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The Best of H.P. Lovecraft: Bloodcurdling Tales of Horror and the Macabre


The Best of H.P. Lovecraft: Bloodcurdling Tales of Horror and the Macabre Cover

ISBN13: 9780345350800
ISBN10: 0345350804
Condition: Standard
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Hermester Barrington, August 1, 2007 (view all comments by Hermester Barrington)
Most of the best work of the master of cosmic horror

Horror fiction usually derives its power from the presentation of entities which can be defined as "unnatural": vampires and zombies returning from the dead, the spirits of the deceased, werewolves and other creatures which break down the barrier between human and animal. Conversely, much of the best science fiction begins with a scientific fact or theory about the physical world and develops it beyond what is currently possible or known, and explores possible versions of our evolutionary future, life on other planets, and our place in the cosmos.

Lovecraft's greatness is that the horror in his best fiction arises from what is known about the natural world, and our place in it. His is an existential horror, a "cosmic horror," arising out of our reaction to the vast reaches of empty space and our insignificance. Humanity is but a small part of the universe, our efforts are doomed to failure, and our civilization, the end result of thousands of years of learning facts and recording history, is doomed. Indeed, science and history are often the cause of our demise in Lovecraft's work: too often, researchers stumble across some fact that drives its discoverers mad, because of what it demonstrates about our frailty.

Lovecraft was not content with writing "mere" stories of invasion by alien forces, however: his extraterrestrials are subject to the same forces as ourselves, and we often have much in common with them. Certainly many of Lovecraft's alien species are terrible to us, but often they are just as pathetic as we are, since they are subject, as we are, to the fickle forces of natural selection, to pride, and to blindness. The Great Race from "The Shadow Out of Time" and the Old Ones of "At the Mountains of Madness" (not, alas, in this collection) have a need for the pursuit of intellectual knowledge and an ignorance of real-world affairs which make them more similar to Shakespeare's Prospero than to Caliban. Unlike Shakespeare's play, in these narratives it is Caliban, not Prospero, who generally wins the struggle. Lovecraft applied the Darwinian concept of the survival of the fittest to Spenglerian notions of the rise and fall of civilization, thus providing a double blow to the idea of evolution as progress: even the most advanced and intelligent cultures are doomed, according to this notion of history. Not even physical or intellectual superiority can preserve a society against inevitable decline, especially when this decline combines with the random forces of natural selection.

This inevitable senescence is only part of the horror of Lovecraft's fictions. His other theme is the smallness and unimportance of our species in the grand scheme of things. Even those protagonists who survive the horrors described in these tales are ever after unfit for civilized life, knowing as they could not have before that human life is insignificant, subject to random forces and loathsome creatures from outside this world who dissect us like lab rats, devour us like cattle, or somehow convince our species to commingle sexually with theirs. It is rare that a Lovecraftian protagonist, once he looks into the dark, can bear the light again. In this, his heroes are like Marlow of Conrad's "Heart of Darkness" or Prendick of Well's Island of Dr. Moreau: their experiences make them almost unfit for life in civilization, and Lovecraft's protagonists generally go mad because they have shone the light of science too far into the darkness.

This anthology, then, is a very good collection of some of Lovecraft's finest work; there are a few weak pieces, but his best tales, except the aforementioned "At the Mountains of Madness," are all represented here (had this novella been included, I would have given this collection five stars). Every time I read these stories, I shiver not only because the aliens represented herein might lurk in some dark corner of the house, but because they remind us of the greater darkness which surrounds us, and of our insignificant place in the cosmos.
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Ashley Wallingford, February 11, 2007 (view all comments by Ashley Wallingford)
Probably the best book with which to introduce yourself to Lovecraft. Easy to read (even in the darkest places) text and format with 16 short stories that include a good half dozen of his best: The Rats in the Walls, In the Vault, The Call of Cthulhu, The Dunwich Horror, The Thing on the Doorstep and The Shadow Out of Time.

Also included are: The Picture in the House, The Outsider, Pickman's Model, The Silver Key, The Music of Erich Zann, The Whisperer in Darkness, The Colour out of Space, The Haunter of the Dark, The Shadow over Innsmouth and The Dreams in the Witch House.

A great selection! If you are interested in a hardcover, I would recommend The Dunwich Horror and others, from Arkham House, which contains all of these stories except The Silver Key and The Dreams in the Witch-House and adds Cool Air and The Terrible Old Man.
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Thomas Kirby, November 28, 2006 (view all comments by Thomas Kirby)
If your only exposure to H. P. Lovecraft is that horrible 1970's-era version of "The Dunwich Horror" movie, you really need to read some of his books. That movie bore only a passing resemblance to the story. My favorites of these stories are "The Dunwich Horror" and "The Thing on the Doorstep".
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Product Details

Bloch, Robert
Bloch, Robert
Introduction by:
Bloch, Robert
Bloch, Robert
Lovecraft, H.P.
Del Rey Books
New York :
Short Stories (single author)
Science Fiction - General
Mystery & detective
Horror fiction
Horror tales, American
Horror - General
Edition Number:
1st ed.
Edition Description:
Trade paper
Series Volume:
Publication Date:
Grade Level:
8.42x5.14x.90 in. .73 lbs.

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The Best of H.P. Lovecraft: Bloodcurdling Tales of Horror and the Macabre Used Trade Paper
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Product details 432 pages Ballantine Books - English 9780345350800 Reviews:
"Review" by , "I think it is beyond doubt that H.P. Lovecraft has yet to be surpassed as the Twentieth Century's greatest practitioner of the classic horror tale."
"Synopsis" by , US
"Synopsis" by , This is the collection that true fans of horror fiction have been waiting for: sixteen of H.P. Lovecraft's most horrifying visions, including Lovecraft's masterpiece, THE SHADOW OUT OF TIME--the shocking revelation of the mysterious forces that hold all mankind in their fearsome grip.

"I think it is beyond doubt that H.P. Lovecraft has yet to be surpassed as the Twentieth Century's greatest practitioner of the classic horror tale."

Stephen King

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