Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Saturday, April 23, 2011

H. P. Lovecraft-Four Stories-

"The Cats of Ulthar"  (1920-audio 14 minutes)
"The Very Old Folk"  (1927, audio 15 minutes)
"The Call of Cthulhu"  (1928, 28 pages)
"A Reminiscence of Dr. Samuel Johnson" (1917, 7 pages)

H. P. Lovecraft-Master of The Weird Horror Story

H. P. Lovecraft has long had  a cult like following among lovers of horror stories and tales of the occult.   Lovecraft (1890 to 1937-USA) wrote horror, fantasy and science fiction stories and novels.   He is best known for what are called "weird horror" stories.   His writings was deeply involved with the occult, hidden cults, and the real beyond the obvious.   Much of his work deals with "secret knowledge" of some kind.   (Wikipedia has a very good article on Lovecraft which covers the basic facts about his life and lists many of his works.)    Lovecraft was very into the reading life.

I was in the mode for a change of pace and Lovecraft had been in my "check out soon" list for a while so yesterday I read two of his stories and listened to two of them on audio.  

Before posting on the stories, I do have to note that Lovecraft appeared to me   to be a racist.   There are numerous references to sinister dark people,  clear statements that non-European people need to be controlled by their betters, and references to blacks in his stories often seem to suggest they were dangerous criminals.   In one especially glaring passage he referred in "The Call of Cthulhu" to Americans having difficulty "controlling the wild tribes of the Philippines".     In order to be sure I was not over reacting, I checked numerous web pages on Lovecraft and it is commonly accepted that he was a racist.    Lovecraft felt those of Anglo-Saxon descent  were entitled to a privileged position by right of birth and he saw a world in which this was even in his time declining as evidence of extreme cultural decay.   Lovecraft was heavily influenced by the ideas of Oswald Spengler as expressed in The Decline of the West.    Spengler's basic theme was that the world was passing out of a period in which it was dominated by ideas from Europe and beginning a cyclical return to domination by ideas from ancient Egypt and India.    Spengler was not a Nazi (he did vote for Hitler) but many of his ideas are part of the intellectual underpinnings of Nazi ideology.   If one looked at the original publications (so called Pulp Magazines) where Lovecraft's stories were published, you would find art work depicting a very evil look Fu Manchu type Asian man looking at a young blond woman with very bad intentions.     I do not know if Lovecraft was an advocate of anti-Semitism or not (Spengler was not).    OK this being said I still enjoyed Lovecraft's unique style.

"The Cats of Ulthar" was a really good story.   I really enjoyed the audio I listed to.    I admit I decided to try it because if Lovecraft was a cat hater then for sure I was through with him!    In this story he does show a  proper fondness and respect for cats.    The Story is set in a town where it is illegal to kill a cat.    There is a very evil old couple who everyone fears that makes a practice of finding and killing cats.  (Lovecraft seems to also associate being old with being sinister.)    One day a caravan of "dark traveling strangers" stops for the night in the town.   (500,000 or more people of Gypsy descent-I reject the term "Roma"-died in the Holocaust.)    Of course all the  decent people of the community are afraid of them.   The old cat killing couple make a terrible for them mistake, they kill one of  the cats of the strangers.     I will not tell what happens to them but I will say I did love it.    This was a really fun story and I am  glad I read it.

"A Reminiscence of Dr Samuel Johnson" caught my interest as I am a life long reader of and about Samuel Johnson.    This story is an  account of a visit to Johnson's famous club.   It is a first person account of a made up by Lovecraft member of the group and his impressions.  It is well written but kind of pointless undramatic  and uninteresting work.   It is not in his main area of writing at all and the story has nothing to do with the fame of Lovecraft.   It just caught my eye and it was short so I read it.   No harm done!

"The Very Old Folk" is set Spain in the days of the Roman Empire.   It is prime Lovecraft with evil old people, sinister folk practices in the mountains and occult lore.   It was a fun story.

1928 Cover
"The Call of Cthulhu" is one of  the core stories that are central to the Lovecraft cult.    The story was originally published in Weird Tales (a pulp magazine).  It is a story of the influence of an alien being on the people of  the earth.   The story is told by three different narrators and Lovecraft does just a great job creating the sense of the chaos this hidden visits caused.    Parts of it are read around the camp fire scary and parts are really fun.   It is also full of pseudo-arcane knowledge.   I want to thank E. F of This Book and I Could Be Friends for her excellent advise on getting started with Lovecraft.  

The world of Lovecraft is a self referential one.   Readers of his works learn about his works from reading them.   It is an escape from the real world more than an exploration of it.    There are ugly elements below the surface in his work and they play into submerged fantasies.    Lovecraft has been tremendously influential on horror writers the world over.    I think had I discovered these stories in my teens I would have been fascinated.  

You can listen to very good reading of his stories HERE

You can read much of his work HERE

Mel u

Post Script-since writing this post I have found that Lovecraft wrote horribly offensive racist poetry and wrote in support of the Klu Klux Klan.  


Anonymous said...

I'm glad you enjoyed reading H.P. Lovecraft ... he's one of my favorites. His stories are weird, but really good.

Mel u said...

dragonflyy419-thanks-yes I did enjoy them-I have a few other early 20th century horror stories on my read soon list

Suko said...

Mel, I had not heard of this author before. I hate the fact that he was a racist.

I can not keep up with all your short story reviews! But I am so glad that you are exploring this genre so deeply and becoming an expert.

Rebecca Chapman said...

HP Lovecraft is one of those authors that I always mean to read and never get around to it. I will have a look at this book now - sounds exactly like my kind of thing

Fred said...

Mel u,

Probably my favorite HP Lovecraft tale is "The Colour Out of Space." _At The Mountains of Madness_ is another fine but longer tale, perhaps getting close to novella length.

Eileen said...

Unfortunately, Lovecraft was a racist even by the standards of his time period. I'm sorry, I should have warned you about that. He did change a lot of his opinions towards the end of his life, however, and was a mentor to Robert Bloch, who was Jewish.

As I mentioned, my favorite of his stories is "The Shadow over Innsmouth," but that one has strong racist undertones as well. It's about a town of mutant fishpeople who had interbred with the local human population. It's also an allegory about interracial marriage. But to be fair, Lovecraft's racism extended to other white people as well. He freaked out because his great-grandmother was . . . get ready for it . . . Welsh.

In other news, there's Guillermo del Toro is working on a movie based on Lovecraft's novella At the Mountains of Madness. Most movie adaptations of Lovecraft have been terrible, so I'm really looking forward to that one.