Review of The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories


Wow, reading through some reviews of this collection, I’m astonished to see so much negative criticism.  A lot of that criticism seems to focus on Lovecraft’s use of arcane language.  Should I be worried that I don’t find it arcane at all?

What Lovecraft does so brilliantly is to attempt to describe a truly alien horror – not like Star Trek aliens who are only men with knobby foreheads, but forces which do not reference the human at all.  That’s not a easy task, but Lovecraft, along with Blackwood (“The Willows”) tries to do the impossible and does it very well, imo. The freaky geometry and almost obscene language of the world of Cthulhu speak of another dimension.

Upon retiring, he had had an unprecedented dream of great Cyclopean cities of titan blocks and sky-flung monoliths, all dripping with green ooze and sinister with latent horror. Hieroglyphics had covered the walls and pillars, and from some undetermined point below had come a voice that was not a voice; a chaotic sensation which only fancy could transmute into sound, but which he attempted to render by the almost unpronounceable jumble of letters, “Cthulhu fhtagn”.

As you can probably tell, “The Call of Cthulhu” is one of my favourite stories in this collection.  My second favourite is “Rats in the Walls”.  Lovecraft is dated in that he writes in the style of the “gentleman scholars” of the 1930s – men like James and Blackwood and Onions and Benson.  Yes, these do seem like highly repressed individuals, but that was probably more common in those days. I find it charming. “Rats” does not contain the same cosmic horror as the other stories, but a more human, ancient one.  I’ve read this story many, many times and there is something so palpably, gelatinously horrifying about the underground city discovered by the protagonist.

Lovecraft was a misanthrope and so perhaps it is fellow misanthropes who can most properly appreciate his message and style.  He despaired at any attempt at human enlightenment and believed we were a race destined to be crushed by immensities we were incapable of understanding.


Review of Dracula by Bram Stoker


When I first tried reading Dracula, I got frustrated.  I thought it needed editing and I didn’t like the way it jumped from one narrative perspective to another.  I’ve since changed my mind and I now regard this novel as one of the best ever written.

The fractured narrative stems from the fact that the novel is really a collection of documents: someone has put together all the evidence regarding Dracula.  The documents are in chronological order and we hear many voices throughout.  One narrative voice confirms and adds to another voice: we end up with a chorus.

The story, though very melodramatic (as befits a good Victorian novel) is actually quite gripping and I don’t think anyone has written a more exciting ending in fiction.  I’ve now re-read this novel twenty or more times, and I find myself more and more moved by the writing and the characters.  I once detested Lucy but now I find her story and her fate very sad.  The sequence where she describes her dream while under the Vampire spell is beautifully and tragically poetic.

In fact, the writing is amazingly lush in many parts – just sample the sequence about the attempted seduction of Jonathon by the Vampire Brides.

All in all, this is a thoroughly exquisite, exciting, and touching novel.

Review of The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson


Incomparable classic horror novel.  As a child, the film adaption of this novel was my favourite. I wasn’t even familiar with the term Gothic but I did know I loved a creepy, old-timey horror story.

Jackson’s novel is spectacularly creepy but it is also filled with 3 dimensional characters and this makes the reader even more unnerved.  At the heart of everything is the lonely Eleanor.  Life outside Hill House is so dismal, that the horrors within are actually strangely comforting to her.

I can’t pick a favourite bit, but the picnic scene, where the surroundings suddenly because a photographic negative is probably one of the finest sequences ever written in a horror story.

Oh, and if you are familiar with The Hero’s Journey, you will find it fits this novel admirably.

You can’t really call yourself a horror fan, imo, unless you’ve read this classic!

Review of The Willows by Algernon Blackwood


I always like to think about the transgressions of the protagonists in horror stories.  Something has to cause/invite the horror. In The Willows, the narrator and the Swede eschew human civilization and in doing so, they unwittingly enter into a forbidden territory: “we allowed laughingly to one another that we ought by rights to have held some special kind of passport to admit us, and that we had, somewhat audaciously, come without asking leave into a separate little kingdom of wonder and magic–a kingdom that was reserved for the use of others who had a right to it, with everywhere unwritten warnings to trespassers…”

As is usual in horror, despite the many warnings the protagonists receive, they arrogantly or naively persist in their journey. The narrator’s dismissive tone soon changes. The moral of this story appears to be that man has his place in the world, but there are some spaces/places that are not meant for him.  The narrator and the Swede stumble onto what appears to be a conduit to another universe or realm.  The forces of man and of alien cannot co-exist: one of them must be destroyed. Clearly, there must be areas left on earth that are unsullied by the human race: there must be some room allotted to The Other.

This is a masterly, chilling tale.  It’ll certainly be considered a bit slow in its pacing by modern audiences; however, if they have the patience, they’ll certainly be rewarded.