Reviews by Evelyn C. Leeper

Reviews by Evelyn C. Leeper

All reviews copyright 1984-2016 Evelyn C. Leeper.


THE ANNOTATED LOVECRAFT by H. P. Lovecraft, with annotations by S. T. Joshi:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 12/17/2004]

"Books are where things are explained to you. Life is where things are not." --Julian Barnes

This may be true for most books, but not necessarily in Lovecraft. Of course, with THE ANNOTATED LOVECRAFT, you can have it both ways. The stories don't explain themselves, but the annotations explain the stories. The stories are by H. P. Lovecraft (obviously) with annotations by S. T. Joshi (ISBN 0-440-50660-3). The book contains four stories: "The Rats in the Walls", "The Colour Out of Space", "The Dunwich Horror", and the novel "At the Mountains of Madness", as well as an introduction by Joshi and comments on Lovecraft by such people as Gene Wolfe and F. Paul Wilson. I love annotated works, with my favorites being William S. Baring-Gould's annotations to Sherlock Holmes and Martin Gardner's annotations to Lewis Carroll. (Peter Heath does a good job with "Alice" as well.) Joshi's annotations here cover literary and historical references, textual variations, and various arcane words that Lovecraft uses, and help the reader appreciate the craft of Lovecraft's work (no pun intended). There is another volume already out; I don't know if the plan is to annotate all of Lovecraft's stories or not.

To order The Annotated Lovecraft from amazon.com, click here.


Cthulhu Mythos stories by H. P. Lovecraft:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 03/06/2009]

In writing about Kali, Carlos McReynolds says, "I rather think there's some similarities between the sort of spiritual reality that Kali implies and some of Lovecraft's fiction. Quoting Kinsley in Tantric Visions of the Divine Feminine: 'There is an insistence in Hinduism that the world as it appears to us is a show, that there remains hidden from our normal view an aspect of reality that is... shockingly different from our ego-centered way of apprehending it. The Mahavidyas... are awakeners, visions of the divine that challenge comfortable and comforting fantasies about the way things are in the world.' Based on that quote, I'd say the biggest distinction between the above and the sort of truth presented in Lovecraft's fiction is that the Tantrica believes that it's ultimately positive to see reality as it is, whereas nothing good ever comes in an HPL story from learning the truth. But ultimately, whether you're gazing on Kali or Cthulhu, I would argue, you're going to get a big batch of truth that is going to unsettle you."


stories by H. P. Lovecraft:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 10/31/2008]

Jorge Luis Borges once said, "Hoy trato de escribir del modo más sencillo posible. Un español me decia la semana pasada que no aprovecho la riqueza de la lengua española. Le dije que no quería aprovechar ninguna riqueza, que soy un hombre modesto y quiero expresarme de un modo lucido e inteligible. Yo creo que esa idea de escribir con muchas palabras es un error y fué el error de Lugones: tratar de escribir con todo el diccionario. No creo que todo el diccionario sea apto para el manejo literario. Vamos a tomar por ejemplo tres palabras; azulado, azulino y azuloso. Creo que azulado puede usarse para escribir porque pertenece a nuestro lenguaje oral. Azulino y azuloso. en cambio, son palabras que estan en el diccionario y que no estan en ninguna boca. Entonces es mejor no usar azulino y azuloso, estorbos para el lector y pequeñas sorpresas que dan le presentar el escritor." (Now I try to write as simply as possible. Last week a Spaniard said to me that I did not make good use of the richness of the Spanish language. I said to him that I did not want to make good use of any richness--that I am a modest man and I want to express myself in a lucid and intelligible manner. I believe that this idea of using a lot of words in writing is a mistake and that this was Lugones's mistake: to try to write with the entire dictionary. I do not believe that the entire dictionary is fit for literary treatment. We can take (for example) three words: "azulado", "azulino" and "azuloso", [all meaning "bluish"]. I believe that "azulado" can be used in writing because it is in our oral usage. "Azulino" and "azuloso". on the other hand, are words that are in the dictionary, but not in our mouths. Thus it is better not to use "azulino" or "azuloso", stumbling blocks to the reader and small surprises that the writer gives.") [pages 155-156, BORGES ANTE EL ESPEJO]

I mention this because our science fiction group just finished reading three H. P. Lovecraft stories ("The Colour Out of Space", "The Shadow Out of Time", and "At the Mountains of Madness"), and Lovecraft obviously felt differently about words. The following is a list of words appearing in one three-page descriptive passage (about 1200 words): groinings, well-nigh, colossal, hieroglyphs, curvilinear, chiselled, masonry, megalithic, convex-topped/convex-bottomed, pedestals, luminous, inexplicable, vitreous, latticed, octagonal, Cyclopean, titanic, parapet, frontage, prodigious, dilapidation, basalt/basaltic, apertures, aeons, aura, omnipresent, monoliths, predominated, ghastly, fungoid/fungi, pallor, spectral, calamites, cycads, coniferous, bespeaking, horticultural, topiary, lepidodendra, sigillaria, frondage, mottled, vexed, anomalous. Add to this Lovecraft's predilection for choosing British spelling ("colour", "shewing", "modelled"), and it is clear he is writing under different rules than Borges.

In case you are wondering how Lovecraft put these words together, how is this for a description: "a half-plastic denizen of the hollow interior of an unknown trans-Plutonian planet eighteen million years in the future." Indeed, "The Shadow Out of Time" is almost Stapledonian in its scope.

We picked those three stories, by the way, because they appeared in "Amazing" and "Astounding" rather than "Weird Tales". To some extent, this was more a function of who had space and/or could read Lovecraft's writing, as these are probably not noticeably more science fictional than other Lovecraft stories.

To order Tales by H. P. Lovecraft from amazon.com, click here.


"The Whisperer in Darkness" by H. P. Lovecraft:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 04/22/2016]

The book and film group read "The Whisperer in Darkness" by H. P. Lovecraft, and watched the film of it produced by the HPL Historical Society.

While Arkham, Massachusetts, is a fictional town, all the places mentioned in "The Whisperer in Darkness" appear to be real. The towns of Hardwick, Montpelier, and Lyndonville are all in the north-central and north-eastern part of Vermont; Townshend, Newfane, South Londonderry, and Bellows Falls are in the southeastern. (None of them are very far from I-91.) The rivers and counties are all real. (Mount) Wantastiquet is also real, but "Dark Mountain" and "Round Hill" may or may not be--the names are a bit too generic to tell.

As alluded to in the story, Massachusetts did in fact issue a license plate with "the sacred codfish" on it in 1928, but its history is as murky as Lovecraft's forests. The Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles says:

"It was in 1928 that a depiction of a codfish, symbol of the Massachusetts fishing industry, was the first picture to appear on a plate. The image, which resembled an oversized guppy more than a codfish, sparked controversy among local fishermen. After suffering one of the worst years in fishing history, the fishermen blamed the RMV for representing the cod swimming away from the word "Massachusetts" which was printed on the plates. The controversial image was removed from passenger plates in 1929 and a more realistic and detailed codfish shown swimming toward Massachusetts appeared on truck plates in that same year."

But Chris Woodcock writes, "It is a great story and is even repeated on the current Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles web site. Unfortunately it is not at all true! The fishing was not particularly bad in 1928. The swimming away was just circumstance (note that starting in 1925 the year and 'MASS' alternate sides).'

The Vermont floods mentioned also really happened, and were the worst in Vermont's history. And there was a ninth planet; Pluto was discovered while Lovecraft was writing "The Whisperer in Darkness". (One wonders if the new ninth planet, now dubbed "Planet X", will be named "Yuggoth". And shouldn't it be "Planet IX"?)

Lovecraft tried to have up-to-date science in his works, such as including Pluto, but obviously much of it looks outdated. Nowadays he would probably have people's consciousnesses uploaded to a computer rather than extracting their brains and putting them in a jar.

The description of the structures in the forest made me wonder if Lovecraft had visited "Mystery Hill" (now named America's Stonehenge") in Salem, New Hampshire. He did, but it is not clear whether this was before or after he wrote "The Whisperer in Darkness". It is often claimed that "Mystery Hill" influenced "The Dunwich Horror", but Lovecraft visited the site to late to have inspired the 1929 story. "The Whisperer in Darkness" was published in 1932, so there is more chance for it to have occurred before this storty.

What is "Mystery Hill"? It is a site of stone structures in Salem, New Hampshire, but more small passages and cave-like structures than the great standing stones of Stonehenge. No one is sure who built it, or why. Well, that's not true. Quite a few people are sure, but they tend to disagree with each other. What the site's owners would like you to believe (and it is privately owned, rather than a national or state site) is that all this was done by European explorers pre-dating the Vikings. (St. Brendan's name comes up, though others think it was the Phoenicians.) The descriptions talk about how the bigger standing stones are aligned with the sun on the equinoxes or other special days, but there seem to be a lot of big standing stones *not* aligned with the sun, and it almost seems more like they just pick which stones are important after the fact. Also, stone quarrying and other activities took place here in the 19th century, and many also believe that the 1930s owner may have moved stones to what he believed/claimed to be their original positions, making their current placement meaningless.

(I am reminded of the reconstructed stone fort in Scotland that looked so perfect, but was completely inauthentic. While there had been a fort there, it had collapsed or been destroyed, and in the 19th century the owner of the land just took the stones lying around and built a fort from them with no concern about the original placement.)

In spite of all this, the site is an interesting tie-in to Lovecraft's work. (I should note that it is merely the best-known of hundreds of megaliths in New England.)

"The Whisperer in Darkness" was Lovecraft's most profitable work--he got $350 for it. The mention of the Hounds of Tindalos was picked up by Frank Belknap Long, who wrote an entire novel based on them. And a lot of the off-hand references here re-appear in "The Mound".

And "The H. P. Lovecraft Literary Podcast" (Episodes 74-76 of for "The Whisperer in Darkness") pointed out something true of all of Lovecraft's work--he loves hyphenated adjectives. He seems particularly fond of those ending in "ing": "hill-climbing", "wonder-loving", "night-haunting", "forest-traversing", "vista-opening", "ether-resisting", "barrier-breaking", "secret-guarding", ...

To order The Whisperer in Darkness: Collected Short Stories, Volume 1 from amazon.com, click here.


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