Reviews of Books You’ve Never Heard of: H. P. Lovecraft’s Book of the Supernatural

What’s this then?:  It caaaaame from the bargain biiiiinnnn!  H.P. Lovecraft’s Book of the Supernatural is a quick cash in on the market of people who buy anything Lovecraft sight-unseen (i.e. me).  It takes Lovecraft’s essay “Supernatural Horror in Literature” and mines it as a source for a collection of classic horror stories that influenced Lovecraft.  Any story which Lovecraft mentions in passing is fair game.  Although pieces by such luminaries as Edgar Alan Poe and Bram Stoker are included, they are not necessarily the pieces you would expect, since again this collection is on the cheaper side, and its the second of its kind (after H.P. Lovecrafts Book of Horror).  So, where the first got Arthur Machen’s The Great God Pan, which Stephen King has called the best horror story ever, this book has to settle for “The Novel of the White Powder” (which is pretty good except for roughly five pages of after the fact explanation after the climax has occured and there is nothing scary left to happen).  Each story is preceded by a snippet from Lovecraft’s essay on the story or at least the author in question.  There are also illustrations which seem randomly placed and largely unrelated to the stories.  They resemble Stephen Gammel’s illustrations for the Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark series, only not quite as good.

Well, s’it any good?:  If you find it in the bargain bin, and you like traditional ghost stories, pick it up.  Most of the stories are from the late nineteenth century and have that certain verbose nature and tendency to digress for waxings philosophical.  I’ve been working on the book all month in fits and starts since the style sits so uncomfortably with me, but at least now I see where Lovecraft gets it.  Most of the stories are pretty standard ghost stories, and so they don’t have as much ability to shock as they once may have, but there are a couple strange gems.  In particular, evil fungi, evil wallpaper, and an evil health tonic seem to point towards the development of Lovecraft’s “cosmic horror.”

What’s the best bit?:  The story about the evil wallpaper is –surprisingly or appropriately? — the best story in the collection.  It’s Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper,  which tells in the first person (of course) the story of a woman convalescing with “nervous agitation” or some such 19th century disorder who is slowly driven mad by her unsettling (and potentially supernatural) wallpaper.  One critic noted that it “may be a ghost story; worse yet, it may not.”  Other winners in the collection are “The Novel of the White Powder,” William Hope Hodgson’s “The Voice in the Night” (the evil fungus story, and Arthur Conan Doyle’s “the Voyage of the Pole Star” (a pretty standard ghost story, but well told).

Anything else?:  The thing that strikes me about this collection is that the failures are good ideas limply told.  The minor successes are standard ideas well told.  Thebest stories are good ideas well told.  In the spirit of Halloween, I will admit that one of my great fears is that when I write fiction I (will) fall into that first category.  Which, I suppose, paradoxically, makes the worst stories in this collection the most frightening.

Published in: on October 31, 2011 at 7:10 pm  Leave a Comment  

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