So you want to venture into the horror & madness of H.P. Lovecraft?
Use this guide to explore some of my favorites…
People disagree on what is the “best” of Lovecraft. I personally didn’t like Herbert West–Reanimator a bit, yet it remains quite well known. Others favor only the stories that build upon his “Cthulhu Mythos”, and although I like many of these, I find some of these Mythos stories aren’t actually very good stories in and of themselves. However, there is a reason that so many horror buffs and geeks love Lovecraft, and I’d like to share with you my own list of what I consider to be his essential stories–and why I love them.
- At the Mountains of Madness
- This is a longish novella, but one of my favorites. It centers around William Dyer, a professor at Arkham’s Miskatonic University, who leads a scientific expedition to an unexplored part of Antartica and discovers the ancient ruins of an alien civilization “at the mountains of madness”. This story is eerie and chilling–not only because of its icy setting–from beginning to end, and fits beautifully into the Cthulhu Mythos (introducing shoggoths). It contains many of the themes for which Lovecraft is quite famous, and is a good example of his better writing.
- The Call of Cthulhu
- Although Lovecraft’s most famous story–which spawned the naming of his entire mythos–this story is good enough to enjoy, but not one of my favorites. I consider it essential simply because of the Cthulhu Mythos, but the story itself never scared me the way many of his other stories did. Cthulhu is a marvelous monster, though, and Lovecraft’s exploration of the return of the Old Ones to enslave humanity is a must.
- The Nameless City
- This story disturbed me as a teen so thoroughly that I couldn’t fall asleep the night I read it. The narrator explores the “Nameless City” in the Arabian Peninsula, a cursed ruin of a civilization of reptilian monsters that existed long before humanity. I have always been fascinated with ancient history, and Lovecraft’s interweaving of fact with fiction in a horror context makes humanity seem quite small and insignificant in the cosmos. The first mention of Abdul Alhazred, writer of the Necronomicon, is found within.
- Pickman’s Model
- My second-favorite story by Lovecraft. A well-written, suspenseful exploration of what artistically inspires a morbid genius, with a macabre twist. Scared the bejesus out of me!
- The Rats in the Walls
- This story is beloved by many, both well-executed and creepy. It centers around the final descendant of the corrupt De la Poer family, who moves from Massachusetts to his ancestral home, the Priory, in England and discovers the awful history of his very wicked family. Talk about man’s inhumanity to man! Horrific.
- The Colour Out of Space
- An exceedingly popular Lovecraft story, and considered by many to be an essential part of the canon. A meteorite crashes in a part of Arkham, Massachusetts and begins to–slowly–change the inhabitants, and not for the better.
- The Dunwich Horror
- Lovecraft horror story-telling at its finest, as well as one of the core stories of the Cthulhu Mythos. Centers around the Whateley family in Dunwich, Massachusetts, who decides to breed something–or someone?–unspeakable and blasphemous.
- The Festival
- This is reminiscent of the horror novel Harvest Home, and just as scary. It is set at Yuletide (Christmas) and I suspect serves as the inspiration for all the “Scary Solstice” mash-ups between Cthulhu and Christmas that have become so popular. The narrator travels to Kingsport, Massachusetts, to visit relatives and witnesses a dreadful ancient town custom.
- The Haunter of the Dark
- In Providence, Rhode Island, a young writer explores an old church and finds only madness within. Lovecraft’s most Poe-esque work, quite horrific.
- The Shadow Over Innsmouth
- By far my favorite story by Lovecraft. I nearly crawled out of my skin while reading it. Essential to the Cthulhu Mythos, and the best Dagon story (much better than his other short story entitled Dagon, in my opinion). A young man is forced to stay overnight in the town of Innsmouth, Massachusetts, and barely escapes with his life. Of course–nothing is as it seems, so don’t be surprised if you think twice before staying overnight in small obscure towns in the future.
- The Shadow Out of Time
- Many Lovecraft scholars consider this his greatest work. A young man seems to be going insane but is actually being possessed by an extraterrestrial species known as the Great Race of Yith, who use switching bodies as the means to travel throughout space and time. Lushly told, and expansive in its breadth of theme and idea.
- The Mound (with Zealia Bishop)
- I loved this tale, about an old Indian mound which conceals the gateway to an ancient underground civilization. Lovecraft wrote this as a ghostwriter, and the world he creates is captivating.
- Winged Death (with Hazel Heald)
- With no ties to the Cthulhu Mythos and little basis in scientific fact, many don’t prefer this story of a doctor in Africa who is haunted by a death fly. But it’s a fun romp through superstition, and quite suspenseful. I think you’ll like it as well.