Reviews of Books You’ve Never Heard of: Dreams of Terror and Death

What’s this then?:  Through October, we’ll keep a vaguely horror theme in the book reviews, I think.  Dreams of Terror and Death is a somewhat embarrassingly titled collection of H.P. Lovecraft’s “dream cycle” short stories published by Del Ray.  In short, the book contains all of Lovecrafts stories that either deal with dreams or connect to his novella The Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath, which is also included here.  For the uninitiated: Lovecraft is probably the most famous and most important progenitor of modern horror fiction in the early Twentieth Century.  Stephen King is known to be a great fan of his work.  Lovecraft might be most well known for his establishing a shared setting for his stories in a fictionalized New England and for creating a whole bestiary of cosmic monsters that fans refer to as the Cthulhu Mythos.  The major Cthulhu Mythos stories are covered in a different Del Ray collection.  The stories in Dreams of Terror and Death are from Lovecraft’s lesser known setting of the dream land of Kadath which kind of lays tangent to the Mythos stories and overlaps with his New England macabre stories.

Well, s’it any good?: I guess there are a number of ways to answer this.  Do I review Lovecraft’s writing overall, or his dream stories, or this collection?  Let’s do each in brief.  Lovecraft is known for his purple prose and for his obsessions with certain words (“squamous” didn’t show up much in this collection, but “eldritch” did a couple of times, and “bas relief” was all over the place).  There’s a particular Lovecraft style that is hard to describe exactly, but if you know his work you can recognize it easily enough.  You’ll either find it charming or annoying and I know of no reliable test to determine which camp any reader will fall into.  That being said, in terms of stories, Lovecraft is great.  He has produced a number of little gems of the horror genre.  Lovecraft, I think was a man frightened of the world, and his ideas will creep into your head and lie their dormant to awaken some night when the stars are right.  If you’re already a Lovecraft fan, but don’t know the dream stories, they offer something different.  Though they often contain the macabre material Lovecraft is known for, and do occasionally include his monsters, their greatest and defining strength is, well, the dream-like quality.  Stories like “Dreams in the Witch House” have a trippy and disorienting quality.  In the stories that take place in Kadath, Lovecraft build up a fantasy world truly alien to our own world or even most fantasy worlds.  In the Dream Quest he sets a tale of high adventure, which isn’t his strength but has charm in the high level of its strangeness.  If, for some reason you already know Lovecraft’s dream stories but don’t have them all then this collection is a nice one stop shop.

What’s the best bit?:  My first inclination is to say “Pickman’s Model,” which is one of the all time classic horror shorts.  It was even a Night Gallery episode!  It hasn’t got much to do with dreams, though, and is included here, mostly because Pickman appears in the Dream Quest.  “Dreams in the Witch House” is great in its trippy quality, and is a great example of how science fiction and horror coexisted as “weird fiction” in the early twentieth century.  Lovecraft’s explanation of horrific phenomena draw on a (psuedo)science of higher dimensions.  “The Silver Key” is a really cool trippy time travel story, and “The Gate of the Silver Key” expands upon it, perhaps to its detriment.

Anything else?: These stories are really cool but not necessarily representative of Lovecraft’s more famous work.  I would reccomend something else.  If you’re already a little familiar with Lovecraft then check these out.

Published in: on October 10, 2011 at 1:39 pm  Leave a Comment  

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