Lovecraft’s stories are very hit-or-miss. A few years ago I went through a whirling reading fest and over the course of about two weeks I inhaled as many of his stories as I could manage. Afterwards, I took a break and tried to sift through my feelings.
For the most part, I came out of it frustrated–so much of his work is problematic and not easy to stomach, regardless of the period in which he was writing. At times it’s racist, xenophobic, classist, homophobic; female characters are under-represented; and his prose can be horrendously purple. And some of his earlier work just isn’t very good at all, on any level.
On the other hand, some of his stories are stunningly creepy and imaginative, and if nothing else, we can thank him for shaping what a lot of weird fiction and horror is today. There’s a reason people still love to run around in his playground, and I think it’s even more important to continue reinventing that playground, make it more accessible, diverse and consistent. But I digress.
At the time I started listening to and loving the heck out of The H.P. Lovecraft Literary Podcast (otherwise known as H.P. Podcraft) hosted by Chad Fifer and Chris Lackey. Basically, they go through most of Lovecraft’s work and provide readings, commentary, music and resources. There were a couple of stories I wasn’t originally able to finish – The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath being one – but recently I’ve revisited them with the podcast providing a kind of Cliff Notes / York Notes support. Plus there are always additional laughs and observations I hadn’t considered. Chad and Chris also often give background info about the stories, such as when Lovecraft wrote them, what he said about them in his letters to correspondents, which magazines they were published in (or rejected by!), and other works inspired by them. It’s interesting listening, and Lovecraft himself becomes a more interesting character when seen through someone else’s eyes.
Of course, eventually you’re going to run thin on Lovecraft material, but they continued the podcast by reading works by other authors of weird, dark or horror fiction, many of them Lovecraft’s contemporaries.
And, for anyone who hasn’t tried HPL before, The H.P. Lovecraft Literary Podcast is a terrific place to start, especially if you’re intrigued about Lovecraft but haven’t been able to find anything by him that’s easy to get into (as I said above, he can be very hit-or-miss).