Book Review – H.P. Lovecraft, “The Whisperer In Darkness”

October 10, 2013 — Leave a comment

“There always ben unseen things araound Dunwich–livin’ things–as ain’t human an’ ain’t good fer human folks.” – from The Dunwich Horror

 

Scared yet?

Every metalhead ought to be familiar with HP Lovecraft, a legendary American horror writer who was especially active in the 1920s and 30s. Plenty of metal songs have been inspired by his work–most famously a pair of Metallica songs, “The Call of Cthulhu” and “The Thing That Should Not Be.” Morbid Angel also gave a Lovecraftian shoutout with “The Ancient Ones.” Electric Wizard dedicates albums to the great “H.P.L.,” and Immortal based their song “In My Kingdom Cold” on “The Mountains of Madness.”

A short story writer for a pulp magazine called Weird Tales, Lovecraft and his work are collected in many different short story anthologies. He is most famous for the Cthulhu Mythos, a world and concept that provided the common basis of many of his later stories. The Cthulhu Mythos is a world where the crazy guy mumbling to himself on the bus is the only one with any clue as to what is really going on in the universe, as cults of evildoers around the world attempt to resurrect the cosmic monsters known as the Old Ones to reclaim their rightful place as lords of the universe.

 

This isn’t your parents’ classic sci-fi; the sinister atmospheres are beautifully rendered in every story collected here. “Dagon” is considered the beginning of the famous Cthulhu Mythos, while “The Hound” bears heavy influence from Edgar Allen Poe, Lovecraft’s biggest literary hero. “At The Mountains of Madness” tells of an Antarctic expedition gone horribly wrong. “The Dunwich Horror” and “The Whisperer In Darkness” are both fantastical interpretations of classic New England folklore with a Lovecraftian bent.

“The Case of Charles Dexter Ward” is my personal favorite, a masterpiece of a tale explaining what happens when you lock up a passionate occultist with a disturbing family history in an asylum.

Lovecraft chills his audiences so effectively because he doesn’t always describe the actual terror, but more commonly by describing human and animal reactions to the terrors occurring at present. Sometimes it’s scarier to describe not a terrifying monster, but instead a village elder breaking into a cold sweat, screaming “Oh my God, that thing!!!!” and then falling motionless to the ground. Forcing you to wonder exactly what happened is Lovecraft’s best weapon, and he uses it with a perfectionist’s eye.

Although he wrote in the early part of the 20th century, Lovecraft’s prose is purposefully more old-style 1800s, again in homage to his Poe fascination. And he can employ either the 1st person “I” point of view or third-person, as though writing a series of observations in a scientific journal (the latter masterfully so in “The Case of Charles Dexter Ward”).

HP Lovecraft died in 1937 at the age of 46, and he never made much money from his writing. Nevertheless, his legacy remains strong, especially among horror and metal fans, who admire his ability to create a disturbing and uneasy atmosphere. His world, from the evil Necronomicon book, to the ancient shapeless forms lurking among underwater ruins, to the scholars and experts at Miskatonic University, is one that can easily be lost in.

It is a world fittingly celebrated by the greatest music on earth, heavy metal.

 

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