1/3 – The Fantastic
Alright team, here we go. Barnes & Noble, bottom shelf, huge tome of a book with purple cosmic geometry for a cover design. Great big letters: H.P. Lovecraft. This is what I had been waiting for. I had long wanted exactly this: something in which I could easily approach the entire library of a man who has influenced so complete a volume of everything I love and find myself interested in. Did it disappoint?
1098 pages of stories, long and short, essays, introductions, notes, drafts. Anything that big is bound to disappoint in part (*harhar*), but the man didn’t effectively originate (or at least concretize) an entirely unique and novel genre without producing an overall phenomenal output. Collected, introduced, and presented by “leading Lovecraft scholar” S.T. Joshi, the ancillary and supplemental material is, in all honesty, legitimately revealing and helpful. What Joshi and Barnes & Noble seem to have missed is a great many typos which I am sure remain from the original, and supposedly edited and enhanced, texts as they first appeared. But these are comparably few and mighty far between and only very occasionally distracted from my consistently swelling appreciation of the man and his work.
The relationship I had with this solid brick of pages (made all the more dramatic by the startling lightness of my spankin’ new Christmas Nookcolor) began on rocky footing. Lovecraft was young and while a glimmer of weird promise hovered around the early entries, I am not accustomed to reading anything written by someone younger than myself and I may have resented the fact that it was still lightyears ahead of anything I may have written at that same age. Nonetheless, it was exciting to watch the rapidity with which young H.P. increased his overall output and the quality thereof.
The first element of Lovecraft’s oeuvre to come into its own is the same element which receives the least attention. We’ll get to the Cthulhu Mythos soon, and they are fantastic, but they are not totally separate or absolutely superior to Lovecraft’s more fantastic (or “phantastic,” as he renders it) Dream Cycle.
Lovecraft’s own strength was in his desperate lack of definition, allowing for an easy inter-compatibility and cohesive cooperation amongst his stories of all styles. The largely indeterminate Dream Cycle actually laid the viscous and amorphous background which is the world behind the world of Lovecraft’s whole fiction, however it is expressed. Alternately material, fey, and something like dream, this in-between or backside-world is peppered with names, places, references, and phrases which the reader comes to consider pillars of the whole shared world which Lovecraft created throughout his career. As silly as names of people and places like Sarnath, Ulthar, Oog-Narthai, Atal, Kuranes, Leng, etc. initially appear, by the conclusion of Randolph Carter’s personal storyline I considered them essential and creative archetypes of a world perpendicular to our own.
The way that characters and elements weave in and out of one another’s individually delineated story-worlds is something a little too chronological, but still exciting and exhausting to behold. Lovecraft’s verbiage is also clearly most at home here as well. It is a common complaint against the professional amateur that his language is overwrought and despite Joshi’s protestations, I can’t completely discount that complaint. As the pages turn he reigns it in, subtly and effectively so, but in his more fantastic turns Lovecraft comfortably allows his pen to flower and flow in whatever direction it so desires. He’s writing a dream, whatever the composition, and dreams don’t have to submit to scholastic criteria.
Explicitly influenced by Lord Dunsany (who I hope to tackle later in the CBR), we still find here the very heart of H.P. Lovecraft (Randolph Carter, despite being one of my favorite characters ever, is essentially Lovecraft’s own proxy) and the seeds of eternal Pajiba favorites like Neil Gaiman and Steven Moffat.
This cycle also builds on itself more believably and less distractingly than the horror vein. As we’ll explore more later, it becomes tiresomely curious how so many Miskatonic professors could be exposed to the very most secret and ancient histories of the world and the nameless and painful true character of the universe. In Dreamland I took no such issue.
“The Doom That Came to Sarnath,” “The Terrible Old Man,” “The Cats of Ulthar,” “Celephaïs,” “The Other Gods,” “The Strange High House in the Mist,” and, what I consider to be Lovecraft’s very crown jewel, “The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath,” among many others, compose a collection that I cannot recommend highly enough. That final novella alone is among the most dreamily and beautifully constructed literary culminations that I have ever experienced. It is everything that the stories that built up to it promised to be. Is it perfect? No. But it was the turning point in what had until then been a sometimes exhausting trudge through a format I was largely unfamiliar with (the short story).
I won’t assign stars, or thumbs up, or numbers, or any sort of rating. But I will give my recommendation and I will give my appreciation. This third of my overall review of H.P. Lovecraft’s complete fiction garners my enthusiastic praise. Read these stories. Read about the world that underpins Randolph Carter and read his own journey through the heart and germ of decadent imagination itself. Just don’t trust anyone named Nyarlathotep along the way. That guy is crawling chaos and he’ll walk you right up to the monotonous piping of flutes around the daemon-sultan throne of the blind idiot god Azathoth at the center of Chaos itself. Bastard.