The Top 10 Stories of H.P. Lovecraft
In His House at R'Lyeh Dead Cthulhu Waits Dreaming . . .
His name was Howard Philips Lovecraft, but to the world, he emerged as the dream-ridden soul: the one who spoke of the terrifying shadow in the corner. H.P. Lovecraft, was gifted with the subtle words that, even today, shake the foundations of the horror genre. Writers, new and old, pay him tribute for his timeless macabre and pitch of fascinating malevolence. Acclaimed author Stephen King once said of Lovecraft, "[he was] the twentieth century's greatest practitioner of the classic horror tale."
And few refute the claim.
Do you know of the Deep Ones, The Mad Arab, The Old Ones, or the Elder Gods? These monstrosities, and many more, were built through the grisly machinations of H.P. Lovecraft, including his most immortal creation, the sleeping god, Cthulu, upon whom songs and countless other references have been taken.
So venture now, into this bleak world; time will slow as the journey begins. Madness will fall upon you, creeping into your slumbering, numbed will as you pour through these passages. Presented to you are, arguably, his greatest works: ten of his most fear-inspiring pieces. Walk among them. Seek them out, if you dare. Learn what sparked from the dreary imagination of the man, the author.
Meet H.P. Lovecraft.
An Introduction Piece of Lovecraftian Style
A very short, maddening tale, Dagon is a great introduction into Lovecraft's writing style. The story centers around the written account, perhaps ramblings, of an unnamed man of seafaring background, now heavily addicted to the drug, morphine.
He begins by explaining how he fell into the sea as a passenger of a cargo ship during World War I. The ship is brought down by a German sea-raider, but he escapes and drifts across the Pacific Ocean. At that point, he is drained of strength and confused, unable to purchase his mental faculties until he winds up on some strange, "putrid" region with many fish carcasses. He speculates that a volcano may have raised the land from the ocean floor.
What he sees and experiences from thence on would spoil the story, but the detail is disturbing. As he observes some of his findings, something haunting emerges from the water.
Dagon is the reference of a Philistine fish-deity, which Lovecraft spins into a great work. While it does not directly tie into his Cthulu Mythos, there are some connections, which makes this a great first read.
Recommended Reading for Dagon: With Deep Insight Into the Author
I highly recommend The H.P. Lovecraft Omnibus 2: Dagon and Other Macabre Tales—not only because it contains the story Dagon—but because it's an essential Lovecraft that has many stories, including fragments, and his non-fiction piece Supernatural Horror in Literature. This writing will give you insight into the very nature of the author, perhaps more than you'll wish.
This work is a huge compendium, featuring The Alchemist, Aurthur Jermyn, The Beast in the Cave, Beyond the Wall of Sleep, The Cats of Ulthar, Celephais, Dagon, The Doom that came to Sarnath, The Evil Clergyman, The Festival, From Beyond, He, Herbert West - Reanimator, The Horror at Red Hook, The Hound, Hypnos, Imprisoned with the Pharohs, In the Walls of Eryx, The Moon-bog, The Nameless City, The Other Gods, Poetry and the Gods, Polaris, The Quest of Iranon, The Strange High House in the Mist, The Street, The Temple, The Tomb, The Transition of Juan Romero, The Tree, The Unnamable, and The White Ship.
It also contains his fragment writings, such as Azathoth, The Book, The Descendant, and The Thing in the Moonlight.
9. The Outsider
One Level Deeper Into the Mind of Lovecraft
"Unhappy is he to whom the memories of childhood bring only fear and sadness."
- The Outsider
Another great introductory tale and short story, The Outsider gives the reader a further peek into the descriptive narrations that Lovecraft has mastered, putting the (anti)protagonist into a world of "vine-encumbered trees" and a castle of "infinitely old and infinitely horrible" theme.
Once again, there is no name given to main character; he merely stumbles through the story searching for an end to his discomfort and melancholy. As the plot continues, he explores the upper levels of his home, finding a way to escape his seclusion.
The Outsider twists the mind; up is now down, left is right. At the end of the story, it all makes sense, which is why this excellent writing is best at number nine, taking you one level deeper.
8. The Dunwich Horror
As This Journey Unravels, It Would Now Be Best to Explain the Cthulu Mythos
Within a majority of Lovecraft's works, there are re-occurring elements his fans have enjoyed and expected such as the Necronomicon, a horrible book of evil spells, Arkham, a fictional city residing in Massachusetts (If you are a Batman fan this might sound familiar.), and Miskatonic University, a fictional college within the area. Lovecraft created all these ideas. Within the pages of The Dunwich Horror, the reader can appreciably see the unfolding of these Cthulu Mythos elements and appreciably understand them.
...As did one Wilbur Whateley, of suspicious abnormality and birth, who attempts to steal the Necronomicon from Arkham University. In response, our protagonist, Dr. Henry Armitage, with the help of Professor Warren Rice and Dr. Francis Morgan, assembles to confront the horror rampaging across the countryside and culminating from the Whateley house. What transpires is unbelievable—an evil man's intent bent on a menacing ritual.
7. The Colour Out of Space
L. Sprague de Camp wrote that this story encompassed many of Lovecraft's viewpoints at the time, including his disgust of written and portrayed aliens from outer space. With The Colour Out of Space, once again set near Arkham, our nameless "hero" observes a dreadful well as he is surveying in a blighted area.
The hero then finds a hermit to tell him the tale of the Gardnur family, a falling meteor, and the despair to ensue. Be forewarned while reading: much of the description and detail can only be discerned as his idea of alien infestation.
The Colour Out of Space is clearly a classic, always mentioned and included among Lovecraft's best works.
6. The Lurking Fear
One of His Earliest...
Lovecraft went through three phases of writing; from horror, to his dream-cycle stories, to his mythos works. The Lurking Fear is a direct representation of his earliest efforts in the macabre, where the main character (again nameless) leads a team of men to investigate a series of rumors on Tempest Mountain.
It would belittle the writing to say it is gruesome at best, implying some facet of humanity as the darkened, stormy skies and claps of thunder and lightning causes his group to disappear or become murdered. And upon his discovery of a nest of underground tunnels, it only worsens.
Chosen as number six, it is important to remember that this is one of his earlier works (published in 1922) and nothing but monstrous. Still, it is highly valued, having a film adaptation of the same name.
5. At The Mountains of Madness
Pack Your Bags...It's a Good One.
This story fully embeds us in the Cthulu Mythos, centering on the Professor of Geology at Miskatonic University, William Dyer, who has returned from a horrifying expedition to the Antarctic. His only goal now is to prevent others from returning to that deadly place.
At The Mountains of Madness is vividly descriptive of the icy-wastes, dark artifacts, and fear-inspiring remnants of a lost civilization that rose before the coming of man. It also introduces the Shuggoth, a creature of some infamy to Lovecraftians. Throughout, though, there is something unspoken on the Professor's mind, something he cannot mouth, which lies beyond the ruins.
After the first paragraph, this story puts an Indiana Jones meets Hellboy twist on the reader, making it worthy of number five for Lovecraft.
4. The Shadow Out of Time
Lovecraft Also Thought About Alter-Egos.
Published in Astounding Stories (1936), this piece involves an alien race known as the Yith and their ability to take over or switch with host bodies. Lovecraft biographer, S. T. Joshi, suggests this came at the viewing of the movie "Berkeley Square" and a series of horror stories that implied the transfer of consciousness.
The main character is Nathaniel Wingate Peaslee, who believes he is on the verge of losing his mind. There are many Cthulu Mythos elements throughout—he references Miskatonic University, Nyarlathotep, and even Professor William Dyer—but the greatest achievement of this work is his level of detail to archeology, research, and investigation. The reader takes a dismal position finding the revelations as unbecoming as the protagonist.
Each step staggers closer to the truth: learning of the Yithians, their purpose, and what awaits those they choose. Lovecraft at his finest, The Shadow Out of Time is number four.
3. The Shadow Over Innsmouth
Enter: The Deep Ones
Set in the village of Innsmouth, Massachusetts, Robert Olmstead was only revealed later to be the narrator and main character of the story through notes presented by the authorized publisher Arkham House. Through his travels as a scholar of genealogy, he encounters the city and its abnormal resident, with traits that cause him concern. Later, he learns many nefarious rumors and gains insight from, perhaps, the only human inhabitant, a town drunk named Zadok Allen.
This is an excellent primer to the deity Cthulu and a masterpiece recognized by the Lovecraft-reading community. The architectural descriptives are a fascinating assemblage of images as well as the concept of an amphibious race, corrupting the human stock.
2. The Whisperer in Darkness
This Is Lovecraft; This Is Your Brain. This Is Your Brain on Lovecraft. Any Questions?
Picking The Whisperer in Darkness as number two was a really hard sell. First off all, there are numerous others stories with greater mention and accolades when referring to the author. Furthermore, this is a transition period for Lovecraft (published in 1931), moving more towards science fiction and less towards horror.
But this story has it all. The reader is introduced to the Mi-go, and alien race of "large, pinkish, fungoid, crustacean-like entities the size of a man," gory embellishments, and yes, a near complete compendium of Cthulu Mythos references. In one sentence, the attributions are numerous:
"I found myself faced by names and terms that I had heard elsewhere in the most hideous of connections—Yuggoth, Great Cthulhu, Tsathoggua, Yog-Sothoth, R'lyeh, Nyarlathotep, Azathoth, Hastur, Yian, Leng, the Lake of Hali, Bethmoora, the Yellow Sign, L'mur-Kathulos, Bran, and the Magnum Innominandum..."
~The Whisperer in Darkness
Aside from its contents, the plot finishes the recipe. Suffice it to say, Albert N. Wilmarth, an instructor at Miskatonic University investigates a disturbing letter, only to learn the truth of an alien race with malevolent morals and intentions towards humankind.
It's number two, because the story inspires great thought and imagination from the 1930's.
1. The Call of Cthulu
The Quintessential Lovecraft Story
That is not dead which can eternal lie,
And with strange aeons even death may die
-The Call of Cthulu
Every reader of Lovecraft pays tribute to this story, and therefore, it is number one. It has an instrumental by famed band, Metallica, numerous cartoons, comics, T-shirts, crossword puzzles—you name it. The roleplaying game, Dungeons & Dragons spawns a race (Illithids) based on the octopoid, human-like appearance of the dead god.
The main objects of the story are a series of manuscripts: a bas-relief depicting the creature created from the dreams of a student artist, and the ancient, esoteric being who came to earth millions of years ago. In setting, it moves from Rhode Island to St. Louis, finally resting in an uncharted ocean area in the Pacific near 47Â° 9' S, 126Â° 43' W. (Perhaps you will note the similarities between the ending of this story and the story Dagon.)
Ironically, Lovecraft thought this writing was only fair among his efforts; it was rejected originally by Weird Tales, but later published with Robert E. Howard (author of Conan stories) praising it. And ultimately, while the debate will continue among his fans, Call of Cthulu will forever be the single piece of literature that defines H.P. Lovecraft.
And so, you have been indoctrinated: educated in the reality that the author imparted nearly 80 years ago. When looking over these stories, understand the intent: It’s important to note the greatest, but it’s also, equally, of value to teach people how to read H.P. Lovecraft.
Agree? Disagree? What is your favorite story? How would you have listed them?
Your comments are welcome!
Favorite Cthulu Story: Have You Touched the Darkness Yet?
H.P. Lovecraft is a very profound read to those of us who love horror; his stories exist on a terrifying level, beyond the scope of many other writers. With that satisfaction, it's always of interest to learn which story stands out from the rest. And, in this poll, here's your chance.
Which story by H.P. Lovecraft is your favorite?
Fear is a wonderful thing. No? Agree? Disagree?
Thanks for dropping by. If you have any comments or experiences and would like to share them, I'd be glad to read them. Also, feel free to list your favorite H.P. Lovecraft book.