Saturday, March 7, 2015

Not hearing the Call of Cthulhu


(goodreads.com)

I'm starting to wonder whether H.P. Lovecraft is one of those things, like super-hero comics or Bruce Springsteen, that one has to discover by a certain age. I'm about a third of the way into a digital copy of The Complete Lovecraft, but I'm not seeing the genius that others insist is there. By 1928's The Call of Cthulhu, he's learned how to properly structure a story and shock his audience, but his writing style isn't anywhere near his predecessors Edgar Allen Poe or Lord Dunsany.

Part of the problem for me is that his intended audience appears to be people who are massively afraid of non-Anglo Saxon "races" mixing with, and diluting, civilization. Even in Cthulhu, a large part of the language assumes automatic horror associations with swarthy natives. From my point of view, what is actually happening in these stories is that the majority of the world has thrown in with an ancient power in order to overthrow their easily-fainting masters.

For there is a lot of fainting in these stories, if not outright death by fear. When reading a number of these in succession, it comes off as a silly device. Sort of a way of having not to deal with describing the indescribable horrors. Which is sad, because he is really good at going on about impossible geometries and such. In past anthologies, the better stories that I've read are the ones that try to describe the feeling of lucid dreaming. Some of that appears here, and later in The Mountains of Madness, as the heroes venture into territory that doesn't conform with normal physics.

In the meantime though, there's a bit of slogging to do; a lot of purple prose that attempts to make me care about the narrator's impending loss of sanity. Perhaps if I was a typical 1920's American, I'd care more, but for now I'm on the side of the monsters.

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