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A Weird Cosmos

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The Dreams in the Witch House And Other Weird Stories by H.P. Lovecraft
The Dreams in the Witch House And Other Weird Stories
H.P. Lovecraft ed. S.T. Joshi

I once had a professor who criticized H. P. Lovecraft for not being a good story teller.  At first I did not want to agree because I had read one of his stories before and thought it was ok, but after reading this collection I am somewhat inclined to agree with my professor.  I was very interested in the beginning of the collection, but toward the later half of the book I began to lose interest.  I think one of the reasons why, is the intense minutia in the later stories.  They go on and on in detail about setting and back story, but do not develop character.  I cannot connect with the characters of these longer stories.

For me, a lack of development can be excused in shorter pieces where getting the readers skin crawling is more important, but from “The Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath” onward the stories go on and on, feeling more like an encyclopedia; fact after fact.  This attention to detail could be good for creating a new world for a novel, but the longer stories fall short.  I did enjoy the earlier stories, but on the whole, I need much more character in the longer pieces to justify their length, or I would have liked to see them hacked down to a more manageable length.

Another criticism of Lovecraft’s stories is that he tries creating this fear of the unknown in the reader, but then he goes on to describe the creatures.  In some cases they appear as blobs, mists, or some kind of tentacled form, and for me that ruins it.  I’d prefer the unknown be left undescribed, otherwise it can actually seem laughable.

On a more positive note, I feel Lovecraft does have merit for the spark of imagination his stories create.  I can understand how he has influenced so many other authors.  However, in some cases I was more interested in where I could take the story as opposed to where Lovecraft left me.  In spite of my criticism, I have no intention of giving up on Lovecraft, as I said before; his shorter works are more effective and entertaining.

There are twenty-one stories in S.T. Joshi’s collection.  Many of Lovecraft’s stories deal with cosmic fear, nightmares, astral/mind projection, ancestral sins, and forbidden knowledge.

1.         “Polaris” – ** – One of the better shorter stories involving a contemporary
narrator being projected elsewhere in another time and place while asleep.

2.         “The Doom that Came to Sarnath” – ** – Revenge falls on a city as the result of the crimes committed by the residents of its past.

3.         “The Terrible Old Man” – *** – I enjoyed this story more because it felt closer to a traditional ghost story with three criminals attempting to rob an old hermit.

4.         “The Tree” – * –

5.         “The Cats of Ulthar” – *** – This is a nice, macabre story about cat haters in a city who get their comeuppance.

6.         “From Beyond” – ** – A mad scientist tale about a man’s quest to see beyond our reality.  This story was made into a movie in the 80’s.

7.         “The Nameless City” – ** – A story about an explorer probing forbidden ruins.  I think this is a good example of a story that I think needs more.

8.         “The Moon-Bog” – *** – This story feels more classic with the main character receiving a letter from a friend, asking him to visit and help him.  The story deals with ancestral doom, and as in several of these stories the teller of the tale is found raving mad by the authorities.

9.         “The Other Gods” – ** – This story reminds me of Greek myths where someone tries climbing Mount Olympus to see the gods, and is punished for it.

10.       “Hypnos” – ** – This story deals with more probing into realms of knowledge that are better left unexplored.

11.       “The Lurking Fear” – *** – This is a tale centering on the degeneration of a family in a rural area.  It is a theme that pops up in several other stories.

12.       “The Unnamable” – *** – This story felt similar to tales of the Jersey Devil, with a being associated with a family as a curse.  I think Lovecraft leaves good hints about the form of the creature throughout the story, and it makes it more eerie.

13.       “The Shunned House” – *** – I think the detailed history in this story works to its benefit, because it centers around a cursed family history.

14.       “The Horror at Redhook” – ** – I’ve heard about the “mysterious Yezidis” in other stories from other authors before.  This story deals with satanic cults and immigration, which is a non-pc connection, but that is why Lovecraft has been criticized for being a racist or xenophobe before.  I think it is a good story, but there are definitely some harsh overtones in it.

15.       “In the Vault” – *** – I really liked this story because again, this feels like a classic ghost story involving revenge of the dead; a careless undertaker gets taught a lesson.

16.       “The Strange High House in the Mist” – * -

17.       “The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath” – * – This is the story that really dragged.  I think it was interesting, but it is either too long, or needs more so it feels more complete.  Randolph Carter is the main character and he appears in the next two stories.

18.       “The Silver Key” – * -

19.       “Through the Gates of the Silver Key” – ** – The silver key stories really get in to dimensions and time loops, which make them more interesting, but they need more work.

20.       “The Dreams of the Witch House” – ** – A neat story about witches and possession.

21.       “The Shadow Out of Time” – ** – This is another longer story that could use more development, but it has a nice twist to it involving mental projection.

If you enjoyed this book you may also like:

The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson Necronomicon - The Wanderings of Alhazred by Donald Tyson The Call of Cthulhu by H.P. Lovecraft
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