BookBin2010: The Best of H. P. Lovecraft: Bloodcurdling Tales of Horror and the Macabre

Honestly, denizens, I never thought I would finish this book in time for another BookBin2010 entry. I started reading this the night after I finished The Time Traveler’s Wife, so, yes, it took me almost an entire month to finish this collection. It’s only 406 pages; however, to be fair, it’s a very dense 406 pages. Dense like trying to traverse a virgin tropical rain forest with a plastic spork.

The collection in question is The Best of H. P. Lovecraft: Bloodcurdling Tales of Horror and the Macabre. As I mentioned in this book review, I only recently read my first H.P. Lovecraft stories. And, as I mentioned, a big part of this reason was an inherent Cthulhu hurdle I’ve developed through various encounters with rabid Cthulhu fans who tainted the concept for me.

After thoroughly enjoying “The Rats in the Walls” and “The Colour Out of Space,” however, I decided that it was time to tackle more Lovecraft and, hopefully, banish this hurdle from my mind. Plus, I had a Borders gift card burning a hole in my pocket (because prophets know I need more books!). I grabbed this particular compilation because it contained both these previously read stories (even though this now means I have these stories twice, I assumed that the other short stories in the collection were chosen because they were perhaps similar in scope and scares, which is what I wanted) as well as the very first Cthulhu story. No better way to banish the hurdle than by starting at the beginning, right?

Before I continue, here is a list of the short stories contained in this collection:

  • “The Rats in the Walls.”
  • “The Picture in the House.”
  • “The Outsider.”
  • “Pickman’s Model.”
  • “In the Vault.”
  • “The Silver Key.”
  • “The Music of Erich Zann.”
  • “The Call of Chthulhu.”
  • “The Dunwich Horror.”
  • “The Whisperer in Darkness.”
  • “The Colour Out of Space.”
  • “The Haunter of the Dark.”
  • “The Thing on the Doorstep.”
  • “The Shadow Over Innsmouth.”
  • “The Dreams in the Witch-House.”
  • “The Shadow Out of Time.”

All in all, a rather solid and impressive collection. It starts out incredibly strongly, in fact, with several of these first short stories holding some amazingly horrific ideas and imagery. Plus, M. Night Shyamalan’s got nothing on Lovecraft when it comes to the twist ending. Lovecraft possessed a brilliantly disturbed imagination, which I’m sure earned him just as many detractors as fans when he was writing. He was able to plumb the sinister depths of his mind in ways that very few writers have ever successfully done.

That being said, I believe this collection began to fall apart for me around “The Call of Cthulhu.” I tried. I really did. But I just don’t care about Cthulhu. I respect those who do enjoy this Lovecraftian mythology, but I found this particular story to be a tad bit tedious. It was also around this point in my reading that I began to notice the rather laborious nature of Lovecraft’s narrative.

Unfortunately, this latter realization was something that I couldn’t seem to shake throughout the rest of my reading. Each story at times felt like a slog through beautiful but unnecessarily cumbersome prose. Subsequently, each story took a great deal of time to get into; however, once I was involved in the stories, they almost always succeeded in captivating and haunting me. Almost each one following “The Call of Cthulhu,” however, contained some kind of reference to Squid Face and his particular mythology. Sigh.

Final Verdict: I’m definitely keeping this collection. I don’t think I will ever attempt to read it in its entirety again, but I foresee revisiting almost every single one of the stories separately. That’s one of the things I love most about collections like this; the ability to flop down on the couch on a rainy day and randomly flip open to a favorite short story for a quick scare or two. It’s why I love my Nathaniel Hawthorne and Edgar Allan Poe anthologies so much.

As for more H.P. Lovecraft, I do believe that my next attempt at reading his writings will be his novel At the Mountains of Madness, in honor of the upcoming movie being headed by Guillermo del Toro. I figure, even if the narrative of this novel is as dense as his short stories, I’ve got until the movie’s 2013 release date to finish. That should be just enough time…