March 16, 2005
Jo vs. The Old Ones: A conservative source -- the Wall Street Journal -- provides an appreciation of H.P. Lovecraft on the occasion of the Library of America's new edition of his horrific corpus, including this intriguing publishing statistic:
If our country's literary canon has a dress code, then surely it involves those shiny black jackets covering the volumes produced by the Library of America. Lovecraft's new one runs for more than 800 pages and includes 22 novellas and short stories with titles such as "The Horror at Red Hook," "At the Mountains of Madness" and "The Thing on the Doorstep." There are now 25,000 copies in print, which is an above-average number for the nonprofit publisher. (A book of Louisa May Alcott's "Little Women" and other writings, released at the same time, has an initial printing of 19,000.)
While it is the horror stories that get most of the attention, Lovecraft was also something of a straight fantasist: in tales such as "The Cats of Ulthar," "The White Ship," and most successfully in "The Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath," he was strongly and explicitly under the influence of Lord Dunsany, and particularly of Dunsany's 1910 collection, A Dreamer's Tales. Lovecraft wrote in a letter to Clark Ashton Smith that "Dunsany has influenced me more than anyone else except Poe -- his rich language, his cosmic point of view, his remote dream-world, & his exquisite sense of the fantastic, all appeal to me more than anything else in modern literature."
Ursula K. LeGuin is a Dunsany enthusiast as well, and wrote a glowing review of this new Dunsany collection in the Los Angeles Times last June. The article, alas, is now buried in the Times' archives and only available at a price, but if you search for it, you get this excerpt in which LeGuin reminisces about her own discovery of Dunsany in childhood, which at least hints at his virtues: "I'd read all the children's classics of fantasy, 'Alice's Adventures in Wonderland' and 'The Wind in the Willows,' and myths, legends, folk tales, a cleaned-up-for-kids Arabian Nights and so on - - but this was different. It was an adult writing for adults, and it wasn't ancient or ethnological or anonymous. . . ." I tracked down a copy of the Dreamer's Tales in the local library in response to LeGuin's review, and was glad I did.
The Skull Beneath the
Skin Ink & Paint: Via another conservative source at National Review Online: a sort of Gray's Anatomy of the Skeletal Systems of Cartoon Characters. So much for inner beauty.
Update [3/17/05]: Professor Bainbridge reveals that he, too, loves Lovecraft's craft. In his enthusiasm, he is leading innocents astray. (We have it on good authority that introducing them to Lovecraft poses less danger to their souls than turning them on to The Da Vinci Code.)