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Is Your Favorite HPL Tale Here?

The Weird Tradition

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Dec 6, 2011, 7:14pm Top

Doing research for a blog post, I hopped over to The H.P. Lovecraft Archive and noticed they have the results of a running poll where they asked visitors (1) what their favorite HPL tale is and (2) what tale they would first recommend to an HPL newbie. You can see the results here:


Did your favorite make either list? Mine ("The Rats in the Walls") made both! 8)

Edited: Dec 6, 2011, 7:31pm Top

Mine is The Rats in the Walls also. I think it perfectly combines my favorite genres of literature. Gothic Literature, Victorian era supernatural and Weird Fiction.

Dec 6, 2011, 7:38pm Top

I like "The Shadow Over Innsmouth," closely followed by "The Dunwich Horror," both well-represented. But I found this advice on the linked page utterly fatuous:

Also, while “The Call of Cthulhu” is one of Lovecraft’s best-known and best-loved tales, its departure from more traditional horror stories may put off new readers.

Dec 6, 2011, 7:48pm Top

>2 Thulean:

Hey, Thulean. Yeah, I don't know if it is, objectively speaking, THE best Lovecraft tale (although I do think it's ONE of the best), but it's the first thing of his that I read and the one that hooked me, so it'll probably always be my favorite.

I think it perfectly combines my favorite genres of literature. Gothic Literature, Victorian era supernatural and Weird Fiction.

I always thought of TRITW as Lovecraft out-Poeing Edgar Allan Poe, y'know? Like he put down his pen after he was finished writing it and said (in his best James Earl Jones voice), "Now *I* am the Master." :D

Edited: Dec 6, 2011, 8:03pm Top

>4 artturnerjr:

LOL. That is quite an image you put in my head.

Edited: Dec 6, 2011, 9:56pm Top

I'd pick At the Mountains of Madness as I find it in many ways to be the perfect culmination of most of the core ideas which HPL had been experimenting with throughout much of his classic, post-Dunsany style writings. Plus I'm a sucker for a good (ant)arctic adventure, whether it's the real-life terrors of Apsley Cherry-Garrard's The Worst Journey in the World, or the historical fiction of The Terror by Dan Simmons.

Dec 6, 2011, 8:47pm Top

>3 paradoxosalpha:

I know, right? Isn't one of the main reasons for reading HPL, the main reason his work is collected in volumes from the Library of America and Penguin Classics, the main reason his work is now taught at universities, exactly BECAUSE of his departure from more traditional horror stories? Ooooh, we don't wanna expose new HPL readers to that stuff - have them read the old stories where's he's still trying to copy Poe and Lord Dunsany. :/

Along the same lines (not to pick on Donovan excessively, because I really do think the Archive is a sterling site and a great resource for the most part), isn't it a bit ingenuous to suggest that new Lovecraft readers NOT start with the novel-length tales? Most people I know that read for pleasure (present company excluded, obviously) ONLY read novels; if you suggested the greatest short story in the world to them (by HPL or otherwise), they wouldn't read it just because it's a short story.

>5 Thulean:

Glad you found that amusing, Thulean. :)

Dec 6, 2011, 9:49pm Top

I think that "The Call of Cthulhu" would also present itself as arguably the most modern-seeming of HPL's tales to a new reader - especially a young new reader who would probably latch on quite easily to its episodic, quasi-epistolary presentation. Its manuscripts, press clippings and journal snippets could easily be translated into blogs, tweets, and news aggregators as a means of telling the tale.

Dec 7, 2011, 12:30am Top

>6 KentonSem:

ATMOM is one of my favorite HPL tales, too; it's also one of my favorite novels, period, regardless of genre or author. If there's a book that makes for more eerily fascinating reading on a cold winter's night, I'm not sure I want to read it - I might not survive the experience. :O

I share your love of stories set either entirely or in part in the polar regions of the planet, and find that it's a setting that works well across genres, too (I see we're not alone, either - check this out: http://www.phys.barnard.edu/~kay/polar/genre.php).

>8 KentonSem:

COC (the story, not the role-playing game) isn't my favorite Lovecraft story, but I totally get it when critics and scholars cite it as his best story - it's the one where that dense, antiquarian style of his strikes a perfect balance with a truly modern sensibility, and one that captures (particularly in those justifably famous opening lines) the predominant 20th Century mood of existential dread as effectively as anything Franz Kafka or Ernest Hemingway ever wrote. Not too shabby for an impoverished writer of pulp horror fiction. :)

Dec 7, 2011, 2:39am Top

>7 artturnerjr:

It's a bit funny that in an age where everyone is complaining of a lack of time, short stories are unpopular compared to seemingly ever-lengthening novels.

TCoC would be my generic recommendation for someone's first HPL story, the one to recommend unless something about the person in question suggested another tale might be closer to their tastes. It's also one of my personal favourites: others include ATMOM and "The Colour Out of Space".

Edited: Dec 7, 2011, 5:01pm Top

>10 AndreasJ:

It's a bit funny that in an age where everyone is complaining of a lack of time, short stories are unpopular compared to seemingly ever-lengthening novels.

Yeah, it's completely counterintuitive, isn't it? Maybe if you sent out a short story as a series of text messages or tweets, people would read it. :D

"The Colour Out of Space"

You probably already knew this, but that was HPL's favorite of his tales, which is a pretty strong recommendation in and of itself.


Was anyone else surprised to see how well The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath did? I was always under the impression that that wasn't one of his more popular stories (although I've always really liked it, personally).

Dec 7, 2011, 11:05am Top

> 10

If the goal is escapism, overlong narratives provide a welcome contrast with the blipvertical, compressed character of much 21st-century discourse. I think that's why the doorstop format is dominating fantasy and science fiction. It isn't as pervasive for non-genre books.

Edited: Dec 7, 2011, 11:15am Top

>10 AndreasJ:

You'd think that short story collections would be all the rage right now, right? Maybe individual stories are popular Kindle-style downloads right now, kind of the way you can pick individual songs instead of entire albums? Hmmmm

And then came.... >12 paradoxosalpha:

Interesting theory! The "doorstop format" from Harry Potter to Stephen King and George R.R. Martin does seem to be the popular choice, doesn't it?

Dec 7, 2011, 11:22am Top

> 13

People are back to downloading individual songs? That's so last millennium.

... then again, I'm told this is the age of retro.

For my out-of-touch self, I don't read many novels these days. If I'm reading something lengthy, it's probably nonfiction.

Dec 8, 2011, 12:49pm Top

Haven't read RITW or ATMOM yet. Patiently waiting a few more weeks when some hefty bizzard rolls through and I am warmly enconsed between the sheets of my bed. So far I have enjoyed The Shadow Over Innsmouth most, the chase scene, the evocation of the town, the derelict, I found it immensely charming and "otherworldly". The perfect respite.

Anyone read about del Toro's attmpt to make ATMOM? Cannot believe he has a hard time getting anything made...

Dec 8, 2011, 12:56pm Top

>15 DanMat:

Welcome to the Weird Tradition, David. Hope to hear much more from you in the future. A blizzard plus AtMoM sounds just about perfect!

Dec 9, 2011, 1:20pm Top

Thanks so much!

If anyone's interested, this is very HPL. I read it a few years ago, along with some other fascinating/bizarre stuff, in one of "The Best American Science Writing 2009", another valid sourse for the weird.


Libraries usually carry this series...

Dec 10, 2011, 8:15pm Top

The Rats in the Walls

Dec 11, 2011, 3:36pm Top

The Shadow Over Innsmouth is my favourite and I was pleased to see The Outsider made the list as I think it's a good starting point as it encapsulates many of Lovecraft's themes and concerns in a more traditional gothic narrative that might not be as daunting for a new reader as his lengthier novellas and novels.

Sep 15, 2018, 6:06pm Top

Found this thread to be extremely helpful, enlightening.

Weaned on Alice Munro's shorts as much as on Berton's non-fiction and the 2xMargarets novels and scads of poetry coast to coast, not sure I understand the favouritism of novel over short story. I am not much of a history buff, but certain authors throw down the gauntlet and make me want to read more, learn more geography, care more about politics, delve into the unknown. Sounds like there is a mish mash of that here.

Sep 16, 2018, 12:09pm Top

Shadow out of Time

Oct 27, 2018, 10:39pm Top

"Shadow out of Time" is mine and I see it on the first list. I'm trying to decide if I would put it on the second. Not sure why I was so into it, but I guess it was something about the narrative. The lines about the characters hand twitching and the though "I wanted to unlock something" still stick out.

Edited: Oct 28, 2018, 12:59am Top

"The Shadow Over Innsmouth" & "The Rats in the Walls" are both my favourites of Lovecraft's tales - though if forced to choose I would have to give the edge to Innsmouth.

I currently have the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society's "Tooth of Dagon" sitting in a place of pride on my Lovecraft bookshelf. https://store.hplhs.org/collections/games-props/products/tooth-of-dagon-innsmout...

It makes for quite the conversation piece, slow looks of recognition from Lovecraft fans, and often quizzical glances from others!

Oct 28, 2018, 2:26am Top

>23 Birlinn: That's a pretty awesome shop!

Might have to have a tooth as well.

Oct 28, 2018, 11:11am Top

>23 Birlinn: Tooth of Dagon


Oct 29, 2018, 9:56am Top

>23 Birlinn:

One of the most inventive examples of fan art I've come across.

Nov 1, 2018, 4:03am Top

So I went back and read "The Rats in the Walls" since people seem to really like it and I wasn't totally sure what story the title was attached to. I don't quite remember it ending the way it did, but I guess that's what I get for reading the collection front to back.

It is a good story, but I think I still prefer "The Shadow out of Time."

Edited: Nov 6, 2018, 8:33am Top

Favourite Lovecraft stories:
At the Mountains of Madness, The Shadow over Innsmouth, The Call of Cthulhu, The Case of Charles Dexter Ward, The Colour out of Space, The Dunwich Horror, The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath, The Shadow out of Time, The Whisperer in Darkness, The Rats in the Walls.

Recommendations for first-time reader:
Cthulhu, Innsmouth, The Colour, Dunwich, Mountains, Rats, Ward, Dagon, The Outsider, Pickman’s Model.

"First-time readers should exercise some caution when choosing from the above list. At the Mountains of Madness and The Case of Charles Dexter Ward are two of Lovecraft’s three longest stories and may be too lengthy an introduction to his work. Also, while “The Call of Cthulhu” is one of Lovecraft’s best-known and best-loved tales, its departure from more traditional horror stories may put off new readers."

I love these dire warnings, and proceeding along a path I should avoid. Having Mountains under my belt, with Cthulhu and Dunwich waiting in the wings, I'm determined to go after Ward immediately after! =D My impetus is to read the comment threads, but I have to get through each story first. Currently reading Faulkner alphabetically just for fun. It drives some fans bonkers!

Nov 7, 2018, 3:02am Top

I found at first that, being into the role playing end of things, Lovecraft and Cthulhu were so pervasive and built up in areas of role play settings and lore that I actually felt disappointed to find that he really had very little to do with Lovecraft's writing at large. I actually found myself more interested in the Randolph Carter stories. I like his weird stuff most, but it does seem that Cthulhu might be more interesting to run with than to read.

Edited: Mar 22, 10:12am Top

>28 frahealee: I am still chipping away at my Lovecraft content. I read the four that came within a 'bulk buy' and have several more waiting in the Lovecraft collection. I wanted to compare those I've read in the order they were encountered vs. the order in which I wish I'd read them:

chronological: (all within the past six months)
At the Mountains of Madness
The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath
In the Walls of Eryx by H.P. Lovecraft and Kenneth Sterling
The Call of Cthulhu
The Dunwich Horror
The Outsider
The Shadow Out of Time

preference: (not of the story itself, but of the order)
The Outsider
The Dunwich Horror
At the Mountains of Madness
The Shadow Out of Time
The Call of Cthulhu
In the Walls of Eryx by H.P. Lovecraft and Kenneth Sterling
The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath

Next to wrestle down; The Rats in the Walls, Dagon, The Haunter of the Dark, Dexter Ward, Whisperer in Darkness, Innsmouth, Colour Out of Space, Pickman's Model, etc. A mixture of shorts and longs.

Incidentally, I think I like him mostly because he's an underdog, a dark horse. He made an immense impact with his raw talent and persevered with an uphill climb against established literary forms and obstacles of every shape and size. I admire that, even if he didn't live long enough to see it himself. I like knowing his influences, his buddies, etc. It rounds out the experience of reading his work for the first time, having first been led here by the Gothic Literature group. As with MRJames and Blackwood, etc. the full flavour doesn't permeate my opinion until a dozen or two are done. Something tells me I will like Rats … gothic mansion?

Edited: Mar 20, 11:01am Top

>30 frahealee:

HPL's voluminous (a word which doesn't really do it justice) correspondence with other writers can shed much light on both the stories and their author. If you ever have a notion to explore that end of things, "collected letters" volumes are pretty easy to find (see Hippocampus Press, for one). The 2-vol. Joshi biography I Am Providence is also essential.

Mar 20, 11:03am Top

Or, for a more digestible/digested synthesis of Joshi bio and HPL correspondence, try Lord of a Visible World.

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