Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Happy Birthday, Howie P.!

That...that is an appropriate nickname, right?

...never mind.

That's right, kids! This is the day the creepy uncle of horror was born! Everyone celebrate!

Let the good times roll...

Really, for all his pseudo-nihilistic beliefs, Lovecraft seemed to be a stand-up guy. Neurotic, nerdy, and a huge cat fan, he would've fit right in with the rest of the Internet. While he didn't quite start the weird fiction/cosmic horror genre, he certainly brought it to the attention of the rest of the world, resulting in a modern-day cult. I mean fanbase. Fanbase.

So what can we say about Lovecraft's writings? Some were amazing, hitting that right note of creepy and otherworldly, while some were...shall we say...a bit overblown.

Lovecraft liked using really big words that send everyone scurrying for their dictionaries, but that's okay. Books that have lessons in them are good too.

But what are the absolute best Lovecraft stories out there? Well, here is my top ten. Happy reading, and please...don't turn out the lights.

Cthulhu hates stumbling through a room to find a light switch. You should be more considerate next time.

10. Cool Air

     Our unnamed protagonist befriends his neighbor upstairs, a doctor who uses this newfangled thing called an "air conditioner" to keep his apartment unnaturally cold. Oddly enough, this doctor is not in fact my mother, despite evidence to the contrary. But why must the doctor keep his apartment so cool? And why is he so obsessed with prolonging life...?
     Fairly short, but it keeps up the tension and has a great ending.

9. Pickman's Model

     Our unnamed protagonist befriends a famous macabre artist known for his life-like paintings of monsters. Pickman is obsessed with the occult activity of the olden days, and prowls the streets at night, searching for inspiration. The protagonist is determined to see the building where Pickman does his most secret work. Again, a bit short, and a mildly cheesy ending, but it sort of highlights Lovecraft's own obsession with older times.

8. The Music of Erich Zann

     Our unnamed protagonist befriends a neighbor in his apartment building that plays the violin at night. And I promise that is the last time I will use the phrase "unnamed protagonist". Erich Zann keeps the curtains to his window shut tight, and says he must play the violin.Why does he do this? Why does the protagonist care? Is it true that the building is in fact Cthulhu's iPod? The world may never know.

7. The Dreams in the Witch House

     A young student at Miskatonic University, Walter Gilman, has been studying higher mathematics and physics, and concluded magic is actually done by the manipulation of these two subjects. For proof, he takes the top room in an old boarding house that once belonged to a witch Keziah Mason, who disappeared from her prison cell along with her man-faced rat Brown Jenkins. He believes the legends of her still existing are nonsense, but when he starts hearing footsteps in his room at night, and when he starts having waking dreams where he walks through other worlds, things get dangerous. As May Eve approaches, poor Gilman finds more proof than he ever wanted.
     I can neither confirm nor deny that this book gave me a nightmare in which Nyarlathotep was hovering at the end of my bed.

6. The Colour Out of Space

     Lovecraft liked the British way of spelling things. A strange meteor lands in a farmer's yard, and at first, the whole town is excited about the attention it has brought. But when everything around the farmer's land begins slowly turning gray and dying, excitement turns to horror. Investigators from Misk. U. arrive, but they may be too late.
     Part of what freaked me out so much was the clear analogue to nuclear fall-out. The possibility of nuclear weapons was being discussed almost as soon as Marie Curie discovered the effects of radiation. Lovecraft wasn't the first to consider the dark possibilities of a nuclear weapon, and he certainly wasn't the last.

5. The Cats of Ulthar

     Lovecraft really loved cats.

Like the rest of us, he thought people who hurt cats deserved to be eaten alive by them. So he wrote a story about it. The end.

4. The Case of Charles Dexter Ward

     Charles Dexter Ward's psychiatrist is trying to explain exactly why the young man was insane. As it turns out, there was very good reason for it. From old stories of a sorcerous ancestor to strange doings in modern times, Dr. Willett begins to uncover a dark plot that stretches back to the time of the witch trials.
     It's Lovecraft's best attempt at a novel, and I suspect if he had lived longer he would have perfected the technique. Also, Carrie Bebris totally used the plot in Suspense and Sensibility!

3. The Call of Cthulhu

     I bet you were expecting this to be number one, weren't you? Well, no. It's one of his best, but not the best, in my opinion. It's a bit rambly, so the story isn't as tight as it could be. The story follows four different threads, all connected to an ugly little idol of a weird squiddy-dragon god. Our unnamed protagonist (PSYCH!) is researching how his uncle's death is connected to all this, and uncovers dark cults under our very noses.
     Obviously, the origin of all things blobby and tentacled these days.

Picture by this incredible genius on deviantART called LuckyFK. (You read that the same way I did, didn't you?)

2. The Dunwich Horror

     Dunwich has had the misfortune of being a source of really weird things. As such, they almost aren't affected when Lavinia Whately gives birth to a weird-looking kid, and her and her crazy father start herding cows to the top floor of their house. It appears Yog-Sothoth has taken a break from trolling the Doctor to start mucking about in rural New England, and it's up to an old guy from Misk. U. to save the day!
     Has some genuinely creepy moments (the part where everyone on a party line hears a family get devoured is notable), as well as giving Lovecraft his own name for his mythos: "Yog-Sothothery".

1. The Haunter in the Dark

     This is the other reason you shouldn't turn off the light. Robert Bloch Blake is a weird fiction writer who lives in a nice boarding house with lots of cats. However, his eye is constantly drawn to the strange chapel on the other side of the city, whose steeple the birds seem to avoid. When he goes there, he starts having strange dreams, and becomes obsessed with "the haunter in the dark".
     Not only is this a creepy and well-written book, but it was also written specifically because Robert Bloch killed Lovecraft off in one of his stories, so Lovecraft decided to return the favor. (Bloch later had the last laugh by writing a third story in which Nyarlathotep helps humanity invent nuclear weapons.)

Eerie Steeple: Curse Sold Separately.

Now, these are not his only good stories. Nyarlathotep is his best super-short story. Dreamquest of Unknown Kadath is amazing simply because it is so over the top bizarre, and also the cats of Ulthar fly to the moon and back. The Battle That Ended the Century is good because Lovecraft (or "Hateart", as he is called in the story) took all of his writer friends and put them in a fictional gladiatorial ring, just for the lulz. It's a very silly story from someone best known for horror.

So, there ya have it. The H.P. Lovecraft Literary Podcast has some free readings of a few of these at their website. They're done by the amazing Andrew Leman. Turn down the lights (but not all the way-Cthulhu hates stubbing his toes, you know), pull up a chair, and have a listen.

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