The New Annotated H.P. Lovecraft is noteworthy
Few writers, if any, have a body of work that has enjoyed the sort of pop culture proliferation the work of H.P. Lovecraft has experienced.
Before his death in 1937 at the young age of 46, Lovecraft's work was nearly exclusively seen in pulp fiction periodicals, most notably the now-legendary Weird Tales.
In the years following his death, Lovecraft's work would survive that of many of his contemporaries, first as what we might today term as cult appreciation, until finally reaching the status of actual literary acceptance. The man's work has also proven to be hugely influential across the field of speculative fiction, with writers such as Stephen King, Ramsey Campbell, Joyce Carol Oates, Robert Bloch and Brian Lumley pointing back to Lovecraft as a wellspring to which the horror and science fiction genres in particular owe a huge debt.
With The New Annotated H.P. Lovecraft, editor and annotator Leslie S. Klinger — notable for his annotations of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes canon, Bram Stoker's Dracula and Neil Gaiman's The Sandman — endeavors to present many of Lovecraft's important and influential works in a more accessible way for contemporary readers.
Klinger takes a different approach from weird fiction scholar and Lovecraft expert S.T. Joshi's two volumes of annotated Lovecraft fiction released in the late '90s. Rather than focusing on the biographical and inspirational relevance behind the tales as Joshi did, Klinger focuses on the author's archaic vocabulary and constant use, with little to no explanation, of historical, literary and scientific references that readers of today won't know.
Aggressively antiquarian and more than a little racist, Lovecraft possessed a vocabulary of staggering depth and often preferred using words and language outmoded even in his own time. He was also an avid, very well-read and well-informed follower of the sciences and a number of other fields, and often used such knowledge and references in his work in such a way that seemed to expect readers to also know what he was talking about.
These elements of Lovecraft's style have often proved an intimidating hurdle for readers attempting to appreciate the author's work, and Klinger's book proves an excellent bridge for such readers.
Of debate, particularly to Lovecraft's more hardcore readers, will be Klinger's selection of tales, which largely focuses on what he terms the author's "Arkham Cycle" — Lovecraft's late career tales more popularly known as the "Cthulhu Mythos." This results in the omission of some of the author's most revered earlier tales, including The Outsider, The Rats In The Walls and Pickman's Model, three tales which have particularly become staples of any and every Lovecraft anthology.
Klinger's decision to focus on the "Arkham Cycle" and on tales indicating its early evolution is, however, justifiable, in that it is in this cycle of stories and novellas that Lovecraft hit upon the cosmic conceptuality that elevated his work from his earlier Poe and Lord Dunsany imitativeness to something new and revolutionary. The monsters weren't supernatural boogens anymore, but extraterrestrial (often extradimensional) life forms so great in scope and power that, in a relative sense, the human race was negligible to them in much the same way gnats are to us. Humanity had been relegated to a narcissistic blip in the great scheme of the universe's infinity.
It is these science fiction stories with gothic horror trappings that are the foundation of Lovecraft's literary legacy, and, as such, Klinger's decision to focus on these works is understandable. The inclusion of Herbert West: Reanimator is curious given this light, though, in that, while it is set in Arkham, it was written as an absurd and morbid black comedy and lacks the serious nature of the rest of the works included in this volume, let alone not possessing or developing the cosmicism theme. Pickman's Model would have certainly been a more apt tale to include in the volume, and one has to wonder if Herbert West: Reanimator was included due to the popularity of Stuart Gordon's cult horror comedy film Re-Animator, which, while not a particularly loyal adaptation, did keep the tale's morbid humor aspect.
Klinger's volume is rounded out by an introduction by Alan Moore, a foreword which includes an excellent overview of the development and evolution of horror literature and a Lovecraft biography, and no less than seven appendices covering odds and ends of Lovecraft's fictional universe.
Given that Lovecraft's work is public domain and one can easily find his entire body of work online for no cost — or buy his entire body of work in a single volume at Barnes and Noble for $20 — the $39.95 retail price of this massive, 900-plus page hardcover may seem steep.
But, for those who've been wanting to explore and appreciate Lovecraft's most influential work but have found it a daunting task, Klinger's volume will prove to be a must-own.