A landmark that lifts Lovecraft from pulp to Poe as a master of macabre fantasy and horror, despite Edmund Wilson’s infamous destructive essay “Tales of the Marvelous and Ridiculous.”
Is Lovecraft’s storytelling genius equal to Poe’s? Well, he has a wider canvas, quite cosmic, though he wrote swatches of haunted verse and carves graven paragraphs. At first he saw himself as a knowing and skilled amateur storyteller but, far more obsessively, as a lifelong antiquarian. Before his teens he self-published journals about chemistry and astronomy; in his teens had weekly newspaper columns, later wrote travel books, and ghosted many works for hire while publishing fantasies in Weird Tales and other pulps. Though idolized, he never earned a living at fiction. Among the 22 tales selected by horrormeister Peter Straub are Lovecraft’s favorite “The Colour Out of Space” and his classics “The Rats in the Walls,” “The Thing on the Doorstep” and “The Whisperer in Darkness.” Also herein: the dreadful “Herbert West—Re-Animator,” a youthful dud later filmed as the agonizingly but amusingly awful Re-Animator, now a grisly cult classic but less admired than its ringingly empty sequel, Bride of Re-Animator. Straub’s notes fascinate, and there is a cool-spirited, nonanalytic chronology of Lovecraft’s short but odd, odd life (1890–1937)—and this seems adapted from Lovecraft biographer S.T. Joshi’s excellent 30-page Internet essay “Scriptorium—H. P. Lovecraft.” (Joshi-edited texts were used for this volume.) HPL lacked all interest in plain folks and fought off his cosmic chills by inventing a pseudomythology. He bore the Cthulhu Mythos midway in his career, adopting starry infinitudes as his big black backdrop, with hidden and hideous ancient beings now ready to rise from slime: “After vigintillions of years great Cthulhu was loose again, and ravening for delight.” The present volume collects a third of Lovecraft’s fiction—he wrote three times more nonfiction than fiction, mostly for bread.
Black-robed by Library of America, the real King rises from darkness in his homeland. His reputation abroad glows.