What I’m Reading: The Call of Cthulhu

“That is not dead which can eternal lie,
And with strange aeons even death may die.”
– H.P. Lovecraft, The Call of Cthulhu

The Call of Cthulhu, perhaps the most iconic and recognizable of H.P. Lovecraft’s Cosmic Horror stories, is also at once a let down and a wonder of literature.

It is a wonder because there are so many beautiful turns of phrases and poetic terms interspersed into the prose, but at the same time, despite the tense and ominous prose, H.P. Lovecraft made certain narrative choices that I would consider poor.

The protagonist is never in the center of the action, for example.  He hears all of his stories secondhand, first from his uncle’s notes, then from other men.  While this works very very well as a hook for the story, it had unfortunate consequences when the climax of the story, a possibly terrifying flight from the titular Elder God, is read from the manuscript of a Norwegian Sailor, rather than experienced by the narrator.  This distancing, while certainly easier on the protagonist, utterly ruins the sense of suspense at that point in the narrative.  I did not care for the Norwegian Sailor, even after he is introduced, quite as I did the nameless narrator, however bigoted and stuffy he is.  This narrative flaw is enough alone for me to gripe about.

But worse still is the fact that other than carvings, the protagonist has no association whatsoever to anyone researching or experiencing the Cthulhu Cult’s activities.  The vague implications that the Cult may find him, and kill him too, are hardly a terrifying idea, since it seems difficult to imagine how any of them would know of his involvement.  As I’ve said, the protagonist-narrator is hardly involved in the action at all.

Complaints aside, the imagery and description is chilling, if excessively intellectualized, and Lovecraft’s typically lengthy sentences seem almost light in this story, at the least I did not find myself tripping over them and his extensive vocabulary in this work, as opposed to other works of his I have read recently.  The opening paragraph has to be the most chilling and epic opening to any short story I can recall reading as well.

I think that I have seen better works from him, but for horror fans looking to connect to their intellectual tradition, I still think that this story is a decent read.

You can read it as part of the collection below if you like the smell of paper, or google it since it’s public domain:
The Complete Fiction of H.P. Lovecraft (Knickerbocker Classics)

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