Horrible Monday: Eldritch Tales: A Miscellany of the Macabre by H.P. Lovecraft

Eldritch Tales: A Miscellany of the Macabre by H.P. Lovecraft SFF book reviewsEldritch Tales: A Miscellany of the Macabre by H.P. Lovecraft

For those who just can’t get enough Lovecraft, Blackstone Audio has just released this lovely collection of a significant portion of his work. It contains 56 of his horror stories, poems, letter excerpts, and essays. Notably missing are his longer works (e.g., “At the Mountains of Madness” and “The Shadow Over Innsmouth”) and a few of his most popular short stories which are so often collected elsewhere (e.g., “The Call of Cthulhu,” and “The Dunwich Horror”).

Most of the stories in Eldritch Tales: A Miscellany of the Macabre are vaguely related to Lovecraft’s Cthulhu mythos, or at least his general premise that the universe is inhabited by a race of horrible ancient gods who sleep but are occasionally awakened by cultish worshipers from the darker regions of our planet… worshipers who usually eventually go mad.

Here are the stories and poems in Eldritch Tales: A Miscellany of the Macabre. I’ve copied this list directly from a page about this book on a website called The H.P. Lovecraft Archive which contains many (and perhaps all) of his writings online (thank you, Lovecraft Archive!). You can click the links here if you want to read these stories at that site. However, the audio version is so good, that I’m recommending it here, of course.

All of this takes just over 20 hours on audio! The stories are beautifully read by excellent readers, including several of my favorites: Tom Weiner, Simon Vance, Simon Prebble, Bronson Pinchot, Elijah Alexander, Malcolm Hillgartner, Sean Runnette, Stefan Rudnicki, Gildart Jackson, Robertson Dean, Pamela Garclickh, Armando Duran.

As I said, Lovecraft’s most popular stories aren’t included here (they’ve been collected so many times before), but fans will be interested in these, nonetheless, and many of them feature elements from those well-known stories. For example, the towns of Innsmouth and Dunwich are mentioned, as are the elder gods and the shoggoths. “History of the Necronomicon” gives us the fascinating history of Lovecraft’s famous fictional grimoire which, so he says, was originally written in Arabic and banned by the pope. This story sounds so authoritative that it’s no wonder many people think The Necronomicon is a real book!

Those familiar with Lovecraft will recognize the repetitive themes, character types, plots and imagery. There are men on the verge of madness, men who’ve been cursed (there are few women in these stories), creatures that seem half man and half ape, insane asylums, murderers, mysterious ancestry, secret mouldy tomes, lost and found academic papers detailing unexplained paranormal occurrences, fantastical landscapes, weird dreams and drug hallucinations (opium and hashish), thunderstorms, strange lights, barely heard demonic laughter or eerie music, decaying castles, secret subterranean rooms, burned down mansions, men who were mistakenly thought long-dead, frightening cultish practices in dark regions of Asia and Africa.

Sadly, many of these elements feel like stock items that are combined variously to produce (sometimes) eeriness and terror…. Let’s see, in this story I’ll have a college professor with a mysterious ancestry find the hidden papers of his colleague, now committed to a mental institution, who found an underground grave in Dunwich which contains a strange little statue of an unknown sea creature that causes people to hallucinate and become immortal when they touch it, but then he wakes up and wonders if it was just a dream…. (I just totally made that up). Lovecraft’s worst trick, though, is to explain that his character is screaming and has gone mad and that the horror that caused this was so indescribable that if we were told about it, we’d go mad, too. To me, this always seems like an easy out.

Some of Lovecraft’s repetitive character types get pretty annoying. For example, all of the “swarthy” people are dirty, unkempt, smelly, and untrustworthy. The story “The Street,” which tells of a street in New England which is, over the years, gradually populated by immigrants, is blatantly racist. But some white people fare no better with Lovecraft. One of his most common characters is the ignorant “white trash” (his words) from the backwoods or mountains. Those who live in rural areas are consistently characterized as primitive, stupid, savage, decadent, misshapen and ugly. Here’s an example from “Beyond the Wall of Sleep” (note the mental institution):

 It was from a youthful reverie filled with speculations of this sort that I arose one afternoon in the winter of 1900–1901, when to the state psychopathic institution in which I served as an interne was brought the man whose case has ever since haunted me so unceasingly. His name, as given on the records, was Joe Slater, or Slaader, and his appearance was that of the typical denizen of the Catskill Mountain region; one of those strange, repellent scions of a primitive colonial peasant stock whose isolation for nearly three centuries in the hilly fastnesses of a little-travelled countryside has caused them to sink to a kind of barbaric degeneracy, rather than advance with their more fortunately placed brethren of the thickly settled districts. Among these odd folk, who correspond exactly to the decadent element of “white trash” in the South, law and morals are non-existent; and their general mental status is probably below that of any other section of the native American people.

Wow, that’s ugly, and it’s something I’ve noticed in much speculative fiction written by white men in the early 20th century. That, and the sexism, is what is, for me, most put-offish about old SFF.

A related issue is Lovecraft’s archaic wordiness which sometimes becomes hilarious:

By the time he had related this to me, I, emboldened by his torch and his company, began to reflect upon the strange beast which I had wounded but a short distance back in the darkness, and suggested that we ascertain, by the rushlight’s aid, what manner of creature was my victim. Accordingly I retraced my steps, this time with a courage born of companionship, to the scene of my terrible experience. Soon we descried a white object upon the floor, an object whiter even than the gleaming limestone itself. Cautiously advancing, we gave vent to a simultaneous ejaculation of wonderment, for of all the unnatural monsters either of us had in our lifetimes beheld, this was in surpassing degree the strangest.

Lovecraft’s poetry varies. I’m no expert, for sure, but some of it was eye-rollingly bad. However, some was nice, some was amusing (“The Poe-et’s Nightmare”), and I truly enjoyed the 36 sonnets that make up “Fungi from Yuggoth.”

After listening to H.P. Lovecraft for over 20 hours, I feel the need to comment on some of these recurring problems, but in actuality I did enjoy many of these stories including (thankfully) the longest one “The Last Test.” Others I enjoyed were “History of the Necronomicon,” “The Alchemist,” “The Electric Executioner,” “Ibid,” “The Transition of Juan Romero,”… and others (honestly, they’re starting to run together in my mind).

One of my favorite parts of Eldritch Tales: A Miscellany of the Macabre was the essay “Supernatural Horror in Literature” in which Lovecraft speaks extensively about the horror genre, praises and criticizes other horror writers, and makes suggestions for more reading. I find it amusing to think that when he wrote this, Lovecraft had no idea that the influence of many of those writers on horror literature would be completely overshadowed by his own. In case you want to know, Lovecraft is a particular fan of Arthur Machen and Lord Dunsany.

So, twenty hours of Lovecraft on audio! If you don’t go mad after that, I sincerely don’t know what it will take. Seriously, though, this is an important work and very well done. It’s a huge chunk of Lovecraft’s work read by some of the best narrators in the business. I recommend it both for fans and for those, like me, who just want to be more familiar with the work of such an influential writer.


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KAT HOOPER is a professor at the University of North Florida where she teaches neuroscience, psychology, and research methods courses. She occasionally gets paid to review scientific textbooks, but reviewing speculative fiction is much more fun. Kat lives with her husband and their children in Jacksonville Florida.

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One comment

  1. Sandy Ferber /

    You’ve got to love that H.P., racism and all! Supposedly, he was aghast at all the ugly people that lived in his Brooklyn neighborhood; all those swarthy foreign types! Anyway, Kat, you MUST be pretty strong mentally, to withstand 20 hours of Lovecraft on tape without going STARK RAVING MAD!!!!!

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