Home > Book, classic, fantasy, Genre, horror, Review > Book Review: The Collected Public Domain Works of H. P. Lovecraft

Book Review: The Collected Public Domain Works of H. P. Lovecraft

Hand emerging from a coffin drawing a line of blood.Summary:
Lovecraft was an American author of horror living during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  He has a bit of a cult following, largely due to a creature featured in some of his stories known as Cthulu.  (I’d link, but your experience will be much more amusing if you google “cthulu”).  Some common themes in his horror include eerie things coming from ocean depths, scientific reanimation of corpses, human-like apes, the dreamworld, and ancient myths being fact.  This collection includes 24 short stories–The Alchemist, The Beast in the Cave, Beyond the Wall of Sleep, The Cats of Ulthar, Celephais, The Crawling Chaos, Dagon, The Doom that Came to Sarnath, Ex Oblivione, Facts Concerning the Late Arthur Jermyn and His Family, Herbert West: Reanimator, Memory, The Music of Erich Zann, The Nameless City, Nyarlathotep, The Picture in the House, Polaris, A Reminiscence of Dr. Samuel Jackson, The Statement of Randolph Carter, The Street, The Terrible Old Man, The Tomb, The Tree, and The White Ship.

Review:
I decided I needed to actually read some Lovecraft after getting swept up in the Cthulu subculture last December through Cthulumas hosted on Tor.com.  So I searched Librivox via the Audible app and found this collection.  Unfortunately, there was no Cthulu in it.  Also unfortunately, I wasn’t too impressed by most of the stories.

I think the main issue is that a lot of the horror just didn’t age well.  Lovecraft’s stories depend largely on the unknown, only a lot of what was unknown in his time is known now.  For instance one of his stories focuses around the mystery of the North Star, which isn’t so mysterious anymore.  They also depend on unexplored territories on the continents, whereas now it’s space that is unexplored.  I can’t get into the character’s mindset of fear when he reads simply as naive and uneducated.

His stories that center around the hypothetical reanimation of the dead are some of the best ones.  They read like a mix of zombie and Frankenstein, and it works because we still don’t know what happens after death.  Herbert West: Reanimator was one of the only stories to give me the actual chills.

I would be amiss not to mention the racism evident in his stories.  Any that feature Africa talk of a pervasive fear of what lies in the depths of the continent and repeatedly mention apes mixing with men.  Even if he was unaware that he was harboring racism, these read at the very least as being anti-miscegenation.  It’s hard to listen to stories whose horror centers around fear of what people look like as opposed to what they may be capable of doing.

Similarly, he read as being anti-science.  Any scientists in his short stories are portrayed as sticking their noses where they don’t belong.  Apparently, we can never fathom the universe, so we better not.  It’ll hurt us if we try.  I found myself rolling my eyes at the sleep stories.  They were all so ridiculous when I know doctors and researchers studying sleep.  It’s really not this dangerous other-world he presents it to be.

Where Lovecraft is at his strongest is when he veers from his typical themes.  My loyal readers probably won’t be surprised at all that one of the most pleasurable reads to me was The Cats of Ulthar, which basically presents animals as sentient and capable as humans.

I can only hope that the Cthulu stories fall more in the category of Herbert West: Reanimator and The Cats of Ulthar.  The rest wrought a decided “meh” reaction from me.  I’d recommend them only if you have no issue reading horror centering around unknowns that are now known.

2 out of 5 stars

Source: Librivox recording via Audible app for the iTouch and iPhone

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  1. geekylibrarian
    April 14, 2010 at 6:13 am

    Lovecraft was never a great writer, especially compared to his better contemporaries (Robert E. Howard and Clark Ashton Smith), but don’t give up on him yet. From the story list above this may not have been the best introduction to his work.

    • April 14, 2010 at 7:42 am

      Oh I was still planning on reading the Cthulu writings, but I feel much better pursuing a copy with your recommendation. 🙂

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