Monday, September 24, 2007

The Horror in the Museum by H.P. Lovecraft and Others

One of the problems of loving a minor author like H.P. Lovecraft is that, often, there just isn't all that much of his work to love. Sure, Lovecraft wrote several million words of letters, but what we really like are his stories -- and there are only the three big collections of those, right? (The Dunwich Horror and Others, At the Mountains of Madness and Other Novels, and Dagon and Other Macabre Tales)

Wrong. There's a fourth big Lovecraft book, originally from Arkham House, collecting the stories he revised for other writers. And that might sound a little dubious -- Lovecraft tinkering with other people's writing? how can a writer as idiosyncratic as Lovecraft mesh with another writer's style? -- but the results are amazing. Of course, it helps that the bulk of this book is made up of stories that were, at best, "suggested" and paid for by other writers, but were entirely written by Lovecraft. Lovecraft was a poor collaborator, but that just meant that he did all of the work himself and subsumed the stories into his own mythos.

I didn't discover The Horror in the Museum myself until I was reading for my senior English thesis at Vassar -- I had conned convinced the department to let me write on Edgar Allan Poe, Ambrose Bierce, and Lovecraft, and so I was reading through all of the fictional works of those three writers. I was sure Horror in the Museum would be minor, but I wanted to be thorough, so I sat down with it.

And it completely amazed me. There's a novella in this book, "The Mound," which is the equal of At the Mountains of Madness; it's one of Lovecraft's very best stories, but only known to his most devoted fans. Several other stories -- "The Curse of Yig," "The Horror in the Museum," and "Winged Death" -- are also worthy of standing among Lovecraft's best work. And Horror also contains one of the most fascinating, uncomfortable stories Lovecraft ever wrote, as full of supernatural menace as any of his work, with the voice of a mature Lovecraft utterly in control, and a denouement as shocking to modern sensibilities as "The Horror at Red Hook." The story is "Medusa's Coil," and, by a certain light, it's also one of Lovecraft's best stories -- though it shows a side of him that we'd prefer not to remember.

In all, Horror has twenty-four stories, and two-thirds of the book -- thirteen of the stories -- are "primary revisions," stories in which Lovecraft wrote all or nearly all the prose.

The Arkham House edition of The Horror in the Museum, the original hardcover, is now out of print. But Del Rey -- who have been doing stylish Lovecraft books since Bloodcurdling Tales of Horror and the Macabre (which I read twenty-five years ago on a beach, since I wasn't going to read Lovecraft anywhere less bright and cheery than that) -- has brought out a brand-new edition of Horror, with a new introduction by Stephen Jones and an appropriately creepy John Jude Palencar cover.

So all you Lovecraft fans: you missed one. And here it is.

1 comment:

Grim Blogger said...

Nice to see Del Rey is re-issuing this one. I might have to pick it up just for consistency, even though I already have the Arkham House version. And you're absolutely right about the quality of tales here. They are wonderful! I believe ghostwriting was a prime source of income for Lovecraft. An important one too, seeing as how he never held a real job and needed something to pad the dwindling family fortune he lived on.

You did your thesis on some great supernatural writers, by the way.

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