The New Annotated H.P. Lovecraft: stories by H.P. Lovecraft, edited and annotated by Leslie S. Klinger
WW Norton has published a series of annotated editions of classic works such as The Hobbit, Alice in Wonderland and The Wizard of OZ. I own most of these editions and have found the history and information contained in them to be worth going back to and re-reading again and again. So it was with great excitement that I found out that H.P. Lovecraft was going to get an annotated edition for his collected stories. And I was even more excited to find a review copy in the mail, proof that my WW Norton sales rep is looking out for me (Thanks Dan)
For anyone unfamiliar with Lovecraft, he was a writer of weird horror stories in the early 20th century who has influenced many horror and science fiction writers: his contemporaries in the early part of the 20th century and writers down to the present day. Lovecraft had only a limited number of works published during his lifetime, but thousands of pages have been written by others using his otherworldly gods and “things not meant to be known by man”. He also wrote thousands of letters to other friends and writers such as Robert Howard (author of the Conan stories) and Clark Ashton Smith. Many of these letters expanded on Lovecraft’s interwoven group of eldar gods which have come to be called the Cthulhu Mythos after the most famous of these gods, the dead dreaming god Cthulhu. Later authors have added to, played with, improved and generally made more creepy the Cthulhu Mythos. All are in debt to Lovecraft for giving life to this universe.
The book itself devotes the first 70 pages to biographical information about Lovecraft and a brief summary of his writing career. It is, as it is meant to be, a good introduction to Lovecraft the man. There have been more full biographies of Lovecraft, as well as a number of volumes of his collected letters, that are available to anyone who wants to dig more deeply into Lovecraft himself. This introduction does a good job of covering the bases about Lovecraft, and does not shy away from some of the less pleasant aspects of his personality, such as his racism and anti-semitism.
The next 806 pages contain 22 of Lovecrafts works. Some, like the 8 page Dagon, are very short. Others, like At The Mountains of Madness, run over 100 pages. The works chosen are a good cross section of his work, and manage to include most of his best known works like Re-Animator and Call of Cthulhu. As in the other annotated volumes in this series the author’s works run in a column down the center of the pages with the notes/annotations along the sides of the text.
Finally there are 50 pages of appendixes, including a complete list of Lovecraft’s works with publication dates, a genealogy of the gods of the Cthulhu Mythos and a short section on the influence of Lovecraft’s works on popular culture.
All in all this tome weighs in at around 1000 pages, and is the size and weight of a large Bible. Not bad for the $39.95 price.
So what did I think. Overall I am very pleased. I have been reading Lovecraft and stories inspired by Lovecraft for years. I have seen films inspired by Lovecraft’s crations, played board games that have a Cthulhu theme and even at one time owned a large Cthulhu figure for a miniatures game called Horrorclix. So I consider myself very familiar with Lovecraft’s works and literary descendants. I found the biographical material enough for someone who had never read Lovecraft to put him firmly into his time and place. I thought that the selection of stories covered all the major bases of Lovecraft’s styles and stories. And I found the annotations helpful in giving the stories additional context without bogging down into the minutiae that could so easily have distracted from the stories themselves.
I only have one quibble with the book. I do not understand how The Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath was not included in this collection. It is one of Lovecraft’s longer (141 pages in the 1976 edition I have), stranger and semi-biographical tales (Klinger mentions that it was inspired by a dream that Lovecraft had). I think that it really stands out as one of Lovecraft’s best works. If the editor was going to go with 1000 pages, why not go 1150 and include Dream Quest.
Other than that, Wow. The books feels good in a readers hands. From the tentacles that are on the cover to the feel of the paper the book just feels as if the people putting it together really understood and cared about the subject matter. It will certainly have a place on my shelves.
If you like Lovecraft you will like this book. It feels good to read and contains great stories along with information to help you enjoy them. If you have never read Lovecraft, pick this up and prepare to be introduced to a 20th century horror writer who continues to inspire others to this day. I would put this on my list of presents for any Lovecraft fan.