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Thursday, January 05, 2017

The Doom That Came to Sarnath (collected early stories)(1971) by H.P. Lovecraft

The Doom that Came to Sarnath was a compilation of Lovecraft's early stories, published by Ballantine Adult Fantasy in 1971, a half century after Lovecraft stopped writing.
Book Review
The Doom That Came to Sarnath (collected early stories(1971)
 by H.P. Lovecraft

  H.P. Lovecraft wrote these stories between 1917 and 1935, and this is the second collection of his early works under the aegis of Ballantine Books Adult Fantasy division and editor Lin Carter.  Lovecraft is mostly (well, almost entirely) for his series of Cthulhu stories, about a horrific cult monster.  Those stories were written in the late twenties and early thirties, and none of them are included in this collection.

 Honestly, the most interesting part of this collection is Lin Carter's introduction, where he discusses the constituent influences on Lovecraft leading up to his development of the Cthulhu pantheon.:

     The so-called Cthulhu Mythos, while completely his own invention, was constructed along the guidelines established by earlier writers whom he greatly admired.  From the Welsh writer, Arthur Machen (1863-1947), he borrowed, and improved upon, the notion of buttressing a fantastic tale with an illusion of authenticity by surrounding it with documentary, factual evidence,
      From the American novelist, Robert W. Chambers (1865-1933) he adapted a second notion.  Several of Chambers' short weird stories employ as their central theme the devilish and seductive influence of a strange, corrupting book called The King in Yellow. Chambers describes it as a verse play of poisonous beauty, and quote enigmatic fragments from it in some of the tales.  The more gullible of his readers may have accepted, if only for the moment, the book's existence as a fact.  Lovecraft used this idea in his stories, inventing a book of his own called the Necronomicon, quoted lavishly from its pages, and incorporated into his fiction a complex apparatus of names and dates of translators and editions, thus making a deliberate and surprisingly successful attempt to convince the reader that there actually was such a book.
      [L]ovecraft is more deeply indebted to the great Anglo-Irish fantasist, Lord Dunsany (1878-1957).  Dunsany's earliest fiction, in collections like The Gods of Pegana and The Book of Wonder, introduced a delicious innovation to the writing of fantasies.  The baron created an imaginary pantheon of divinties, wrote their legends in a connected series of brief prose-poems, and then in later works used his "Pegana mythos" as background detail for fantastic tales set in invented lands "at the Edge of the World," That is, not content to make up his own geography, Dunsany invented the religion to which his imaginary kingdoms paid worship.

   Lovecraft himself was largely ignored- even this collection- published forty years after Lovecraft stopped writing, was published as a pulp paperback, a kind of parody of a scholarly treatise.  In my experience, Lovecraft is often discussed as something sui generis, spontaneously generated, with only a vague connection to Edgar Allan Poe to establish his (dubious) literary pedigree.   The Doom That Came to Sarnath takes you behind the curtain, to show that Cthulhu did not emerged fully formed from the mind of a mad man.   Even if you were a Lovecraft fan, you probably wouldn't know about Dunsany, Chambers (who was a point of reference in the first series of the HBO television show, True Detective.) and Machen.  Certainly I'd never heard of Dunsany and Machen, either inside or outside the 1001 Books project.  Lovecraft himself is only partially a canonical author- a fringe member of the canon- but I feel like he should be more important, just based on his contributions to the aesthetic mindscape of contemporary popular culture.

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