His Own Most Fantastic Creation: Stories About HP Lovecraft edited by S.T. Joshi (book review).

In a recent episode of the excellent ‘The Good Friends of Jackson Elias’ podcast, one of the presenters recalled a situation where a player in a ‘Call of Cthulhu’ campaign set in the 1920s said he was going to pay this HP Lovecraft fellow a visit to find out more about the Cthulhu mythos. As the philosopher David St. Hubbins pointed out, there’s a fine line between clever and stupid, but what if, for a moment, you suppose that Lovecraft wasn’t writing fiction but fact? How then would he fit into his universe?


That’s the basic premise of this interesting collection of fifteen short stories. For the most part, these are playful stories that mix what we know of the flawed, fragile man through his stories and letters with the grandeur of the Mythos and cosmic horror stories he wrote.

Indeed, one of the best in the collection is the first one, precisely because of its subtle poignancy. ‘Death in All Its Ripeness’ by Mark Samuels is, in some ways, a pastiche of ‘The Dunwich Horror’. It features a crazy old farmer, Ezekiel Nantwich, playing with occult forces he doesn’t really understand. Ezekiel writes to Lovecraft after reading his stories in ‘Weird Tales’, thinking him a kindred spirit. The beauty comes from the ambiguity: the horrors the story reveals, including Lovecraft’s painful death from cancer, may simply be coincidences, or they may not. Samuels writes with such care that the possibly supernatural elements aren’t intrusive. Indeed, one could read them as a metaphor for the obsessiveness of those who take Lovecraft’s fiction too seriously.

Darrell Schweitzer also touches on Lovecraft’s final illness in ‘The Return of the Night-Gaunts’. Both literally and figuratively, Darrell Schweitzer uses dark and cold to hint at the imminent transition from being to non-being, symbolizing the summation of life and death for someone sensitive to the banalities of religion, like Lovecraft. But at the same time, his love of beauty and especially his childhood experience of wonder deliver real pathos. As his health declines, the presence of the Night-Gaunts becomes more real, until, ultimately, they become his own personal psychopomps.

While these and several other stories about Lovecraft’s final days, including Joshi’s own ‘In His Own Handwriting’, are consistently interesting, Joshi’s decision to include so many of them weakens their overall effect. Fortunately, there are a few who do something else and focus on other aspects of Lovecraft’s life. These are distinctly varied in quality.

At the very top of the heap of those stories is ‘Dreams Are Forever’ by Scott Wiley. An old black cat recounts a chance encounter with an 8-year-old boy named Howard in this captivating short story. Within that story, the boy recounts another tale about the ancient Egyptian deity Bastet creating cats. This obviously recalls certain elements of ‘The Cats of Ulthar’ but also makes nods towards other stories featuring black cats, such as ‘The Rats in the Walls’ and ‘The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath’. Lovecraft’s love for cats is well known, and this story plays to that with considerable charm and delicacy.

‘The Basilisk’ by David Hambling is one of the better entries. For those who know a little about Lovecraft the Man, there’s much to spot, almost like Easter eggs in a video game. Not least of these is the event that causes Lovecraft to wake up in a stranger’s home: a collision with a motor car because he was paying more attention to the architecture than what was going on around him. His host, one Fortescue-Smith, has paid off the doctor that attended to him, and after a pleasant meal, Lovecraft realises that this whole situation was a trap. Lovecraft finds himself in a room with the doctor and Fortescue-Smith, immersed in a unique dimension, a synthetic afterlife that he has summoned. Even more horrifically, for Lovecraft at least, is that he needs to start rewriting his stories to better fit the sensibilities of a modern age.

On the other hand, one or two are a bit on the weak side and don’t really add much to the collection. It’s a shame that WH Pugmire’s entry, ‘A Gentleman of Darkness’, is one of the weaker entries, given that it tackles some of the things Lovecraft was notably bad at handling. The story, set in the Red Hook district of New York and told from the perspective of a mixed-race woman named Alma, resembles a combination of the Pied Piper story and ‘The Music of Erich Zann’. Beyond that and the story itself, there’s no obvious connection with Lovecraft, and while it alludes to some of Lovecraft’s hang-ups about race, sex, and urban life itself, it doesn’t really say anything particularly clever.

Overall, the collection is decent, featuring a reasonable number of excellent stories such as ‘Dreams Are Forever’ and ‘Death in All Its Ripeness’, which easily justify the admission price. If Joshi’s editorial hand slipped one or two weaker stories into the collection, the quality of the majority more than makes up for it.

Neale Monks

May 2024

(pub: Hippocampus Press, 2022. 250 page paperback. Price: $20.00 (US), £20.00 (UK). ISBN: 978-16-1498-329-3

check out website: www.hippocampuspress.com/other-authors/fiction/his-own-most-fantastic-creation-stories-about-h.-p.-lovecraft  

One thought on “His Own Most Fantastic Creation: Stories About HP Lovecraft edited by S.T. Joshi (book review).

  • Thanks for the kind words!

    If you’re interested in my other Lovecraftian works , there’s a whole series of 1920s stories featuring investigator Harry Stubbs, as well as the collection The Dulwich Horror & Others and epic fantasy spinoff War of the God Queen. Review copies available 🙂 — David Hambling


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