Friday, September 9, 2016

Review: Call of Cthulhu and Other Stories

Call of Cthulhu and Other Stories Call of Cthulhu and Other Stories by H.P. Lovecraft
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I understand that, in some quarters, these works have become canonical. Lovecraft stands like a kind of Raymond Chandler or J.R.R. Tolkien, an inventor of a genre, what we now call ‘horror.’ And I understand as well that Chandler and Tolkien are also highly stylized, that a lot of readers come to them and say, “Is this all there is?”

But, seriously, is this all there is?

These stories are laughably bad. This is, at best, second-rate Poe, and I have a lower opinion of the original, first-rate Poe than most.

For starters, Lovecraft is a lazy craftsman. These sentences are larded with adjectives. Take away his favorite obscure ones – eldritch, stygian, cyclopedian – and replace them with their essential synonym, “scary,” and you have very little.

Then the plots themselves are clumsy and unfinished. I do like the idea of getting to see Cthulu from the perspective of several different dreamers. Maybe there’d have been something to it if Lovecraft had foreseen the postmodern narrative and managed to make a consciousness of storytelling part of the narrative itself. Instead, as with most of the others here, we have a narrator who, conveniently, goes mad or kills himself just after finishing. Cthulu is out there, tentacle-faced and fearsome (or should I say tentacle-faced and eldritch) and we’re supposed to close the book, go to sleep, and have nightmares about him.

The whole effect comes down to a cheap horror movie stunt: let us catch only a glimpse, only a sense of the shadow of what’s out there. Then let us live in fear of what it might be. I find it a cynical form of narration, and a cynical aesthetic move.

Anyway, all that has made me wonder about the parallels between the horror genre in general and heavy metal music. Each is probably the genre I least appreciate – one in literature and one in music. Friends tell me Metallica is great, and I do recognize the sophistication of their work. Still, I hear mostly just noise and anger, a noise that seems intended to bully me into submission, and an anger that seems to want to enlist me in causes I don’t share.

And maybe it’s true that Stephen King is the analogue of Led Zeppelin, each the most successful out of the genre. Each supposedly competent in ways I can only distantly see. And each spawning admirers who fall far short.

If all that’s true, if horror is a genre predicated on an aesthetic that troubles me from the start, fine. I’ll leave it to others without judgement.

Except, Lovecraft. Really? I think his analogue may be Slade.

I have gone with two stars, the second coming to acknowledge the influence and for the sheer stupid ambition of the work.

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