So I’ve blogged a number of times Robert E. Howard and I’ve blogged about Clark Ashton Smith. It took a little while, but it’s time to complete the trifecta of the Big Three of the golden age of Weird Tales by blogging about H.P. Lovecraft. Unlike Howard & Smith, Lovecraft is remembered more as a horror writer than a fantasy writer, and rightly so. He influenced an entire generation horror writers, including some of the best and most popular names you can think of. The stories falling into his Cthulhu Mythos (or Lovecraft Mythos, as some call it) represent many of his most lasting creations. In a nutshell, the Cthulhu Mythos revolves around the Great Old Ones, an assortment of ancient and powerful deities from outer space who ruled Earth long ago. Lovecraft liked to take this idea and present the premise that humankind’s world and our role in it are but illusions, that we cannot possibly comprehend the eldritch and cosmic horrors that lurk on the planet Earth and beyond. Calling these tales the Cthulhu Mythos refers to one of Lovecraft’s more popular tales about one the Great Old Ones, in his story “The Call of Cthulu.”
But I’m supposed to be one of the fantasy guys here at Tor.com, so I feel it’s my duty to point out that when he felt like it, Lovecraft could also write a rollicking good fantasy tale, the sort you might expect from either Robert E. Howard or Clark Ashton Smith. As an example, I’ll point you to “The Doom That Came to Sarnath.” Lovecraft’s writings have always been very hit or miss with me. The first time I read him, had it been one of those “miss” stories, it might have been a long time before I tried reading Lovecraft again. Fortunately, the first story I read happened to be “The Doom That Came to Sarnath,” which hit me right in the literary sweet tooth.
This story may be short, but it packs a lot of punch. It is absolutely drenched in atmosphere and detail, and in a very few pages Lovecraft does an excellent job of building the tension. And while this tale should appeal to fans of the S&S and weird fantasy writings of Howard and Smith, it avoids being derivative. Lovecraft makes the tale his, with his particular brand of dark foreboding, and his usual deft touch at revealing startling levels of strangeness while simultaneously managing to cast a cloak of shadow and mystery over the greater picture.
If I’m being coy about what actually happens in the story, it’s not meant to frustrate you, but dropping spoilers for a tale this sort risks ruining the tale in its entirety. Suffice it to say that the folks at Sarnath are up to some bad stuff, and so this tale is about (you guessed it) the doom that came to Sarnath. Of course, this teaser might only frustrate you more. Luckily, you can read the tale in its entirety right here. Even better, you can read a number of Lovecraft’s other works at this site as well. BTW, of the stories listed here, my other personal favorites would be “The Colour Out of Space” & “The Music of Erich Zann.” And so that the curious don’t feel misled, I’ll add that neither of these stories are in the S&S vein.
Like Howard & Smith, Lovecraft’s writings sometimes depicted a racist attitude. But like his contemporaries, Lovecraft also understood storytelling as few others did. Lovecraft was a writer that had a knack for exploring the cracks in the human psyche, and he often excelled at forcing those cracks open, which was most unfortunate for his characters (the human ones, that is). Whether he was composing cosmic tales of horror or scribbling tales of fantastical worlds of myth, he was a true master of the craft. If you haven’t read his works before, you should take the time and learn why he’s becoming an accepted part of Western Literature.