A Cautious Man
March 15, 2005
Something In The Night
It is not always a waste of time to visit OpinionJournal.com (home of the leading contender for "Most Annoying Person on the Internet"). Today's edition includes an essay by John J. Miller, through which I learned about the new Library of America edition of the work of H.P. Lovecraft:
If our country's literary canon has a dress code, then surely it involves those shiny black jackets covering the volumes produced by the Library of America. Lovecraft's new one runs for more than 800 pages and includes 22 novellas and short stories with titles such as "The Horror at Red Hook," "At the Mountains of Madness" and "The Thing on the Doorstep." There are now 25,000 copies in print, which is an above-average number for the nonprofit publisher.


Lovecraft wrote in this dark and distinguished tradition, and much of his early work displays the influence of Poe and other predecessors. By the late 1920s, however, he was no longer a mere dwarf standing on the shoulders of giants but a genuine innovator whose lasting impact appears mainly in a set of stories known as the "Cthulhu Mythos." They begin with "The Call of Cthulhu," written in 1926 and one of Lovecraft's finest pieces. It's about a young sculptor's bizarre dreams, a hideous statuette he manufactures in his sleep, a dastardly voodoo cult, a shadowy book called the Necronomicon, and a menacing encounter in the Pacific Ocean with a monster that's perhaps best described as a gargantuan alien octopus with wings (and owning the unpronounceable name "Cthulhu").

This may sound silly and, at a certain level, it surely is. Yet "The Call of Cthulhu" is also strangely engrossing, and contains many elements that will be familiar to fans of "The Da Vinci Code" by Dan Brown: The main character is an Ivy League professor determined to investigate ancient mysteries and their lingering effects on the present day. Readers who become accustomed to Lovecraft's writing style may find that it possesses a florid eloquence.

They will also appreciate his skill at producing a sense of mounting dread. Lovecraft knew what to place onstage as well as what to leave inside the haunted imaginations of his readers. "The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear," he once wrote, "and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown." If Lovecraft had been a film director, he might have come up with a movie much like "The Blair Witch Project," only scarier.
Not to mention being the inspiration for the classic send-up of those Jack Chick tracts (which the latter's lawyers have chased all over the Internet) - "Who Will Be Eaten First?"

I just may replace my ratty old paperbacks with this new collection.



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