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Books You Need to Read: The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Tales

5 minutes to read

H.P Lovecraft’s three favourite words – those that appear most often in his work – are ‘Abnormal’, ‘Accursed’, and ‘Amorphous’.  Fittingly, that’s the best way to describe this collection from the prolific author. It’s full of dark, unknowable shit – the sort of stuff that will allegedly drive you mad should you look upon it.

H.P Lovecraft is one of the most recognized horror authors of the 20th century. While he died totally penniless and probably afflicted by one of the accursed diseases common to that time period, his stories have endured. And what stories! Lovecraft is all about making you feel uneasy and unsettled. His writing doesn’t rely on jump scares or crazed serial killers, it’s about existential and cosmic horror. The paranormal we can’t comprehend (and probably shouldn’t try to). This book squeezes several of his most famous works – the Call of Cthulhu, At the Mountains of Madness , etc – into one chilling collection.

Classic cover. Source.
Classic cover. Source.

At the Mountains of Madness tells the tale of a group of researchers from the fictional Miskatonic University as they embark on an ill-fated expedition to Antarctica. They find several enormous creatures that have been trapped beneath the ice since before organic life was supposed to have appeared on earth, and immediately do what you or I would think twice about: examine them. Things go spectacularly downhill from there. The forward camp is destroyed by an unseen force, with one of the researchers and a dog being subjected to a very invasive scientific examination. Another researcher, along with a couple of the better preserved creatures, are missing. The protagonist (a very boring, very rational man of science) sets out to find them, and comes across an enormous city that, like the creatures, pre-dates humanity. To tell you more would be to spoil the experience.

At the Mountains of Madness has informed hundreds of horror movies, most notably The Thing and Alien. For that reason you might find it a little bland. In the same way many people don’t find Seinfeld funny because everybody else copied it. But bear with the story and give it time. Ultimately it’s a truly horrifying story, the details of which are likely to stick with you for a long time.

Another fascinating classic cover.

The Call of Cthulhu is another story in the collection, and probably the best. It follows Francis Wayland Thurston (also a very boring, very rational man of science) as he attempts to unearth the truth behind a hideous pagan idol that his great-uncle died in possession of. A lot of the story comes out in newspaper clippings and journal entries, giving it the feel of a found footage film similar to The Blair Witch. Thurston’s quest takes him to the swamps of Louisiana, the Pacific Ocean, and Australia, where he discovers evidence of a terrifying conspiracy to bring about the end of the world.

H.P Lovecraft’s sketch of his creation.

The Call of Cthulhu is particularly notable in that it introduces the titular ancient god. Cthulhu is a pop-culture icon (if you know where to look). Despite appearing only briefly in the story, he’s similarly elusive in other tales. Cthulhu has captured imaginations around the world for the horrific and fascinating aspects of his godhood. It’s not that Cthulhu and his ilk don’t like humans – they just don’t care about them. That’s one of the defining characteristics of the Lovecraft mythos. None of these ancient evils are really evil, they’re just totally amoral. Their actions, while having apocalyptic implications for the human race, matter very little to them. Starting to get that existential horror angle?

The cover doesn't really do it justice. Source.
The cover doesn’t really do it justice. Source.

Other stories in the collection are a little more mundane, if you consider amphibious creatures who offer food and gold in exchange for human sacrifice mundane. The Shadow Over Innsmouth tells the tale of another very boring, very rational student of antiquity who travels to the titular town in order to investigate the origins of a stunning piece of jewellery. There, he finds that the townsfolk have been engaging in some very nasty behaviour with a group of fish-people called the Deep Ones who bring wealth and prosperity to the town in exchange for tasty human flesh. Note: H.P Lovecraft was a deeply racist person, to the extent that he made other racists uncomfortable. Certain plot points that would be a shame to spoil reflect this however, your opinions on the story may vary.

That’s just a sampling of the horrors that await you in this collection. There’s a reason that Lovecraft’s creations continue to terrify and enthrall readers, and you’re gonna find out all about it. Just don’t be surprised if the world looks a little colder, the future a little bleaker, and people…kinda fishy.

Feature image source.