Tag Archives: Lovecraft

Horror Literature versus Fantasy Literature

I’ve been on something of a horror literature kick lately. Well, to be more specific, I’ve been on something of a H.P. Lovecraft kick lately. I have an entire book of his short stories, including two novellas. The book is simply called: The Dream Cycle of H.P. Lovecraft: Dreams of Terror and Death. At this moment, I have but one more short story to read, and then I’ll be done. Of course, I’m going to go back and reread some of the short stories and review them for this blog; I’ve already started that process, but I’m going to complete it. Anyway, for much of my life, the bulk of my literary diet has been fantasy. One of the first series of books I ever read were The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. Prior to that, I think was Watership Down which I think I read for the first time when I was about eight. I’ve been reading ever since. And most of it has been fantasy.

 

As a result of my fantasy diet, I’ve been exposed to all sorts of horrors in literature: undead warriors, dark magic, death, chaos, blood … you name it. I’ve seen it all. Because of that, special effects don’t faze me one bit. A witch casting a spell … is that supposed to frighten me? Come on! I’ve seen it a million times before. The first time I read Bram Stoker’s Dracula, I read it as a fantasy novel. I thought it was okay, but pretty tame by modern standards. Last year, I read it again for about the fifth time and I walked away knowing I had just read a masterpiece. You can read that review here. I don’t get frightened by horror stories (I’ve read too much fantasy for that), but I do appreciate them more, now—as my review of Dracula will attest to. Fantasy stories are full of adventure and action. As a result of such, sometimes horrible things happen, or at the very least, are expected to happen should the hero fail. The horror of such events is usually derivative of the events themselves. In a horror story, the horror is more ambient and all-pervading. There is an appropriate mood and tone that carries the sinister appeal of the story. There is also a greater probability of death on the hero’s part in a horror story. And if done well, that can be a plus.

 

It is worth pointing out, that by horror I mean horror literature not film. Rarely does a horror film live up to something even approaching the magnificence of the novel, Dracula. Most of the time, horror movies are just blood baths. I wouldn’t even want to put them in the same category. Then again, my experience with horror is fairly limited. I’ve read Dracula and a few Lovecraft stories; but I liked the same thing about both: that ever-present atmosphere of dread and doom. And that, I think, is the distinguishing feature that separates Horror from Fantasy.

Novella Review: The Case of Charles Dexter Ward

The Case of Charles Dexter Ward is a rather long novella (112 pages) written by H.P. Lovecraft. It tells the story of a certain mental patient by the name of Charles Dexter Ward. It begins with his early formative years where he displays an interest in all things antiquated. It then moves on into his early twenties when trouble starts. However, in order to tell the story properly, early in the work Lovecraft takes us back another 170 years or so, to the life and times of Joseph Curwen. Joseph Curwen is a practitioner of witchcraft—and I don’t mean an innocuous Wiccan. Oh, no, Joseph Curwen delves dark and deep, and has no qualms about killing anyone who gets in his way. It begins with the summoning of the shades of long dead people, but other horrors are hinted at, too.

 

The story starts with Joseph Curwen on his farm in Pawtucket, R.I. (I think it’s Rhode Island) where he is ensconced in his magical rites. His exceptional long life and other dark dealings breed sinister rumours about him. Eventually, the populace rises against him, raids his homestead, and in a final battle manage to kill him. But his activities are not through. Fast forward, 170 years to the time of Charles Dexter Ward. This young budding historian is the descendant of Joseph Curwen’s. And, when he discovers a painting of the old sorcerer, almost an exact double of the man. Ward, entranced by his own love of history and the things of a bygone era, continues to dig, and dig deep. Soon, he is traipsing off to Europe in his search, only to come back a changed man. Now, his family begin to truly worry for him. His searches have affected his mind. He has become obsessed. And, when two mysterious strangers join him in his efforts, the family’s worries multiply. The strangers are odd folk; some might even say sinister. What hold does the long-dead Joseph Curwen have over these men? And what is their ultimate design? I’ll leave that for the intrepid reader to find out for himself.

 

Strengths: this novella is horror, it is not fantasy. As I have read countless fantasy stories, horror stories never manage to “shock” me. I have to be in the right mood for a horror story to really sink in and absorb the ambience. That said, I enjoyed this novella immensely. It told a pretty gripping tale, and it told it well. All the loose ends were tied off, and yet a whole range of facets were left to the reader’s imagination to fill in. Lovecraft does that a lot. Weaknesses: I think some of Lovecraft’s writing may be overburdened with long, multi-syllabic words and descriptions. That’s usually a mistake of young writers, and I’m not sure when this particular piece was written in Lovecraft’s career. In any event, it can make his writing cumbersome at times; although, then again, that may just be because he was writing one hundred years ago (or nearly so) and the language may have changed slightly since now and then.

 

Anyway, I’ll give The Case of Charles Dexter Ward four stars or maybe even four and a half stars out of five.

Old Movie Review: The Dark Sleep (2012)

“The Dark Sleep” is a short film based on an H.P. Lovecraft story “The Dreams in the Witch House.” I have only read a couple Lovecraft stories and “The Dreams in the Witch House” is not one of them. So I cannot comment on the accuracy of this particular portrayal or even the quality of the original tale. Still, I have always loved the macabre feel and the notions of alien deities that mention of Lovecraft conjures up. I even played the RPG game “The Call of Cthulu” a couple times back in the day, so I went into this movie with reasonably high expectations. Now, on to the review.

 

The main character of the film is Nancy Peterson, played by Ashley Galloway. She is a recently divorced writer who purchases a house from her ex-husband, Pete, for zero dollars. There is but one stipulation: she cannot paint over the bizarre painting found in the basement. However, once she sets up shop in the house, she is soon beset with strange nightmares and encounters with extra-dimensional creatures. Her concentration goes to pot: she can’t write; she can’t sleep; and she grows more irritable with every passing day. Her sister, Kelley, comes to visit and to lend a hand, but soon she is drawn into the surreal web of macabre construction herself. Can Nancy solve the mystery of the house for the sake of her own sanity and her and her sister’s safety? Watch the movie and find out.

 

Strengths: overall, I thought the story held together fairly well. There weren’t any gaping logical flaws (assuming you can accept the premise of extra-dimensional travel through dreams), and most of the acting, although not stellar, was fine. There were some weak parts, though: most notably a brief scene in the very beginning and the climax at the end, both of which featured the ex-husband. Weaknesses: special effects do not make a movie, but they can add to one. And in this case, I think the effects subtracted. It was a low budget movie and it really did show. That said, the scenery and surreal atmosphere of the dream sequences was handled well; it would have been nice if the effects were up to snuff to complement such, but alas, they weren’t. Another weakness was how the house appeared … well, maybe not. But both my friends and I were expecting an old beat up thing from the nineteen-twenties, or something like that, but it looked like a reasonably modern house. And that just did not fit the tone of the movie.

 

Anyway, I’ll give this film three and half out of five stars.