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An H.P. Lovecraft Encyclopedia
S.T. Joshi and David E. Schultz
Greenwood hardcover £58.95
review by Patrick Hudson
The literary reputation of H.P. Lovecraft has grown enormously over the past three decades. He has gone from being an obscure writer in a spurned genre to take a place beside the Gothic masters who inspired him - Poe, Blackwood, Machen, James and de Maupassant. It is fitting company for a man who dedicated his life to supernatural literature, both as a writer and a critic.
One of the major proponents of Lovecraft's literary reputation is the critic S.T. Joshi. Since the early 1980s he has pushed Lovecraft scholarship forward, returning to basic texts and eschewing much that has been added to Lovecraft's work over the years both in terms of his exaggerated reputation for oddness and the accumulated baggage of the Cthulhu mythos itself. Joshi's thesis, which he has argued convincingly in venues as diverse fanzines, literary journals and his own scholarly publications such as his exhaustive biography H.P. Lovecraft: A Life, two volumes of The Annotated H.P. Lovecraft, two volumes of Penguin Classics and A Subtler Magic: The Writing And Philosophy Of H.P. Lovecraft among many others, is that Lovecraft was more than a genre hack, but a true literary artist who combined a flair for the macabre with a considered and - for its time - revolutionary philosophical outlook. In particular, he has proved beyond dispute that Lovecraft was not a bad writer with a cool setting, but a brilliant wordsmith with considerably more to say than two-dimensional representations of the Cthulhu mythos might suggest.
This most recent contribution to the growing volume of Lovecraft scholarship, An H.P. Lovecraft Encyclopedia, is an alphabetical guide to Lovecraft and his works. From an account of Charleston (describing Lovecraft's travelogue of his trip to Charleston, VA in 1930) to Zimmer (a character in The Temple), this encyclopaedia provides entries on Lovecraft's stories, articles and poetry; his family and professional and personal acquaintances; and numerous mini-essays on such things as Lovecraft's travels, Lovecraft's Necronomicon and amateur journalism.
This smallish (300-odd pages) book is a cornucopia of titbits to feed the most dedicated appetite for things Lovecraftian. There is a great deal of fascinating information on Lovecraft's friends and associates and the accounts into his dealings with - for instance - Weird Tales' editor Farnsworth Wright or his encounters with Harry Houdini (for whom he ghost wrote the story Under The Pyramids) give us a glance of the man behind the stories. Similarly, the entries on Lovecraft's major pieces of amateur journalism provide background to the aesthetics and philosophy that powered his fiction, and accounts such as that under 'articles on astrology', describing a debate Lovecraft pursued in the pages of the Providence Evening News on the merits (or otherwise, from his point of view) of astrology, show the roots of his materialistic philosophy and something of his pugnacious personality.
The collection has one rather curious quirk: it lists many of the characters in his fiction but none of the gods and creatures of the Cthulhu mythos. Joshi has worked hard over the years to prise Lovecraft away from the mythos, as it has developed under diverse hands, and I can see why he would feel that including entries on reoccurring elements such as Cthulhu, shoggoths, Yog Sothoth etc. would just encourage mythos-heads, However, an examination of their place in his fiction and how they changed as Lovecraft's views developed would surely merit inclusion in a volume such as this. Even a concordance of which stories they appear in would have been a work of considerable value (although, to be fair, such listings exist on the Internet). It is truly strange that there should be an entry for Robert Olmstead, the unnamed narrator of The Shadow Over Innsmouth, and yet nothing for either Dagon or Deep Ones; that there should be a long disquisition on the autobiographical character Randolph Carter, but nothing on his nemesis, Nyarlethotep.
Readers looking for a listing of places and people in Lovecraft's work - specifically the mythos fiction - could turn to The Encyclopaedia Cthulhiana, published by the role-playing game company Chaosium as part of their mythos fiction line. As its origins might suggest, this takes a rather less academic look at Lovecraft's work than the current volume, excluding anything that is not part of the mythos and including much that has been added by others over the years. As it stands, I think that a critical analysis of Lovecraft's supernatural creations would make fascinating reading.
All entries are backed with bibliographic material to aid further study, making An H.P. Lovecraft Encyclopedia the ideal reference work for anyone embarking on a serious study of Lovecraft and his milieu. This fine digest of information is probably not for everyone, certainly not the casual reader, but for those of us with a keen academic interest in Lovecraft it provides a handy, invaluable reference source.
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