Review: The Classic Horror Stories / Author: H.P. Lovecraft / Publisher: Oxford University Press / Release Date: May 9th
All aboard the H.P. Lovecraft express for a quick tour of his 'classic' horror stories, from The Horror at Red Hook through to The Call of Cthulhu and The Shadow out of Time. There are a few notable exclusions from the Lovecraft pantheon, but Roger Luckhurst's The Classic Horror Stories is more concerned with his Cthulhu stories, and therefore bound to be less definitive than most.
The definitive H.P. Lovecraft anthology already exists in Necronomicon: the Best Weird Tales of H.P. Lovecraft, a gorgeous hardback edition which is too beautiful to actually read. That's why we should be glad that books like The Classic Horror Stories exist, providing a collection that you'll feel slightly less bad about perusing, for fear of dirtying the pages with your grubby hands. Fans of the humble Howard Phillips will already have read most, if not all, of these stories, but Luckhurst's collection serves as a great introduction to new readers and an accessible compendium for Old Ones.
While many compilations of classic authors' stories tend to look cheap and thrown together, this one is a sturdy hardback with touchably soft paper. It sounds odd, praising a book for having soft pages, but bibliophiles should love it. The black and yellow colour scheme is fitting too. Not many horror writers can carry off the colour yellow, but it's quite apt for Lovecraft and his works. Until they find a way of translating the colour of space to a conventional palette, yellow will do just fine. What can only be described as red brainy seaweed on the front cover sets the tone, in an ornate unknowable vegetable kind of way.
For the tales themselves, The Classic Horror Stories is a solid 10 out of 10. Nine are included, all of them stone-cold classics. The Call of Cthulhu, At the Mountains of Madness and The Dunwich Horror are the standout tales, but all of them deserve reading. Some may criticise Lovecraft for his lack of characterisation and sense of style over substance, but the author isn't overly interested in the human condition: he has other priorities.
An introduction, appendix and bibliography round off the book, providing new readers with a context for his stories and the somewhat sad history of his life. None of it will be new to fans and fanatics, but it bears repeating for the rusty and the newbies alike. There are better collections of his stories and more complete histories of his life, but The Classic Horror Stories is among the top tier.