Final Thoughts on H.P. Lovecraft

So, a while ago I had bought and started reading the complete works of H.P. Lovecraft.  And by a while ago I mean about six years.  I had been reading a little at a time and got about halfway through before getting distracted by other things and dropping it.  I had always intended to come back to it, and when I put a push on reading and watching some of the classics it started gnawing at me again.  So when I bailed on doing any kind of programming or writing projects in January, I decided to pick it up and slot it into that timeslot.  And then when I reshuffled things in preparation for returning to working from the office in September I found a lot to read it and other things like that in (while I was going to be doing laundry, specifically).  And doing that, I managed to get all the way through it and figured I should comment on it to wrap it up.

The second half of the collection tended to be more novels and novellas and longer short stories than the first half was, and I’m someone who likes longer works better than shorter ones most of the time, so this did work better for me.  And what really struck me in these works is how evocative Lovecraft can be.  He describes the places and situations and even people in a lot of detail making it clear just how odd and creepy these things are.  The plots tend to be less involved — and when they are, they can drag — but a lot of his works really are just people going around and discovering horrors that they couldn’t even imagine existed.  This makes them really work, as I noted in the discussion of the first third linked above, as documentary-style works, which are the sorts of things that I really love, and his attention to detail really pays off in works of that style.  About the biggest complaint I can make about that is that he often even tries to “transcribe the accents” of some of the people who relate stories, even to the extent of doing it while noting it in their letters, which can make those things difficult to read, especially since the rest of the work isn’t in that style and so we can’t get used to reading that style.  Since most of his stories are first-person accounts, he could easily have that be summarized instead of directly quoted, and I don’t think that the added verisimilitude adds enough to the story to be worth the effort, especially since struggling to parse the Old English or accented text can break someone out of the setting and story and ruin the effect that Lovecraft’s evocative text can evoke.

I also noted that stylistically the novels and novellas share a lot in common with Bram Stoker’s non-Dracula novels, and so they seem to definitely fit into the same sort of horror style, at least broadly.  However, Lovecraft is a lot better at doing the sorts of descriptions and relating the events than Stoker is, and his plots seem to fit better and work to get across what he wants to get across than was true for Stoker.

I will briefly touch on potential issues with racism and sexism that people have complained about in Lovecraft.  I may perhaps be the wrong person to talk about this, but it doesn’t seem to me to be all that much of an issue.  There may be some elements that seem off — one notable case was that one of the villains complained about being in a female body instead of a superior man’s — but in most cases those things are not argued for or even considered right and proper, but are just there.  Discussions of slavery and the like in general don’t claim that it is right that black people be enslaved, just that they are or were at the time, and even cases where someone is advocating for it — like the “woman” mentioned above — it is ultimately revealed that they are not reliable sources for that information, and nothing in the work actually ever advocates for that or proves that view to be correct.  So I think that most people should be able to get through the works without being particularly bothered by any racist or sexist elements in it.

And, ultimately, I found the works pretty entertaining.  They in general know what they want to do and do it quite well, and mix in at least some horror with the far more prevalent insanity that the works seem to be more striving for.  And, as noted, I really like the documentary/testimony style, and Lovecraft has the ability to describe things in such a way to make that sort of style interesting.  While I may have a hard time finding time to fit in another 1000 pages to read, I will likely attempt to read this again at some point.

Next on my list is the complete works of William Shakespeare, which I’ve already started.  However, in my first attempt at it I read one play in an hour and a half of reading, which is probably reasonable for a play but means that it will take me a long time to get through it (close to a year, by my estimate, based on my existing schedule).


One Response to “Final Thoughts on H.P. Lovecraft”

  1. Thoughts on “King Henry the Sixth” | The Verbose Stoic Says:

    […] after finishing the complete collection of H.P. Lovecraft, I started working on the complete works of William Shakespeare.  And when I started doing that, I […]

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