23 Hours of H.P. Lovecraft Stories: Hear Readings & Dramatizations of “The Call of Cthulhu,” “The Shadow Over Innsmouth,” & Other Weird Tales


Image by Lucius B. Trues­dell, via Wiki­me­dia Com­mons

H.P. Love­craft has some­what fall­en out of favor in many cir­cles of hor­ror and fan­ta­sy writ­ing. Just this past year, after much debate, the World Fan­ta­sy Awards decid­ed to remove his like­ness from their stat­uette. Because, quite frankly, Love­craft was not only a big­ot but a com­mit­ted anti-Semi­te and white suprema­cist who loathed vir­tu­al­ly every­one who wasn’t, as he put it, “Nordic-Amer­i­can.” This includ­ed African-Amer­i­cans and “stunt­ed bra­cy­cephal­ic South-Ital­ians & rat-faced half-Mon­goloid Russ­ian & Pol­ish Jews, & all that cursed scum,” as he wrote in a let­ter to fel­low writer August Der­leth. The state­ment is rep­re­sen­ta­tive of many, many more on the sub­ject.

Were these sim­ply pri­vate polit­i­cal opin­ions and noth­ing more, there might not be suf­fi­cient rea­son to read them into his work, but as sev­er­al peo­ple have argued con­vinc­ing­ly, Lovecraft’s opin­ions form the basis of so much of his work. Chi­na Miéville, for exam­ple, writes “I fol­low [French nov­el­ist Michel Houelle­becq—hard­ly known for any kind of polit­i­cal cor­rect­ness] in think­ing that Lovecraft’s oeu­vre, his work itself, is inspired by and deeply struc­tured with race hatred. As Houelle­becq said, it is racism itself that rais­es in Love­craft a ‘poet­ic trance.’”

Lovecraft’s xeno­pho­bic loathing begins to seem like an almost patho­log­i­cal hatred and fear of any­one dif­fer­ent, and of any kind of change in the nation’s make­up. It goes far beyond casu­al “man of his time” atti­tudes (and increas­ing­ly, of our time). F. Scott Fitzger­ald lived dur­ing Lovecraft’s time. And Fitzger­ald had the crit­i­cal dis­tance to sat­i­rize fanat­i­cal big­otry like Love­craft’s in The Great Gats­by’s Tom Buchanan. All of that said, how­ev­er, it’s impos­si­ble to deny Lovecraft’s influ­ence on hor­ror and fan­ta­sy, and almost no one has done so, even among those writ­ers who most vehe­ment­ly lob­bied to retire his image or who found his pres­ence deeply trou­bling.

World Fan­ta­sy Award win­ner Nne­di Oko­rafor writes about con­tem­po­rary authors hav­ing to wres­tle with the fact “that many of The Elders we hon­or and need to learn from hate or hat­ed us.” Win­ner Sofia Samatar, who want­ed the stat­uette changed, exclaimed, “I am not telling any­body not to read Love­craft. I teach Love­craft! I actu­al­ly insist that peo­ple read him and write about him!” In a short essay at Tor, sci-fi and fan­ta­sy writer Eliz­a­beth Bear expressed many of the same ambiva­lent feel­ings about her “com­pli­cat­ed rela­tion­ship with Love­craft.” While find­ing his “big­otry of just about any stripe you like… revolt­ing,” his work has nonethe­less pro­vid­ed “a pow­er­ful source of inspi­ra­tion, the foun­da­tions of it like Hadrian’s Wall; full of mate­r­i­al for min­ing and repur­pos­ing.”

It’s not par­tic­u­lar­ly unusu­al to find such ambiva­lent atti­tudes expressed toward lit­er­ary ances­tors. All artists—all people—have their char­ac­ter flaws, and to expect every writer we like to share our val­ues seems naive, nar­row, and super­fi­cial. But Love­craft presents an extreme exam­ple, and also one whose prose is often pret­ty ter­ri­ble: over­stuffed, over­wrought, pre­ten­tious, and archa­ic. But it’s that pulpy style that makes Love­craft, Lovecraft—that con­tributes to the fever­ish atmos­phere of para­noia and alien­ation in his sto­ries. “He’s a mas­ter of mood,” Bear avows, “of sweep­ing blast­ed vis­tas of despair and the bone-soak­ing cold of space.”

That much of his despair and hor­ror emanat­ed from a place inside him that feared the “ges­tures & jab­ber­ing” of oth­er humans does not make it any less effec­tive­ly creepy or hyp­not­ic. It just makes it that much hard­er to love Love­craft the author, no mat­ter how much we might admire his work. But per­haps Love­craft was such an effec­tive hor­ror writer pre­cise­ly because he was so ter­ri­bly afraid of change and dif­fer­ence. As he him­self wrote of his par­tic­u­lar brand of super­nat­ur­al hor­ror, or “weird fic­tion,” as he called it: “hor­ror and the unknown or the strange are always close­ly con­nect­ed… because fear is our deep­est and strongest emo­tion.” One need­n’t be a pho­bic racist to write good hor­ror fic­tion, but in Love­craft’s case, I guess, it seems to have helped.

Just as much as the work of Isaac Asi­mov, or Robert Hein­lein, or Gene Rod­den­ber­ry resides in the DNA of sci­ence fic­tion, so too does Love­craft inhab­it the organ­ic build­ing blocks of hor­ror writ­ing. Hor­ror and fan­ta­sy writ­ers who some­how avoid read­ing Love­craft may end up absorb­ing his influ­ence any­way; read­ers who avoid him will end up read­ing some ver­sion of “Love­craft pas­tiche,” as Bear puts it. So it behooves us to go to the source, find out what Love­craft him­self wrote, take the good over the bad, even “pick a fight with him,” writes Bear, “because of what he does right, that makes his sto­ries too com­pelling to just walk away from, and because of what he does wrong… for exam­ple, the way he treats peo­ple as things.”

We’ve pre­vi­ous­ly brought to your atten­tion sev­er­al online Love­craft archives, such as this com­pi­la­tion of Love­craft eBooks and audio­books, and these many fine drama­ti­za­tions of Love­craft’s sto­ries. Addi­tion­al­ly, you can down­load many of Love­craft’s sto­ries and let­ters pub­lished in the sem­i­nal hor­ror and fan­ta­sy mag­a­zine Weird Tales. And in the Spo­ti­fy playlist above (down­load Spo­ti­fy here if you need it), you can hear The H.P. Love­craft Com­pendi­um, 23 hours of read­ings and drama­ti­za­tions of Love­craft’s creepy short sto­ries and novel­las, includ­ing The Shad­ow Over Inns­mouth, “The Dun­wich Hor­ror,” The Whis­per­er in Dark­ness, “The Call of Cthul­hu,” and many, many more. How­ev­er repug­nant many of Love­craft’s atti­tudes, there’s no deny­ing the pow­er of his “weird fic­tion.” As the playlist advis­es, “you might want to leave a light on when lis­ten­ing to these chill­ing per­for­mances.…”

This playlist will be added to our col­lec­tion, 1,000 Free Audio Books: Down­load Great Books for Free.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

H.P. Lovecraft’s Clas­sic Hor­ror Sto­ries Free Online: Down­load Audio Books, eBooks & More

Hear Drama­ti­za­tions of H.P. Lovecraft’s Sto­ries On His Birth­day: “The Call of Cthul­hu,” “The Dun­wich Hor­ror,” & More

Down­load Issues of “Weird Tales” (1923–1954): The Pio­neer­ing Pulp Hor­ror Mag­a­zine Fea­tures Orig­i­nal Sto­ries by Love­craft, Brad­bury & Many More

H.P. Love­craft Gives Five Tips for Writ­ing a Hor­ror Sto­ry, or Any Piece of “Weird Fic­tion”

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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  • BlackOnWhiteViolenceIgnored says:

    Have you EVER addressed any of the most preva­lent / com­mob for of racism, inter­ra­cial vio­lence, of which black-on-white hate crimes, includ­ing phys­i­cal attacks, are the most com­mon? Have you ever denounced “Ice Cube” ( monker of a fretin), for his hate of whites, ear­ly in his career? Now, because of those like you, lit­er­al­ly dig­ging up a dead man’s WORDS, turn­ing ypur gead to recent phys­i­cal vio­lence, whites con­tin­ue to be vic­tims of attack. Ice Cube is now a fam­i­ly movie star. Type “Ice cube lyrics time for a nig­ga inva­sion point blank on a cau­casian.” You like­ly wib’t address that. Type “White mob vio­lence,” then “black mob vio­lence,” & explain why both search­es show only black on white vio­lence. There are no white mobs. COUNTLESS local only media news out­lets show blacks aytack­ing white; none, oth­er eay around. Try these in Youtube: Geno­cide of whites South Africa, Chris­t­ian New­some mur­ders, Mika Cline Waco boy wheel­chair, Seat­tle bus preg­nat girl attacked by blacks, blind white lady attacked by black…or get inven­tive with phras­es. Yout chal­lenge: find one video of white on black vio­lence for every 50 black on white vio­lent inci­dents if video. Literally…You’re anoth­er wan­na be drag­on slay­er, hav­ing to dig up dead men. So what, if some­one uses same N words most blacks use…when do you wan­na be drag­on slay­ers address mod­ern day racism? Your ass won’t walk through a black neigh­bor­hood, but whites almost nev­er attack them, oth­er way around. Lib­er­al wan­na be drag­on slay­ers, Rajas­tani & Dave Forster got attacked by black mob. Type “Bill Oreil­ly bla­cl mob Nor­folk Vir­ginia.”

  • Nick Birch says:

    He was­n’t racist all his life, like the arti­cle tries to paint him. He moved to New York for a time which changed his views dra­mat­i­cal­ly, of course he was­n’t going to win any medals for civ­il rights but that was down to the time peri­od. I hate when peo­ple look on the past through today’s prin­ci­ples. Twian is just as racist if not more so. But no one his tak­ing his head from any­thing.

  • Cynthia E. Olen says:

    Yes, Love­craft’s works are full of racial hatred, but have you ever read “The Dun­wich Hor­ror?” No non-white racism in it. Instead, his tar­get­ed pop­u­la­tion is com­prised of the descen­dants of white Eng­lish set­tlers of New Eng­land’s back­woods who had become “deca­dent” through gen­er­a­tions of iso­la­tion. Or how abut “The Shad­ow Over Inns­mouth” where one of his char­ac­ters likens the Inns­mouth folk to “white trash?” His dis­fa­vor of “the oth­er” reached well beyond skin col­or. This xeno­pho­bia informs his work more than any­thing else, and since we all pos­sess some mea­sure of this fear, his sto­ries res­onate with us. Addi­tion­al­ly, he loathed igno­rance, and this can be seen in the way his heroes are typ­i­cal­ly well edu­cat­ed aca­d­e­mics, artists and sci­en­tists. Of course, in his day, the well-edu­cat­ed were large­ly upper class, wealthy white elites, who could afford to send their chil­dren to col­lege. He was not a mem­ber of this elite—economically he was bare­ly mid­dle class—and due to chron­ic ill­ness had only a patchy for­mal edu­ca­tion. How­ev­er, in his day, the “good” peo­ple were eco­nom­i­cal­ly and social­ly suc­cess­ful peo­ple, so he embraced them as his heroes rather than reject them.

    If we were to nit­pick his fit­ness as a nice per­son, how about his char­ac­ter­i­za­tions of women? Like Tolkien, women sel­dom pop­u­late his sto­ries at all. Okay, chalk this up to the tar­get­ed audi­ence, which would have con­sist­ed main­ly of males. But was he real­ly think­ing of that? I think not. His females, when present at all, are rarely pre­sent­ed in a pos­i­tive light. When they are not evil crones or mon­sters, they are hap­less hys­ter­i­cal vic­tims of pos­ses­sion, tragedy, rit­u­al sac­ri­fice, and cos­mic rape. Almost no strong vir­tu­ous hero­ic women, and cer­tain­ly none that are in the front lines smit­ing the cos­mic evils from space. Does this make him a misog­y­nist? Should we remove his like­ness from the WFA for that, too? Well, if that is the case, there are many, many white male authors whose like­ness­es should be strick­en from stat­ues and halls of lit­er­ary greats. Robert A. Hein­lein would be at the top of that list for his bla­tant­ly misog­y­nis­tic stereo­types.

    Did Love­craft’s xeno­pho­bia, racism and elit­ism go beyond the typ­i­cal atti­tudes of “a man of his time?” Per­haps. Cer­tain­ly, such atti­tudes were deeply entrenched and wide­spread. In Love­craft’s case, there may be more to it. This was a man whose life was char­ac­ter­ized by extreme iso­la­tion. Though he was well-read, for most of his life he lacked direct expe­ri­ence of the world out­side the con­fines his racist New Eng­land bub­ble. His cir­cum­stances caused him to view the world through lens­es col­ored by phys­i­cal ill­ness, eco­nom­ic uncer­tain­ty, fear­ful­ness, social igno­rance, iso­la­tion, and the heady mias­ma of big­otry which sur­round­ed him. Per­haps, if his cir­cum­stances had been dif­fer­ent and he had been able to expe­ri­ence more of the world, his atti­tudes would have soft­ened. As was point­ed out by Nick Birch in the above com­ment, his views did change some­what once he had spent time in New York. Sad­ly, H.P. did not live long enough for such changes to grow and develop…but then, how would that have impact­ed the deli­cious­ly deep hor­ror evoked by his works?

    Fear of change, as not­ed in the arti­cle, was also more pro­nounced in Love­craft’s atti­tudes as exem­pli­fied by his por­tray­al of immi­grants, in his descrip­tions of decay and deca­dence of peo­ple and places, and in the way that major changes in his char­ac­ter’s lives seem always to meet with dis­as­ter or rev­e­la­tions of hor­ror. Metathe­sio­pho­bia is one of the deep­est, most per­sis­tent fears that humans pos­sess, and in Love­craft’s case it may have been almost patho­log­i­cal. When you con­sid­er his ear­ly his­to­ry, this fear is under­stand­able. Changes in his child­hood cir­cum­stances were major neg­a­tive upheavals, the effects of which were mag­ni­fied in the con­scious­ness of a frail, ner­vous boy who did­n’t even have the com­fort­ing anchor of cohort friend­ships and con­sis­tent school­ing to dull the shock.

    Yes, arm­chair psychology…I get it, you don’t like it. You may not see it as hav­ing any­thing to do wth HPL’s unfor­giv­able fail­ings as a human being. But why? Do we not today jus­ti­fy crim­i­nal behav­iour as a con­se­quence of child­hood trau­ma, insta­bil­i­ty, and poor par­ent­ing? If HPL were alive today, he would be sur­round­ed by a bat­tery of psy­chol­o­gists all eager to label him with a dozen dif­fer­ent patholo­gies and dose him with two dozen med­ica­tions. If he were a child in our mod­ern pub­lic school sys­tem, he would be the sub­ject of emer­gency par­ent-teacher meet­ings, CPS inter­ven­tion, and school psy­chol­o­gist’s wor­ries. If the mod­ern lit­er­ary world wants to judge him by today’s stan­dards of cor­rect­ness, then they also have to understand—and per­haps even forgive—him by today’s psy­cho­log­i­cal knowl­edge.

    When I was an Eng­lish major in col­lege, the unseem­ly views of long dead authors was not ignored. Some stu­dents were quite vocal in their dis­taste for the racism, misog­y­ny, elit­ism, and bru­tal­i­ty found with­in the pages of the clas­sics that we stud­ied. How­ev­er, rather than fight about it, start ban­ning books from the library shelves, and burn­ing authors in effi­gy, we brought the issues to light, dis­cussed them with­in the con­text of the author’s time and place and how they relate today, then moved on with the works’ lessons as pieces of lit­er­a­ture. These writ­ings are there, they are part of our cul­tur­al her­itage, they can­not be un-writ­ten nor rewrit­ten, they can­not be ignored, and nei­ther can their cre­ators. This is not “1984” where the past can sim­ply be refur­bished by decree into a set of new truths…well, not yet any­way. Dulling our his­to­ry of mis­ery and injus­tice by dis­count­ing writ­ers as no longer rel­e­vant or pleas­ing­ly cor­rect is to dis­count all the lessons of the past that we can­not afford to leave behind…especially now when we have a fas­cist tyrant as POTUS.

    One of my soci­ol­o­gy pro­fes­sors point­ed that the most dan­ger­ous racist was the clos­et racist, for they are unrec­og­niz­able and there­fore eas­i­ly under­es­ti­mat­ed. With the open­ly racist, you at least know who they are and you can there­fore respond. But this applies more appro­pri­ate­ly to the liv­ing, not the dead. We can­not respond to dead authors and their unac­cept­able world views, we can only learn valu­able lessons from their works and their biogra­phies. While we should not ven­er­ate them for their human flaws, we can at least do so for their works as lit­er­a­ture.

    HPL was a ter­ri­bly flawed per­son, and not just as a crea­ture of his time and place, but prob­a­bly as an extreme case. I have argued here that his extrem­ism has a psy­cho­log­i­cal basis beyond the mere­ly cul­tur­al par­a­digm of his day. As with all authors, past and present (and cer­tain­ly future), his works are based entire­ly upon his own expe­ri­ences, fears, knowl­edge, and world view. No author can entire­ly extri­cate them­selves from their writ­ing, and we should not expect them to do so. While today’s read­ers may not like HLP’s style nor his prej­u­dices, I do not think that he deserves to be boot­ed from recog­ni­tion as the founder of a genre which still has its impacts on fic­tion today.

    As a final note regard­ing his writ­ing style as “over­stuffed, over­wrought, pre­ten­tious, and archa­ic,” remem­ber that he had lit­tle for­mal edu­ca­tion, so did not have the ear­ly advan­tage of col­lege-lev­el writ­ing class­es. Remem­ber, too, those authors which inspired him—all of whom today would fail the test of style as being “over­stuffed, over­wrought, pre­ten­tious, and archa­ic.” It is an old, goth­ic writ­ing style that was com­mon in the gen­er­a­tion pre­ced­ing Love­craft, and which was still being used by some of his con­tem­po­raries. For me, it is his use of lan­guage and the rhythms and cadences it cre­ates that makes Love­craft enjoy­able to read and to lis­ten to. Style pref­er­ences are a per­son­al con­ceit, so it mat­ters lit­tle in this dis­cus­sion.

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