Enter the Librarian, a review by Josh Hanagarne
The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories
Today seems as good a day as any to declare it H.P. Lovecraft day. Doesn’t seem like anyone else is going to take charge. So then, here we are, in celebration of good old, maudlin, penniless, rail-thin, Howard Philip Lovecraft. I think the best thing we can do to pay tribute is to read The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories.
Now, if you can’t enjoy an old-fashioned tale of dread, replete with beaks and tentacles and mad Arabs and their unholy books, you might need to find another day to celebrate.
For those of you made of sterner stuff, let’s continue.
I started reading Lovecraft in seventh grade. Some of it was a tad baroque for me at the time, but I loved the mood he created. Everyone was always so nervous and sweaty! And with good reason, as you shall see.
If you need a quick crash course in H.P.’s work, here’s the least you need to know. He wrote scary stories—many would qualify as legitimate horror, some are more surrealist and dreamlike—about the world behind this one. Let me clarify. You see, the world as you know it is a farce. There are old gods, slimy eldritch beings, and they were here long before us. They live beyond the stars, on the bottom of the oceans, and they slumber in ancient Arctic ice palaces.
Pockets of deviant humans on earth occasionally try to reawaken them, usually through cultish behavior, including leaping and yowling and late-night bonfires. Why? Good question. Only know that it happens, reader. When people get too bored in The Cthulhu Mythos, they generally set their minds to bringing about the end of the world.
Cthulhu is generally held to be one of the biggest and baddest of the old, hidden gods. This is why his followers passionately chant things like, “Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn.” (Rest easy, these bits of dialogue are infrequent and ignorable, in addition to being unpronounceable).
Many of the stories are about hysterical academics opening books of forbidden knowledge, knowing full well that they shouldn’t. Or journalists driving to small towns to investigate hideous rumors of untold atrocities. Oh, and people are often driven to commit feats of meticulous genealogical research, only to discover that way back when, one of their relatives mated with a monster, or a white ape, and so on.
Nobody in these stories ever seems to think that they could opt out of their foul projects, but we readers benefit.
If you’re still not convinced, I’ll leave you with this: Many writers of horror have cited Lovecraft as one of their primary influences, if not the primary influence. Joyce Carol Oates and Stephen King have raved about him. He was pals with Robert Bloch and Robert Howard. New anthologies written as tributes to him include contributors from Neil Gaiman (who wrote a humorous story in the voice of Cthulhu) to Poppy Z. Brite.
This collection is a fantastic introduction to Lovecraft’s work. You’ll meet a malevolent bit of matter from space, which quickly reduces a farmer’s crops (and sanity) to ashes. Rats scurry on the other side of walls, just out of reach. Cthulhu lurks in his underwater in the South Pacific, just waiting for some intrepid explorers to stir him up. There are fish gods and indifferent demons and unholy rites being enacted beneath the reefs off of coastal New England villages.
At this point, if I’ve done my job, you’re well aware of whether you have any interest in H.P. Lovecraft. If any of this sounds intriguing, try this collection. Don’t be afraid to skip around to find a story you like. Lovecraft could be inconsistent, but this book has several of his best.