Thursday, October 22, 2020

29 - Book Review: "Supernatural Horror in Literature" by H.P. Lovecraft


The Annotated Supernatural Horror in Literature

Published by Hippocampus Press, New York, 2000, 172 pages.

By H.P. Lovecraft
Edited with Introduction and Commentary by S.T. Joshi
H.P. Lovecraft (1890-1937), the most important American supernaturalist since Poe, has had an incalculable influence on all the horror-story writing of recent decades. Although his supernatural fiction has of late been enjoying an unprecedented fame, it is still not widely known that he wrote a critical history of supernatural horror in literature that has yet to be superseded as the finest historical discussion of the genre, titled Supernatural Horror in Literature. This extraordinary work is presented in this volume in its final, revised text, annotated with a helpful Introduction and Commentary and Bibliography.

With incisive penetration and power, Lovecraft here formulates the aesthetics of supernatural horror, and summarizes in masterful fashion the range of its literary expression from primitive folklore to the tales of his own twentieth-century masters. Following a discussion of terror-literature in ancient, medieval and renaissance culture, he launches on a critical survey of the whole history of horror fiction from the Gothic school of the eighteenth century (when supernatural horror finally found its own genre) to the time of De la Mare and M.R. James. The Castle of Otranto, Radcliffe, “Monk” Lewis, Vathek, Charles Brockden Brown, Melmoth the Wanderer, Frankenstein, Bulwer-Lytton, Fouqué’s Undine, Wuthering Heights, Poe (an entire chapter), The House of the Seven Gables, de Maupassant’s Horla, Bierce, The Turn of the Screw, M.P. Shiel, W.H. Hodgson, Machen, Blackwood and Dunsany are among the authors and works discussed in depth. Lovecraft also notices a host of lesser supernatural writers—enough to draw up an extensive reading list.

By charting so completely the background for his own concepts of horror and literary techniques, Lovecraft throws light on his own fiction as well as on the horror-literature which has followed in his influential wake. For this reason this book will be especially intriguing to those who have read and enjoyed Lovecraft’s fiction as an isolated phenomenon. These and other readers, searching for a guide through the inadequately marked region of literary horror, need search no further.