The Whisperer in Darkness: Collected Stories Volume 1
by H.P. Lovecraft
Format Paperback, 384 pages
Publisher: Wordsworth Editions, 2007
Clearly Lovecraft was a genius, his ideas, his mythos, his visions were all vastly ahead of his time, totally bizarre constructions, and of all of them the Cthulhu stories are some of his most extreme examples. The ambiguity comes in his ability to consistently form these dreamlike visions into a coherent, readable story. When he is good, he is a genius but when he is bad….
This is the first Lovecraft collection put together by Wordsworth Editions in its immensely enjoyable Tales Of Mystery & the Supernatural Series and as far as I can see is the cheapest way to get hold of some classic and also rare Lovecraft stories as printed books. This collection concentrates on the Cthulhu Mythos, Lovecraft’s crowning glory, an entirely made up mythology (or is it!) based on the writings of the Necronomicon and telling tales of races and gods from before and indeed beyond our time and space.
Remarkably Lovecraft never managed to write a novel, concentrating instead on the pulp fiction short story market for the likes of Weird tales. Now this is a shame as undoubtedly a novel may have helped raise his profile during his life but on the evidence of this collection and it’s longest piece “The Case Of Charles Dexter Ward” it’s probably just as well, here all of Lovecraft’s flaws come to the fore. His lack of a strong plot, his use of bizarre language (cyclopean, polyphemus, shewn, and my favourite cacodaemoniacal), his inability to write cohesive readable dialogue and his need to cram words onto the page so we get whole pages without a single paragraph break make this story extremely hard work.
Luckily we also get some of his strongest short stories such as “Dagon”, “The Hound” and “The Festival” each of which succeeds either because of the excellent descriptive nature (Dagon) or the use of an intriguing plot (The Hound), The Festival manages to succeed on both levels. “The Nameless City”, “The Call Of Cthulhu” and “The Dunwich Horror” also manage to work as cohesive description driven well plotted stories.
Finally we get two of (in my opinion) Lovecraft’s strongest stories anywhere. ” The Whisperer In Darkness” is an excellent example of Lovecraft’s ability to portray a growing paranoia and unease and to infect the reader with a little bit of those feelings in a realistic setting. “At The Mountains Of Madness” also achieves this but manages to up the pace delivering an event led timeline of the MIskatonic Universities expedition to Antartica and their discovery of the presence of other life. Containing magnificently descriptive writing, some characterisation, believable dialogue and a superb backstory this is Lovecraft at his best and is the antithesis of Charles Dexter Ward.
So should you buy it, well of of course you should, £2.99 is a bargain for “At The Mountains Of Madness” alone but with 4 or 5 other excellent stories it becomes almost a required purchase, so Lovecraft remains an enigma wrapped up in a mystery (to misquote Churchill). His inconsistency was perhaps his downfall and the reason why he is not held in the same esteem as many of his peers but he deserves to be widely read as a pioneer in weird and speculative fiction and as a man who created a mythology which is still being used today. A flawed genius sure, but a genius without a doubt.
Rating 4 out of 5