Over the last couple of days I’ve taken a break from Don DeLillo’s ‘Libra’ and have returned to one of my all time favourite horror / science fiction writers, H P Lovecraft. In particular, I’m re-reading his novella ‘The Case of Charles Dexter Ward’ – an everyday tale of international grave robbing, ghoulish possession and dealings with dark forces, spread over the centuries.
HPL is a definitely un-PC writer to admit to enjoying. Even as a fan there are some phrases used that today slap you in the face as being patronising or racist, but given the attitudes prevalent in much fiction in the first 25 years of the 20th Century, I’m willing to cut some slack. His ‘purple prose’ is well known – just mention the words eldritch, un-nameable and squamous as adjectives to anyone with a passing knowldge of his books, and you’ll immediately elicit his name.
I recently bought replacement volums of his stories – my existing ones had fallen apart after 20 years of reading. The first time I read any Lovecraft at all was in a Corgi edition in my teens – I remember the book as having a purple cover – very apt, I thought – and it was part of a ‘Science Fiction Classics’ series. The first stories of his I remember are not, oddly enough, from the C’thulhu Mythos – they were ‘The Colour out of Space’ and ‘The Shadow out of Time’ – pretty much straight science fiction in most respect. His Venus set ‘In the Walls of Eryx’ was pure 1930s science fiction, with the ilmage of Venus as an overgrown jungle world. Once I got hooked in to the C’thulhu mythos, it was downhill all the way. I also have a neat collection of ‘Mythos Stories’ from other authors which are great fun, and wrote my own Necronomicon related short story set in Victorian England. Great fun!
As for the Mythos, it’s struck me recently that many of the Mythos stories I actually like best are not by Lovecraft himself! I think one of the amazing things about the Mythos structure is how it’s been used (and occasionally abused) by an incredibly wide range of writers; just as most writers will do a Holmes Homage, most science fiction authors will end up doing a Mythos related tale somewhere along the way. My favourite Mythos tales probably include those of Stephen King (‘Crouch End’) and Colin Wilson – particularly his ‘Return of the Lloigor.
I remember some years ago killing time in London one evening (during my film making days) in a Cybercafe on Tottenham Court Road writing a Mythos tale based around a creature that could inhabit electronic networks. Oddly enough, the email in which I sent the story to myself mysteriously disappeared in transit. It did make me wonder…
Back to Charles Dexter Ward – true Gothic Horror. There is a section of the book where even now I have to sit back and think hard, following the disguises and double identities of the characters in the novel – but it’s a great story.
If you’ve never read any Lovecraft, and you don’t mind a bit of prose that is slightly purple, I suggest you start with ‘The Call of Cthulhu’ to kick you off on the Mythos stories. ‘The Music of Erich Zann’ is an interestingly understated short story that always reminds me of H G Wells’ ‘The Platner Story’. ‘The Mountains of Madness’ is a good read as well – set in the Antarctic and deals with the discovery of ancient alien life on Earth (part of the Mythos).
In the words of an old newspaper review…go forth to HP Lovecraft and shudder!