Ward’. While the last two are only somewhat tangentially related to the core mythos stories, all four represent Lovecraft at the peak of his powers, and comfortably earn their place in this collection.

An unnamed editor provides a brief introduction to Lovecraft, covering the key particulars of his life plus some connections with other writers of the age. There’s nothing revelatory here, but the idea of introducing Lovecraft via DC Comics’ ‘Arkham Asylum’ is certainly novel. In any event, for a mere £14.99, this collection certainly represents excellent value for money. While other anthologies have included artwork or better essays and critiques, if all you want is a single volume containing the cream of Lovecraft’s longer stories and novellas, there’s nothing to complain about here. In short, it’s definitely a welcome release and highly recommended.

Neale Monks

September 2018

(pub: Prion Books. 624 page paperback. Price £14.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-91161-020-5)

check out website: https://www.ipgbook.com/prion-publisher-PON.php

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