The 10 Greatest Stories Of H.P. Lovecraft

Top-10-Lovecraft-Stories

by Mark McLaughlin

I’ve always loved the works of H.P. Lovecraft – even when I was a little boy. My parents used to drop me off at the library when they went shopping, and I’d spend the afternoon reading horror stories. My folks were pretty laissez faire about where they left me, back in those days! I wouldn’t suggest that anyone should ever use their local library as a free babysitting service.

That library’s fiction section held half a shelf of Arkham House story collections and anthologies, and so I read loads of stories by H.P. Lovecraft, August Derleth, Robert Bloch, Carl Jacobi, Donald Wandrei, and many others. Reading those stories made me realize that when I grew up, I should also write horror stories … so I did, and still do.

Of all the authors I read back then, I enjoyed the works of Lovecraft the most. They were so awe-inspiring, so utterly entrancing! Over the years, I’ve read each of his stories dozens of times. Fore the record, my favorite Lovecraft story is “The Dunwich Horror.” Back when I was a kid, I thought it was the best story ever written. As an adult, I now realize it’s a bit heavy on the exposition, but hey, I still get a kick out of it.

I’ve written many Lovecraftian stories over the years, and often I’m asked which HPL works are my favorites. With that in mind, I have compiled a list of what I consider to be his ten greatest tales. What do I mean by ‘greatest’? Basically, the list includes stories that display his incredible imagination to full advantage. My list does not include any of Lovecraft’s collaborative works. There are just too many to consider.

You will notice that some of Lovecraft’s classic stories are not on my list. Here are some notes on my process. “Dagon” is a fine story, but arguably, it’s a simpler version of the longer and more complex “The Call of Cthulhu.” By that same token, “The Festival” is, in many ways, a shorter version of “The Shadow over Innsmouth,” in that both feature protagonists who have adventures and learn their true origins.

Short stories like “The Statement of Randolph Carter,” “In the Vault,” “The Unnamable,” “The Hound,” “The Outsider,” “The Music of Erich Zann,” “From Beyond,” “The Cats of Ulthar,” “Cool Air,” “The Picture in the House,” and “Pickman’s Model” are outstanding, but they rely on twist/surprise endings and offer less depth than the top ten I’ve selected. Other short stories, like “The White Ship” and “The Terrible Old Man,” read more like vignettes or prose-poems than actual full-bodied stories.

Longer stories like “The Lurking Fear,” “The Rats in the Walls,” “The Horror at Red Hook,” “The Thing on the Doorstep,” “He” and “The Shunned House” are all well-developed, with more impact than the twist/surprise-ending stories I’d mentioned, but they are only marginally connected to Lovecraft’s more robust Cthulhu Mythos stories, which would be considered his greatest and most groundbreaking works.

“The Shadow out of Time” would be No. 12 on this list. It is a majestic, wonderful story with a high degree of development, but it is told at a more leisurely pace than one usually expects from Lovecraft, and the twist at the end is not as impactful as many of his other endings.

“The Case of Charles Dexter Ward” would be No. 11.  At 51,112 words, it’s Lovecraft’s only novel. It’s a grand tale of wizardry, reanimation of the dead, and ancient family secrets. It doesn’t have much Cthulhu Mythos content in it, and while a Lovecraft story does not require Mythos content to be entertaining, I still find his Mythos tales to be more enthralling and original. Plus, Lovecraft’s story “Herbert West–Reanimator” also concerns reanimation, and Herbert West is a more compelling character.

I now present the top ten, revealed in reverse order. I also provide the year in which each was written.

10. “The Whisperer in Darkness,” 1930: This 26,000-word novella is a blend of horror and science-fiction. It tells of a secret Earth colony of the Mi-go, a race of fungoid creatures from Pluto, also known as Yuggoth. This story is highly imaginative and entertaining, and really, my only major gripe is that the aliens try to drug the protagonist’s coffee at one point. Really? Horrific fungoid creatures from outer space try to slip a guy a mickey? One has to remember, the story was written back in the era of pulp magazines, and in those stories, it wasn’t uncommon for a bad guy to engage in sneaky mickey-slipping. 

9. “Herbert West–Reanimator,” 1921-22: This story ran in six issues of a magazine. The narrative suffers from being divided into six segments, since there is some rehashing of plot elements from one segment to the next. In this tale, a medical genius has developed a serum to raise the dead. This story really has nothing to do with the Cthulhu Mythos, but I like how Lovecraft has crafted a zombie tale as a work of dark science-fiction … much like the original Frankenstein novel, actually. Lovecraft did much to combine horror and science-fiction in delightfully weird, inventive ways.

8. “The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath,” 1926-27: This magical novella-length adventure tells of Randolph Carter, an adventurer who explores a fantasy dimension, the Dreamlands, to find a mysterious, beautiful city. This story deserves more attention, since it is wonderfully imaginative and exotic – so if you haven’t read it yet, be sure to check it out. The various domains of Oz pale in comparison to Lovecraft’s Dreamlands. The adventure provides numerous insights into the Cthulhu Mythos, including additional information on that brooding Lovecraftian deity, Nyarlathotep.

7. “The Dreams in the Witch House,” 1932: A cursory reading of this story might lead one to think it is about a boarding house haunted by a witch. But actually, the plot transcends the typical haunted house drama by revealing that the witch, Keziah Mason, travels through time and space with ease. Her wicked familiar, Brown Jenkin, is a hybrid creature with the body of a huge rat and a ghastly human face. This story is a compelling combination of Gothic menace and sci-fi/horror, and an avatar of Nyarlathotep makes an appearance.

6. “The Haunter of the Dark,” 1935: This is the tale of a young scholar who takes an interest in a sinister church, once part of an evil cult. The cult drew its power from an alien artifact known as the Shining Trapezohedron. Like “The Dreams in the Witch House,” this tale combines a haunted building story with far-flung science-fiction/horror concepts. Also like “Witch House,” this story provides insights into the horrendous nature of Nyarlathotep. This story is a sequel to Robert Bloch’s 1935 story, “The Shambler from the Stars.” In 1950, Bloch wrote “The Shadow from the Steeple,” a sequel to “The Haunter of the Dark.”

5. “At the Mountains of Madness,” 1931: The novella “At the Mountains of Madness” concerns a bold Miskatonic University expedition to Antarctica. The explorers discover what is left of an ancient city, once populated by monstrous beings known as the Elder Things and their rubbery, shapeless servants, the Shoggoths. This story recounts how many of the creatures and races found in Lovecraft’s work first came to Earth, and so, is a valuable resource in understanding the overall history of these beings and their interactions on our planet. The Elder Things are fascinating, highly intelligent aliens, and it’s a pity that Lovecraft never expanded this tale into a longer novel.     

4. “The Dunwich Horror,” 1928: In “The Dunwich Horror,” we meet Wilbur Whateley, a seemingly deformed young man who travels to Miskatonic University’s library on a questionable mission. He wants to read the Necronomicon, a book of ancient occult secrets. We soon learn that he is actually part-human, part-transdimensional deity, and that he is trying to carry out a monstrous agenda. We learn a lot about the Necronomicon and the deity Yog-Sothoth in this tale, and the descriptions of the outlandish Lovecraftian creatures (Wilbur and a certain relative) are priceless.

3. “The Colour Out of Space,” 1927: This is one of the finest tales ever written about the horrors of living in rural isolation. Lovecraft also addressed this theme in “The Dunwich Horror” and “The Picture in the House.” A meteorite hits the farm of Nahum Gardner, and a living alien color transfers from the meteorite into the soil, gradually poisoning the plants, animals and humans living on the property. The story is an excellent tale of a monstrous first encounter between humans and an alien presence, and it truly confirms that Lovecraft was an early master at combining science-fiction with horror.  

2. “The Shadow over Innsmouth,” 1931: This is certainly one of the best small-town-with-a-secret stories ever written. As we learn more and more about the community of Innsmouth, we soon come to realize that its residents are in communication with forces of evil. But are they really evil? Like beauty, evil is clearly in the eye of the beholder. We also learn about the Cthulhu Mythos in this story – and about human nature, too. This is an especially well-developed story and while the ending features a twist, it’s rather profound, and also one that most readers will not see coming.

1. “The Call of Cthulhu,” 1926: I find it amusing that “The Call of Cthulhu,” one of the greatest, most original horror stories ever written, was first published in Weird Tales magazine – but it wasn’t the cover story for that issue. The cover was devoted to a story entitled “The Ghost Table.” Poor Cthulhu had to ride in the back seat and let some haunted furniture take the wheel. “The Call of Cthulhu” certainly deserved the cover, since it is a wildly imaginative masterwork. It unveils the tale of an unspeakable ancient entity, asleep in a temple at the bottom of the sea. Obviously, it is the definitive Cthulhu Mythos tale – a mystical, exciting adventure told in Lovecraft’s inimitable style.

I love Lovecraft’s work so much, I’ve made it my long-term goal to write a sequel (or in one case, prequel) to every major story he ever wrote. I’m not finished yet, but here is the progress I’ve made so far:

Lovecraft story: “The Shadow over Innsmouth”
My sequel: “The Tantalizing Taste You Will Never Forget” (co-written by Michael Sheehan, Jr.)
Where the sequel can be found: Horrors & Abominations: 24 Tales Of The Cthulhu Mythos by Mark McLaughlin & Michael Sheehan, Jr.

Lovecraft story: “The Call of Cthulhu”
My sequel: “The Testament of Cthulhu” (co-written by Michael Sheehan, Jr.)
Where the sequel can be found: Horrors & Abominations: 24 Tales Of The Cthulhu Mythos by Mark McLaughlin & Michael Sheehan, Jr.

Lovecraft story: “From Beyond”
My sequel: “The Curse of the Tillinghasts” (co-written by Michael Sheehan, Jr.)
Where the sequel can be found: Horrors & Abominations: 24 Tales Of The Cthulhu Mythos by Mark McLaughlin & Michael Sheehan, Jr.

Lovecraft story: “The Rats in the Walls”
My sequel: “The Nightmare in Delapore Tower” (co-written by Michael Sheehan, Jr.)
Where the sequel can be found: Horrors & Abominations: 24 Tales Of The Cthulhu Mythos by Mark McLaughlin & Michael Sheehan, Jr.

Lovecraft story: “The Creature in the Waxworks”
My sequel: “The Whisperer in Darkness” (co-written by Michael Sheehan, Jr.)
Where the sequel can be found: Horrors & Abominations: 24 Tales Of The Cthulhu Mythos by Mark McLaughlin & Michael Sheehan, Jr.

Lovecraft story: “The Haunter of the Dark”
My prequel: “The Abominations of Nephren-Ka” (co-written by Michael Sheehan, Jr.)
Where the sequel can be found: Horrors & Abominations: 24 Tales Of The Cthulhu Mythos by Mark McLaughlin & Michael Sheehan, Jr.

Lovecraft story: “The House of the Ocelot”
My sequel: “The Cats of Ulthar” (co-written by Michael Sheehan, Jr.)
Where the sequel can be found: The House of the Ocelot & More Lovecraftian Nightmares by Mark McLaughlin & Michael Sheehan, Jr.

Lovecraft story: “The Terrible Old Man”
My sequel: “Another Terrible Old Man” (co-written by Michael Sheehan, Jr.)
Where the sequel can be found: The House of the Ocelot & More Lovecraftian Nightmares by Mark McLaughlin & Michael Sheehan, Jr.

Lovecraft story: “At the Mountains of Madness”
My sequel: “Shoggoth Apocalypse” (co-written by Michael Sheehan, Jr.)
Where the sequel can be found: The House of the Ocelot & More Lovecraftian Nightmares by Mark McLaughlin & Michael Sheehan, Jr.

Lovecraft story: “The Dunwich Horror”
My sequel: “The Surprising Sweetness of Their Blood” (co-written by Michael Sheehan, Jr.)
Where the sequel can be found: The House of the Ocelot & More Lovecraftian Nightmares by Mark McLaughlin & Michael Sheehan, Jr.

Lovecraft story: “Herbert West–Reanimator”
My sequel: “The Glorious Return of Herbert West” (co-written by Michael Sheehan, Jr.)
Where the sequel can be found: The House of the Ocelot & More Lovecraftian Nightmares by Mark McLaughlin & Michael Sheehan, Jr.

Lovecraft story: “The Dreams in the Witch House”
My sequels: “The Last Witch-House” and “Uncle Caesar”
Where the sequels can be found: The House of the Ocelot & More Lovecraftian Nightmares by Mark McLaughlin & Michael Sheehan, Jr.

Where to find the books: 

HORRORS & ABOMINATIONS: 24 Tales Of The Cthulhu Mythos by Mark McLaughlin & Michael Sheehan, Jr. Paperback on Amazon:
US: https://www.amazon.com/dp/1791560520/
UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/1791560520/

THE HOUSE OF THE OCELOT & More Lovecraftian Nightmares by Mark McLaughlin & Michael Sheehan, Jr. Paperback on Amazon:
US: https://www.amazon.com/dp/1795518367/
UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/1795518367/

 

About bmoviemonster

Horror author Mark McLaughlin’s fiction, nonfiction, and poetry have appeared in more than one-thousand magazines, newspapers, websites, and anthologies, including Cemetery Dance, Black Gate, Galaxy, Fangoria, Writer’s Digest, Midnight Premiere, Dark Arts, and two volumes each of The Best of the Rest, The Best of HorrorFind, and The Year’s Best Horror Stories (DAW Books). He is the author of many books of horror, so be sure to visit his Amazon Author's Page at http://www.amazon.com/Mark-McLaughlin/e/B008QCY4TC/
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