Monday, January 7, 2019

Complete Collection of H. P. Lovecraft (a book review post)

Okay... I'm finally finished with this collection...
That doesn't mean I read everything in it; it means I'm finished with it. And finished with Lovecraft.
But I'll get to that somewhere towards the end of this.

The book is divided into sections covering different types of Lovecraft's writings. Of course, what I was interested in was his "mainstream" fiction, not that anything Lovecraft wrote could have been considered mainstream, though it would come much closer to that today. Many of these I reviewed individually as I read through the collection, but some were too terrible to bother with, which is saying a lot because I reviewed some pretty horrible stories. However, I felt like if all I had to say about it was, "This story was shit," that I could probably skip saying anything about it. There were a few reviews toward the end that I just didn't get to, though, mostly because I didn't feel like it. Like The Shadow Out of Time, which was essentially the same story as At the Mountains of Madness but set in Australia rather than Antarctica. [The review would be helpful in explaining why they're the same story (because they don't seem so on the surface), but I'm super tired of Lovecraft and am not going to do it.]

My final evaluation of Lovecraft's fiction, if you haven't figured it out yet, is that it's not worth bothering with. Out of the 60+ stories he wrote, he has maybe, maybe, half a dozen worth looking at, and none of them were amazing. Or even great. They just weren't bad. He only had three or four different stories, and, basically, everything he wrote is some variation of one of those. The only story that really stands out amongst his work is "The Unnamable," a semi-autobiographical short story in which he defends his lack of descriptions of the monsters in his stories.

Speaking of which, Lovecraft is a lazy writer, rarely offering any kind of real descriptions for the monsters he imagined. He falls back on things like "unimaginable" and "too horrific for words." Doing that once or twice may have been okay, but it's every fucking story. Not to mention the fact that his descriptions of places and buildings are nearly always the same. If I never see the word "Cyclopean" again (other than in Magic), it will be too soon. Of course, then I look at his race of cone beings from The Shadow Out of Time (possibly the most ridiculous fictional creature ever imagined) and think it's probably better that he didn't try to give his jello monsters form; it would have turned every one of his stories into comedies.

Probably the most disappointing aspect to reading Lovecraft is that his writing never improved. In fact, I would say that the work he did early in his "career" was significantly better than what he did toward the end of his 20-year body of work. I suppose that's what happens when you only have a few stories that you keep recycling.

The collection also contains some his juvenile fiction, meaning things he wrote while he was a juvenile, not things he wrote for juveniles. I tried a few of these and... well... I tried them so that you don't have to. Being someone who has taught creative writing to middle schoolers, there's not one of these I wouldn't have handed back to a young Lovecraft and told him it needed more work.

I tried to read some of his essays, but they were worse then his fiction: long winded, blathering, pieces of trite.
And let's not even talk about the poetry.

Then there's the unexpectedly large body of works that he coauthored. I flipped through some of these and decided I didn't feel up to trying any of them out. These are the pieces I may come back to at some point, just to see how they compare to his own stories. The one I'm most intrigued by is the one that is supposedly coauthored by Houdini. I say supposedly because I find the idea that he co-wrote with Houdini to be somewhat unbelievable and will need to do some research to verify this. Some other time. I just don't feel like I can do any kind of further reading of anything to do with Lovecraft at the moment.

All of which still begs the question: How did such a no-talent, no-account writer have such a huge impact on current popular culture? Intellectually, I understand the string of events that made this possible, but... wow, I just don't get it. Nor do I get his current fan base. Maybe none of them have actually read his larger body of work? I don't know. It's weird... Weirder than fiction.


  1. There was a couple of years where I was really into Lovecraft and read a bunch of his stories, but I was only twenty at the time and don't think that should be held against me. I really think that the reason his work resounded so much is because the ideas themselves are so good. It's just the execution that's bad. There have been several Stephen King stories that I've loved that have been Lovecraft inspired, and it's like, "See, Howard? This is what can happen when you're not bogging a story down with details of the weather in Vermont and investing in characters. You can actually be GOOD."

  2. I agree with Oneil. There's got to be something about his ideas, not the writing itself. Maybe at the time his premises were fresh and way "out there." I do like (a lot) short passages of his, but it's hard to get through a whole story.

  3. I don't know that the ideas were that good. I'm not even sure what the ideas are other than that maybe there are giant powerful beings out in space somewhere. That certainly wasn't his idea.
    I think, really, it was the use of words like Cthulhu and Necronomicon that stuck.

    I don't know. It baffles me.