True terror lies in what we cannot always know
"Even death may die.."
American author H.P Lovecraft is such a prominent and prolific horror writer that a subgenre of horror was even named after him. Lovecraftian horror involves "the cosmic horror of the unknown and the unknowable more than gore or other elements of shock". With this mind, I was quite excited to read this anthology which collected his finest eighteen short stories throughout the years. This paperback edition I own even includes a great introductory essay to the life and times of Lovecraft, as well as explanatory notes that serve as expansions of ideas taken from his stories; a glossary that also offers more insights to his writing process, influence and conceptualization. Frankly, I think The Call of Cthulu and Other Weird Stories is a fascinating though difficult read.
I have my reservations both in reviewing and recommending this anthology. I don't believe this is exactly something anyone can just enjoy and appreciate. In fact, upon closer inspection, I found that most tales included in this volume are interrelated, if not indirectly referential of each other. This is probably because Lovecraft, like all great literary masters, has created his own fictional universes where these stories breathe. For example, mentions of the place Arkham happens frequently, as well as the elusive grimoire known as the Necronomicon. This could mean that for a novice, the collection may get alienating here and there. If this is the very first Lovecraft material you will ever read, then I think this particular anthology might baffle you at times because the degree of difficulty to his prose that might not be accessible to a reader more used to a contemporary and more straightforward style of storytelling, particularly when it comes to horror.
Speaking of which, I rather found Lovecraft's style challenging myself. There are so many adjectives and lengthy phrases; his general tonality can be bizarrely bone-dry in delivery which sometimes dilutes whatever horrific or terrifying plot thread you're supposed to be following. To be perfectly honest, a few of the stories in the volume have rendered me sluggish, mostly because I could predict the ending. In addition to that, there are three of four stories that are mostly repetitive, thematic-wise. I think these are my major criticisms of the anthology in general. However, his style isn't necessarily a bad thing though. When a certain story being told is unbelievably haunting and evocative, Lovecraft's prose can put you under a terrifying trance. What such stories excel in isn't about the gore or the shocking twist, really. It's the slow-burning build-up that leads to the tragedy. The Call of Cthulu and Other Weird Stories is ruthlessly engaging when you least expect it to and that's what made the obstacles along the way worth conquering as a reader.
I think this anthology would be more enjoyable when one's focus is singular. You can consume this in a slower pace if it means developing a richer and deeper understanding of what makes Lovecraft's stories so magnetic. Personally, I would re-read the stories again just so I can spot more connections among them. After all, I think this volume doesn't even cover the wide expanse of the Lovecraft universe, particularly that of the Cthulu mythos which is a rather influential piece of fiction and a tirelessly imaginative lore that has enchanted other writers across generations to contribute their own works to this perplexing creature of the most visceral and unknowable of horrors ever realized in fiction. The story Festival is credited as probably the first time Lovecraft has tried to weave Cthulu mythos for the very first time. I highly suggest that you and I check out more about said mythos in other collections.
I only have five stories that I would consider absolute favorites because they spoke to me in the most unpleasant yet invigorating ways. Understandably, I must include the namesake The Call of Cthulhu which was simply the stuff that makes nightmares real. Elaborate and layered with puzzles within puzzles, this story leaves so much to the reader's interpretation as it slowly crawls its way into your consciousness; right until the moment when you realize that it's irreversibly stuck in the damaged corners of your own mind. Two other stories like Facts Concerning the Late Arthur Jermyn and His Family and The Picture in the House are astounding because Lovecraft has woven them in a way that makes the discovery at the end so dreadful to comprehend. The suspense in these stories are unforgivably subtle, as if it only managed to graze my skin, but further reflection of these tales would reveal just how much they made me slightly sick to my stomach.
The stories Herbert West -- Reanimator and The Rats in the Walls really got under my skin. The former was definitely the best horror story I ever read about resurrecting dead people that I think rivals even Mary Shelley's classical novel Frankenstein. I could imagine watching the story unfold on screen which was why I want to watch the said film version of this story soon enough. Meanwhile, the latter story almost, sort of, destroyed me. It was an exploration of madness that is so hard to put in words even as I type this review unless one has dabbled in something akin to it (which, unfortunately, I once had back when I was less in control of my mental state as a young girl). The Rats in the Walls symbolize a rude awakening where there really is no way you can ever go back; where a physical manifestation of your fears become a consuming preoccupation that can deteriorate the rest of your soul. I think there are many levels to this story that will make for a fruitful discussion. It's almost painful for me to read this tale without cringing in revulsion and distress.
Some other noteworthy tales to read are The Whisperer in Darkness, The Colour Out of Space, The Shadow Over Innsmouth, and The Haunter of the Dark. They are deft and daring in concept and execution and would make you question certain comfortable things in life after finishing them.
In a nutshell, H.P Lovecraft's The Call of Cthulu and Other Weird Stories is a worthwhile and challenging reading experience that I can only recommend to people who are prepared for something drastically eye-opening. The very best of the stories included in this anthology are like itches you can only keep scratching if the relief you garner from it also means that you have to bleed.