First off, this is a beautiful book. I can get pretty much everything Lovecraft wrote for free online, mostly due to confusion (intentional or otherwise) over how much of his stuff is under copyright. But I’ve wanted this volume for a while just because it looks impressive on my bookshelf and is a joy to just hold and examine. One of the best arguments that physical books aren’t going away. On to what’s in the book, forward ho!
I don’t even remember when I started reading this monster. Might have been as far back as last year. I’ve been reading it in bits and pieces around other stories and even took a few months off from it on some of the really dull parts. Anyway, this is a huge book that includes all the fiction H. P. Lovecraft wrote. As far as I know. It’s at least a major chunk of his work. From the half-page fragments to the novel-length stuff. The source of so much of modern horror and even a decent amount of pop culture is between these two covers. The final verdict is… Lovecraft is not a very good author. Apart from a dozen or so good short stories, his work is shallow, muddled, and rambling. It doesn’t surprise me that he was mostly unknown during his life. However, I can alos see why his work as had such a great influence on the world since then.
His characters are two-dimensional and take actions because the story needs them to, rather than what makes sense. He can’t plot worth a damn, anything longer than a short story falls apart into more-or-less directionless rambling. The foundation of his entire horror/supernatural output is: ‘The universe is big and scary and I’m going to hide under my blanket until mommy or daddy shows up’.
However, however… If that was all there was, his work would not still be inspiring creativity after nearly a century. Popularity might not be the best measure of quality, but time is a pretty good alternative. Lovecraft’s number one strength is he had a gift for the use of language. He could invoke a reaction to something (event/situation/creature) without describing it. As in, many authors describe a thing or ever or monster and let the reader react how they want, but Lovecraft could invoke the reaction directly and the reader is left to imagine the details of what they are reacting too. Sort of flipping the cause and effect of things. Now, he couldn’t do this on a regular basis. It really seemed hit or miss in places with regards to his word choice being effective or just gibberish. Which leads us to his main weakness. That his creative output was nearly random in quality. Each story I started I didn’t know if I was about to experience imaginative cosmic horror, or a dull series of non-events where all the proper nouns are missing.
His basic ideas were often quite creative. Supernatural forces beyond the world of mortals expressed in such alien encounters. Many of his stories taken by themselves are incredible thought experiments and visions of the fantastic. It is only reading huge chunks of his world back to back does the deeper pattern of being a scared child under a blanket start to get revealed. The same patterns of thought and flaws revealed in the similarities between different stories as you read them one after another.
After so much time reading these stories and ranting (mostly in my head) at the bad ones, I had figured I would have plenty to say when I had finished the book. However, I find myself coming up more or less blank. Nitpicking the flaws of stories written a century ago by a amateur doesn’t do anyone good and I don’t have any background or pool of knowledge that would make it worthwhile to analyze the books or his legacy. So, I’ll leave just a few parting comments from the point of view of a beginning writer. The quality of his writing, the grammar/spelling/punctuation, is not why we still remember him a century later. Nor was it his sale figures or popularity, or his personality, or his life in general. Lovecraft is still remembered because he inspired ideas and creativity in other people. Whole generations of artists, and writers, and poets, and other creative professionals for decades after his passing. He pointed and thousands of people built a road to travel in that direction. As much as I suspect I wouldn’t like him as a person, or as much as I might criticize him as a writer, I hope that my writing has a fraction of the impact on the world that his did, and continues to have.
Quick Edit after the fact: If you like Lovecraft type horror, I’d strongly recommend checking out a much earlier post I did on more recent books I thought did it quite well. Titled: Lovecraftian Horror recommendations