The Gothic Tales of H. P. Lovecraft edited by Xavier Aldana Reyes

Fear, frogs and fungoids…

😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

“Shrieking, slithering, torrential shadows of red viscous madness chasing one another through endless, ensanguined corridors of purple fulgurous sky…”

I have an ongoing love/hate relationship with Lovecraft. When he manages to restrain his worst excesses, he’s the equal of any horror writer I’ve read and far superior to most, but when he gets into full “weird” mode, he seems to lose control and goes wandering off through chapters as long and tortuous as the ancient tunnels and buildings he describes. So the idea of some of his shorter, more Gothic tales collected in one volume appealed to me greatly. I’m happy to say I loved this collection – every story got either a four or five star rating individually, a rare occurrence that has happened to me only once before, as far as I remember.

There are thirteen tales in the collection, ranging in length from eight pages to forty or so. They are simply presented, without illustrations or notes. However there is a short but informative introduction by Dr Xavier Aldana Reyes, Senior Lecturer in English Literature and Film at Manchester Metropolitan University and a member of the Manchester Centre for Gothic Studies. Reyes discusses how Lovecraft’s reputation as a major influence in weird fiction has led to his more traditionally Gothic work being somewhat overlooked. But Reyes points out that even in his weird fiction, Lovecraft often used Gothic concerns. Having read the stories, I’d say the reverse is also true – that his Gothic tales often include elements of his major weird works, particularly in the settings, the hint of unknown fears from something more cosmic than ghostly, and the idea of the degeneration of humanity, which recurs frequently not only in Lovecraft’s work but in that of many of his near contemporaries.

HP Lovecraft

Reyes also mentions Lovecraft’s well-known racist views. The stories collected here have been selected to avoid the worst of these. I’m not sure whether that’s the right decision – to get a real flavour of the man, unfortunately one has to be made aware of his views, since they underlie so many of his recurring themes. However, there’s no doubt in my mind that the less overtly racist stories are considerably more fun to read.

I cannot even hint what it was like, for it was a compound of all that is unclean, uncanny, unwelcome, abnormal, and detestable. It was the ghoulish shade of decay, antiquity, and desolation; the putrid, dripping eidolon of unwholesome revelation; the awful baring of that which the merciful earth should always hide.

But enough of the analysis! It’s all about the stories, of course! Here’s a flavour of a few of the ones I enjoyed most…

The Music of Erich Zann – I used this for a Tuesday Terror! post. Great stuff!

The Music of Erich Zann

The Alchemist – a young man is brought up in the castle of his ancestors by an old servitor. On his 21st birthday he is given papers revealing the family curse – each head of the family will die around the age of 32. Naturally, this thought obsesses the young man, so he sets out to find the reason for the curse and to reverse it if he can. Lots of Gothic in this one – the ancient castle with ruined wings, decayed aristocratic family, bats, cobwebs, darkness, curses and so on. And a nicely shocking moment when… nah! I’m not telling! And only ten pages… well done, HP!

The Moon-Bog – the narrator’s friend returns to his ancestral home in Ireland. At first all is well… until he decides to drain the bog for peat. This is also heavily Gothic but has touches of his trademark weird – the frogs especially are a delightfully Lovecraftian touch, but I shall say no more about them… It’s excellently written with some wonderfully atmospheric descriptions of the bog before and during the draining.

The Moon-Bog
by bealinn via deviantart.com

The Shunned House – an empty house, a nameless horror, and no Lovecraft collection would be complete without phosphorescent fungoids! This is straight horror, well-paced, and full of great imagery even though it’s written in plainer, more restrained language than usual.

The Strange High House in the Mist – this, I felt, was more clearly heading into weird territory though still with Gothic aspects.

In the morning mist comes up from the sea by the cliffs beyond Kingsport. White and feathery it comes from the deep to its brothers the clouds, full of dreams of dank pastures and caves of leviathan. And later, in still summer rains on the steep roofs of poets, the clouds scatter bits of those dreams, that men shall not live without rumour of old, strange secrets, and wonders that planets tell planets alone in the night.

It tells of a house in Kingsport, a fictional town in Massachusetts, and one of Lovecraft’s regular settings. It’s set high on an inaccessible cliff where the sea mists meet the clouds, providing a conduit through which pass things unknown to puny humanity. Until one man decides to ascend the cliff…

The Strange High House in the Mist
by tikirussy via deviantart.com

The book itself is gorgeous. The cover illustrations on back and front are embossed in what looks like silver, but seems to have different tones in it so that it takes on different colours in some lights. The print is clear and the paper is high quality, with a lovely thickness and weight to it. Given the Gothic theme, it would be perfect as a gift not just for existing Lovecraft fans but for anyone who enjoys Poe or MR James and hasn’t yet sampled the delights of weird fiction – a good introduction that clearly shows the crossovers between the genres. Of course, if you’re anything like me, you might prefer to keep the gift for yourself…

NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, The British Library.

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29 thoughts on “The Gothic Tales of H. P. Lovecraft edited by Xavier Aldana Reyes

  1. So glad you liked this collection, FictionFan. Gothic and horror – without too much weird – can be really creepy, and it sounds as though this collection strikes that balance. And Lovecraft could evoke a very eerie atmosphere. Perhaps you’ll put one of those stories to the porpy test at some point? 😉

    • I do like Lovecraft better in his shorter stories – he gets a bit too waffly for me in some of his weird fiction. Yes, indeed, there were a few in this collection that the porpy will enjoy – if I can ever get him to come home from that party… 😉

    • Neither did I till about three years ago! There’s a big crossover between it and horror, but after a bit you can kinda feel which is which, if that makes sense. And when Lovecraft is in Gothic mode, I reckon he’s at least as good as Poe – sometimes better… 😀

    • Neither had I till about three years ago, and yet now he’s a fixture in my autumn reading, even though sometimes he drives me crazy with his waffliness (and racism!). Yes, he’s been hugely influential and now I’ve read a fair amount of his stuff, I see his influence cropping up all over the place.

  2. I haven’t read any of these, and I’m not entirely sure I could get past all those adjectives!! Glad you enjoyed this one, though, and the book itself does sound pretty.

    • Haha! I was like that when I first came across him, but I’ve grown to love these ridiculous sentences – they make me laugh. The book’s gorgeous, and I do prefer his shorter more Gothic stories overall…

  3. I wouldn’t be able to stand his wordy prose, but I see from your quote selections that isn’t always the case. I’m definitely intrigued by the bog story, and based on the picture I wonder if you mean “frog people.” Or is “frog” a metaphor?!

    • Haha – I was like that when I first read him, but now I’m used to his style I’ve grown to love the overblown language and positively get excited when the phosphorescent fungi appear! Ah, the frogs! Well… they might just be frogs… or they might not. It’s for the reader to decide… 😉

  4. I know I tend to get overly nostalgic when commenting on your posts, but I do feel as though writers ‘back then’ were better at condensing their work into short digestible lengths. Or perhaps our editors are getting lazier? LOL

    • Absolutely! A lot of them wrote short stories for magazines who insisted on a certain word count and I wonder if that made them more disciplined? Must admit Lovecraft can waffle for ages when he’s in full-blown weird mode – that’s mainly why I prefer his shorter Gothic stuff.

    • Two excellent choices! I must admit Lovecraft is an acquired taste and it took me a while before I really appreciated him. But now no autumn would be complete without him!

  5. I’m not sure that Lovecraft is for me (I’m not big on horror or weird) but I love the delicious sentences you quoted – they just ask to be read aloud with relish.

  6. Not being into horror myself I’m not likely to pick up this book but I was drawn to the description of the book itself (sounds beautiful) and I have to admit I can see from the sentences you’ve chosen that the stories are very likely to put tingles in your spine!

    • The book is gorgeous if you’re looking for a gift for a horror fan! Yes, he’s much scarier when he’s in Gothic mode. I find him too long-winded in his weird fiction – tends to put me to sleep rather than keep me awake!

    • I must say this would be a great entry point for him – his weird stuff can be very loooooong-winded. And he’s been so influential in all kinds of stuff – not just horror…

  7. Oh yes, got to love the Lovecraft, there is no one else like him. Have you read his story The Colour Out of Space? It’s about a colour, literally a colour, which invades and makes everything sick. He had such a weird imagination.

    • Yes, that was in the first collection I read of his stuff a few years back and at that point I wasn’t at all sure about him – so many adjectives! 😂 But I found his stuff lingered in the mind far more than most writers, and gradually he’s become a fixture in my autumn reading…

      • I wasn’t sure about him either at first – I first read when I was about 13 and wading through the descriptions was difficult. But I liked the ideas and yes they do stick in the mind.

        • I don’t know how I managed to miss out on him for so long – I didn’t read much horror at all until the last few years. He is an acquired taste but I’m glad I’ve acquired it at last…

  8. So glad to hear you enjoyed this collection FF! Maybe I was just really unlucky with the collection I read? There were a few great ones but generally I got so cross with the way he often went off on a tangent/became overly descriptive! 😆

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