For The Phoenix

"The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far."

-H.P. Lovecraft, Call Of Cthulhu

Indeed. One would be best to not voyage too far from life's mundane routine in a world of Lovecraft's design. If one does, you will probably wind up in some subterranean city of madness, confronted by a being of immense and unfathomable evil. Best just go home and microwave dinner. Don't worry about what the strange carving on that wall means. Don't worry about the reason your neighbors look vaguely like fish. Best not look too much into anything.

When it comes to the genre of movies and writing we now call "Horror," there is perhaps no writer more influential than H.P. Lovecraft. Stephen King has dubbed him the "Twentieth Century's greatest practitioner of the classic horror tale" and in her foreword to this collection Joyce Carol Oates claims that Lovecraft's quality of writing and imagination are equaled only by Poe.

While Poe is canonized, Lovecraft is not.

Yet it is Lovecraft's mesmerizing vistas and maddening entities of pure evil that have defined what the horror aesthetic looks and feels like. Whether in the campy self-contained mythos of comics or films like Hellboy or the episodic "what ifs" of TV series like The Outer Limits and The Twilight Zone, nearly every creative work of supernatural horror owes some form of allegiance to Lovecraft.

Lovecraft is somewhat dated today. His writing is very much politically incorrect. This is particularly the case from a standpoint of race, which Lovecraft conceives of in a very Victorian manner. Despite these flaws, his stories leave the reader with something nearly tangible. The investigations of a Lovecraft protagonist take the reader along on an archaic adventure that grows darker with every page. Insanity, to Lovecraft, was a fate worse than death and usually the reader is quite convinced of this also at story's conclusion.

Fans of science fiction, fantasy or horror writing need to read H.P. Lovecraft. Especially this time of year.

Continuing in the same vein of literature, we have Gene Wolfe's The Island Of Doctor Death and Other Stories and Other Stories. That's not a typo. It's the actual title. Very similar to Lovecraft's stories, Wolfe's very singular (it is unique to all his writing) collection of short works is built around archaic vistas, alien beings and conceptual situations meant to question what is humane versus what is humanity.

More playful than Lovecraft, Wolfe's collection contains such stories as "The Hero As Werewolf", where the protagonist and hero is literally a werewolf. In "La Befea", a strange caterpillar-like alien comes home from work with his human coworker only to confront terrible prejudice from his friend's wife.

Both writers make great Halloween reads, as the common theme to each collection is the unsettling price paid by mortals as they seek to make the unknown known. As the protagonists press deeper into the curiosity before them the larger and more disturbing the image becomes.

Like an immense shadow moving beneath the waves, the question of what is often only followed by a more pleading question of, "why?"

Books Reviewed: Tales Of Lovecraft by H.P. Lovecraft. Selected, Edited and with an Introduction by Joyce Carol Oates. Harper Perennial. Horror. Trade Paperback. ISBN: 9780061374609. $14.95.

The Island of Doctor Death and Other Stories and Other Stories by Gene Wolfe. Tor. Science Fiction. Trade paperback. $18.99. ISBN: 0312863543

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