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Tales (Library of America #155)

Tales (Library of America #155) - H.P. Lovecraft, Peter Straub My husband got mock-annoyed with someone the other day. "She hasn't heard of Lovecraft," he said. "Now I can never talk to her again."

The thing is, Lovecraft is a difficult author to point to. You've only heard of him if you've heard of him. There's no quick and easy reference to him. "Oh, *you* know Lovecraft -- he wrote 'Blahdy-Blah'!"

I can hear the nerd screams from here. Yes, he created Cthulhu. Given that there doesn't even seem to be any agreement on how that's pronounced, I don't think you can blame anyone for not being familiar with it.

The fact is, Lovecraft's obscurity seems to be cherished by his deepest admirers. They *love* adoring The Important Writer Nobody Else Has Heard Of.

They also love how difficult Lovecraft is to explain, and how hard his work is to master. Yes, the man created a mythos all his stories and novellas fit into, no matter how well those stories stand on their own. But that mythos is terribly hard to get a handle on. The same shared universe houses the Old Ones and the Elder Gods, who are *not* the same people. There are Shoggoths, and there's Yog-Sothoth. If you want to have some fun, find a Lovecraft fan and say something about "Yog-Soggoth." He'll start bleeding from both eyeballs.

And yes, odds are this fan will be a he, because there's something very boyish about the adoration of Lovecraft. The monsters are slimy and creepy, Pluto is still a planet (and an important one!), and there's not the slightest breath of sexual tension. You'll find more women in Melville's entire body of work than you will in Lovecraft's -- and yes, I know I'm exaggerating, but not by much. Back off, nerds, or I'll start spoilering. Does Asenath even *count* as a female character, all things considered?

And there are the recurring words and phrases from Lovecraft's invented language -- "Cthulhu fhtagn!" "Ia! Ia!" Lovecraft makes a brilliant point that he's protesting against "the silly and childish habit of most weird and science-fiction writers, of having *utterly non-human entities* use a nomenclature *of thoroughly human character;* as if alien-organed beings could possibly have languages based on *human* vocal organs." Brilliant in theory. In practice, it looks like something Tolkien might have come up with if he got plastered one night at the typewriter.

Lovecraft is also difficult to read because, in spite of the fact that he was born in America in 1890 and died in 1937, his writing is so deliberately ornate and his prose so dense that he might have been writing a hundred years earlier. Yes, nerds, I *know* he did that on purpose. But it serves the purpose of weeding out the weak and leaving only the truly dedicated fans to worship at his altar.

This one's not so funny: The only thing more anachronistic than Lovecraft's carefully cultivated writing style is his unapologetic racism and xenophobia. Nerds, don't you *dare* try to pass this off as Lovecraft just being a product of his time. He was a Yankee. He wrote "The Rats in the Walls" in 1923. Are you seriously telling me that everybody thought it was fine and dandy to name a black cat "Nigger-Man," as he did in that story? You love the fact that he came up with the idea of Abdul Alhazred, the name of the man he'd later credit with writing the infamous Necronomicon, when he was only five years old; you don't get to skip the part where he wrote "De Triumpho Naturae: The Triumph of Nature over Northern Ignorance," an *anti-abolition*, white supremacist poem, when he was fifteen. In *1905,* a Northern teenager is writing a poem about what a shame it is we freed all those slaves? That's the wrong kind of creepy, is what that is.

So yes, I found much of this writing fascinating, and much of it difficult, for various reasons. That's as it should be.

This particular collection is a good one to start with -- not only is it a fine selection of many of his best-known and most important writings, but it includes a brief biography and a chronology of the most important events in Lovecraft's short, strange life.

Read it and see why I gave my husband a "Miskatonic University" T-shirt for Christmas, and why my son received one that says, "What Part Of 'Ph'nglui Mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh Wgah'nagl Fhtagn' Don't You Understand?"