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GoddessGood: The Ramblings

H.P. Lovecraft stories

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I've recently begun reading a compilation of H.P. Lovecraft's stories "of horror and the macabre" if you believe the hype on the front cover. So far I've read through 7 of the 16 presented in the book, so I thought I'd give a quick rundown of my opinions on each.

The Rats in the Walls - This story begins with the narrator describing how he hunted down the ruins of an ancestral home that is reputed to be cursed and much maligned by the locals. He, being an upstanding New England gentleman, does not believe their folksy wisdom and rebuilds the house. Residing in it, shall we say, becomes quite distasteful for the new master and horror ensues. The moral of the story is apparently that you should listen to people who tell you things are evil and it's a good idea to have cats around (especially if they have racist names). Rats was great with characterizing and showing me exactly how scared everybody else was, but the narrator went nuts a little too fast at the end and it lost me there.

The Picture in the House - A young scholar is trapped in a rainstorm in picturesque New England and seeks shelter in a seemingly abandoned cottage. In it, he finds quaint antiques and an even more ... interesting occupant. The lonely occupant's favorite passtimes soon lead to a creepy, yet swift end for our hero. This one is much more creepy in the lead-up and is best read while alone and in a dim room.

The Outsider - A pretty narrative from the point of view strange person (male? female?) who has never experienced life outside of an expansive estate. His explorations lead to a, sadly, predictable revelation at a fancy party. Good for a scary story to tell to (not jaded) kids around a campfire.

Pickman's Model - The narrator is a fantastically adorable woman who used to pose for artists telling a friend about why she quit working with one particular fellow. Pickman painted some of the most hellish and frighteningly realistic portraits anyone has ever seen ... and when she finds out how he does it, she runs and never looks back. I think the most interesting part of this one is the narrative voice Lovecraft uses. I'd read it again if only for that. The big reveal at the end is ... well, a little disappointing.

In the Vault - A cautionary tale against shoddy work ... I think. A cemetary worker (who also builds coffins) is trapped in a vault and resorts to distasteful methods to effect his escape. This one also would make a good ghost story, but the telling of it is crucial. Excellent timing and emphasis of detail.

The Silver Key - One of my favorites so far. It's not so much a scary story as a tale of the "weird." It reads slowly and lyrically and I could almost hear creepy music playing in the background. There's a fiddly bit in the middle where the narrator's perspective seems to shift strangely, but it's overcome by just taking everything he says at face value. It's supposed to sound weird, and it's ok that it does.

The Music of Erich Zann - A neat use of miscommunication to build tension. The narrator spins a tale of a strange period in his life in which he resided on a street in a building he can no longer find on any map no matter where he looks or what year it was made. He lives in a building whose top-floor tenant is a violin virtuouso and his haunting music draws the other man in. When he tries to befriend the mute German, he discovers less than he'd hoped but more than he'd bargained for. I liked the ending in this more than I have in the previous stories. I think he got it just right.

Overall, I think the stories are best read alone and in a dim room while uninterrupted from start to finish. This has been easy enough to accomplish thus far since the stories have been on the shorter side. The next few are a bit longer, so I'll have to engineer the circumstances a bit. I'll review more when I have finished the anthology.

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Updated 06-02-2009 at 10:08 AM by GoddessGood

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  1. Arch Lich Thoth-Amon's Avatar
    Very cool, GoddessGood. This book was on my list of books to be read. I'll be checking back for more updates.

  2. Webhead's Avatar
    Nice reviews. In reading Lovecraft's stories, it helps to remember not only the time and place that he was writing but also where a lot of his stories were aimed for publication: pulp fantasy magazines.

    Yes, the best way to enjoy his works are in quiet solitude. This allows a more profound immersion into the narration, and "atmosphere" is what his stories are all about.

    You've got me wanting to read through that collection again myself.
  3. Otakar's Avatar
    That was fun. I haven't read Lovecraft for years and I've never read any of these stories. I look forward to hearing more.