Dagon and Other Macabre Tales by H. P. Lovecraft

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(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

Lovecraft is considered second only to Edgar Allan Poe among American writers of horror fantasy. Lovecraft was aware of his debt to Poe and his own position in the tradition of such literature, which he analyzes in “Supernatural Horror in Literature” (1925-1927). Lovecraft’s literary career was aroused by his reading of the works of Lord Dunsany (1878-1957) and seeing the British writer when he visited Boston. Lovecraft was also heavily influenced by the style and subjects of the Welsh fantasy writer Arthur Machen (1863-1947). Among the literary techniques that Poe, Dunsany, and Machen perfected and that Lovecraft also used are an elaborate style, a matter-of-fact journalistic format, and a single protagonist pitted against an overwhelming horror.

Lovecraft’s style is ornate, deliberate, and loaded with archaisms, features that suggest another view of reality. The style is so balanced and controlled that it lulls the reader into a sense of security. The shattering of that calm when the horrific is encountered causes even more fright than the mere appearance of the terrifying would provoke. Another American predecessor, Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804-1864), used the same device to describe Judge Pyncheon’s death in his The House of the Seven Gables (1851).

Lovecraft often reveals his horrors as part of a presumed actual adventure recorded in a journal, as did Poe in his The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym (1838). In a rare venture into science fiction , Lovecraft has an explorer of Venus blandly record his experiences in a daily journal in “In the...

(The entire section is 516 words.)