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Top 10 H.P. Lovecraft Stories

I love reading short fiction, particularly the weird and strange tales of H.P. Lovecraft.

Here are ten of the best stories Lovecraft ever wrote.

Here are ten of the best stories Lovecraft ever wrote.

In His House at R'Lyeh Dead Cthulhu Waits Dreaming

His name was Howard Phillips 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 writing. 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 well-known creation, the sleeping god, Cthulhu, 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.

The 10 Best H.P. Lovecraft Stories

10. "Dagon"

9. "The Outsider"

8. "The Dunwich Horror"

7. "The Colour Out of Space"

6. "The Lurking Fear"

5. "At the Mountains of Madness"

4. "The Shadow Out of Time"

3. "The Shadow Over Innsmouth"

2. "The Whisperer in Darkness"

1. "The Call of Cthulhu"

10. "Dagon"

An Introduction to Lovecraftian Style

A very short, maddening tale, "Dagon" is a great introduction into Lovecraft's writing style. The story centers around the written account of an unnamed man of seafaring background, now heavily addicted to 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 use 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 then 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 a reference to a Philistine fish-deity, which Lovecraft spins into a great work. While it does not directly tie into his Cthulhu Mythos, there are some connections, which makes this a great first read.

Recommended Reading for "Dagon"

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.

Unhappy is he to whom the memories of childhood bring only fear and sadness.

— "The Outsider"

9. "The Outsider"

One Level Deeper Into the Mind of Lovecraft

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 the 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.

The Dunwich Horror

The Dunwich Horror

8. "The Dunwich Horror"

As This Journey Unravels, It Would Now Be Best to Explain the Cthulhu Mythos

Within a majority of Lovecraft's works, there are reoccurring 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 Cthulhu 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, assemble to confront the horror rampaging across the countryside and culminating from the Whateley house. What transpires is unbelievable—an evil man's intent focused on a menacing ritual.

7. "The Colour Out of Space"

Lovecraft's Favorite

L. Sprague de Camp wrote that this story encompassed many of Lovecraft's viewpoints at the time, including his disgust of how fiction portrayed aliens from outer space. Lovecraft set out to create a truly alien entity that did not resemble a human. 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 Gardner family, a falling meteor, and the despair that ensued after its landing on Gardner's farm. 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.

The Lurking Fear

The Lurking Fear

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.

As the group continues up the mountain, the darkened, stormy skies and claps of thunder and lightning cause members of the group to disappear or get 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 Cthulhu 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 Shoggoth, a creature of some infamy to Lovecraftians. Throughout, though, there is something unspoken on the Professor's mind, something he cannot put into words, 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 idea came to Lovecraft 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 Cthulhu 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.

The Shadow Over Innsmouth

The Shadow Over Innsmouth

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 Lovecraft 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 Cthulhu and a masterpiece recognized by the Lovecraft community. The architectural descriptions 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 of all, there are numerous other 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, an alien race of "large, pinkish, fungoid, crustacean-like entities the size of a man," gory embellishments, and yes, a near-complete compendium of Cthulhu 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..."

Aside from its contents, the plot is exhilarating. 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 on this list because the story inspires great thought and imagination.

The ancient beast Cthulhu.

The ancient beast Cthulhu.

1. "The Call of Cthulhu"

The Quintessential Lovecraft Story

Every reader of Lovecraft pays tribute to this story, and therefore, it is number one. It has an instrumental by Metallica, numerous cartoons, comics, T-shirts, crossword puzzles, and many other things that all pay homage to this epic. Even the roleplaying game, Dungeons & Dragons has 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 47°9′S 126°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 the Conan stories) praising it. And ultimately, while the debate will continue among his fans, "The Call of Cthulhu" will forever be the single piece of literature that defines H.P. Lovecraft.

That is not dead which can eternal lie,

And with strange aeons even death may die

— "The Call of Cthulhu"

Conclusion

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!

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.

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.

© 2010 Blake Czirr

Your Thoughts on the List. Don't fear.

G on June 03, 2020:

No nameless city?

Ian on April 25, 2020:

Everyone just thinks the Call of Cthulhu is the greatest even though not a lot happens, I love Cthulhu and the mythos but hinestly Call of Cthulhu is boring compared to the Dunwhich Horror and At the Mountains of Madness are much more intersting and eventful.

Xavier Luft on October 19, 2019:

Haunter of the Dark is a shining trapezohedron above, his last written and one of his best written stories. Should be on the list, and the stories Robert Bloch wrote on either side of this story along with "Notebook found in a Deserted House" are among the greatest additions to the Cthulhu Mythos.

Zeron87 on October 02, 2019:

My favorite Lovecraft story is The Lurking Fear. I consider myself a lover of horror fiction, but Lovecraft's style, for the most part, turned me off, since I'm more of a "Show me how it happened" than a "Tell me what happened" type of guy, but The Lurking Fear had enough action pulling the story along to keep me interested. Also, something I barely notice people mentioning on when describing Lovecraft's tales: I may have abhorred reading it, but At The Mountains of Madness was a grand, encompassing tale connecting all of Lovecraft's mythos monsters together. Who else wants a LCU (Lovecraft Cinematic Universe)? In anycase, great article.

Dale Anderson from The High Seas on August 08, 2019:

So you read HPL for shocks, surprises, terror and amazement do you? Well let me share with you the most ALARMING Lovecraft story that ever was! Read on if you dare... I once mentioned to a lady friend of mine, a responsible, intelligent,well-read and worldly woman, that I had just acquired a new Lovecraft book. And then... (it's hard to say even all these years later)... she admitted that she had never heard of HPL or his works!!! When i recovered consciousness, I picked myself up off the floor and immediately bought her an omnibus of his stories. I can only hope that she read it.

Pat on August 07, 2019:

Haunter of the dark, anybody?

rod repke on July 31, 2019:

How about "The Case of Charles Dexter Ward"

boomer72 on July 12, 2019:

since yall couldnt be bothered to credit the art you used for Dunwhich, its from the HP Lovecraft historical society's Dark Adventure Radio Theatre's adaptation of the dunwhich horror.

heres a link

https://store.hplhs.org/collections/dark-adventure...

also why TF the picture in the house not on the list

Jeff on June 05, 2019:

I am shocked that The Shadow Out of Time got minimal love. In my view, this is by far the finest of his stories.

silverfishimperitrix on April 11, 2019:

The Rats In The Walls, The Thing On The Doorstep, The Picture In The House, The terrible Old Man, Arthur Jermyn, and The Shunned House are all really good, too.

Anon on March 14, 2019:

My favorite was actually Herbert West - Reanimator, It introduced a character with good intentions slowly becoming more curious and therefore more desperate for answers. I also really liked how everything really tied into the ending, because it was all connected

Joakim S on February 19, 2019:

i really enjoyed "the dreams in the witch-house"...although as usual in lovecraft stories the protagonist doesn't get what's going on until VERY very late in the story, although evidence has been thrown in the persons face again and again. "brown jenkin" is a wonderful character....

Robert schweitzer on November 29, 2018:

i love the story it has a true mean in the word Horror thank you H.p. Lovecraft

Kurt on August 29, 2018:

"The Case of Charles Dexter Ward" has one of the very best ending scenes in all of Lovecraft. It's a slow and creepy build up.. especially when the underground lair is investigated, but it sure pays great dividends.

Sarah on August 29, 2018:

The cats of ulthar is my favorite one

Maria Minguela on May 15, 2018:

What about "The Survivor"?

HellRaiser on May 11, 2018:

My favorite H.P. Lovecraft story is cool air. I really connected with the characters and their relationship, and the ending gave me chills. Pun intended

Adil on April 16, 2018:

Rats in the Walls. I don't think, even in the modern day, that there's anything quite as depraved as that story.

morris campbell on March 21, 2018:

i like alot of lovecraft stories it hard to choose

Remt on January 21, 2018:

Dreams in the Witch House

Batman Walrus Fireball on October 24, 2017:

I also love Dreams in the Witch house.

Dan on December 14, 2016:

My favorite has to be The Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath. I know a lot of Lovecraft fans dislike this one, but it is so packed with Lovecraft's incredible imagination, and hot damn it if I don't love the ending. It's a rare story I can read over and over and never get sick of. The Colour Out of Space would be my second choice, a truly brilliant and imaginative piece of fiction. So many great stories to choose from. Love it.

Juggerdan on October 24, 2016:

The Dunwich Horror will forever be my favorite Lovecraft story.

Adronera on September 05, 2015:

Making a song in honour of H.P for a free downloadable compilation. It will be under Black Death Industri, a German Label. Enjoy my offering, "The Birth of Cthulhu" ! Invocation included !!!

HPLHSmember on February 21, 2015:

I live the Dream Quest.I am surprised its' not #1.I've read it about

10 times and will still get more out of it next time.I love to get stoned

and read it slow,sometimes reading paragraphs over to take it all in.

BlackPharaoh2 on February 21, 2014:

I agree with most of your list. I would go...

"HERBERT WEST - REANIMATOR" Unjustly maligned. While it is a parody of such horror stories, its very entertaining and actually introduced Miskatonic University and Arkham.

"DAGON" Its a real chiller and a good intro to the Cthulhu Mythos.

"THE WHISPERER IN DARKNESS" The Mi-Go are just so creepy!

"THE COLOR OUT OF SPACE" A really creepy one. A treat.

"THE DUNWICH HORROR" Whately is a classic character.

"THE OUTSIDER" Just a creepy short story with heavy Gothic undertones and a Poe-esque style.

"THE CALL OF CTHULHU" The story that gave us the name of the Cthulhu Mythos.

"THE SHADOW OUT OF TIME" A tremendous piece of cosmic horror.

"THE SHADOW OVER INNSMOUTH" What a great concept for such a great chiller!

"AT THE MOUNTAINS OF MADNESS" Its creepy. Its cosmic. Its cool. It has shoggoths and Elder Things and human dissections and madness and Poe and a bleary setting and all you could want from Lovecraft.

My personal favorite is the unfairly scathed "The Dreams in the Witch House." While the mathematics can get boring, I love the concept and telling so much that I'm making a movie of it with heavy metal (see witchhouserocks.com) and chilling props (see cryptocurium.com). Please support us!

BlackPharaoh2 on February 21, 2014:

@jesus-sotomayor-12: Its a really creepy story, to be sure. And Pickman also appears in "The Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath." It stands as one of his better short stories.

jesus-sotomayor-12 on January 28, 2014:

I've only read a few of Lovecraft's stories, but where does "Pickman's Model" stand among his stories? That's the story that really gave me the chills.

Steingar on December 26, 2013:

Some well thought out choices here. Though this may be perceived as blasphemy, I actually found "The Call of Cthulu" to be one of Lovecraft's lesser works; possibly because the protagonist was so removed from the action, which didn't exactly make for gripping reading. "The Shadow Over Innsmouth", by contrast, I found to be exceedingly readable and entertaining. The idea of a person alone in a mysteriously degenerative community is fascinating, and you can certainly see echoes of this concept in such modern works as the (light-hearted) films of Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, which only goes to reinforce the influence of Lovecraft in modern popular culture. Other stories worthy of inclusion would be "The Rats in the Walls" (his best short story) and "The Curious Case of Dexter Ward", which while arguably his most conventional long story was certainly one of the most well crafted. Nonetheless, a fine list.

Steingar on December 26, 2013:

Lovecraft was indeed an amazing writer. Although this may perhaps sound treasonous, I thought "The Call of Cthulu" to be one of his weaker efforts, perhaps because the protagonist was so removed from the action. By contrast, I found "The Shadow Over Innsmouth" to be his most immensely readable, with the focus on a whole secretive and degenerative community being fascinating. You can certainly see the influence of this idea in modern novels and films, particularly the (light-hearted) efforts of Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. Others I would add to the list would include "Rats in the Wall" (the best of his short stories) and "The Case of Charles Dexter Ward", which while arguably being his most conventional work was one of the most riveting as well. Regardless, an excellent list.

anonymous on January 14, 2013:

Wow, a tough list to make, thanks for putting it together (and not spoiling the plot to any of the stories). The Color Out of Space was the first Lovecraft story I ever read and I thought it was the best, until I read At the Mountains of Madness. I thought that was the best until I read The Lurking Fear. I haven't read the Whisperer or the Outsider...lets see if my list further evolves...or devolves.

anonymous on October 29, 2012:

Rats in the walls...awesome

colgrym on October 23, 2012:

Great lens. Call of Cthulu being my all time favourite Lovecraft work, though all are good if you're looking for how to write atmosphere and mood. The only downside to any of the great man's work is the dialogue, which ranges from bad to awful. That aside, he deserves to be at the top of any horror fan's reading list

anonymous on October 14, 2012:

I think that Dream Quest should be on this list, the only story that rivals LOTR.

SarahB709 on September 27, 2012:

Now this is a great lens!! I love this author and I even got into trouble in high school for finding and reading an old tattered copy I found in the basement of my hometown library. Our librarian put books in the basement that she felt were dangerous. LOL Oh it was a perfect place to get introduced to Lovecraft. It was terrifying reading about his monsters by an overhead bare bulb, alone in the basement with the dust of the ages stinging my nose with every breath. Chills were constant but worth it. I'm glad to have found this lens because now I want to . . . no . . . I need to his works again. Thank you for a great lens and for bring up great childhood memories.

anonymous on September 03, 2012:

Good list. You have to have ATMOM, Cthulhu, Innsmouth, Colour for sure then maybe it's more personal taste. I've always had a fondness for The Haunter of the Dark. The atmosphere and visuals of that story are incredibly chilling and rich.

anonymous on July 04, 2012:

Dream Quest

Dan from CNY on May 30, 2012:

I noticed when reading Lovecraft's works that he was a total fanboy for Poe's works. I like the list you had created although one story deserves to be on the list "The Shunned House". Plus my fave story was "The Outsider", because in the end the main character discovers that he is a zombie/undead. Lovecraft leaves you on the edge of your seat till the very end in that one.

cinefile on April 28, 2012:

Wonderful.

anonymous on April 06, 2012:

Must say a good list... The Outsider is my favorite Lovecraft story. It has an excellent atmosphere but i guess that's not saying much every Lovecraft story has a lovely dark and twisted atmosphere . What really drew me in on this work was the sadness, I really felt for the main character. His loneliness at the beginning, his struggle to leave his loneliness and go among others, and then rejection.... Just sad and beautiful if you have never read it you really should... One other thing at least one story from the dream cycles should be on the list like Ex Oblivione, The Silver Key, or The Doom that Came to Sarnath.

kaposzta on March 03, 2012:

Excellent list of the best stories of Lovecraft, great job with this lens!

Blake Czirr (author) on January 18, 2012:

@anonymous: Sorry for the late reply, David.

No reading order for Lovecraft, but fortunately, it's unnecessary. The stories are all self-contained and won't infringe upon each other. Hope you enjoy them!

anonymous on December 06, 2011:

Is there a reading order to these stories? I have the books but I haven't read any yet (just a page of At the Mountains of Madness).

cbessa on August 06, 2011:

Great to see Lovecraft's fans in here! As you can see on my avatar. Cthulhu for presidente!

Paul from Liverpool, England on May 29, 2011:

Excellent introduction to LOvecraft, Angel Blessed

NYThroughTheLens on April 30, 2011:

Yesss. Awesome, awesome lens.

MaggiePowell on March 16, 2011:

enjoyed the lens... brought back some nightmare memories

Luminosity LM on February 17, 2011:

The Necronomicon of course.

Blake Czirr (author) on January 31, 2011:

@Lemming13: Thanks for the comment. Wow! The Case of Charles Dexter Ward is a good story...I think I'm going to re-read it in the coming days. Loved that story!

Lemming13 on January 28, 2011:

Love the lens and the list, but personally I rate The Rats in the Walls and The Case of Charles Dexter Ward over The Outsider. Still, one man's space-mead is another man's poison, eh? You are definitely a Priest of the Starry Widsom, though. Ia you.

Blake Czirr (author) on September 14, 2010:

If anyone comes up with a story they think should be moved into the list, let me know.

PRam1 on September 11, 2010:

Well organized and researched lens. I voted up

hayleylou lm on September 11, 2010:

Good list, well set out, thumbs up :)

George V Tucker from Hollywood FL USA on September 11, 2010:

Nicely thought out and well-written. I'm a huge HPL fan and it's nice to see his name here on Squidoo.

Kimberly Napper from U.S. on September 10, 2010:

Very impressive. *SquidAngel Blessed*

Blake Czirr (author) on September 10, 2010:

@LadyLovelace LM: So that's what a lensroll does. Doh! Thanks LadyLovelace!

LadyLovelace LM on September 10, 2010:

Great list - lensrolled to 'Top Five Horror Novels'