Lovecraft Reading Suggestions

The What turned you on to horror? thread got me thinking about some horror writers I’ve never read, particular H.P. Lovecraft. I went to the bookstore and picked out one of his books, The Lurker at the Threshold, which I really enjoyed.

Now I want to read more Lovecraft, and I’m wondering if people have any suggestions about what to read next. Is there any “natural” order to Lovecraft’s works, or does it not matter? I don’t know much about his writings, but it seems that there are at least connections between his work, maybe even a series of stories.

I’m looking forward adding Lovecraft to my library.

Congratulations. If you enjoyed THE LURKER AT THE THRESHOLD, you are now a fan of the writing of August Derleth.

Augie, though rightly celebrated for founding Arkham House Publishers and putting HPL into book form for the first time, took horendous liberties with his literary charge. He took many sketchy ideas for novels and short stories and wrote 'em himself, then claimed that Lovecraft had in fact, been the author.

Some of them are all right, but don’t be fooled…get the real thing!

I recommend that you splurge for the Arkham hardcover editions with the corrected texts: THE DUNWICH HORROR AND OTHERS, AT THE MOUNTAINS OF MADNESS AND OTHER NOVELS, and DAGON AND OTHER MACABRE TALES. These three volumes contain everything fictional that HPL wrote, plus his great essay on Supernatural Fiction. Once you’ve scarfed these, you could also pick up THE HORROR IN THE MUSEUM AND OTHER REVISIONS, which are stories attributed to other writers that Lovecraft pretty much wrote all by himself.

I’d suggest “The Case of Charles Dexter Ward”, especially if you haven’t read much Lovecraft. This story stands on its own, and it’s one of the few cases where Lovecraft actually slips in a “twist” that got me (Usually he, like Hitchcock, would rather let you see everything that’s going on and let you squirm).
Yiu can read the others in just about any order, I think. You might like “The Annotated Lovecraft” and “More Annotated Lovecraft” with annotations by S.T. Joshi, but the annotations might spoil thinbgs for you the first time through.He’s also published other annotated tales in smaller press (I have a copy of his annotated “A Shadow over Innsmouth”).

Avoid, at least at first, anything by August Derleth or other people who have “extended” the mythos. I’ve never liked Derleth’s idea of elementals, and he had a much clumsier hand than Lovecraft.
Stories to read:

The Call of Cthulhu
The Dunwich Horror
The Shadow over Innsmouth
The Case of Charles Dexter Ward
The Colour out of Space

I think “At the Mountains of Madness” and “The Shadow out of Time” are over-rated.

Damn timing. I was writing a lengthy exposition of why August Derleth sucks, and by the time I preview it, Ukelele Ike and CalMeacham beat me to it.

Derleth’s Catholic background clearly shows as he divides the mythos into generalized ‘good’ and ‘evil’ factions. No, no, no, no, no! No! Sigh. His writing is all fine and good on its own merits, but when you compare it to Lovecraft, and try to treat it like a successor to Lovecraft, then you’re deluding yourself and should stop reading.

I’ve never been a big fan of the Dream-Quest stuff. Just seemed too … well, too wacky. Anyway, here’re my favorites:

The Music of Erich Zann
Pickman’s Model
The Picture in the House
The Rats in the Walls (read this one in an old rickety farmhouse at night- if I had to suffer, YOU have to suffer)

Fine story selections by Cal and LNO. I’d just like to add one of my personal favorites, though…“The Whisperer in Darkness.”

Actually more of a novella than a short story, it has some of the spookiest images in Lovecraftiana: the green and lonely Vermont mountains, the odd things that appear in the melting snow and rushing creeks, the eerie recording of the human voice and…something else…in the woods at night, the metal cylinders.

I’m a fan of the dream-quest stuff. Lovecraft created an entirely other world, and gateways to our own, and populated it as he saw fit from his chilling imagination. Wacky? Yeah. But beautifully written, and compelling. IMHO.

Try The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath, a compilation I’ve found at several used book stores.


I’ve always wanted to write about a horror writer named H.P. Hatecraft, because I’ve come up with a wonderful list of titles by him, and this thread has made me remember them:

The Colorado Space

The Stumbler in Darkness

Pac-Man’s Model (This one is about the “Happy Face”)

The Music of Jimmy Dodd (That’ll show my age)

{editorial aside}

Clearly, Cal, old bean, that should be “L.P. Hatecraft.”

For you, no charge.

I’d suggest picking up “Best of H.P. Lovecraft: Bloodcurdling Tales of Horror and the Macabre,” the collection that includes a personal favorite of mine, “Pickman’s Model.” Also has fun stuff like “The Call of Cthulu” and “The Colour Out of Space.”

If you can’t find it in your local store, here’s a link to the book on Amazon:

I’m a big fan of The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath, but that didn’t happen until about the third time I read it (it drags a bit). I also like “The Outsider” a lot, though it’s not one of the generally well-regarded stories. At the Mountains of Madness is also a good story, and I don’t care what Cal says. :stuck_out_tongue: (I’ll admit that I didn’t really appreciate that one until about the third time I read it, either.) There’s also a story he ghost-wrote for Harry Houdini called “Under the Pyramids” which is worth checking out (Lovecraft has Houdini, exemplar of fitness and athleticism, fainting about every five minutes. Heh.)

Ike’s got it dead on, though. “The Whisperer in the Darkness” is the shit. It’s my favorite Lovecraft story, for all the reasons Ike stated, and because it mostly stays true to his materialist ethic, which is when I think Lovecraft’s writing is at its best.

Here’s a site where you can read a lot of HPL’s stuff online.

Ah, perfect, you’re all here. (Dopers who can probably answer this question.)

I’m reading “A History of Reading” by Alberto Manguel (which I heard about here, I think), and he writes about the months he spent reading to Jorge Luis Borges.

Manguel talks about Borges’ “irritation” with Lovecraft, “whose stories he had me start and abandon half a dozen times.” Manguel says Borges wrote “Dr. Brodie’s Report” as a “corrected” version of a Lovecraft story.

What did Borges find “irritating”? What did he need to correct? Was it something as simple as style, or did Borges have issues with HPL’s mythos stuff?

Well, personally, I think Call of Cthulhu was one of Lovecraft’s worst. That said, it’s still OK. Plus, you have to read it to see what the fuss is about.

Two of my favorites are * The Silver Key* and The Strange High House in the Mist.

I like The Street. Warning: it panders to a lot of elitist and racist stereotypes, so it may offend a modern reader’s sensibilities. But I think it’s still the best-written story he did.

I’m going to go off topic and also recommend a few other works:

The House on the Borderland
[sup]William Hope Hodgeson[/sup]

The City of the Singing Flame
[sup]Clark Ashton Smith[/sup]
Both of these authors are able to craft exceptional stories. Clark Ashton Smith was held in high regard by Lovecraft himself.

Help me out here a little Ukulele Ike, and others in the know. I have each of the four books you mention here. You may recall the Arkham House thread I started a few months ago. Three of the four I have in first edition (you know how we collectors are!). At the Mountains of Madness is, I think, the fourth edition. As an aside, do these books contain all of the stories originally published in The Outsider and Others and Beyond the Wall of Sleep, published quite a bit earlier? I need to know whether I will be adding to my collection based on the stories, or just on the collectibility of the books themselves.

Now, I know from my collecting that these books have gone through several editions. Eight or more, in some cases. I recall wording such as “5th corrected edition” or “8th revised edition” or similar. Does this mean the stories themselves have been revised or changed? I would hate to be in the position to have First Editions (valuable as collectors items), but yet have to seek out later texts to get the best versions of the stories. Give me the Straight Dope!

What do you know about Marginalia and Collected Poems? I’m in the process of trying to secure Firsts. I’ve not read any from these. They probably suck.

I also have a First Edition of The Watchers Out of Time (1974). I think this one of those psuedo-Lovecraft compilations you mentioned. Where does The Lurker At the Threshold (1945) fit in? Did Derleth actually write these stories?

Although I have in my collections a fair number of the “mythos” collections, I haven’t read any of them (or the Derleth ones, either). I’ve pretty much stuck to the real Lovecraft. I have been looking forward to reading these other stories, but I am now a little discouraged, given the opinions on this thread. BTW, my favorite Lovecraft story is also “The Whisperer in Darkness.”

AuntiePam: THANK YOU! Borges writing a Lovecraft-style story? That is TOO delicious! Luckily, I dropped forty bucks two years ago for the Viking edition of Borges’ COLLECTED FICTIONS…I’m going to read “Brodie’s Report” posthaste!

divemaster: As one serious Arkham collector to another, I recommend you find a copy of Sheldon Jaffery’s THE ARKHAM HOUSE COMPANION (Starmont House, 1989). It’s an excellent reference guide.

THE LURKER AT THE THRESHOLD was published as a stand-alone novel in 1945; the full text is included in your copy of THE WATCHERS OUT OF TIME (1974). If you’re a completist, you’ll want the original 196-page book (the going price in 1989 was $105.00), if you just want to read the story, you’ve got it already.

THE OUTSIDER AND OTHERS and BEYOND THE WALL OF SLEEP contained all of HPL’s fiction and poetry, plus prose poetry, some revisions and collaborations, and unused story ideas from the Commonplace Book.

By 1963, both books were long out of print and already getting high prices from collectors. So Derleth decided to do the four books I cited above, as new editions of the complete Lovecraftiana. I have firsts of those four, too, and damn glad I am of it. But my reading copies are…

In 1985, Arkham did the “corrected sixth printing” of DUNWICH HORROR. It should really have been called the “First Edition thus.” The contents are identical to the 1963 edition, but it is the first of an authoritative, corrected set of Lovecraft’s fiction.

"The short opening notes by S.T. Joshi explain the rationale behind this edition, which contains the original text of many stories as derived by Joshi from his consultation with the original manuscripts or typescripts themselves. Where the originals were unavailable in the John Hay Library of Brown University, Joshi has reverted to the version as it appeared in WEIRD TALES.

“Robert Bloch…has contributed an introduction which briefly re-examines the role of Lovecraft…in horror fiction. The original Derleth introduction has been omitted.”

– Jaffery, op. cit.

MARGINALIA (1944) contains More poetry, more essays, fragments, early prose, photographs, and appreciations by Frank Belknal Long, Charles White, Francia Flagg, Richard Ely Morse, and others. If you have MISCELLANEOUS WRITINGS (1995), you have the best of the Lovecraft material already.

On the other hand, COLLECTED POEMS (1963) is worth having, if only because Joshi hasn’t gotten around to publishing a complete revised collection of HPL’s verse. This slim volume contains the best of Lovecraft’s poetry, as well as the second-best, AND some of the early work, which the author himself described as “eighteenth-century rubbish.”

The best is the poem-cycle entitled “Fungi from Yuggoth,” one of the coolest titles anyone’s ever come up with for anything. I could be wrong, but I don’t think it’s available anywhere else.

Without having yet read Borges’ “Brodie’s Report,” I’ll raise my hand and venture that the had the same problem with HPL that most modernists do, not to mention pals like Robert E. Howard.

Fainting violets for protagonists, shadowy terrors that are never resolved or dragged out into the light (or if they are, turn out to be ten-foot tall monsters shaped like giant cones), a “verbose and undistinguished style” which includes “incessant effort to work up the expectations of his reader by sprinkling his stories with such adjectives as ‘horrible,’ ‘awesome,’ ‘eerie,’ ‘blasphemous,’ ‘hellish,’ and ‘unhallowed’…surely, one of the primary rules for writing an effective tale of horror is never to use any of these words – especially if you are going, at the end, to produce an invisible whistling octopus.” (Edmund Wilson)
{shrug} What can I say? I love the big lantern-jawed lug, faults and all.

Ike – you forgot “eldritch”.

ROFLMAO at the “invisible whistling octopus”. (I like the cone monsters though.)

Who translated your Borges collection? I’ve never read anything by him (hangs head in shame), and after reading about him in Manguel’s book, I’m thinking there’s a huge hole in my head.

Also “cyclopean”. And “squamous”.

Seriously, the usual observation about Lovecraft is that he uses a lot of adjectives, and it’s easy to criticize him for the times he uses them to over-establish the atmosphere in this or that story. Most likely, that’s the problem that Borges had with him (WAG, but it’s the safe way to bet).

As far as personal faves:

  1. I absolutely loved Ath the Mountains of Madness. It’s better than just about any “scientific” horror story out there, though it also drags enough in the middle to show why HPL didn’t write long very often.

  2. The Doom that came to Sarnath is another one that I tend to reread whenever I need a chill on my spine. Granted, not everyone will like his dreamlands stuff, but it works pretty much like his more materialistic horror, too.

  3. ** The Haunter of the Dark** is really good in spite of itself- it was written as a sort of in-joke, specifically to kill off Robert Bloch (or “Blake” as he appears in the story). Surprisingly, it’s one of his best.

Oh, and I absolutely loved The Outsider. Then again, so did August Derleth, so there must be something wrong with it.