The Annotated H.P. Lovecraft – H.P. Lovecraft, edited by S.T. Joshi (1997, Dell)

3 out of 5

A collection of The Rats in the Walls, The Colour Out of Space, The Dunwich Horror, and At the Mountains of Madness, with annotations by S.T. Joshi, plus an intro and outro (on media adaptations of Lovecraft) by the same, plus a collection of some of Lovecraft’s letters and choice quotes before and after each story by various names, like Thomas Ligotti.

Nice! Kinda!

The selection of stories, while maybe not all my favorites, are all surely classics, and work well as sequenced, with similar structures – somehow relating, to the reader, events that have happened – and a sort of dawning awareness / familiarity with Necronomicon-related creatures and events from tale to tale. The letters and summary of films and whatnot based on Lovecraft works are surely interesting reading, and though the quotes rarely have anything directly to do with the stories they bookend, they are nice inclusions. Except, maybe, Brian W. Aldiss’ recollection of how he found one of H.P.’s tales really silly; this seems like an incredibly strange quote to tack on to the end of Mountains of Madness.

The introduction by Joshi is mostly good reading, giving a good summary of the author’s life and interests, but it’s very much written from a dyed-in-the-wool fan perspective, regardless of how studied Joshi is: it sidesteps any problematic elements of H.P.’s style and career. Fair enough – can’t necessarily ask for some all-out analysis in an intro, as this isn’t a book about Lovecraft – but Joshi’s fandom goes a couple of steps too far when he pretty much rags on anyone who enjoys the Cthulhu mythos stuff that sprang up in the wake of Lovecraft’s work, as it’s not yadda yadda what the writing was intended to be about and cool, glad to know that the majority of fans aren’t up to your exceeding standards, S.T. It’s a sour, elitist taste to lead in to the actual stories.

As to the annotations, they’re about 50% useful. In Mountains of Madness, for example, S.T. clarifies passages that were stricken from the original publication, and throughout all of the stories, we get clarity on historical / scientific references, and some helpful expansions or when and where some of the mythos stuff originated, whether in H.P.’s other works or those of other authors. But a lot of the annotations are just definitions of words, and not archaic ones – words that are still used today – as though Joshi just figures we’re too dumb to either know these words, or to look them up if we don’t. Some of what he chooses to define is truly puzzling, as I’d consider them pretty commonplace terms, like ‘opalescent.’ Further annotations are guesses that he presents as factual, that Lovecraft is certainly referencing some event or some text, because he had such-and-such book on his shelf. If these annotations were presented in a more open-ended voice, they’d be fine, but they otherwise fall in line with the holier-than-thou attitude of our editor.

The presentation of the book is quality. The annotation font vs. the regular font is nicely chosen, and although some annotations unfortunately bleed from one page to another, I think a good balance is struck between how much story and notes are on each page.

An overall satisfactory compilation of some key Lovecraft works, but certainly not needed as a double dip if you own these in other formats.