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The New Annotated H.P. Lovecraft: Beyond Arkham (Book Review)

Leslie S. Klinger, the annotator of The New Annotated H.P. Lovecraft: Beyond Arkham, is a very thorough fellow. His attention to detail is intensive and his penchant for in-depth research dazzles. In this second volume, the follow-up to 2014’s The New Annotated H.P. Lovecraft, Klinger focuses on the Lovecraft works not included in the earlier book; tales set outside of the fictional town of Arkham. In examining the 25 tales included in Beyond Arkham, Klinger gives the reader an inside look at the author—what could be jocularly titled “Everything You Wanted to Know About Lovecraft, But Were Afraid to Ask”—while factoring in cultural figures and historical events which were possibly influential/impactful on Lovecraft’s writing style and outlook. This lavishly illustrated book is a must for scholars and aficionados of the controversial horror author.

 Klinger wisely doesn’t attempt to dodge the controversy surrounding Lovecraft’s racism and xenophobia. He chooses to address it from the outset, with a fine and thought-provoking introduction by award-winning writer Victor LaValle. LaValle’s novella The Ballad of Black Tom is a brilliant riff on Lovecraft’s virulently racist story “The Horror at Red Hook.” As a youngster, LaValle became a fan of Lovecraft’s yarns but later recognized the blatant bigotry threaded throughout many of the tales. This discovery was personally abhorrent to LaValle, an African American. “Brilliance never saved anyone from bigotry,” states LaValle who acknowledges that the options of condemning or condoning are unsatisfactory and are fraught with risks. The concept of eradicating Lovecraft from horror fiction because of his odious beliefs is argued as extreme and potentially dangerous: “But I’m here to assure you no such choice is necessary. You can love something, love someone, and criticize them. That’s called maturity.”

The Lovecraft stories included in this volume reinforce his importance as a horror writer. That cannot be ignored even while his racism is deplored. When reading a mere few sentences from “Under the Pyramids,” the potency of his prose is established: “Then the mental cataclysm came. It was horrible—hideous beyond all articulate description because it was all of the soul, with nothing of detail to describe. It was the ecstasy of nightmare and the summation of the fiendish.”

With “The Outsider,” one of his most dissected stories, Lovecraft employs the device of an extended monologue to illustrate a character’s isolation. The being chillingly reflects (pun intended) on a loathsome creature: “I cannot even hint what it was like, for it was a compound of all that is unclean, uncanny, unwelcome, abnormal, and detestable. It was the ghoulish shade of decay, antiquity, and desolation; the putrid, dripping eidolon of unwholesome revelation; the awful baring of that which the merciful earth should always hide.”

The New Annotated H.P. Lovecraft: Beyond Arkham, published by Liveright Publishing Corporation, is laden with excellent Lovecraft stories and fascinating information. So much of the latter that a reader may initially feel inundated by the scope. Accompanying the three sentences that comprise the first paragraph of “The Shunned House,” for example, there are five notations. It is advisable to read a tale and then go back to the notes that accompany it to best absorb the edifying material. Leslie S. Klinger deftly delves into Lovecraft the writer, and Lovecraft the man. At once a penetrating and unflinching study of an author and some of his writings, the book is also a reminder that Lovecraft’s horror genre legacy may be tarnished—but not erased.

About Sheila M. Merritt

Sheila Merritt wrote book reviews for Mystery Scene Magazine. Currently she writes essays for Scream Magazine. For several years, she had contributed reviews, articles and conducted interviews for the Hellnotes.com newsletter. She was friends with a British ghost hunter who happened to be the author of a biography of Boris Karloff. She’s had a brief and embarrassing conversation with Christopher Lee in a department store, but also had a much more relaxing exchange with director-writer Frank Darabont at a horror convention. She became enamored of horror films and dark fiction as a child. Mother didn't approve of them. The rest, as they say, is history.

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