'Great Tales of Horror' collects the twenty most popular and important stories and novellas of H.P. Lovecraft. Each story is headed with a brief caption detailing where and when it was written, where published and Lovecraft's own feelings on the piece and its inspiration, where available.
I knew Lovecraft almost solely by reputation. I'd seen the Cthulhu plushies and Halloween costumes, and a friend has been hosting 'Arkham Horror' game nights for untold millennia, but I had never read anything until one fell night last year. It was past time I read the source material. I found this text only after whispered inquiries at disreputable booksellers led me to a gambreled shop in the back alleys of myth-haunted Brattleboro on a grey night, with the swollen gibbous moon shedding no light on its door. I hope it was a fevered dream, perhaps I just found it on a shelf at work and paid $2.
I don't want to be unfair, Lovecraft was carving out a whole new idea of weird fiction here, but most of the stories left me relieved that they were over. The best stories: "The Color Out of Space" (five stars all day long) and "The Shadow Over Innsmouth" were self-contained and had little of the babbling digressions that dragged down what otherwise would have been great pieces, such as "The Whisperer in the Darkness" and "At the Mountains of Madness". Lovecraft apparently understood that what's most horrible is left unsaid, but he didn't understand that when a narrator kept reminding the reader of everything left unsaid it defeats the point. Lovecraft begs the question and never answers. What he does answer are plot points made obvious by inordinate amount of foreshadowing - of course the writing in the box was his own, of course he was descended from monsters, etc.
I liked the book. Even when Lovecraft's writing was bad it was immense fun. Old New Englanders are just about gone now, but they are undeniably weird and taciturn, and its quite easy to imagine how someone could conceive of dark secrets behind those suspicious faces, residing in those interminably rundown colonial homes and scarcely hidden within those repressed wasp manners. I can understand, too, how hard it would be to keep good servants with dark chanting going on at all hours. Does the idleness of old money always lead to corrupt worship of forgotten gods?
For Lovecraft to even conceive of linking all of his writing together in this way is note-worthy. A better editor and a less racist world-view would have been nice, but as they are, half of these stories are essential reading for connoisseurs of strange fiction.
Start with "The Color out of Space" and "The Dunwich Horror", not the shortest of his titles, but clear favorites, and from there see if you want to go further in.
Some more in-depth reviews of longer works in order they appear in the book:
'At the Mountains of Madness' 11/23/14: 3 Stars
' he Case of Charles Dexter Ward' 1/26/15: 3 Stars
'The Whisperer in Darkness' 4/9/14: 3 Stars