Friday, May 24, 2013

Book Review: Halcyon Classics The Definitive H.P. Lovecraft: 67 Tales of Horror

Well I finally finished reading the Kindle Edition of this H.P. Lovecraft Anthology.

While the price was very good I will say that my interest in Lovecraft really ebbed and flowed. Some of the stories just didn't capture my interest as much and I found myself getting tired with some of Lovecraft's literary devices. But that is somewhat par for the course when reading collected works. I found Howard to get to me at times as well when I read the Conan anthologies.

What I was not prepared for was Lovecraft's racism. It doesn't come up in every story, and a lot of it is garden variety Anglophile world view of "lesser" races. His racism against blacks, or African - Americans if you prefer, is repugnant.

Sorry, but I gotta calls it as I sees it. I personally was totally unprepared for it. At first I was inclined to think that it was just a sort of period bias against barbaric non white, non Christians and it was that. But it was actually worse than that. I still enjoy the true horror stories and the Dreamlands stuff is pretty good but I probably would have come away with a better taste in my mouth if I had stopped at Call of Cthulhu and Dunwich Horror etc.

Gorgonmilk in the comments here pointed me to an interesting essay here.

I still enjoy the Cthulhu mythos and spinoff games, but I have to say I was disappointed to read this tripe from Lovecraft.

So I can't fault the book itself. Good value, you get a ton of stories. But if you only want to read the main stories and be subjected to to the other stuff less, maybe try a different book.


  1. Without jumping on the complete argumentation train here... I can't completely follow the stuff in the linked essay where he argues about this "man of his time" thing. If you make yourself clear, that even anthropologists (worldwide) at that time used nearly the same ductus than H.P. did (with the beloved N word etc.) it perhaps leads to a better understanding of how he was embedded in (t)his cultural context. I don't want an argument just point out that there is a second, cultural side.

    I love the stories from him (I have the complete collection on my kindle and many audio books) and in some of them you can really find this "weird" stuff and I think more important in his personal correspondence. But to generalise it and say he was a racist? I don't know...

    1. The point you make is correct and what I was driving at in my comment to Gorgonmilk. These were widely held views that even had the mantle of science in the late 19th and early 20th century. They were wrong and repugnant to me.

      I think what the essayist is trying to say is that there were many other authors who may or may not have felt the same who didn't have overt racism in their works. She also was criticizing others who hand wave his racism away rather than just acknowledge it.

      Like I said. I still like the stories as a whole, I just could have done without the racial slurs and subhuman portrayal of non Anglo peoples.

    2. Yes they were but nonetheless it was "common sense" these days. Only why we have no a better(?) understanding of things shouldn't lead us to blame others if they talked bulllshit but never lived up to that talk. I never read something of H.P. mistreading other people other than himself.
      Perhaps as German I am a bit more sensitive when it comes to calling someone a racist because our older generation feels even today guilty for things their parents or grandparents have (or may have) done in WWII and calling them racists is fast (imo too fast) at hand...

    3. I totally agree that calling someone racist is used very freely as an argument ender. I'm not trying to end a conversation, just give my opinion after reading the 67 tales. I don't want to discourage anyone from reading his works, just let them know what they are in for.

  2. Well, having most of what hax been released I have to say you pointed out the two major problems with Lovecraft.

    Having read biographies and stuff about the guy, there seems to be little doubt about his racism.
    As for his literary devices, it's what he bagn with I remind right. He first began as a critic and developped a sort of efficiet method or recipe to right novels. He started writing mainly to test these devices.

    Now with all those things said (if they are true, none of us has ever met the guy or ever will), there still remains the fact that he had an incredible talent and an imagination that amazed most of its readers. Let's continue to love the books and leave the personnal matter aside (although I admit I also got nausea when reading word like "negroids" or comparisons between black people and gorillas). Let's remember that even if the guy is said to have had a wide cultural knowledge, he may never had teh fact to travel or meet the right people to make him change his mind.
    I'll keep the Cthulu stuff and throw the rubbish away...

  3. Thanks Asslessman,

    I think that keeping what you like and throwing the rest away is exactly what I am advocating. I do think he was an important literary figure and a very talented writer.

    My complaint about the literary devices is somewhat weak, but it is just something I have noticed when I read collected works. There are certain words or turns of phrase that many authors go back to. When you read stories back to back and they come up repeatedly my mind tends to get annoyed. Just a personal preference/ quirk. I am not a writer so perhaps I shouldn't comment on stuff like that.

    And as for the N word, I think it needs to go away like other archaic words. As a personal story, when I first moved to New York City at the age of 9 I was hanging out with three classmates. Two were Black and one was Puerto Rican, most likely with some Black heritage. They were all talking and using N word this and N word that. I just thought that's how we were talking. Imagine my surprise when I found myself in a head lock with all three of them threatening to beat me up. Lesson learned, I don't use the word. But I will submit that perhaps nobody should use it. But that's just me.

  4. Yeah the man was a biggot no doubt. But his bigotry seems to extend to all peoples outside whatever he considered to be civilization. He didn’t seem to think much of the regular people living in the country side of Massachusetts either.

    In many ways he's the antithesis of Robert Howard, believing those living outside of "civilized' society to have de-evolved while Howards ethos seems to take the view that it is "civilization" that has de-evolved man.

    1. Good point about the contrast between REH and HPL, Tartar Sauce. One of my favorite quotes from REH is “Civilized men are more discourteous than savages because they know they can be impolite without having their skulls split, as a general thing.”

      Seems especially true in terms of internet civilities. Half the stuff would not be said if the threat of being punched in the face was there.



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