The critical acceptance of H. P. Lovecraft as an important American writer, and as the finest exponent of dark fantasy since Poe, has not come quickly or easily. Much of this neglect was due to a blanket rejection of the “pulp writer,” reinforced by the fact that Lovecraft published nothing in book form during his own lifetime. The primary outlet for his stories was Weird Tales, a pulp magazine whose circulation barely reached twenty thousand a month although its influence on horror fiction has been enormous. Moreover, Lovecraft’s entire oeuvre was modest in size and, for reasons both personal and commercial, a considerable portion of it never saw print during his lifetime.
There are, perhaps, even more obvious reasons for this general critical dismissal: In many ways Lovecraft was a poor writer. The prose is often vague, ornate, and studded with overblown adjectives such as “eldrich,” “uncanny,” “hellish,” and “weird.” At a time when even the pulps featured the hard, lean prose of a Dashiell Hammett or James M. Cain, Lovecraft’s purple verbosity sounded like a relic from the mid-nineteenth century. His characterization tends to be flat and undifferentiated. His plots sometimes collapse in the middle or disintegrate altogether, and his strain for sensational effect occasionally becomes painful. Lovecraft’s characteristically italicized last-line climaxes—“and the Monster was Real!!!”—sometimes evoke more...
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