Lovecraft Recommended Reading List

Even before I released the Lovecraft eBook, people have asked me where they should start with Lovecraft or what his best stories were. As with any fiction, this is my entirely subjective take. I added my thoughts but tried not to give things away.

As always, I recommend reading these along with the H.P. Lovecraft Literary Podcast if you want company (and for the ones not on this list, the podcast really helps get through them and even see fun things in them). There are a number of good recordings available at the Lovecraft eZine and some on Librivox. I’ve also linked to three below which I especially recommend.

Best of Shorter Fiction

These are, perhaps, the best to start with. They’re not too long (some more than others), if you don’t like one you can drop it and move on to another. They’re in a variety of styles and have varying tones. Together, they encapsulate everything about Lovecraft’s universe except his dream stories. I don’t especially like the dream stories, but you can find a list on Wikipedia and attempt them.

Pickman’s Model

A great introduction to the world of Lovecraft. Short but manages to encapsulate cosmic horror in an ordinary city.

The Shadow Over Innsmouth

One of the best.

The Rats in the Walls

Fantastic imagery and a classic Lovecraftian protagonist. Definitely Poe-inspired. Racist cringe factor with the cat’s name.

The Colour Out of Space

An excellent instance of cosmic horror. A meteor arrives and what it contains wreaks havoc on a small area.

The Call of Cthulhu

Great story. Not as readable as some because it’s a tale within a tale within a tale. There are newspaper clippings and journal entries and interviews. Nonetheless, this is one of the classics. And, of course, it’s where one meets Cthulhu and the only story in which Cthulhu is really a character—though he’s mentioned elsewhere.

The Whisperer in Darkness

I find this one of the eeriest of Lovecraft’s stories.

The Haunter of the Dark

More amazing imagery. I recommend the H.P. Podcraft audio version.

The Dunwich Horror

Best instance of heroic librarian.

The Thing on the Doorstep

Must be read after “The Shadow Over Innsmouth” or it loses background material.

Herbert West — Reanimator

This story was commissioned for a magazine and has a slightly different feel from his others. But I really enjoyed reading it.

Best of Long Stories

Lovecraft didn’t write much that was novel or novella length, these are the best of those stories.

The Case of Charles Dexter Ward

Fairly classic Lovecraftian story but with much more material. Proves he actually could write a novel. I enjoyed the Cthulhu podcast reading which can be bought here or downloaded episode-by-episode from the same site.

The Shadow out of Time

Somewhere between a short story and novella. I don’t recommend reading this one until you’ve read quite a few of his others, but I really enjoyed it.

At the Mountains of Madness

Actually, I didn’t especially enjoy this one and I’ve read it several times trying to like it more. But so many other people seem to love it that I’ll recommend it as something you might like as well. I recommend reading after you’ve read most of the shorter ones, not up front.

Vignettes

Lovecraft was good at writing short works which are as much about capturing the feel of a place or idea as telling a proper story. None of these really have plot or conclusions, but they’re all excellent.

The Picture in the House

One of Lovecraft’s most human-centric stories. No cosmic horror, this has the plain down-home variety and very creepy. I recommend the H.P. Podcraft’s recording of it.

The Music of Erich Zann

Trivia, the “viol” Zann plays is actually a cello, both are short for violoncello. Lovecraft made this clear in correspondence.

The Outsider

This vignette has a distinct Poe feel to it but is beautifully executed for what it is. I think it’s possible that I may have read it in high school without knowing it was Lovecraft, but can’t be sure. I read a lot of Poe & some other horror short stories.

Also Worth Reading

While not two of his best, these two are definitely worth reading if you enjoy many of the others.

The Nameless City

Beautiful desert imagery. Indiana Jones meets Lovecraft.

The Lurking Fear

Some don’t like this because they see it (rightly) as a reflection of his general xenophobia (Lovecraft seems to have feared people of all other races and a fair percentage of white people, too), but it’s also a good, scary story.

What I left out

What I left out, I left out based on my own tastes. “The Temple,” “Cool Air,” “The Dreams in the Witch House,” and “The Statement of Randolph Carter” are all short stories that you might enjoy if you discover you like Lovecraft. I enjoy them reasonably well, but I don’t think they’re good enough to put in the list above.

“The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath” is one which I wouldn’t recommend to someone starting Lovecraft. If you try the rest & like them, then consider reading it or listening to it on the Cthulhu Podcast (which is the only way I made it through, though I enjoyed listening).

I really really don’t recommend “The Street,” which is so racist that it makes me yell at Lovecraft. And “Old Bugs” is about the evils of alcohol, not about giant old bugs (I was disappointed). “The Horror at Red Hook” has a lot of racist elements to it, but is a fairly successful horror story.

Of course, your take on this may be entirely different. If you have any other recommendations for people just starting Lovecraft, please leave them in the comments!

19 Comments

  1. Hey, Ruth! I agree with most of what you’ve written on this. I’d like to add that my absolute FAVORITE Lovecraft story is “The Night Ocean”, which he wrote with R.H. Barlow. The mood and setting is absolutely perfect.

  2. @Mike, I didn’t put in any collaborations, but that sounds like a good one. :)

  3. Bill says:

    I think my all time favorite was “The Terrible Old Man”. It was short and to the point, and actually left me excited to read the rest of his work.
    And it seems to show up in a ton of horror movies, at least the general premise.

  4. Grim Blogger says:

    I’m pleased to see you giving the non-Mythos stories their due. So many of these stories are underrated.

    No question about it, the Cthulhu Mythos is excellent. But personally, I find tales like “The Music of Erich Zann” more richly atmospheric and unsettling.

    Lovecraft was one of the rare masters of weird, nightmarish atmosphere. In my opinion, his powers are at their height in pieces where his imagination is unconstrained by anything, including his own mythology.

  5. Alex says:

    A pretty fair list and I think this matches pretty closely to the selection I’ve made when reading through the book.

    Have to say though that Herbert West – Reanimator was very high up there on the racist cringe scale too… I mostly read it because Re-animator is one of my all-time favourite horror movies. I was sorely dissapointed to find the severed head had no lewd intentions whatsoever in the book… just kidding ;)

  6. Knightsky says:

    It’s nice to know that I’m not the only Lovecraft fan who doesn’t really care that much for ‘Mountains of Madness’.

  7. Actually, the “viol” that Herr Zann plays is not a cello, but a related instrument simply called the viol. It’s slightly smaller than the cello, and has no end-pin, so it’s played by holding it steady between the knees. Its bridge is lower, too, so the strings are kinda…flabby. In fact, to make all the weird sounds Zann was making with a viol takes Paganini-like skill–hence the reason I think HPL chose the instrument.

    It was a common sight in theatre orchestras up into the mid-20th Century, largely because it was cheaper than a cello and could play roughly the same range as a cello *and* a viola.

  8. @Derek, there was discussion on the HPPodcraft episode for the story wherein someone referenced a letter in which he wrote more about it. It wouldn’t surprise me if it’s the kind of viol you named, one would have to re-listen to the episode to compare that with what he wrote.

  9. Behold! The viola de gamba: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Viol

    In HPL’s day, the violoncello, though still notated as such in scores, was almost universally known as the cello to separate it clearly from the various forms of viol, none of which are much used anymore, simply because there’s no need for them: between the viola and cello you’ve got your entire alto and tenor instrumental needs filled. You *rarely* see a viol today, but, like I said, in years past they were popular in pit orchestras, especially cheap ones (such as the one Zann played in), because they weren’t as expensive–or as cumbersome and space-filling–as cellos.

    If you go to YouTube and just search for viol performances, you’ll hear that they sound exactly like cellos and violas, which is why they’ve become redundant. You can still find them Out There–I’m looking for one just so I can claim I own Zann’s viol–but in terms of playing them…eh. I’d say just grab a viola or cello. They’re both easier to hold!

  10. They’re lovely in their own way, I’ve actually heard one in concert (a friend who’s a composer worked with an orchestra made up of older and old-style instruments–catgut strings and all). At the risk of being contrarian, might I point out that in HPL’s day he wished he’d been born 100-200 years before and sometimes wrote as such.

    Either way, the average modern reader should get the impression of something being played as most people think of ‘cellos being played vs. a violin. That is what I intended to convey with my note. The modern string player, which I am, may find the distinction an interesting one, so thanks for sharing it.

  11. Mia - skogsra says:

    I’ve just only started out reading Lovecraft, and so far only three stories: At the Mountains of Madness, The Case of Charles Dexter Ward and The Dreams in the Witch House. Out of them I liked The Dreams in the Witch House the most, I think.

    At the Mountains of Madness felt to me like a Jules Verne-story, and I found it humourus rather than horrifying. Actually, I was nagging my friend who introduced me to Lovecraft about that: “When comes the horror? When will it get scary?” – but it really never did, in my opinion.

  12. Rich Gibbs says:

    I agree with quite a lot of the list, though the Temple rate far higher in my estimation. HWR get some love too, far too often it’s derided, and it’s really a good read.

  13. MDPM says:

    The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath is my favorite…
    I think it merges a lot of elements from the Cthulhu Mythos, I think it’s like some sort of dream induced by the reading of the necronomicon.
    But that’s only my point of view…

  14. Old Olney says:

    I know this is a Lovecraft blog but try THE WILLOWS by Algernon Blackwood, or
    THE CASEBOOK OF CARNACKI and THE HOUSE ON THE BORDERLAND by William Hope Hodgson. Both authors have a similar sense of the uncanny.

    Through the gate of the silver key hints at infinities beyond infinities folding endlessly in on themselves and this contrasted against the never erring determination of a single man. I know it’s not a pure Lovecraft story (E. Hoffman Price) but it’s still good.

  15. Mark says:

    So it wasn’t just me with “Old Bugs”? H.P.’s version of an After School Special.

  16. James says:

    The Dunwich Horror is my favorite,When Yog-Sothoth is terrorising Dunwich and the hill folks not knowing where it would strike next with him moving around outside peoples homes late at night, held everyone in paralysing fear, That was intense.

  17. Veronica says:

    Hi! I just wanted to thank you for the taking the effort of compiling the whole of the author’s works in one epub. That’s really handy! :)

  18. […] Source: Lovecraft Recommended Reading List – Cthulhu Chick. […]

  19. Maurice Xanthos says:

    Hey there,

    If you really like Lovecraft and the Cthulhu Mythos, checkout this Facebook site:

    https://www.facebook.com/groups/760897830648049/

    There is an all Australian anthology with original stories and artwork coming out in December/January with an introduction by Ramsey Campbell.

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