The Old Ones awake! H. P. Lovecraft: Great Tales of Horror (2012) is a collection of stories by H.P. Lovecraft published by Fall River Press, with an introduction by Stefan Dziemianowicz. H.P. Lovecraft (1890-1937) was born in Providence, Rhode Island and although obscure in his own time, he had an enormous influence on American horror films, music, art, games, and literature. This anthology represents a collection of tales spanning Lovecraft’s literary career.
The hardcover edition is 600 pages and contains twenty assorted tales, which represents a small portion of his dozens of published stories. Most of these fall into what has become known as the “Cthulhu Mythos”. Lovecraft’s mythos concerns pre-historic beings from space that once ruled earth and have fallen into a deep slumber. They inspired ancient gods and cults of worship that continue in secret to the present day. Together, they represent his most popular and well-known tales.
Some writers use their craft to explore different genres and settings, while others focus on a specific subject matter and never stray far from their wheelhouse. H.P. Lovecraft is the latter, but the richness with which he fleshed out his literary world is what appeals to people. His unique mythology, anchored in a particular place and time, holds his readers’ interest from story to story. We are eager to gobble up new details.
Still, slogging through this many stories threatens to become tedious and repetitive. The mystery loses its impact when you can easily guess the solution. This is Lovecraft’s greatest shortcoming. At worst, you’re left with tedious and rambling exposition that meanders its way toward a foreseen conclusion. But Lovecraft’s stories are more than that.
A typical Lovecraftian template is just a skeleton around which he weaves a rich tapestry of characters and events. I’m particularly drawn to his use of myth and folklore to ground his fantastical, otherworldly mythology in common experience.
I enjoyed elements of “The Dunwich Horror”, but “Dagon” was my favorite tale in this collection. It was Lovecraft’s first story published in the pulp sci-fi magazine Weird Tales, and it follows a typical Lovecraftian story arch of a lone man’s discovery of something ancient and mysterious, leading to madness.
I love Lovecraft’s subtlety here–its atmospheric dread is never broken or undermined by revealing too much. Even the name is suggestive: Dagon was a god of the ancient Philistines and Mesopotamians, sometimes associated with fish or fish-men. But the story ends ambiguously. We never know whether the creature he encounters is Dagon or something older that inspired the ancient god.
Great Tales of Horror‘s main shortcoming is its scarcity of editorial content. Usually an anthology has something to contribute through forwards, biographical information, illustrations, footnotes, commentary, or other additions. Great Tales of Horror only has a short introduction with basic information about the author, and a brief introduction to each tale. I would’ve liked to see a little more material to set this collection apart from the others.