There are many and varied collections of Lovecraft’s works, but by far the best I’ve come across for choice, selection and awesome references is a Penguin edition of The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories edited by famed Lovecraft scholar S. T. Joshi.
This is one of my favourite books, and my copy is cared for but very well read. I can’t think of how many train/plane/tube/car journeys and such like it has been taken along on over the years. At times when I couldn’t quite decide which novel to take, or perhaps I wanted a shorter read to match the journey, it would be grabbed off of the shelf and taken in hand or in bag/rucksack and packed ready to go.
There was one consistent with the tales in this book. I knew that whatever story I might read I’d be guaranteed high quality, atmospheric and fear inducing content. Even as I thumb through the pages now, I know their feel so well. They fall more heavily than in your average pulp paperback, the quality aged over the years, and the pulp used in the paper more fine than in most books. It was the same with my copy of Tess of the d’Urbervilles when I was studying for my A-Levels – the way that the books pages both felt and fell on being turned, so it is with my beloved copy of The Call of Cthulhu. That’s something no eReader could compensate for certainly.
And why is that important you ask? It’s because the tales contained within have had such a great effect on myself and my appreciation of the horror genre that my senses of my copy are heightened over the years as I’ve read through its tales of terror. And the stories it tells are also lingering in my mind. They’re scary, they’re visionary, they’re both fresh yet also soaked in fetid atmosphere of past decades. They speak of furtive secrets, shadows concealing forbidden knowledge and dark universal horrors.
When Call of Cthulhu was written by Lovecraft in 1926 he had had almost a decade of writing short stories behind him. In this time he had perfected the sense of dread, despair and semi-dystopian feeling with which he seasoned his prose, turning his ability to deliver a climactic shock into an almost supernatural one, so good was his writing.
I think Call of Cthulhu, that is the short story contained is this collection, is an awesome tale, but I love all of the mythos and related tales, that blend the often detective-feeling with paranormal and fantastic literature. It’s the way that Lovecraft often does this weaving trick and imbues it with the chilling and fearful. To think that it’s not one of Lovecraft’s own favourites is quite interesting.
Other tales in the book offer a solid grounding in all things Lovecraft , and in fact several are novellas of some substance, and of greater length than Cthulhu. As mentioned, it really does offer something for a variety of sitting, or levels of terror. The Whisperer in Darkness is one novella length offering dealing slightly more with the science fiction aspect of Lovecraft’s pen than the supernatural. However it does still reference his own Cthulhu mythos.
Another fantastic (and darkly fantastical) novella length story is Shadow over Innsmouth. That tale is steeped in Cthulhu mythos, and tells of a townsfolk who worship that awful deity alongside Dagon (which features in an earlier short story in the book), and a visitor to the town who observes some of the strange and mystifying, not to forget terrible, things that occur there. A tale regarding Dagon, one of Lovecraft’s first short stories, actually opens early in the collection and shows what promise Lovecraft’s works had in early days.
Everything in this book should be read at least twice, actually let’s make that three times, and savoured. Should you choose to come back and re-read a tale or two further you’ll find over time the strength of the works to have matured. They’re just that good.