Thursday, 31 October 2013

Selected Stories by H.P. Lovecraft

The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.

In honor of H.P. Lovecraft and it being Halloween and all, I thought I would review the opening sentences of several of his stories. As it's been a while since I've read any of his work, I wasn't sure what to expect. His writing style is unique though considered by many to be overly verbose and in some weird way, unnatural, at least by today's standards. However, no one can deny the man's imagination and ability to print fear. I was surprised by how well he begins his stories, always a sign, in my book, of a great writer.

The Outsiders
Unhappy is he to whom the memories of childhood bring only fear and sadness.

This hooks on an emotional level. There is a sense of foreboding and hopelessness attached to this sentence. It is disturbing on another level as well - that of a troubled childhood, a childhood filled with fear. The look of fear on a child's face is without a doubt one of the more troubling images out there.

Yet it's far from being his best; it lacks a concrete problem.

Verdict: Pass (3 stars)

Pickman's Model
You needn't think I'm crazy, Eliot - plenty of others have queerer prejudices than this.

This line raises a question or two. It introduces a character and it suggests conflict, as if the narrator and Eliot are having an argument. And what is this queer prejudice?

It's a nice lead in but not really a hook that forces the reader to read on.

Verdict: Pass (barely 2.5 stars)

The Silver Key
When Randolph Carter was thirty he lost the key of the gate of dreams.

This hooks as it raises a question: there is a key to the gate of dreams? There is a gate of dreams? It suggests any number of pleasant or unpleasant possibilities. Is the gate open or locked? What nightmares could come gushing forth, or what is being held back?

As well, losing something in the opening line offers conflict.

Verdict: Cool (4 stars)

The Rats in the Walls
On July 16, 1923, I moved into Exham Priory after the last workman had finished his labors.

This offers nothing, no foreboding or scary image, no conflict, no disturbing idea or thought. Just the date and a place. Beginning with the date is just a mathematical way of saying: Once upon a time...

Verdict: Fail (2 stars)

The Music of Erich Zann
I have examined maps of the city with the greatest care, yet have never  again found the Rue d'Auseil.

A missing street that's seemingly vanished into thin air hooks. It suggests another worldly realm, in a Twilight Zone sort of way. We've all had those, I could have sworn... moments.

Verdict: Cool (4 stars)

The Call of Cthulhu
The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents.

This is a frightening thought and one of the reasons why H.P. Lovecraft is so well-loved. He manages to scare intellectually with ideas rather than with violence, blood, or creepy imagery alone. Not understanding is scary, and Lovecraft makes it a personal revelation, something the reader is forced to identify with.

Verdict: Cool (4 stars)

The Haunter of the Dark
Cautious investigators will hesitate to challenge the common belief that Robert Blake was killed by lightning, or by some profound nervous shock derived from an electrical discharge.

A little mystery that hooks in its own quaint little way. It introduces a problem that we assume will resolve by the end: How did this man die? But there are just a couple adjectives too many in this sentence for me to stomach. Adjectives are like salt and give my brain indigestion.

Verdict: Pass (3 stars)

The Dunwich Horror
When a traveller in north central Massachusetts takes the wrong fork at the junction of the Aylesbury pike just beyond Dean's Corners he comes upon a lonely and curious country.

The only part of this sentence that hooks is the end: lonely and curious, but it really isn't enough. It would be better if a hint of what is curious was mentioned rather than telling the reader in general terms, which is boring.

Verdict: Fail (2 stars)

The Thing on the the Doorstep
It is true that I have sent six bullets through the head of my best friend, and yet I hope to show by this statement that I am not his murderer.

It is not really the fact that the narrator has shot his best friend six times in the head that hooks, it is the fact that he shot his best friend six times in the head and insists he did not murder him that hooks. It seems like a paradox of sorts and raises lots of questions. By far this is the best opening line from those I've picked to review.

Verdict: Coolest  (4.5-stars)

Happy Halloween  -  have fun being scared.

Theodore Moracht

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