Tuesday Terror! The Zombie Stories of H.P. Lovecraft

the zombie stories of hp lovecraftLoathsome, blasphemous, hellish creatures galore!

 

Not one short story this week, but an entire collection, stuffed full of HP Lovecraft’s overblown language and trademark use of four adjectives whenever one would do – a truly hideous, bloated, blasphemous, loathsome collection of tales from beyond the tomb – just the thing to resurrect this little horror slot from its summer death…

 

Tuesday Terror

The Zombie Stories of H.P. Lovecraft

 

hp lovecraft 2

There are five individual stories in the book, plus the Herbert West – Reanimator series, which is made up of six linked episodes. The ‘zombie’ reference in the title is a bit of a cheat – only the Herbert West stories contain what we might think of today as zombies, and I suspect were probably influential on the development of the zombie genre, but Lovecraft himself doesn’t use the word. Most of the rest do have a connection to people returning from the dead in one way or another, but in one or two of them the link is tenuous indeed.

All bar the last story were written between 1921-26, Lovecraft’s early period before he developed the themes and style of his best known Cthulhu Mythos stories. There are some mentions of things, however, such as Arkham and the library at Miskatonic University, that he would go on to develop and use in the later stories. Even at this early stage in his career Lovecraft had developed his love for overblown language, though not yet (thankfully) his penchant for ridiculously overlong descriptions of ancient alien buildings. The final story, The Thing on the Doorstep, was written in 1933 and is much more in the Cthulhu style – as a result it is by far the longest story in the book, though still reasonably tightly focused in comparison to some of his other work.

The included stories are:

The Outsider (1921) – a rather good story of a boy who grows up locked away in a castle deep within a forest. One day he ascends the black tower and after much peril finds himself in the world of men – but there is also a hideous, blasphemous creature here and a nice, if somewhat predictable, twist ending. (On that point, I always feel a little reluctant to use the word predictable with these early, influential writers, because I suspect they’re only predictable now because so many people have subsequently recycled what were probably original plots at the time.)

herbert west reanimator

Herbert West – Reanimator (1921-22) – This starts off brilliantly with a horrifying tale of a medical student obsessed with bringing the dead back to life. Each episode is told by his fellow student (unnamed) who starts out as a willing assistant but gradually becomes more appalled at West’s experiments and ends up fearing for his own life. The stories get darker and more gruesome as they go on – these are horror in the true sense of the word and very imaginative. Each story stands alone but there is also a strand that runs through them all, and the horrific ending is chillingly foreshadowed throughout. Unfortunately the series was spoiled for me by one episode in which Lovecraft uses some really vile dehumanising language about a black character. I try hard not to let contemporary attitudes get in the way when reading books of an earlier period, but that’s sometimes harder than others. It’s generally accepted, I think, that Lovecraft was particularly racist, more even than different times can account for, but this is the first of his stories that I’ve read where it has been quite so blatantly and disgustingly expressed. A pity – otherwise the series is excellent and spine-chillingly horrific.

In the Vault (1925) – Another lovely bit of horror, although I admit this one made me laugh rather than shiver. A lazy undertaker becomes trapped in a vault with the coffins containing several of his customers. A cautionary tale to remind us all that we should do our jobs properly – angry customers can make their complaints in many ways…

cool air

Cool Air (1926) – Again good! A mysterious doctor lives in rooms in a boarding house, where he has installed a refrigeration system to keep the temperature unusually low. It’s fairly easy to work out what’s going on in this one, but it doesn’t matter – the writing keeps it creepily horrible anyway. And when the refrigeration system breaks down and the temperature rises – ooh! Let’s put it this way – you may want to be sure you have an emergency ice-lolly on stand-by when reading this one…

Pickman’s Model (1926) – the only one I thought was really quite poor. A painter paints weird and horrible pictures that terrify everyone who sees them. I found the twist in this one was not only obvious but weak, and it had the Lovecraftian fault of going on and on with repetitive descriptions for far too long.

Art by Mark Foster http://hplovecraftart.blogspot.co.uk
Art by Mark Foster http://hplovecraftart.blogspot.co.uk

The Thing on the Doorstep (1933) – a story of Arkham and the hideous fish people of Innsmouth. The most traditionally Lovecraftian of the stories, and a very good one to end on. A man who has been over-protected all his life falls for a beautiful but strange girl from Innsmouth, and against the advice of his friends and family marries her. But soon it seems that she has some kind of evil control over him, and his sanity, perhaps his very life, is at risk. Again I think the reader knows what’s going on here long before the participants do, but it’s very well written and has some genuinely disturbing images, particularly towards the end.

Now that I’ve read a reasonable amount of Lovecraft I think I can say I actually prefer his earlier stuff, before he developed his rambling style and before he got so heavily into the whole Cthulhu, ancient alien business. If you can overlook the racist language in Herbert West, then this is a very good collection, which should make your porpentine pleasantly fretful…

It's a fretful porpentine!!

Fretful Porpentine rating: 😯 😯 😯 😯 😯

Overall story rating:          😀 😀 😀 😀

NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, Dover Publications.

Amazon UK Link
Amazon US Link

58 thoughts on “Tuesday Terror! The Zombie Stories of H.P. Lovecraft

  1. Well, hello, Porpentine! Haven’t seen you in a bit. Glad to see you’re alive and well. I love this description of Lovecraft’s overblown, florid, extravagant, exaggerated prose. And these stories do sound deliciously creepy. Not sure I can stomach the horrible racism, but the others sound terrific for a good scare.

    • He’s glad to be out of hibernation! It’s a pity about the racism – it does put me off a lot. I found it took me a good two or three stories after that one before I really began to enjoy them again. But when he manages to avoid that aspect, he’s really great at creating some disturbing images without ever resorting to chainsaw gore…

  2. I have struggled with Lovecraft in the past, but maybe this early collection might be a good starting point before he completely lost the plot – (meant in every sense as far as I am concerned!)

    • I find his later Cthulhu stories rambling bores on the whole, to be honest, though even in them he manages to create some great images if you can track them down through those endless alien tunnels. But his earlier stuff is much more like ‘normal’ horror stories – short and to the point usually with a nice twist. This is a good collection to get a feel for his early stuff, so long as you can get past the racism.

  3. I’ve never read any of his stuff, but this sounds pretty interesting — only if I were to read them during the daytime hours, waaaay before I turn out the light at night!

    • I’d never come across him till a couple of years ago,but though I mock him I’ve read tons of his stuff since then, so he must have won me over when I wasn’t looking. This is a good collection to start with, I think – nearly all the stories are very good. But you must wait for a dark winter’s evening when the wind is rattling the trees against your window and the only sound is the mysterious creak of the floorboards – BEHIND YOU!!!

    • He woke up early this year – must have been fretting! Yes, it would be a good introduction to Lovecraft, this one. It’s a shame about the racism – it really puts me off from wholeheartedly recommending him to people.

    • I hadn’t either till a couple of years ago but I’ve read quite a lot now. This is probably my favourite collection so far and would be a good one to start with when you feel in the mood to have your spine tingled. Lots of his stories are available free on the internet too, though, if you wanted to try one or two before taking the plunge on a collection.

  4. I can still remember back in the 70s when I read Lovecraft for the first time. I thought these were the scariest stories I’d ever read. Some of them still are, lol.
    Of this lot, Cool Air is a very favorite of mine.

  5. I discovered Lovecraft stories in my late teens, and I thought that it was the greatest thing; but I am sure that now I would be much more conscious of the stylistic and adjectival excesses. I mostly read the mythos stories, as I do not like zombie fiction (is that a genre?). But I did read “Cool Air,” which is really a classic and very memorable short horror story. I also read “Pickman’s Model,” but I do not remember it that well.

    Lovecraft certainly influenced almost a whole generation of horror writers. And how many writers have their name turned into an adjective, a la “Lovecraftian.” It would be harder to do that with Poe’s name, of course, but he was surely a far better writer than Lovecraft.

    They made at least one movie of a Lovecraft story, “The Dunwich Horror,” which was actually pretty good, starring an always watchable but probably somewhat miscast Sandra Dee. For Lovecraft fans, the movie is pretty true to the essence of his story.

    Appropos of short horror fiction in general, I will once again recommend Marjorie Bowen, who not only was a great writer of historical fiction, but who wrote some of the most elegantly atmospheric short horror stories I have ever read, many with historical settings.

    What a cute porcupine! I very much like porcupines and hedgehogs. I’m assuming that this particular porcupine is not actually yours!

    • I’m so sorry William! For some obscure reason WordPress occasionally blocks comments and sends them to spam and has clearly decided to pick on you today! I always mean to check my spam folder more often but…

      When I first read some Lovecraft stories a couple of years ago I thought his overblown style was pretty awful – my favourite phrase was ‘the bloated, fungoid moon’ and then there was the story where the monsters turned out to be some kind of mushroom! But he’s kind of grown on me since then, and I find his language amusing more than annoying now. But for me the earlier stories, where he kept them to a reasonable length and didn’t make us wander through all those interminable alien ruins, are better. Maybe I’ll get more into the whole Cthulhu thing in time. One of the things I like about him is the amount of really inventive and imaginative fan art he’s inspired – always fun when doing a review. In fact, that’s one of the things I enjoy most about reviewing both horror and sci-fi. Haha! I don’t know if zombies are a genre, but they must be at least a sub-genre! These really aren’t zombie stories though, except in the sense that most of them involve people returning from the dead. But they’re much more Poe-like than Night of the Dead-like.

      Haha, not my porpentine, no! I always forget people come new to the blog each year and don’t have a clue what I’m on about! When I started this horror thing way back, I decided to give them a ‘fretful porpentine’ rating based on their scariness…

      I could a tale unfold whose lightest word
      Would harrow up thy soul, freeze thy young blood,
      Make thy two eyes, like stars, start from their spheres,
      Thy knotted and combined locks to part
      And each particular hair to stand on end,
      Like quills upon the fretful porpentine.

      And the porpy has become a permanent resident of the blog now.

      Coincidentally, I have acquired a copy of a Marjorie Bowen book – The Queen’s Caprice, based (loosely, I think!) on Mary, Queen of Scots. 🙂

      • Well, that was (somewhat) amusing! I thought that you would enjoy the comments, so I was determined to get them in, even if I had to wait until the sun was up in Scotland, and presumably you might be able to fix the problem!

        What a wonderful quote. I do remember it; I guess I never thought much about the porpentine part. If I had a porcupine, I would of course read it only cheerful stories.

        I wonder what I would think of Lovecraft’s stories if I read them now. I really thought that they were quite something when I first read them. He certainly created a pervasive atmosphere, one weay or another. And the Cthulhu Mythos of course became a theme of other authors, most notably August Derleth. There are even anthologies of stories by various authors, all based on the Cthulhu Mythos. When i was watching the television show “Lost,” and it seemed so mysterious and complex, I thought that the “answer’ might be in something along those lines. But the writers turned out not to be as clever as I had hoped, and they just ignored some of their own self-created puzzles.

        I am glad that you could find a Marjorie Bowen book. I do not fully recall the plot of “The Queen’s Caprice,” but I am pretty sure that it is very good. Usually she sets her fiction in actual history, and then embellishes or imagines certain characters or scenes, but with an eye to some historical accuracy. I think this one is more pure fiction. Do let me know what you think; I am hoping that you will find her work as entrancing as I have. She is such a fine writer, with a superb understanding of character, and with a very romantic sensibility. I first became acquainted with her talent when I read one of her brilliant horror stories in an anthology. Then I bought a collection of her horror fiction; then I started buying her historical or romantic novels. I got so excited by all of this, that I must have bought thirty or so of them, mostly out of print ,and rather expensive! Now I see that many of them are coming back into print, in generic print volumes. I probably could have saved some money, but I am glad to have the old 1920’s copies for atmosphere. I try to ration them out. I have read fifteen or so. I may actually end up buying more. 🙂

        • Oh, porpentines like to be scared – they get bored otherwise! 😉

          Yes, I notice his influence on a lot of more modern writers, and there’s a fairly big school of writers who are still expandin on the Cthulhu mythos – in facy, one that I read was considerably better written than the originals!

          The blurb of The Queen’s Caprice suggests the history side will be… innovative. But when she was writing there was very much a tendency towards romanticisation of Scottish history so I’ll try not to get too picky. Yes, it looks like some of her books are being issued for Kindle now too – one of its advantages being the bringing back of authors who’ve gone out of print. But sometimes having actual books on shelves is better – especially when they’re favourites. 🙂

    • I love the ending of the Sandra Dee Dunwich Horror movie. I understand there were two different endings. The one that grabbed me is easily missed – it may even be a background to the credits. It’s like a sonogram of the character’s stomach and she’s pregnant! Not sure if we hear the heartbeat or if I have just imagined it over the years, lol.

  6. I agree with you about Lovecraft’s racism, it’s very off-putting, but I do like the Herbert West stories, and the Innsmouth one was made into a very creepy film with Vincent Price as the narrator. Great review – I’d like to think it might encourage some younger folk it explore the early horror/sf genres.

    • I fear the ‘younger folk’ appear to be leaving my blog in droves – I suspect they’d rather read reviews of the Game of Thrones! Still I suppose I was the same when I was young..er. The fish-frog aliens of Innsmouth are always good fun, but the longer stories really drag as he decribes every building in Innsmouth – at least in a film they’d be able to cut all that and get to the point!

  7. Reading something which make the hairs on the back of my neck stand up like the fretful porpentine’s quills is such a horrible sort of pleasure, that I think I will have to add Lovecraft to my list…

    • Lovecraft’s best stories will certainly do that. If you occasionally desire that effect in a more elegantly chilling way, try a collection of Marjorie Bowen’s short horror fiction! My favorite story of hers, “The Sign-Painter and the Crystal Fishes.”

      • I’ve just found the story and read it, courtesy of the Adelaide Library and read it and your term, ‘elegantly chilling’ is apt. The descriptions and names are gloriously ornate. Unfortunately my library doesn’t have any Marjorie Bowen works, so I’ll have to try online for some more. Thank you for the suggestion.

        • I am glad that you found it and enjoyed it! “Gloriously ornate” is a perfect description. I would recommend any of her collections of short horror fiction. They are perhaps not quite as great as the one you just read, but some are truly excellent, and they all have that wonderfully atmospheric and elegant style.

    • Well, I think this would be a good collection to start with. I began with another collection of his later, longer stories and it really almost put me off him. These are much shorter and as a result scarier. Enjoy! 🙂

  8. What a neatio collection of stories! Especially Reanimator, In the Vault, and Cool Air. I suppose the air gets hot?

    Isn’t it odd that a chap with his name actually writes horror stories? Must’ve been driven to it.

Please leave a comment - I'd love to know who's visiting and what you think...of the post, of the book, of the blog, of life, of chocolate...

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s