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I started re-reading all of Lovecraft’s works, and will write some words on each as I progress. The edition I use is Hippocampus Press’s 3-tome H. P. Lovecraft’s Collected Fiction: A Variorum Edition, which seems to be the current definite text (certainly being the most annotated). Each story gets a very short plot description (usually opting for spoiler-free), some comments, a rating (1 to 5) and a link to the public domain version of it.
The Beast in the Cave (1904)
Lost in a pitch dark cavern complex after straying away from his group’s guide, the protagonist is stalked by a beast.
This is Lovecraft’s first story, written when he was 14, and it shows. There are hints of what is to come (the elaborate inner monologue, the approaching menace, the slow-brooding tension and the allusiveness), but the writing style is messy, with a rough, highly complex syntax that is further weighed down by a string of unnecessary adjectives and lengthy descriptions of actions. Something to avoid, except as a curio. 1/5
The Alchemist (1908)
A doom looms over the family of the protagonist; stretching back to the thirteenth century, the curse makes all members of the family die on their 32nd birthday. As his time draws near, the hero wanders deeper into the derelict ruins of his castle, where he makes an unexpected discovery.
Much better in articulation than the Beast, the Alchemist also belongs to the Juvenilia era of Lovecraft. Despite a rather predictable and underwhelming ending, this story shows Lovecraft trying his hand in Gothic, turning towards the past and the occult with a passion that is contagious. Humans are seen as nodes within family histories, not completely autonomous, tabula rasa beings., thus giving the whole thing a slightly mythical (at least for the modern age) air. 2/5
The Tomb – Lovecraft (1917)
Since childhood, the young protagonist is obsessed with a locked mausoleum (housing the remains of an extinct line) situated somewhere in the estate grounds. He finally penetrates its premises upon coming of age.
Lovecraft’s first adult work is a Gothic diamond in the rough. The baroque language (which is cleverly justified by the story) weaves an idyllic if somewhat decadent sylvan image of the land surrounding and reflecting the protagonist’s family. The past is of central role here, bubbling up in the present, and haunting it as an almost physical specter. The intrusion that is spied here, the long reach of the past dead, the spillage of strong ancient personalities onto feeble present ones, is a motif that will appear time and again in Lovecraft’s writings. Moreover there is a refreshing morbidity in the protagonist’s personality, a subtle use of mythology (Theseus and the stone), and an ample and grandiose use of allusiveness, of hints towards exquisite forbidden delights. 4/5
During the first World War a sailor escapes the German ship which captured his own and sails alone on a lifeboat in the middle of the Pacific. After a long sleep he finds himself on a land that seems to have just emerged from the depths of the ocean.
The first prose specimen of Lovecraft’s obsession with the sea, its depths and the creatures they may spawn, breed and hide, as well as the first instance of the Mythos. A short but satisfying foray into alien, bleak landscapes which will be further explored and perfected in later works. The contact with and influence of the uncanny are depicted in negative tones: the hero breaks down in sight of the monstrous and the experience kicks off a spiral towards death. We see here the puritanism of Lovecraft’s gaze – he sees man as something rigid, existing inside well-defined borders. The trespassing and dissolving of these borders (via the experience of the Other) fills him (Lovecraft) with fear, a fear of the unknown. 3/5
A Reminiscence of Dr. Samuel Johnson (1917)
Samuel Jackson, a two century old man reminisces of some of his time spend in 18th century England. A short piece written as a fragment from a past era, mimicking 18th century prose. Not specifically interesting, plot-wise, it gives an insight into the humorous side of young Lovecraft, as well as apparently satisfying his obsession with the past; Samuel Jackson is born 200 years before Lovecraft and one can imagine that he acts as the author’s avatar. Still, nothing seriously worth visiting. 1/5
Part 2 here.