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.