Reviews by Evelyn C. Leeper

Reviews by Evelyn C. Leeper

All reviews copyright 1984-2018 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 Joshi's annotations here cover literary and historical references, textual variations, and various arcane words that Lovecraft uses, and help the reader appreciate the craft of Lovecraft's work (no pun intended).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."


THE NEW ANNOTATED H. P. LOVECRAFT by H. P. Lovecraft, annotated by Leslie S. Klinger:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 08/17/2018]

THE NEW ANNOTATED H. P. LOVECRAFT with stories by H. P. Lovecraft (duh!) and annotations by Leslie S. Klinger (ISBN 978-0-871-40453-4) has 850 oversized pages, includes nineteen stories and two novels (THE CASE OF CHARLES DEXTER WARD and AT THE MOUNTAINS OF MADNESS, and weighs over five pounds. This makes it difficult to read sitting on the couch or at the table while having a snack.

One learns, for example, that Lovecraft's Dunwich is based on the Massachusetts towns of Wilbraham, Monson, and Hampden.

On the other hand, what is one to make of an annotation that says, "Congregationalism is a body of independent churches (independent, that is, from the Protestant, Episcopalian, Baptist, and Catholic churches)." Although apparently some Baptists claim not to be Protestant, so far as I can tell the overwhelming opinion is that Baptists are Protestant.

Lovecraft's writing is distinctive. It is archaic in word choice, style, and in spelling. He favors the British spellings (or should that be "favours"). He uses "shewn" for "shown", but "strown" for "strewn".

To give you a taste of Lovecraft, here is the beginning of "The Call of Cthulhu":

"The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far. The sciences, each straining in its own direction, have hitherto harmed us little; but some day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the light into the peace and safety of a new dark age.

"Theosophists have guessed at the awesome grandeur of the cosmic cycle wherein our world and human race form transient incidents. They have hinted at strange survivals in terms which would freeze the blood if not masked by a bland optimism. But it is not from them that there came the single glimpse of forbidden eons which chills me when I think of it and maddens me when I dream of it. That glimpse, like all dread glimpses of truth, flashed out from an accidental piecing together of separated things--in this case an old newspaper item and the notes of a dead professor. I hope that no one else will accomplish this piecing out; certainly, if I live, I shall never knowingly supply a link in so hideous a chain. I think that the professor, too intented to keep silent regarding the part he knew, and that he would have destroyed his notes had not sudden death seized him."

Later we see that Lovecraft seems to have a knowledge of non-Euclidean geometries. While his descriptions do not totally match spherical or hyperbolic geometries, there are certainly hints of them in his comments about convexity and concavity:

"Without knowing what futurism is like, Johansen achieved something very close to it when he spoke of the city; for instead of describing any definite structure or building, he dwells only on broad impressions of vast angles and stone surfaces--surfaces too great to belong to anything right or proper for this earth, and impious with horrible images and hieroglyphs. I mention his talk about angles because it suggests something Wilcox had told me of his awful dreams. He said that the geometry of the dream-place he saw was abnormal, non-Euclidean, and loathsomely redolent of spheres and dimensions apart from ours. Now an unlettered seaman felt the same thing whilst gazing at the terrible reality.

"Johansen and his men landed at a sloping mud-bank on this monstrous Acropolis, and clambered slipperily up over titan oozy blocks which could have been no mortal staircase. The very sun of heaven seemed distorted when viewed through the polarising miasma welling out from this sea-soaked perversion, and twisted menace and suspense lurked leeringly in those crazily elusive angles of carven rock where a second glance shewed concavity after the first shewed convexity.

"Something very like fright had come over all the explorers before anything more definite than rock and ooze and weed was seen. Each would have fled had he not feared the scorn of the others, and it was only half-heartedly that they searched--vainly, as it proved--for some portable souvenir to bear away.

"It was Rodriguez the Portuguese who climbed up the foot of the monolith and shouted of what he had found. The rest followed him, and looked curiously at the immense carved door with the now familiar squid-dragon bas-relief. It was, Johansen said, like a great barn-door; and they all felt that it was a door because of the ornate lintel, threshold, and jambs around it, though they could not decide whether it lay flat like a trap-door or slantwise like an outside cellar-door. As Wilcox would have said, the geometry of the place was all wrong. One could not be sure that the sea and the ground were horizontal, hence the relative position of everything else seemed phantasmally variable.

"Briden pushed at the stone in several places without result. Then Donovan felt over it delicately around the edge, pressing each point separately as he went. He climbed interminably along the grotesque stone moulding--that is, one would call it climbing if the thing was not after all horizontal--and the men wondered how any door in the universe could be so vast. Then, very softly and slowly, the acre-great lintel began to give inward at the top; and they saw that it was balanced.

"Donovan slid or somehow propelled himself down or along the jamb and rejoined his fellows, and everyone watched the queer recession of the monstrously carven portal. In this phantasy of prismatic distortion it moved anomalously in a diagonal way, so that all the rules of matter and perspective seemed upset."

I have enjoyed Klinger's annotations to Sherlock Holmes, and am looking forward to his annotations of FRANKENSTEIN.

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


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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