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Editor’s Choice: The new annotated H.P. Lovecraft

The New Annotated H.P. Lovecraft, edited by Leslie S. Klinger, introduction by Alan Moore, Liveright, 852 pages, $39.95. One would think of such a publishing mastodon as this that all of its size and heft denoted the complete novels and stories of H.P. Lovecraft within its covers. Not so. The margins were kept wide to make room for all manner of notes and illustrations (on Page 118 in the margin of Lovecraft’s story “The Unnameable,” we’re told who all the Jewish prophets were and we’re informed that modern scholar Abraham Joshua Heschel argues “that prophecy is the voice that God has lent to silent agony, a voice to the plundered poor, to the profane riches of the world. It is a form of living, a crossing point of God and man. God is raging in the prophet’s words.”)

Lovecraft’s stories are certainly abundant enough in this literary whopper – 22 of them, two of them novel-sized. Despite some famous names among the missing – no “Lurking Fear,” for instance – what’s here instead is both an exhaustive making of Lovecraft’s literary case and a scholarly treatment of Lovecraft for those readers already convinced he was the greatest figure in American “weird tales” and horror pulp.

The consummate horror mythologist of Providence, R.I., (1880-1937) was, to be sure, no day at the beach by any contemporary sociopolitical assay. The editor of this behemoth, Leslie Klinger, writes “despite his increasing popularity, Lovecraft’s racism and xenophobic views cannot be whitewashed. In the words of Lovecraft scholar, Bruce Lord, ‘Lovecraft’s racism is blunt, ugly and unavoidable.’ ” We’re talking, said Klinger, about “a hostility to virtually all who were not white New Englanders.”

None of which should really surprise a single soul who was ever caught up in the repressed hysteria in Lovecraft’s boiler room of “weird fiction.” He worshipped Poe – who could have invented him. But he wound up accidentally founding his own hugely influential dynasty of horror tales, full of instant ersatz-mythology and scholarship, both real and bogus.

The ultimate argument for this book is that in our era, Lovecraft seems a writer who asked for precious little, not really even readers. They keep growing in number anyway. A sorely needed book. – Jeff Simon