Brian Leno timed this one nicely! I thought he might take another week or two for a formal (or as formal as Leno gets) review of Lovecraft: The Great Tales. But no.
For the eighty-fourth anniversary of the death of H.P. Lovecraft on this day in 1937 — very nice timing — herewith the word from the author of Lovecraft’s Southern Vacation and Ringside with Robert E. Howard:
I was fifteen when I first read “The Shadow over Innsmouth.” It hit me like a Rocky Marciano uppercut.
During that period of my life I haunted a small bookstore in Bismarck called the Town Crier, and in the paperback racks I found the Beagle Books edition of The Lurking Fear.
It wasn’t my first introduction to H. P. Lovecraft, but it was the book that propelled me into full Lovecraftian fan-mode.
Soon I was building a library of the Providence Gentleman’s tales, but I was also searching for information about the man himself, and that, living in a small city, was a bit harder to attain. Fanzines had a few articles, and I read what I could find. But most were, as to be expected, written poorly by fans who really weren’t able to tell me much of where this singular writer found the inspiration for his classic tales. Later academic and quasi-academic junk, as tasteless as a hot dog without mustard, had no narrative flow and spent too much time on Lovecraft’s ancestry and other meaningless issues. Most of this stuff only functioned as a pretty good sleep aid.
All that changed a couple of weeks ago when the mail carrier dropped off John D. Haefele’s Lovecraft: The Great Tales.
At first the book appears overwhelming. Even somewhat daunting. It clocks in at over 750 pages and nobody is going to read it at one sitting. A casual glance through the Works Cited and Selected Index let’s the reader know that he’s dealing with an author who has explored, deeply, the works of the Rhode Island Bard.
To borrow Willis Conover’s title from his Lovecraft study, really and finally we have Lovecraft At Last. The time spent on the reading and research inspires awe. Years of devotion, years of work. One example of what long-time fans have awaiting them: the discussion of Lovecraft first encountering Robert W. Chambers and his masterpiece The King in Yellow — and what stories that meeting spawned. The same spadework applies to many other wordsmiths, including Arthur Machen and Algernon Blackwood. “The Great God Pan” and “Wendigo” are not forgotten in this study.
Haefele provides new insights of which most readers may not be aware — the chapter detailing Lovecraft’s first reading of William Hope Hodgson, for example. In great detail, he shows how the momentous collision of these two equally great writers helped provide the fuel for HPL’s classic “The Shadow out of Time.” As a life-long fan of Hodgson this section was undoubtedly my favorite and compels me, once again, to board Hodgson’s derelict ships and stick my toe into his eldritch waters, and do some serious rereading.
And of course that means “The Shadow out of Time” also goes back in the pile, awaiting reacquaintance.
The final years of Lovecraft are not neglected, either. It is painful to read portions of HPL’s letters where his self-doubt cripples his literary output to the point he is reluctant to submit his new manuscripts, certain of rejection by Weird Tales editor Farnsworth Wright.
At this same time, while Lovecraft physically suffers due to lack of funds, Wright reprints earlier tales of Lovecraft’s, for which the writer would receive no royalties. Lovecraft: The Great Tales provides proof that it’s past time to reassess the editorial caprices of Farnsworth Wright.
A monumental work, Haefele’s investigation into his subject is prodigious. Yet the information flows smoothly from a pen familiar with the narrative drive needed to move the reader always forward. Never boring. Your mind will focus on Lovecraft and bring back fond memories of your first encounter with this great master of the fantastic.
Haefele’s book will take you over, like Lovecraft’s Necronomicon.
But in a good way.
Proust-like, once again I go back to that small bookstore, with the smell of new books filling the air, and fumble in my pockets for 95 cents, never dreaming that for less than a buck I’m about to embark on a lifelong journey.