Thursday, January 15, 2009

Last Bus to Arkham

Tour de Lovecraft: The Tales by Ken Hite, Atomic Overmind Press, 2008

Provenance (or how I ended up reading this): I purchased this book at The Dreaming, up in the U-District, despite having read the first draft of its contents on the net. This is a blook (a word that will soon go into the annals of "words we don't want to use anymore") - a series of blog posts that evolve into a final edition. Ken Hite, on his regular site, took everyone on a guided tour of HPLovecraft's 51 stories, and this is the result.

And to be frank, the book's net origins show - the pieces are individually good but strain to hold together into a larger skein, though his final two paragraphs are worth the price of admission. It's a book worth having in a no-virtual form.

I've seen this book touted as a good beginners' guide, and I have to disagree. Hite does not summarize the tales here, and in fact assumes that you not only know Lovecraft's work, but the predecessors he is seeking to emulate (Machen, Poe, and Dunsany) and the literary critics and editors that followed in his wake (ST Joshi, Robert Price, Lin Carter, and of course Augie Derelith). Seriously, if you don't know what Lin Carter did to deserve the bashing he gets, you'd assume that he backed over Lovecraft's dog or something (which is kinda true, in a literary sense, but never mind that).

Because it is an assemblage of earlier smaller articles, so there is a bit of repeating and recapitulation. In particular, this involved Lovecraft's inherent racism, and whether it was intentional or inadvertent. This in turn opens the larger ongoing discussion of whether the creator's personal opinions are fair game within the larger framework of literary criticism. Me? I go back and forth on the issue, so I'm just aware that the ball is still in play.

So this is a very good companion volume to your dose of Lovecraft. It encouraged me to return to and reread some of the writers' lesser works (Most of which were gathered together in Arkham House's "Dagon and Other Macabre Tales" collection, which sadly concentrates Lovecraft to the point that the eldritch menaces start to blurr, a disservice to the individual stories). Ken brings his eclectic attitudes to the table and delivers a pleasant little meal that will satisfy those looking for a bit more about Lovecraft and his world.

And it has encouraged me to dig up my old collections of Ken's Suppressed Transmissions columns. Good weirdness, there.

More later,