Sunday, April 17, 2005

Lemony Snicket Doesn't Like Lovecraft

The august electronic pages of the Grey Lady features a review of the new Lovecraft anthology by the Lemony Snicket guy (hat tip Professor Bainbridge, who has a proper appreciation for Lovecraft). I'm not going to quote any of the review here, because frankly I find it annoying. I'm assuming that Snicket is not a regular contributor to the Times, but he sure has mastered its world-weary, snarky tone. This is especially so in an opening paragraph he must have written specifically to annoy Lovecraft fans.

Snicket's beef with Lovecraft seems to exclusively be the florid writing of his stories. After all, it would be kind of silly for Lemony to criticize Lovecraft on his subject matter, given the reviewer's chosen genre. But as to the point about Lovecraft's writing -- how about an original thought? The fact that Lovecraft used language almost to the point of excess is blindingly obvious. I've even mentioned it here as a caution to other horror writers in their writing. Whether Lovecraft over-writes is at least up for debate, but you would think that if you were going to write a book review for the Times you might at least try to think of something new or substantive to say.

Snicket does take a couple of half-hearted shots at the Cthulu mythos, but his criticism amounts to saying that he doesn't like it. That's fine, but then why are you reviewing an 800-plus page anthology by the guy? Quite a lot of the stories deal with the mythos, although I personally think his better work are the stories that touch on it only tangentially, if at all.

Two last points. First, I think it's interesting that Snicket suggests that Lovecraft isn't read much (which I would like to see some support on before believing) within a few sentences of mentioning Bram Stoker. I think Stoker much more falls into the known but not read category. Dracula is, of course, legendary, but reading the book made me want to rip my hair out. I swear that Stoker had a quota that each page had to contain the word "nice" at least five times, including, I think, even in reference to the Count himself. I would wager that Lovecraft is more read than Stoker.

Second, Snicket refers to a Lovecraft quote: "The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear.'' However, that is not the full quote. The rest of it reads: "and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is the fear of the unknown.” This is a pretty important addition to the quote, and it not only shows Lovecraft's full philosophy, but it also is an important statement for horror in general. I've made that point before with regard to The Blair Witch Project. Of course, a substantive discussion about horror might have detracted from the snarkiness of Snicket's review.

This review bothered me not necessarily because Snicket had an opinion different from mine, but because it had no significant analysis or argument. Now, maybe Snicket didn't think that Lovecraft was worth a more substantive review. But if that was the case, then the Times should have found something who had something to say that was worth reading.


Blogger Knemon said...

I agree with you 100% on Stoker v. Lovecraft. Big ups to creepy Howard.

"Lovecraft created a mythos out of whole cloth . . ."

Um, no he didn't. Lovecraft was very well read in the literature of the occult, mythology, and ancient/primitive art. It all went into the moldy meat grinder of his mind. What came out was unique, but not ex nihilo.

5:43 PM  

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