Armed with an egregiously large penchant for ten dollar words and a masterful ability to leverage every cent from the pay-per-word pulp magazines, Lovecraft stands among a skeletally thin pantheon of serial writers who have managed to cross their own generation intact in the popular canon. Everything that can be said about him has been said (or at the very least observed), every piece of his work drained of its creative ichor in the name of homage, literary expansionism, or, perhaps most often, creative malaise. Ah, the sufferings of those that dwell in the murky unworld of the public domain.
Still, Halloween comes around which to my mind might as well be called Lovecraft Day as there is no other writer that wears the shroud of horror with such effectiveness. His very sentences are like the massive pillars he describes, long corridors capable of getting lost in if your mind drifts even slightly from the words on the page. He demands your attention with his very language and once he has that, well, you never really stood a chance.
As with all pulp, there are hits and there are misses. My preference lies in his longer works (Call of Cthulhu, The Whisperer in Darkness, etc) because a slow, creeping unrealness will always trump (ugh) a bumbling race to some predefined insanity. Lovecraft knows how to tell a certain type of story. And that is the only type of story you are going to get. You will see variations and interconnections enough to keep things running right, but the end of the day its formula that runs exclusively on the quality of the terror that allegedly haunted Lovecraft every night of his life. Which makes it all more unfortunate that Lovecraft seems far too comfortable with throwing the “THESE HORRORS ARE BEYOND MY ABILITY TO CONVEY WITH MERE LANGUAGE!” card into play. Sure, I get that—sometimes, like when things have non-Euclidean geometry, but with facts? That’s just laziness. It’s like fainting in Victorian literature. Things are getting heavy? Better pass out apropos of some ancient theatrical cliché. I understand that fear lies in shadow, but I’d rather fear a gnarled finger than a puss-heaving nail.
Lovecraft is treasure to all of those who idolize fear and retain a proper curiosity of true abject madness. I’m sure that there are normal function people who enjoy his work too, but I have no idea what their reasons are so I’m simply going to pretend they don’t exist. (I can do that, we’re all living post-fact now, right?) The rules and shapes of his Outer Gods are perfect which is likely why they have been misappropriated and turned into cartoonish/child-like things (Ignore my Cthulhu plushy, it’s for my daughter to help with…a fear of monsters or something).
Cthulhu has been mentioned a few times in this review. I just want you to know that Cthulhu is a dead demi-god waiting in some state of transient horror. He is an idea, a horror in spectacle and title only when compared to the great and unknowable Nyarlathotep.
“And it was then that Nyarlathotep came out of Egypt. Who he was, none could tell, but he was of the old native blood and looked like a Pharaoh. The fellahin knelt when they saw him, yet could not say why. He said he had risen up out of the blackness of twenty-seven centuries, and that he had heard messages from places not on this planet. Into the lands of civilisation came Nyarlathotep, swarthy, slender, and sinister, always buying strange instruments of glass and metal and combining them into instruments yet stranger. He spoke much of the sciences of electricity and psychology and gave exhibitions of power which sent his spectators away speechless, yet which swelled his fame to exceeding magnitude. Men advised one another to see Nyarlathotep, and shuddered. And where Nyarlathotep went, rest vanished, for the small hours were rent with the screams of nightmare. Never before had the screams of nightmare been such a public problem; now the wise men almost wished they could forbid sleep in the small hours, that the shrieks of cities might less horribly disturb the pale, pitying moon as it glimmered on green waters gliding under bridges, and old steeples crumbling against a sickly sky.” Nyarlathotep, H.P. Lovecraft
That story isn’t actually part of this collection, I just love it to death and wanted to make a childish point.