When Terry Zobeck told me he’d picked up a Complete Stories of H.P. Lovecraft, I quickly mocked up a reading list to sell him on The Old Gent — a list of thirteen stories and one dream fragment. I could have done fewer, perhaps, for the same effect, but Terry’s got an attention span on him and I thought he could handle it.
Selected to get across what I like best about Lovecraft, and provide enough background and bounce to nail down his developing mythology. If you like these, you’ll like most of Lovecraft, and can dive in as deep as you wish.
Terry looked at the list and asked, “I was thinking of starting with some of the better known stories, but I am familiar with only a few. What about At the Mountains of Madness? That seems to get a fair bit of acclaim.”
My answer went something like Good-God-No! That one could kill your budding interest deader than hell. Eventually, it might become your absolute fave HPL yarn, but first try to ease in with these, in order:
The Outsider (1921)
The Music of Erich Zann (1921)
The Festival (1923)
The Call of Cthulhu (1926)
The Case of Charles Dexter Ward (1927)
The Colour out of Space (1927)
The Dunwich Horror (1928)
The Whisperer in Darkness (1930)
The Shadow over Innsmouth (1931)
The Dreams in the Witch House (1932)
The Thing on the Doorstep (1933)
The Haunter of the Dark (1935)
“Last night I read ‘Dagon’ and ‘Nyarlathotep.'” Terry reported. “The first impression I had was how they reminded me of Poe. I read all of Poe nearly fifty years ago as a teenager and loved him. Reading these two Lovecraft stories, especially ‘Dagon,’ I got that same sense of feverish anxiety that Poe did so well. I also got a kick out of the monolith — I wonder if Kubrick read ‘Dagon’?
“I’m not sure I completely understood ‘Nyarlathotep,’ but some great images.”
“Nyarlathotep” is the dream fragment, it was either that or “The Statement of Randolph Carter” — but I think “Nyarlathotep” works better if you’re new and going in fast, conjuring up names that come back in story after story.
As I told Terry, if at some point you just want to cut loose of the list and plunge wildly into the fiction, no one’s going to stop you.
And Terry said, “I suspect it is a kick for you to be introducing a favorite author to an initiate.”
Sure it is, but I’m not going to be having half as much fun as Terry. Who knows, if he gets into the material as much as he has with Hammett and others, we might have to recruit him for Haefele’s Heretics when it’s time to proof Lovecraft: The Great Tales in a few months.