I’ve been meaning to read H. P. Lovecraft for some time, as I’ve heard really good things about his writing, particularly his Cthulhu mythos. The R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril Challenge, hosted by Carl from Stainless Steel Droppings, provided a good excuse, so I picked up an anthology of short stories from the library. I’ll try to keep to three or four stories per post, and will do my best to avoid major spoilers.
The Statement of Randolph Carter
The tale is narrated by Randolph Carter, a scholar of the occult who is presumably in custody for the disappearance of his mentor/partner, Harley Warren. Warren had been studying a strange book, which led him to open a tomb in the hopes of discovering a mysterious something. Leaving Carter to stand watch, he enters the tomb, descending a long staircase. Communicating by telephone (in a hilariously antiquated manner), Warren discovers something mysterious and dark lurking below ground…
This story served as my introduction to Lovecraft. I was intrigued by the fact that Warren guessed that whatever he found would likely kill him, but decided to go anyway. As my sister would say, “Curiosity killed the cat, but satisfaction brought him back!”
The narrator grows up in a dark and spooky castle, where a fairy-tale overgrown forest obscures any vision of the night sky. One night, he decides that he wishes to see the moon, and so attempts to climb the tallest tower so that he can penetrate the treetops and see the sky. He climbs through a trap door, and is unsettled by the fact that apparently his entire castle was underground. As he makes his way into the world above, the narrator must confront his own identity…
In this story we see a character whose life is dominated by loneliness. Realizing that there has to be more to life than his own existence thus far, he climbs out of his narrow existence into the larger world, only to find rejection. Even though our narrator must come to terms with his solitude and alienation, he is still happier for having left the gloom of his castle.
The Music of Erich Zann
A man looks back upon his days as a student, when he lived in a run-down neighborhood called “Rue d’Auseil.” He has tried to go back to the area, only to find that there is no record of it ever existing. While he lived there, he could hear from his apartment music being played from a tower where an old German musician lived. Haunted by its otherworldly quality, the narrator goes to visit him, only to discover the terrible secret of Zann’s inspiration…
I’m a sucker for books about artists and musicians. Zann is a weird and reclusive character, but he’s clearly a nervous wreck for reasons other than the typical angsty artsy types. I found myself wanting to know more about the “Rue d’Auseil.” Did it simply vanish, or did it never even exist?
Written in several installments, this work tells the story of Herbert West, a mad scientist dedicated to finding the secret of returning the dead to life. The story is written from the perspective of West’s assistant, a fellow classmate from med school at the Miskatonic University. Stealing corpses from local graveyards, the pair injects their subjects with a solution in the attempt to reanimate them, with varying degrees of success…
There are three major problems with this story. The first is that it’s basically a ripoff of Mary Shelley, and not a particularly good one. The second is that because it was originally a serial, every segment repeats everything that happened in the previous two pages, which is a bit tedious when you’re reading it all at once. The third problem is that Lovecraft reveals himself to be a racist dick when he basically insinuates that black people aren’t entirely human. This annoyed me tremendously, and I almost stopped reading then and there. Overall, this story was a total fail.
If it weren’t for the whole Herbert West disaster, I’d say right now that I was impressed with Lovecraft. Some of his short stories are awesome, but it appears that some are going to be catastrophic. I like the idea of strange creatures living a parallel existence to our own, whether they be whatever demons lurked in the crypt or the noisy beings that inspired Zann’s music. I was also pleased to see the perspective of “The Outsider.” I’m hoping that the rest of the works that I read are more like the first three stories than like Herbert West.