Howard Phillips Lovecraft was one of this century's ""outsiders,"" a writer of weird stories of unequalled otherworldliness, and a serf-confessed failure whose posthumous star is only now rising in paperback. He died at 47, in 1938, a reclusive antiquarian who had been born an ""old man"" and lived most of his life like a dedicated undertaker in his native Providence, Rhode Island. But H.P. had a wide circle of correspondents (he wrote over 100,000 letters, many 40 to 50 pages long) among amateur writers, several fellow Weird Tales penmen, and he even tried marriage briefly. A tall, cadaverous, abstemious, madly coddled, talking dictionary, he was amazingly well-loved by nearly everyone he allowed to know him, despite his royalist views. He is best known for his ""Cthulhu Mythos,"" a horror series of thirteen lightly connected tales about elder gods who once lived on earth and still inhabit various caves, hills, old houses, and even hold slimy underground sabbaths in New Jersey and New England. (At the Mountains of Madness is his best short novel,) Lovecraft's stories and terribly dull Georgian poetry are heavy on atmosphere, short on plot and characterization, and he later dismissed much of his writing as junk. But a handful of his tales are prodigiously inventive and original. He did not think of himself primarily as a writer -- he was an 18th century gentleman (they don't work, but he supported himself mainly by ghostwriting). His intense xenophobia relaxed in his last years and there's much in his nostalgia-besotted life that is surprisingly spellbinding in this temperate, rewarding recreation of it.