Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Visiting with Eich-Pee-El

A remark by John Shirley (author of various science fiction and thriller books, plus author of lyrics for bands like Blue Oyster Cult) has led me back to the the works of Howard Philips Lovecraft.

I first came across Lovecraft as a mention in a story by Ray Bradbury (in which a man finds a world where all horror stories have been erased and tries to reintroduce horror into society), later as a series of reprints by Ballantine Books with wonderfully strange covers (generally a face...distorted...). I worked through them, found more (collections with his stories, "collaborations" with August Derleth) through the local library (I was probably responsible for most of the horror purchases that year!). Overwritten? Sure. Effective? Yes. Still. Lovecraft's prose is "purple" at times, but the guy could write a good tale when he put his mind to it and he used some interesting techniques (writing stories with "facts" such as diary entries, newspaper clippings and the like, see the "amateur" film based on The Call of Cthulhu for a good look of how this can be translated to the screen). I dip into his stuff now and again; thanks to the comment by John Shirley (and several follow-up comments on Facebook), I seem to be doing a bit deeper on Lovecraft and some of his influences.

Howard Philips Lovecraft (edited and annotated by S.T. Joshi); Annotated Supernatural Horror in Literature (Hippocampus Press; 2000; ISBN 0-9673215-0-6; cover by Vrest Orton).

S.T. Joshi; Lovecraft's Library: A Catalogue (Hippocampus Press; 2002; ISBN 0-9673215-7-3; cover by Jason C. Eckhardt).

I read these two more or less together and find them somewhat linked, so I'm reviewing them together. Both bear the hand of S.T. Joshi, who has made a one-man industry of critical works on horror literature (countless critical works plus countless antholgies with extensive introductions and/or annotations, both for Lovecraft and others such as Arthur Machen...the man is unstoppable!).

Supernatural Horror in Literature is a non-fiction work by Eich-Pee-El, a survey and analysis of what makes horror...horror. Joshi points out a number of criticisms of the work from when it was first published to recent times, but there is no denying that it was one of the earliest such works in the field, and as such, has not only influenced a lot of subsequent work but remains one that you should examine (however "creaky" it might be). The annotations by Joshi point to references in Lovecraft's (extensive!) correspondence that show how his theories on horror grew. The book has an extensive index of "key works" that will (no doubt) lead me to many book searches.

Lovecraft's Library is a (alas, incomplete) look at the books that Lovecraft owned. I say "alas" because his library was broken up before a complete catalogue could be made (one effort to index it by a family friend was incomplete at best). However, despite gaps (the list mentions no William Hope Hodgson, for example, but it is clear that Lovecraft read Hodgson) it is a fascinating look at the books Lovecraft owned. Anthologies that are listed are further broken down into the works in the anthologies, which should help in "reconstructing" these (I'm willing to bet the Project Gutenberg and other sites will yield a lot of these titles); Joshi also peppers the list with comments by Lovecrafte mentioning any criticism he had, how he acquired the book (gift of a friend, etc.) and what stories were influenced or even mentioned one of the books.

Something of a strange thing to read end-to-end, this will (I can tell) become a key reference guide to me.

I'll also note the cover art by Jason C. Eckhardt. A nicely subtle pen-and-ink drawing of a library with Eich-Pee-El's beloved Gothic/Colonial architecture, with a figure walking down the aisle reading a book. I would love to get a print of that one.

Howard Philips Lovecraft and S.T. Joshi (editor and annotator); The Annotated H.P. Lovecraft (Dell; 1997; ISBN 0-440-50660-3; cover by Nicholas).

Joshi continues to deconstruct Lovecraft's work with this first volume of an ongoing series (two volumes so far). The introduction is informative, but I think he is a tad harsh in his opinion of other authors who have contributed to the so-called Cthulhu Mythos. For one thing, many of those authors went on to have distinguished careers beyond their initial (crude) contributions. For another, if it were not for those various efforts, Joshi's career would be that much poorer (!).

Made up of: Introduction (S.T. Joshi); The Rats in the Walls; The Colour Out of Space; The Dunwich Horror; At the Mountains of Madness; Lovecraft on Weird Fiction (Joshi); Appendix: Lovecraft in the Media (Joshi).

Counts as 2 entries in the 2009 Year in Shorts.

FTC Disclaimer: Both these books were purchased with real money! My own! Take that!

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