Posted on November 24, 2008 by Billzilla
Howard Phillips Lovecraft is one of the few authors of the horror genre who has been dissected rather thoroughly (Edgar Allen Poe being another). Kenneth Hite, who’s made much of his living as both a critic and a Lovecraft enthusiast, has a few things to say on the subject, and they make for very interesting reading. Tour de Lovecraft — the Tales is an engaging breakdown of all 51 of Lovecraft’s mature prose fiction, from 1917’s The Tomb to Lovecraft’s last work, the Haunter of the Dark from late 1935.
This is not a book of literary criticism, as I first assumed, but rather criticism of literary criticism. Hite takes pains to offer quotes and examples of criticism from a number of noted Lovecraft scholars, and offers his own opinions that don’t always mesh with those notions. In effect, the book breaks Lovecraft’s work down into what might be considered Hite’s Top-10 list of Lovecraft’s work. Hite spends time analyzing Lovecraft’s most effective tales, ranking them in very loose terms by whether the story is effective and by its relevance compared to HPL’s body of work. Each bit of analysis runs from a half-page (In the Vault) to a full five-plus pages (The Dunwich Horror) of bite-sized renderings.
Hite’s analysis follows Howard Phillips Lovecraft from his early career through his most productive and most imaginative periods — the late 1920s and early 1930s. Lovecraft’s strength lies in his tremendous imagination; his wordiness is often off-putting to the dilettante reader, and his rather ineffectual protagonists tend to find ill-favor with fans of action tales. The true power of Lovecraft lies in imagining things that aren’t, or things that shouldn’t be, but are. During Lovecraft’s time, the Romantics held sway over popular philosophy, with the idea that humanity had a place in the universe, and that place was, if not THE center, then darn close to it. Lovecraft came along and with his stories shattered that illusion. Lovecraft’s cosmic sense of horror revolves around themes of decay and dilution of the pure; he was well-known for his racist sentiments, which, while certainly more generally accepted during his lifetime, still haunt us to this day. Horror of the alien, always one of the most paralyzing fears of humankind, is Lovecraft’s bread and butter.
Hite’s conclusions are that Lovecraft was an author of arguably unprecedented genius, but who also lacked a strong business sense. Had he been able to have his better work collected into an anthology during his lifetime, he may have fared better in the world of Serious Literature. As things stand today, nearly seventy-two years after his death, he remains a beloved author of hair-raising tales, his works most often discovered by adolescent boys and recalled fondly for decades after. He also stands as the inspiration for many luminaries in the horror and weird fiction fields today. That Lovecraft has had a tremendous effect on the world of fiction is beyond doubt; HPL is listed as an influence by such literary luminaries as Stephen King, China Mieville, and Tim Powers, among many others. His work spawned one of the top role-playing games produced to date — a game that shares its title with Lovecraft’s most influential and well-known work: Call of Cthulhu. Lovecraft’s writing has also been the source material for a large number of feature-length films, as well as episodic television programs such as Night Gallery and Tales from the Dark Side, some of which are quite solid adaptations.
Tour de Lovecraft is a book I would recommend for anyone wanting to learn more about the man many consider to be the father of the modern horror tale. It does belabor a point or two, and Ken delights in using big words that may confound those without a dictionary at hand, but overall this book provides a great deal of insight, not only into the man and his work but to how both have been viewed by critics and scholars to the present day. For the serious Lovecraft aficionado, Tour de Lovecraft – the Tales is a must-have.
Review by Bill Bodden