The Complete Fiction
Of H. P. Lovecraft
by H. P. Lovecraft
Knickerbocker Classics - Racepoint Publishing
I write this account of my recent researches into The Complete Fiction Of H. P. Lovecraft, not to serve as a caution or celebration to such explorers of literary intent who come after me but more as an accurate account of my findings that stand as testament to the slip into the mind shredding insanity that may be lifted wholesale from the sweet and slow miasma of his enthusiastic portent.
The facts simply, as I see them, are that I have been reading the works of one Howard Philips Lovecraft, off and on, for almost four decades of my life in one form or another, conveyed by various and fantastical lurid covered compendiums of his words in varying forms up to about ten years ago, when the Penguin Modern Classics published three collective volumes of his work in paperback form. However, I then came, a year or two ago, upon a handsome looking hardback tome proclaiming the entirety of his fictional output, minus the poetry which is of less interest to me and without samples of his non-fictional articles of which, I have to confess to the world now, that I know very little about. My hand was drawn to this heavy edition, comprising some eleven hundred pages of his fantastical gnarly brain windings in a foil blocked and embossed slipcase, because I felt that, despite the brilliance of the Penguin editions, this would be both everything in one venue and also may contain, which upon reflection I’m sure it does, small stories which may not have been included in the various other chilling anthologies from which I have partaken over the years.
So it was then, that I chose the two weeks of the summer recess from my working environment in the year of our Lord 2020, when the accursed Covid plague that has breached the livelihood and sanity of my fellow man lay lurking outside the city population’s front door like a shadow lurking in the whispering darkness, to further delve into these cosmic mysteries. Each afternoon, after my morning’s ponderous and sometimes sinister early activities, I organised a brief sojourn into the summer house at the far end of my garden and sat with the volume in question as the sun ate away at the day and the squirrels peaked in past the double doors of my preferred exile.
The works, I realised, as I began to devour them with less trepidation than I perhaps should have exhibited, were organised into some kind of chronology reminiscent of the order in which Lovecraft wrote these tales of other worlds and his legendary Cthulhu mythos - often peppered with the effects and paraphernalia of the Elder Gods and their alien brethren - as opposed to the ragged order in which they, indeed, found commercial publication to the general public at large, some posthumously in the long wake of success after this writer’s tragically early demise in 1937, at the tender age of 46 and one half years old. This gives one a sense of the honing and development of both the author's skill at crafting his yarns and also of the rising degree of sophistication which such tales of questionable implication can be considered to have some great merit or accomplishment. Which, I might add, for the most part, the majority of these narratives certainly demonstrate.
As I began to approach the half way mark, where loosely recurring characters such as Charles Dexter Ward and Richard Upton Pickman, in whatever form, human or otherworldly, they appear to be manifesting in each subsequent tale, I began to realise that there was both a pattern to the general nature of his works but also, as I read further, I realised that there was one unflinching truth which was astonishing in its occurrence in the majority of this man’s work. I should perhaps hold my tongue, or at least stay my keyboard, rather than utter the central contrivance upon which I stumbled at this time. I have read various volumes in my studies of the dark worlds beyond our human recognition over the years but I had not made such an alarming discovery even in such tomes as the Liber Ivonis, the Cultes de Goules or the De Vermis Mysteriis. Nor, even, had my dabblings with a certain ‘hard to find’ French translation of the Necronomicon of the mad Arab Abdul Alhazred revealed a similar ingredient to that which I had stumbled upon in my appreciation of this much ‘influential beyond the realm of sleep and death’ writer who is H. P. Lovecraft. I will not write of this again unless I feel, later in my ramblings, that I am forced to reveal this fateful ‘trick of the wit’ which I can scarcely consider without a troubled frown reshaping my outer visage.
That Charles Dexter Ward could be considered a cypher of that very writer is perhaps not problematical until one finds mention, without actually meeting, a quick reference to a character in Through The Gates Of The Silver Key... which he wrote with the help of one Edgar Hoffmann Price... known simply as ‘Howard Philips’. Of course, the fact that these are where the source of Mr. Lovecraft’s initials spring, perhaps should in no way make the former any less of a stand in for the latter, thoroughly unexplored character. I did, however, find it startling in his use of the nomenclature in this instance.
As I continued my explorations I had, as I made clear, found a pattern to his work and this seems to take the form of three kinds of tale made manifest in his writings. The first type, which tend to develop to almost unendurable lengths, a curiously intense sense of foreshadowing of things to come, are the tales of terror of either a supernatural or alien design. These I find honest and noble but, although my mind could recall almost no details of Lovecraft’s fiction which I had previously perused, they held no real surprise as to the nature of the twist in the tale... an outcome which is sadly shared by the entirety of his output, although truth be told, my revelation as to the nature of his strategy and the layers of continually creeping portent certainly doesn’t help the potency of his ultimate ambition.
The second type that he demonstrates is that which I can only think of as his travelogues. These tend to take place in the shadowy world of dreams, in which the central characters - most of Lovecraft’s aspects tend to narrate proceedings in the first person form - describe the architecture and psychological feel of certain wonderlands and forbidden places in a realm entered by sleep but with sometimes less of an obvious return in sight. These I find perhaps the dullest of affairs in all this writer’s canon although, I have to say, that I finally took some small enjoyment from his somewhat gruelling and long work The Dream Quest Of Unknown Kadath, where none was found before.
The third type is the happier fusion of these two styles with the travelogue nature of certain styles of the second archetype supporting and making more concrete the diabolical nature of the account and it is these that tend to make up a proportion of my favourite of his tales. I might mention here that of my two absolute favourites, At The Mountains Of Madness and The Shadow Over Innsmouth, the former exhibits the third type of yarn spinning while the latter is perhaps, in some ways, a much loved throwback to his earlier tales of terror, albeit one which demonstrates that a sense of humour, though not readily apparent in the po-faced nature of his written form, is certainly not lacking in the heart of the artist.
As I read through this mad mountain of erstwhile fantasy, comprising examples of varying human transformation such as of fish or ape, reanimated corpses stumbling about in varying degrees of success, body swaps from one realm to another and the hideous, lurking horrors of Lovecraft’s fantastic imagination... I also found there to be the profound influence of such writers as Edgar Allan Poe, Bram Stoker and Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, not to mention the name checking of certain friendly contemporaries and the stuff of their tales such as Robert E. Howard and young Robert Bloch. There is even a tale, ghostwritten as the popular Harry Houdini, which was a commission for the esapologist’s own magazine, where his central ‘real life’ character certainly takes up the familiar visage of a typical Lovecraft protagonist and this, too, tends to slip into the less dreamstate version of his travelogue template.
In addition to these references and, perhaps the reason for the successful incline and influence of this wordsmith in later years, was the weaving together of many of his ‘weird tales’ into a single, if loose fitting, cloth. The metatextual nature of which nobody can deny and perhaps this knitting together of different parts of his tales with the many references to the Necronomicon, Cthulhu and places in Arkham such as Innsmouth and Dunwich, is what made the workmanship so proudly displayed now an appealing prospect for the preservation of his life’s work. There's even a tale, The Thing On The Doorstep, that acts as a direct sequel to The Shadow Over Innsmouth... although the concept explored therein is much different.
All this I took in as I continued to read, afternoon upon afternoon, with a fervour no alienist could cease, until I at last reached the final tale which, once again, proved my terrifying deduction about the structure in which this consummate artist presented these antediluvian phantasmata to his potential readers. This is the one thing which made me shudder and which has haunted my dreams when I think back to those sunny afternoons of reading these chill and casually unspeakable terrors, rewarding the efforts of my matutinal activities. As Lovecraft himself wrote at the opening of his famous tale The Call Of Cthulhu, which I quote here for the understanding of the reader... “The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents.”
Alas, such correlation was not destined to be stifled in mine own case as I reveal now to you, patient reader, my one terrible discovery of this writer’s eerie and powerful works which will forever mock me when I revisit his fantastical realms - otherworldly or terraqueous. And it is this.
For the majority of these stories found in The Complete Fiction Of H. P. Lovecraft, the writer crafts the tale in such a way that, since we usually know the outcome of the final fate of the central character given the tremendous amount of foreshadowing employed by the artist, that character will usually make a dreadful and groundshaking discovery about two thirds or three quarters of the way through and then, after this has happened, will give excuses as to not reveal that dark secret until such a time as it needs to be truly known. Hiding this information in plain sight from the reader, he waits until the very last paragraph, sometimes the very last sentence of a tale to... REVEAL THE NIGHTMARISH TWIST OF THE THING THAT HIS WHOLE DISCOURSE RESTS UPON.