One story in this anthology is one of his last and one of his best: The Shadow Over Innsmouth. As with many HPL stories, this one contains an artifact (a tiara in this case) that helps to set the stage for what is to come. HPL describes it:
"The patterns all hinted of remote secrets and unimaginable abysses in time and space, and the monotonously aquatic nature of the reliefs became almost sinister. Among these reliefs were fabulous monsters of abhorrent grotesqueness and malignity - half ichthyic and half batrachian in suggestion - which one could not dissociate from a certain haunting and uncomfortable sense of pseudomemory, as if they called up some image from deep cells and tissues whose retentive functions are wholly primal and awesomely ancestral."
This paragraph brilliantly illustrates HPL's style: its poetic use of scientific vocabulary such as 'icthyic' and 'batrachian', his references to mathematics and geometry to imply otherworldliness, his strong visual imagination and lastly his effort to bridge the gothic horror with materialism.
HPL's life's work struggled with all of these. One of his earliest tales 'Polaris' is printed here in which we read details of a fabled realm which the narrator visits in dreams but also detailed descriptions of astronomy. His last, The Haunter of the Dark, is undoubtedly a gothic horror story, but the horror revolves around 'the shining trapezohedron'.
This anthology contains many superb stories. To summarise a few:
The Shunned House: A vampire stalks a mansion in Rhode Island, draining the blood of the inhabitants. Or is it an equally sinister force that is both materially explicable and yet even more fantastical?
The Strange High House on the Hill: A tale of escapism that I found beautiful but many may find absurd
The Horror at Red Hook: HPL sounding like a parody of HPL. Oirish American policeman Tom Malone carries out an investigation into illegal immigration, meets a local worthy for a chat on the Kaballah, monsters, incubuses, succubuses, aegipans, well let's just say a lot of monsters turn up in New York city (sans explanation). It ends with a hilarious Daily Mail style rant about moral decadence. Whilst this has been criticized by many both for its insane story and its profound racism, I found it very funny and an enjoyable romp.
The Doom that Came to Sarnath/The Cats of Ulthar: two revenge tales set in a dream-like distant past
Pickman's Model: Quite similar to the above. An enjoyable little tingler.
The Statement of Randolph Carter: An enjoyable early tale, like Dagon based on a dream with little narrative, but surprisingly frightening and effective
The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath: A beautiful and poetic novella about a man's journey in dream-land
The Colour Out of Space: Considered by many to be HPL's masterpiece, certainly it is one of his most disturbing and imaginative
The Dreams in the Witch-House: A student of mathematics and folklore uncovers horrific events. HPL on top form writing an imaginative and dramatic story
The Thing on the Doorstep: Not a masterpiece but a competent horror story
The Shadow Out of Time: A man is possessed by an alien form from a different time. Extremely imaginative and richly written
As well as all of these tales (and several more) this volume also includes A history of the Necronomicon, HPL's fascinating poem 'Fungi from Yuggoth' and his superb essay Supernatural Horror in Fiction. As well as being a very competent piece of literary criticism, this last work also outlines a lot in his world-view.
At 591 pages, this book is excellent value for money and a brilliant introduction to thhe strange and beautiful worlds of this writer.show more
by Gregor Matheson