Reading Lovecraft's stories today, it's hard to suppress the feeling that you've heard this one before. You probably have, of course - though in a different form and under a different name. While much of his work is plainly unoriginal (the ghosts of Poe and Lord Dunsany whisper just a little too loudly in places), it's no overstatement to say his comparatively small corpus has informed most of twentieth-century horror. And though many have tried, no one has quite matched the overblown pitch of his macabre, lugubrious little melodramas, nor rivaled the gloriously monstrous adjectival orgy of his prose.
More interesting, though, than his scenarios or style is the world view which inspired them. "Was I tottering on the brink of cosmic horrors beyond man's power to bear?" asks the narrator of 'The Call of Cthulhu' - a sentiment no doubt shared by many tired souls living through the godless pandemonium of the early twentieth century. While more 'serious' writers like T. S. Eliot responded to the apparent end of civilization with a sparse modernism and renewed religiosity, Lovecraft embraced a 'mechanistic materialism' which emphasizes man's ultimate cosmic insignificance. His monsters might not frighten you, but in tale after tale it is this which is most chilling.
Arranged in the order in which they were written - and supplemented by a solid Introduction, suggestions for further reading, and very detailed notes - S. T. Joshi's Penguin edition (like its companion, 'The Thing on the Doorstep') is a useful volume for those wanting to taste Lovecraft's mad genius, witness its development, and learn something about the man and his place in history.