on March 18, 2003
I first read the "Call of Cthulhu" during WW2. The Services distributed "pass-it-along" editions of many classic novels and the "Call" was one. It was so exciting, I kept my copy and took it home. Dog-eared after so may readers, my kids soon found and read it 15 years latter. Now, this yellowed and torn copy has been replaced by this new Penquin edition. Lovecraft's style is odd and sometimes overdone. He never wrote about romance and very little about science fiction. Modern Cthulhu mythos novels, like "The Riddle of Cthulhu", correct all these faults and are cool next books, after the "Call"!
on November 24, 2002
This was my first exposure to the writings of H. P. Lovecraft, and I enjoyed it so much that half way through, I went out and bought another collection, THE THING ON THE DOORSTEP AND OTHER WEIRD STORIES. Lovecraft's prose is creepy in a way that I really hadn't experienced from other so-called horror writers. A lot of the stories follow the same basic structure, but that didn't distract from the fact that these were some of the wildest and most chilling stories that I have read in a very long time.
I had heard a lot about the types of stories that Lovecraft wrote, but I wasn't really prepared for how creepy they would be. A lot of them really shouldn't be as shocking as they are, but somehow Lovecraft gets away with it. He likes to use a lot of frivolous language and has the tendency to take short cuts by saying that the various creatures and entities are too frightening, too complicated, or too alien for the human mind to comprehend. While I'm usually the first person to roll my eyes at this sort of literary cop-out, I was completely enthralled by its use here. Lovecraft's command of language is precise and effective. The monsters and Gods that he describes truly seem fearsome and unnerving.
The actual plots of these stories seem to be vaguely repetitive. Since this is the first collection of Lovecraft that I have read, I'm not sure if these is indicative of his work in general, but it is certainly apparent that many of these stories follow the same basic structure. I didn't really find this to be a problem though. There are enough major differences in the stories that they don't all seem to blend together, despite their commonalities. This was helped, no doubt, by the fact that I only read a few stories at a time, managing to absorb the book slowly over a longer period of time.
This edition is semi-annotated, though I'd advice against reading them if you've never encountered these stories before. They contain a lot of background detail, but also contain numerous spoilers. I found myself reading a story and then going back and safely reading the notes and references. Each story is also given a short write-up that gives a non-fictional account of the background. Interested readers can see what the circumstances were behind each of the writings, as well as their publishing history.
To be honest, it's difficult to review a short story collection. After all, there are eighteen different tales in this book, and the reviewer simply doesn't have enough space to discuss each one individually. The best that I can do is to state that while there were one or two stories that failed to grab, the vast majority of these were spellbinding and genuinely unsettling.
on June 12, 2002
These are the strangest stories. They are less strong than Edgar Allan Poe's stories of a similar vein - almost childlike in some ways. Invariably the expose at the end of the story is tame, rather trivial. And I don't think I have ever read the words 'horrible' or 'horror' so often. To be truthful about it, I don't really like being told something is horrible - I need to be shown. Often Lovecraft absolutely declines to do this. Take for example 'The Statement of Randolph Carter'. This is a engaging yarn but we never know what the horror is, we just have cries of anguish reporting it. Is this carelessness or laziness? Or is it like a sound heard in the distance - peripherally - unrecoverable and disturbing, keeping you on the edge of the seat waiting just in case it sounds again?
Despite, for me, the poor structure of the stories and the weakness of their endings, I find it impossible to criticise Lovecraft's imaginativeness. These are very creative stories. It is commonly believed that Poe showed great psychological insight in his stories, but what does Lovecraft use as the trigger for his imagination? Is it a dread of science - an irrational fear? I'm not at all sure that I know and perhaps this adds to the intrigue of these stories.
I also enjoyed the notes to these stories with their historic and critical insights. (Although what this statement means puzzled both my wife and I: 'The seemingly straightforward story of an explorer ....... appears more complex than it seems.')
on May 24, 2002
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.
on December 16, 2000
Since there are so many different Lovecraft collections out there, it may be useful to prospective buyers to know what's actually in this one:
[First, preliminary material by S. T. Joshi:] Introduction; Suggestions for Further Reading; A Note on the Text; [Hereupon stories by H. P. Lovecraft:] Dagon; The Statement of Randolph Carter; Facts Concerning the Late Arthur Jermyn and His Family; Celephais; Nyarlathotep; The Picture in the House; The Outsider; Herbert West--Reanimator [a collected magazine serial]; The Hound; The Rats in the Walls; The Festival; He; Cool Air; The Call of Cthulhu; The Colour Out of Space; The Whisperer in Darkness; The Shadow Over Innsmouth; The Haunter of the Dark; [By Joshi again:] Explanatory Notes
Unlike in THE ANNOTATED H. P. LOVECRAFT and MORE ANNOTATED H. P. LOVECRAFT, also edited and annotated (though in the latter case co-edited and co-annotated) by Joshi, the equally copious annotations here are collected at the back of the book (thereby being what are technically known as "endnotes") rather than placed at the bottom of story pages where they're referenced (known as "footnotes"). And also unlike the "ANNOTATED" volumes, THE CALL OF CTHULHU AND OTHER WEIRD STORIES lacks photographs that highlight the relationships between the subjects in the stories and the persons and places of Lovecraft's life; features smaller print, which makes it a bit harder to read but means more stories can be packed into the volume.
THE CALL OF CTHULHU AND OTHER WEIRD STORIES now has out a sequel, THE THING ON THE DOORSTEP AND OTHER WEIRD STORIES, a similarly arranged collection of Lovecraft fiction with an introduction and endnotes by Joshi and put out by the same publisher, Penguin. Each of these Penguin volumes, as well as the two "ANNOTATED" volumes published by Dell, presents its selection of stories in the order they were written, a practical advantage when reading Lovecraft.
on June 3, 2000
I don't think that there's a lot for me to add to what's been said already about the quality of Lovecraft's stories, except to agree with the assessment of Lovecraft as a stellar author of short horror fiction. The real question to ask about a collection of Lovecraft's work, though, is: what distinguishes it from all the other many Lovecraft collections out there? That is why I would give the Penguin collection 5 stars: the selection of stories is very good, arranged chronologically and covering the Lovecraft "hits," as well as some lesser-known earlier works. But what's most impressive about this anthology, as compared to others, is the superb annotation by S.T. Joshi, the premier Lovecraft scholar. There are ample footnotes to each of the stories, describing the backgrounds of the tales, discussing where Lovecraft got his ideas, pointing out thematic links, etc. These footnotes also provide insights into the life of Lovecraft himself, who apparently was not the weird recluse that one might initially suspect when reading his stories. In fact, Joshi includes many quotes from Lovecraft's correspondences, and some of these quotes are even very humorous (one quote deals with Lovecraft's description of his attempts to make a vocal recording in the style of Enrico Caruso, the famous singer). That's why this Penguin collection of stories is so good: you get many classic Lovecraft stories, along with Joshi's illuminating commentaries and annotation.
on May 26, 2000
Finally, Howard Phillips Lovecraft seems to be getting some due from the straight literary world. First it was that long Joyce Carol Oates essay in the NY Review of Books, than it was the "Annotated Lovecraft" updates from Ballantine/Del Rey, and now Penguin Classics has seen fit to bestow the mainstream American reading public with this quality paperback. Wow, I can't imagine what readers of Virginia Woolf, Jack Kerouac, John Steinbeck and T.S. Eliot will do when confronted with the likes of Yog Sothoth, the Goat with a Thousand Young, The Great Old Ones and that nasty ol' Cthulhu....
Seriously: this stuff is incomparable. Lovecraft's creation of the Cthulhu Mythos (or, as he called it, "Yog-Sothothory") heralded a new age in supernatural fiction. So vivid, so cosmic, so vast and imaginative, it is the equal of Middle Earth, of Oz or Wonderland. HPL's view of humanity and the cosmos is deeply, darkly existential, almost nihilistic, and he used symbolic structures of his neuroses to portray that view.
As for the stories themselves, the cornerstones are "The Call of Cthulhu" (1926)and "The Color Out of Space" (1927); they will still be read a hundred years from now for their controlled atmosphere of cosmic dread and awe. His skill at evoking a slowly dawning sense of terror is unparalleled in these tales. "The Shadow Over Innsmouth" (1931)--not too shabbily adapted in a 2002 film as "Dagon"--and "The Shadow Out of Time" (1934) rank next, later stories that are a bit wordy but still powerful, unsettling, and unforgettable. Man's place in the cosmos is revealed as paltry and incosequential; his physical being rendered as mutated and degraded. Space and time become meaningless. These latter two stories contain my favorite climaxes; the chill will remain with you for ages. Others in this collection include "Rats in the Walls," "The Outsider" and "The Hound." The latter two reveal his penchant for evoking Poe all too derivatively (although the erstwhile Poppy Z. Brite wrote a reverent Goth-punk update of "The Hound," "And His Mouth Will Taste of Wormwood"); the former is one of his best early works.
H.P. Lovecraft forced horror and supernatural fiction out of its old world infancy of vampires, ghosts, and devils and into the adult, modern world of a cold, uncaring, nearly malicious universe that we can scarcely comprehend. While Lovecraft's prose at times leaves much to be desired, the power of his imaginings is unique and convincing. This collection belongs on the bookshelf of serious readers everywhere. S.T. Joshi is a marvelous editor and biographer of Lovecraft, and his efforts should not go unheeded. Kudos to Penguin for finally adding H.P. Lovecraft to their catalog of Twentieth Century Classics.
on February 4, 2000
Well, I never thought I'd see the day when Lovecraft would be issued in a Penguin Classic edition. Neglected for years, sneered at by snobs and pop-psychoanalyzed to pieces by phonies, it seems that Lovecraft is finally coming in to his own. For years, all we had were the Arkham House editions - we all owe a debt to August Derleth for never letting Lovecraft go out of print, but these weren't exactly on the shelves of your local book store.
Lovecraft's influence reaches to this day - I can't imagine any of the "Alien" movies without Lovecrat's effect on H.R. Giger's conception. The "Blair Witch Project" could have been taken directly from a Lovecraft story (except for the language). Influenced himself by Poe, Lord Dunsany, Robert Chambers, and many others, Lovecraft managed to distill his own immediately identifiable style and capture the imaginations of generations of writers in the field. Long after Stephen King and Clive Barker have been relegated to the dustbin, readers AND writers will still find inspiration in the dark prose of the gentleman from Providence.
This collection is easily the best single volume available of Lovecraft's work, and a steal at this price. If you aren't familiar with the 20th Century's greatest writer of horror fiction, I can not urge you strongly enough to sample this book - I am certain that you will NOT regret it.
on January 28, 2000
This book is an excellent introduction to H.P. Lovecraft. A sample of his classic tales in an affordable volume. Lovecraft is the finest writer of pulp horror and weird fiction. He can be a bit of a shock for readers whose only exposure to horror is Steven King. His tales are far more intellectual and psychological. This is aristocratic horror, who's protagonist is likely to be a professor of antiquities or a dilettante in search of anchient architecture. Forbiden tomes, such as the infamous Necronomicon, and ancient evil await these adventures. "The Rats in the Walls" has a man victimized by a family curse. His ancestral home goes deeper than he expected, with each sub-basement revealing an older period of architecture. What evil ground was this house built on? "The Shadow Over Innsmouth" is a story of a small sea town with a history, and a population with a strange look and strange ways. Horrible things live beneath the surface of the waters. Horrible things live above. "The Call of Cthulhu"....well, you will just have to see what lies around that corner for yourself.
on October 1, 2000
A fine collection of Lovecraft's short work, especially for those not yet familiar with the mythos. Stylistically Lovecraft is somewhere between Poe and Wells, though thematically a bit beyond both. As some other reviewers here have mentioned, the structure gets a bit repetitive and predictable: fearsome creature is rumored, fearsome creature is investigated, fearsome creature is witnessed. End of story. Still, the basic idea, of an ancient earthly or alien intelligence so vast and complex that mankind is utterly irrelevant, is a fascinating one. A bit dated now as are all science fiction writers of the 19th and early 20th centuries, but a good read nonetheless. The editor is a bit intrusive, as has also been mentioned in other reviews here.