One Major and One Minor Writer of Tales Weird, Macabre

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), October 2, 2005 | Go to article overview

One Major and One Minor Writer of Tales Weird, Macabre


Byline: Bruce Allen, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES

The recent enshrinement of genre master H. P. Lovecraft in the prestigious Library of America raises once again the annoyingly undead critical question: Was Lovecraft, the author of numerous influential works of what he termed "supernatural horror," really any good? Howard Phillips Lovecraft spent most of his brief (1890-1937) life in his native city of Providence, RI. Except for frequent trips along the eastern seaboard and diligent correspondence with those who shared his literary and antiquarian interests, it was a largely uneventful existence, punctuated only by a catastrophically ill-advised (and also brief) marriage.

These facts and many others are disclosed in S. T. Joshi's ample "A Life" (published originally in 1996). It's an admirable work of sympathetic criticism, valuable for its detailed accounts of Lovecraft's sickly, "bookish" youth; his painstakingly acquired assimilation of literary influences (Poe above all); successes as a contributor to Weird Tales magazine and beneficiary of the tributory independent publisher Arkham House; reviser of lesser writers' horror stories; and tireless producer of the letters which, his biographer argues, may eventually constitute "his greatest literary and personal achievement."

Mr. Joshi overrates Lovecraft's often inane juvenilia and (what is ingenuously labeled) his "philosophical thought." But he offers trenchant summaries of all the significant fiction, and properly credits Lovecraft's impressive conceptual power, the critical acumen displayed in the brilliant book-length essay "Supernatural Horror in Literature," and the ornate prose style made "distinctive . . . [by] its mingling of scientific precision and lush Poe-esque rhetoric." And Mr. Joshi is disarmingly frank about the oeuvre, acknowledging "that Lovecraft conceived - or. . . executed - only a relatively small number of plots and scenarios, and spent much of his career reworking and refining them."

That redundancy grows quickly apparent as one proceeds through Peter Straub's selection of 22 of Lovecraft's "best" stories. And chronological arrangement underscores this very uneven writer's slow development. The most glaring examples are an early (1919) tale about a curious scientist's unwise excavations in a remote cemetery, "The Statement of Randolph Carter," and the atrocious "Herbert West - Reanimator," published in serial form and never thereafter revised to edit out repetitions. This overheated, essentially daft story of a grave-robbing physician's mad quest for "the secret of life" fails almost every way a story can fail: It's truly, irredeemably ludicrous. (Still, it did inspire Stuart Gordon's amusingly gory 1985 film "Re-Animator.")

Even the better early stories - which portray a solitary outcast who unknowingly embodies the unknown ("The Outsider"); an elderly violinist possessed by strange infernal harmonies ("The Music of Erich Zann"); and a Catskills mansion possessed by a lingering evil ("The Lurking Fear") - are hamstrung by their author's penchant for schoolboyish summary rhetoric such as "Most daemoniacal of all shocks is that of the awesomely unexpected and grotesquely unbelievable."

But Lovecraft hit his stride with "The Rats in the Walls" (1923), in which an American protagonist (more fully characterized than are most of this writer's humans) inherits both an English estate and its resident curse - then surpassed it with "The Shunned House," about a property built above a colonial burial ground, which wreaks continuing vengeance on its dwellers' successive generations. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

One Major and One Minor Writer of Tales Weird, Macabre
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen
Items saved from this article
  • Highlights & Notes
  • Citations
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Search by... Author
    Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.