H.P. Lovecraft is one of those guys whose work you don’t need to read to know. You’ve heard about Cthulhu, you know about ancient horrors from beyond space and time that can drive a man insane. It’s part of the general consciousness now, like hobbits and Tarzan and the like. So, with that in mind, here are the things that surprised me about actually reading a short-story collection, H.P. Lovecraft’s Bloodcurdling Tales of Horror and the Macabre :
- Lovecraft wrote some (presumably early, though no copyright dates are given in the book) stories that have nothing to do with his famous Mythos, and are just straight horror stories. These are unbelievably, ridiculously cheesy. They’re the sort of stories that end with italicized, exclamation-pointed revelations, like “For the blood was dripping from the ceiling!“ or such-like.
- Lovecraft is very, very regional, in that his stories are all set in a New England that’s not just a generic place. What’s weird to me, though, is that he treats New England as if it’s this remarkably ancient place (the word “ancient” is, in fact, used to refer to colonial-era buildings a lot, which strikes me as a ridiculous misuse of the term, particularly for somebody writing in the early 1900s), with whole centuries of forgotten lore.
- His Mythos stuff is... well, it’s told in a horror mode, but the actual stories themselves are as much science fiction as they are horror. In some of the cases, you could have given the same plot description to, say, Cordwainer Smith and gotten a pure SF story out of it. “The Shadow Out of Time” is particularly notable this way, as there’s almost no horror in it, and the air of dread that Lovecraft cultivates feels weirdly misplaced.
All in all, the stories, taken as actual stories, aren’t that good. But taken as raw ideastuff, well, this is the sort of thing that can inspire — and clearly has inspired — generations of writers and readers. Lovecraft is one of those guys who got his mind around something deeply interesting and important, even if his writing skills weren’t quite up to the task of realizing his ideas. Worth reading just for general literacy and historical import, if not for the stories themselves.