Fiction Reviews

The Best Weird Tales of H. P. Lovecraft

(2008) H. P. Lovecraft, Gollancz, 20, hrdbk, xii + 880 pp, ISBN 978-0-575-08156-7


70 years on from Howard Phillips Lovecraft's untimely death (of colon cancer and Bright's (kidney-related) disease) publisher Gollancz and fantasy expert and author Stephen Jones compiled a commemorative edition of the grandmaster's short fiction. This was published a year later (2008) which itself is the 70th anniversary of the publication of Lovecraft's The History of the Necronomicon (1938). This then is a commemorative anthology and what a fine volume it is: a true tribute indeed.

But before going any further, some of you may be wondering what is 'The Necronomicon'? It is in fact (or rather fiction) a fictitious book appearing in a number of Lovecraft's stories beginning with 'The Hound' (1922) a story that is included in this anthology. It is also mentioned in At the Mountains of Madness and The Case of Charles Dexter Ward that again are in this volume. Then there are less direct links with other of Lovecraft's stories such as supposed quotes from 'The Necronomicon' whose source is cited in yet other of Lovecraft's tales. You can see it is quite a complicated mythos.

Seasoned genre aficionados will need no introduction to H. P. Lovecraft. Conversely those less steeped in fantasy's history, though probably recognising the name, may be unaware as to how in the early 21st century Lovecraft unmistakably helped shape the fantasy horror enjoyed today, both in its literary and (ironically for he was not that fond of this dimension) cinematically. H.P. Lovecraft built upon Edgar Allan Poe's own contribution to the genre with landmark stories such as 'The Call of Cthulu', 'The Dunwich Horror' and 'The Shadow out of Time' all of which are in this marvellous collection. Having said this it is not all pure fantasy. Yes, there are mythical beings but there are also alien creatures. Yes, there are other realms but there are also long-forgotten cities set in the 'real' world. So a good proportion of Lovecraft's fantasy has a distinct SFnal riff.

Gathered here are well over 30 works, mainly stories but a few poems too. Many are beautifully illustrated with line drawings by Les Edwards and the volume itself is leather-bound with gold lettering. This book will therefore stand out on a reader's bookshelf both in terms of its content and physically.

There are too many stories to review individually but suffice to say that not only will Lovecraft's fans wish to check this out but others perhaps less devoted can use this collection to capture a representative selection of H.P.'s works within their collection. But there is more. The book ends with a hugely informative, indeed scholarly, 46-page essay on the great man by Stephen Jones. This is illustrated with photos of H.P., covers of his books and magazines in which his stories appeared as well as posters of films of his works. Those (like many of us) who are not huge Lovecraft experts are brought up to speed. For example, the 1963 film The Haunted Palace you may have thought from the film's billing was based on a work by Edgar Allen Poe. Actually the film's title is taken from a Poe poem but the story is actually Lovecraft's novella 'The Case of Charles Dexter Ward' (which is also in this collection). Apparently the studio, American International Pictures, had such previous success with Poe adaptations that they stuck his name on it purely for box-office appeal: conversely at the time Lovecraft had zero box-office cred as this film was the first of his works to be adapted for the big screen. Such behaviour would today risk litigation with modern appreciation of intellectual property.

This anthology is simply a must for anyone who enjoys fantasy and horror. If your reading has to date focussed almost exclusively on contemporary leaders of the pack such as Stephen King as Ramsey Campbell, then you need to slowly and carefully without messing about rush to get this volume. As they say, do it soon while stocks last.

Jonathan Cowie


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