Sunday, May 29, 2011

Planet Lovecraft


Tales of the Lovecraft Mythos, edited by Robert M. Price (1992): This is a lovely historical exercise by editor Price, as it collects about 20 stories in the Lovecraft mode, primarily from the 1920's, 1930's and 1940's, when Lovecraft's widespread Affinity Group, created in large part by Lovecraft's own inexhaustible letter-writing to aspiring writers asking for advice, was still in its infancy. Never has so peculiar a writer-as-person been so generous of his time with other writers. It's all part of the weirdness of HPL.

Price does a nice job selecting little- or never-before-anthologized stories by both significant writers working with Lovecraft's concepts and cosmology (August Derleth, Robert Bloch, Robert E. Howard, Henry Kuttner, Clark Ashton Smith) and by writers whose names and stories have been long forgotten. I can't say as I was scared by the stories here, but a lot of them do evoke that existential dread and instability that is one of the hallmarks of the "cosmic horror" that Lovecraft tended to prefer.

Price's lengthy introduction is also invaluable, as it sets forth both a timeline for extra-Lovecraftian additions to the Cthulhu Mythos and an explanation of the manner in which certain writers and editors (most notably Derleth, Lovecraft's unbelievably important literary executor and Boswell in all but title) helped shape the Mythos after Lovecraft's death in 1937, giving it the now-familiar shape and hierarchy it didn't have during Lovecraft's lifetime.

And there were turfwars over Lovecraft's legacy -- Derleth was quite possessive of the Mythos, for good and ill, though overwhelmingly good: without the publishing house, Arkham House, Derleth initially created to preserve Lovecraft's work in hardcover, both Lovecraft and a lot of other fantasy writers might have vanished forever before the early 1960's boom in fantasy brought them widespread renown and paperback sales for the first time in their careers.

If Lovecraft's work now seems potentially immortal -- and possibly the single most important American fantasy corpus of the 20th century -- then Derleth deserves a lion's share of the credit. Often compared to Edgar Allan Poe, HPL possessed one major, posthumous difference from Poe: he had a great and tireless champion of his work taking care of it. Highly recommended.

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