The book was called The Tomb and Other Tales. I remember the cover, even now. A man wrapped in spider webs, hanging, face contorted in terror. On his leg is a bright red spider, the only bright color. It called to the horror fan in side me. I might well have picked it up for that alone.
But I knew the author, too, and that point. My father had described Stephen King as being very “Lovecraftian”. As I was a big King fan, I was more than a little curious. And so I bought the collection. While the scene on the cover did not appear within, I went out and bought another collection.And then another.
And then another.
I can not think of an author quite like Howard Phillip Lovecraft. When he is good, he is very, very good. But when he’s bad… woof. The man loved HUGE words, to the point of obsession. Never use a nickel word when you could empty your wallet and put yourself in debt, that was Lovecraft’s motto.
With the prejudice of his time period (you know the drill) and a tin ear towards dialect, modern readers can have a rough go sometimes. On this, he had a bad habit of telegraphing his shocks, ending stories in a crescendo of italics dealing with points the readers no doubt already got. He’s a real… a-HEM. Excuse me. He’s a real bad influence on young, inexperienced writers who don’t know better.
Not that I would know.
Past these faults is a writer of singular imagination, one unlike any before or since. He would borrow ideas from others, shape them anew, and come up with perfection. Like Edgar Allen Poe, his influence can not be understated. The list of Authors he has inspired is long and distinguished, growing as the years pass.
Some of my favorite works of Lovecraft include (but are not limited to):
- “Call of Cthuhlu”: The ultimate Lovecraft story, telling of the accidental discovery of an ancient evil and the consequences of the act. It contains one of the greatest sentences in Horror, which is, in part: “…[Parker] was swallowed up by an angle of masonry which shouldn’t have been there; an angle which was acute, but behaved as if it were obtuse.” Good God, what a thought!
- “The Cats of Ulthar“: One of Lovecraft’s excursions into Dark Fantasy, set in the Dreamlands. No one kills cats in the village of Ulthar, and with cause. The story tells why.
- “The Other Gods”: Another tale from the Dreamlands. Barzai the Wise wishes to see the Gods of the Earth on Mount Hatheg-Kla , something that is far, far from wise. Another great moment here, when the protagonist, Atal, discovers that climbing up Hatheg-Kla is much easier than climbing down…
- “In the Vault”: An unethical village undertaker finds himself locked in a vault with a few of his more recent charges. His attempt to escape leads to about what you’d expect. I’m found of this one, as it was the only time I laughed while reading Lovecraft. It came early in the story, and these days I can’t imagine why…