The Necronomicon

December 1, 2008

 

Necronomicon: The Best Weird Tales of H P Lovecraft.

 

Weird, yes. Weird that I’ve never read him before, and I consider myself fairly well read in the horror genre. And yet for some reason I kept bypassing the acknowledged master and trailblazer of the field, and I don’t know why. Perhaps I thought he’d be tedious reading: after all, his canon comes from the late 1800s to the 1920s, and under the thin, hideous guise of ‘literature’ I’ve read some horrendous ‘great works’ (including Henry James: sorry, not a fan) that have had all the appeal of urethral surgery sans anaesthetic. (I’m staring grimly at some of you, Dickens, and just about all of you, Brontë)

But then along came Gollancz’s reissue of, effectively, the best of H P Lovecraft’s stories in a leatherbound, gilt-embossed edition (for astonishingly less than £20.00 for nearly 900 pages as well), and, after reading all that Lumley, I thought I’d give ye olde hoary master a shot.

And all was Good.

This is a man with an imagination way before his time. His horrific worlds are fantastically detailed, and the (only slightly) old-fashioned language is quickly swept away from perception in a fountain of perfect — and often harrowing — descriptiveness. His crumbling, decaying rooftop worlds of New England resonate perfectly with a horror that is often completely alien to anything before it… or often since. Lovecraft eschewed the vampire and the werewolf, common staples of the time, in creating fantastical new mythologies of dispassionate Elder Gods and monstrosities from outside time and space, profusely detailed and profliglately chaotic. From blood and guts horror (‘Herbert West — Reanimator’ [incidentally a very, very good film]) through alien civilizations that may not yet be dead (‘At The Mountains Of Madness’) to the terrors of what lies parallel with us, crammed into the very air surrounding (‘From Beyond’ — and that film wasn’t bad either), his is a skewed and violently twisted, utterly original worldview that is very much worth the immersion.

Lovecraft gets a bit of stick these days for racism, elitism and a little misogyny and, yes, I can see that in his writing. And that’s fine. His writing is a product of the times he lived in, and I’m happily aware of, and content with, that. It’s not excessive and, were he writing today, it probably wouldn’t be there. However, to those people saying he should be written to get rid of the above elements (Lovecraft was apparently personally terrified of Negroes, for one thing), I’d say: get a life. We need that sort of literary alteration the way we need Big Ears to no longer be sleeping in the same bed as Noddy or the Fat Controller being renamed the Horizontally-Challenged-But-More-Than-Capable-Civil-Servant. Sigh.

The book itself is a beautiful thing, worthy of the many evil old tomes Lovecraft himself references throughout his exhaustively complete worldbuilding: black leather, ridged spine, inlaid with gilt and filled with pen and ink drawings of squid-like Cthulhu, faceless night-gaunts, crumbling manuscripts and lurking evils (in one of those interesting cyclic connection things that is no doubt me reaching for connections that aren’t there, it’s illustrated by Les Edwards who, under the name Edward Miller, produced the covers for China Miéville’s early novels… which owe a great deal in terms of descriptive style and visions of urban decay to Lovecraft!). Well worth picking up for the presentation alone… but then you’ll be sucked in to a new kind of strange hell by the contents, and you won’t want to leave.

Superb. Totally recommended. Delve back to the uneasy beginnings of the twentieth century, and find a tarnished, blood-spattered, horrifying treasure transcending time, space and your perceptions of horror…

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