‘The Call of Cthulhu’ by H.P. Lovecraft

Call of Cthulhu Weird Tales Cover‘The Call of Cthulhu’ is a short story written by H.P. Lovecraft in 1926, and first published in Weird Tales in 1928. Forming one part of Lovecraft’s larger Cthulhu Mythos, this story tells the tale of Francis Wayland Thurston, who discovers notes left by his grand-uncle about a cult surrounding a monstrous being part octopus, part dragon. This leads him on a quest to find out more about both the cult and the monster, but he is made morbidly horrified of what he finds out.

Since his death, Lovecraft and his short stories have gained an immense cult following, to the point that Lovecraftian horror is its own sub-genre. I have thus been, for many years, curious to read some of his writing so that I could judge it for myself, but until now I have just never got around to doing it. I am, however, glad that I did so now.

While I wouldn’t usually review a single short story, I felt compelled to do it for this one: for one, because it served as a convenient way of setting down my first impressions of the Cthulhu Mythos before plunging deeper into it, and secondly, because I think this particular story serves as a good introduction to Lovecraft’s writing, and thus a review of it specifically would be helpful for others.

The first thing that meets the eye with this story is, of course, Lovecraft’s prose style, which combines–as put by S.T. Joshi in his introduction to the Penguin edition of The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories–‘scientific realism and evocative prose-poetry.’ This prose style has been, since these stories were first published, highly divisive. While I think it is impossible for any reviewer to give any indication as to whether any individual reader will enjoy the style without trying it out, what I can say is that I found the style the perfect match for the type of tale that Lovecraft is telling here. It perfectly represents Lovecraft’s attempt to represent characters in the real world learning of supernatural powers beyond their conception, and while the style is highly evocative, it, at least in this particular story, never gets in the way of the flow of the story.

The second thing that struck me about this story is how masterfully Lovecraft introduces the supernatural into the story. With such an outlandish being as Cthulhu, it can be difficult to evoke horror instead of ridicule. What makes the horror work so well here is that, firstly, the opening of the story makes clear the supernatural nature of the story as well as the narrator’s belief in those supernatural events. This is combined with, secondly, the bulk of the story being about the narrator’s gathering and corroborating of evidence relating to the Cthulhu and the cult surrounding It. This manages to signal to the reader what to expect from the story, while still representing the narrator as a rational and intelligent person. This makes the narrator’s horror all the more palpable for the reader when it finally does come.

The third thing that struck me about this story, and the final element on which the quality of this story rests on, is the type of horror represented. In this story, and in most of his other ones, Lovecraft seeks to evoke cosmic fear: a mixture of horror and awe at the existence of forces so powerful and beyond this world as to make human life seem utterly insignificant. In this I think Lovecraft succeeds marvelously in this story, due to the reasons I have discussed above. It is also a feeling that I have not yet received from any other story. While it can be hard to pin down why horror can be pleasurable, for me, with this story, being able to feel a feeling that I have not felt before is utterly fascinating and interesting, making me eager to read more of Lovecraft’s tales.

Those three elements are the strong elements that this story rests on. The other features of the story–such as plot, pacing, or character–are, to my mind, neither particularly weak nor particularly strong. In any case, it is the elements that I have outlined that are what a reader should think about when considering whether they would like ‘The Call of Cthulhu’ or not. For my part, though, I heartily recommend that you try it out.

Peter and Wendy by J.M. Barrie

Peter And Wendy CoverPeter and Wendy is the 1911 children’s fantasy novel by J.M. Barrie based on his earlier 1904 play Peter Pan; or, the Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up. It tells the story of Wendy Darling, and her two yougner brothers, John and Michael, who are visited and taken to Neverland by Peter Pan, the one boy who does not grow up, and his fairy Tinker Bell, whose dust allows the Darling children to fly. The children join the Lost Boys in Neverland, and together they have multiple adventures involving mermaids, American Indians, and Captain Hook’s pirate crew.

Of course, the fame of the characters Barrie created is so great that it is impossible to not be aware of them; in fact, Peter Pan seems more famous than either the play or the novel, or even Barrie himself. Because of that, I was very excited to read the novel so that I could see where it all started from. To some extent, I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the novel; but, on other fronts I was also quite disappointed with what I found there.

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Five Children and It by E. Nesbit (Psammead Trilogy Book 1)

Five Children and It CoverFive Children and It is a 1902 children’s fantasy novel by E. Nesbit, and the first in a trilogy of books about concerning the core five children. The book tells the story of Cyril, Anthea, Robert, Jane, and their baby brother Lamb, and how they find a Psammead (a sand-fairy) after they move to the countryside, who agrees to grant the children one wish every day. The plot consists of a series of adventures concerning those wishes.

Despite the immense fame of E. Nesbit, before this book I had actually never read any of her works. This made me particularly excited to finally read something of hers. Despite my awareness of her, however, and the fact that she wrote children’s novels, I had no idea what to expect from this story.

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Lud-in-the-Mist by Hope Mirrlees

Lud in the Mist CoverLud-in-the-Mist is a 1926 early fantasy novel by Modernist author Hope Mirrlees. It is set in the city of Lud-in-the-Mist in the land of Dorimare, who shares a border with Fairyland. Following a brief but bloody revolution in the city’s past, the Duke of the city was replaced by the merchant class, and fairy fruit was made illegal and taboo. Somehow, however, to the present day fairy fruit keeps creeping into the city, and the novel focuses on the mayor of the town, Nathaniel Chanticleer, who gets caught in a fairy fruit-related controversy and must get to the bottom of who is behind it.

On many fronts, this novel has always been well-regarded: it was reprinted in the 1970s in the highly influential Ballantine Adult Fantasy Series, and in the 2000s in Orion Books’s Fantasy Masterworks series; furthermore, many notable contemporary fantasy authors, such as Michael Swanwick and Neil Gaiman, are active proponents of the book. Despite this, however, the book has never reached a particularly wide readership. Knowing all of this, I was particularly interested to see how I would like the book.

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Everything Change: An Anthology of Climate Fiction, edited by Manjana Milkoreit, Meredith Martinez, and Joey Eschrich

Everything Change CoverEverything Change: An Anthology of Climate Fiction is exactly what the subtitle says that it is. The short stories are the twelve best stories submitted to the 2016 Climate Fiction Short Story Contest held by the Imagination and Climate Futures Initiative at the Arizona State University. Perhaps best of all, the anthology is freely available from Arizona State University’s website (a google search of the title will lead you to the right page easily enough).

I went into this anthology wanting to love it. I feel strongly about climate change, considering it a disgrace that it is not being taken more seriously, and as I had yet to read any stories about the topic, I was excited to fix that now. With that excitement came, admittedly, rather high expectations: I wanted to be blown away. Which is why it saddens (and, to be honest, angers) me to say that this anthology was a big let-down.

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The Wood Beyond the World by William Morris

The Wood Beyond the World CoverThe Wood Beyond the World is an 1894 novel written by William Morris. This novel is one that could be called pre-fantastic, as it was originally published before the modern genre was born, but was later re-published in 1969 in the Ballantine Adult Fantasy Series (the series which, arguably, formed the modern genre). The Wood Beyond the World tells the story of Golden Walter, who leaves home after finding out his wife has cheated on him, and the story of how he eventually gets lost at sea and has adventures in the fantastical place that he finds himself in.

The first thing that any reader of the story is going to notice is the language. Morris intentionally attempted to emulate English as it was written in the late Middle Ages, around the turn of the 16th century. Having heard that, I expected the language to be more of a challenge than it actually ended up being: while the language is definitely archaic, it is highly readable, and it didn’t take me long until I was immersed enough in it that I hardly noticed it.

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The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson

Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde Cover - Standard EbooksThe Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde is an 1886 gothic novella written by Robert Louis Stevenson, who is most famous for having written both this work and Treasure Island. Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde tells the story of a London lawyer, Mr Utterson, who investigates the strange events that surround his friend Dr Jekyll and the mysterious and foreboding man Mr Hyde.

That plot blurb might have surprised you; it certainly would have surprised me had I encountered it before I had read the novella. The fame of this novella is so great that it has grown a life of its own, with most people knowing the plot twist that occurs at the end of the novel without knowing who the main character of the story is.

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