The horror genre wouldn’t be the same without H.P. Lovecraft, the author who came up with Cthulhu, a Kraken-like creature with wings, and a whole mythos of other monsters called “Old Ones.” There’s no better time than now to start reading some of Lovecraft’s most important works! Here’s a list of the 10 best H.P. Lovecraft books, novellas, and stories. This will give you an idea of where to start reading them. There are many other books about cosmic horror that you can read if you want to learn more about this type of horror, which he helped found.
The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories
The Call of Cthulhu is probably one of Lovecraft’s most important stories. It is the inspiration for his epic “Old Ones” mythos. It’s about an ancient dragon-sea monster hybrid that implants itself in people’s minds subconsciously, making them go crazy over time. Cthulhu cultists kill people in rituals and chant in tongues. When the narrator learns more about the creature and how it came to be, he realizes that no one can be safe from such a powerful force, not even himself.
If you want to read one of the best Lovecraft books ever, you should start with this spooky story. It’s not the only one worth reading in this anthology, though. It’s not just “weird stories,” though. There are also seventeen other stories about the mad and mystical. Each one has a different way of telling a scary story. As in Tell-Tale Heart, this is the story of a man who can’t stand the sound of rats in his family home. However, when he goes to look into it, he finds out a gruesome truth about his ancestors. Dagon is the story of a World War I veteran who relies on morphine to help him deal with the pain in his heart and mind. But the visions that keep him awake at night are worse than anything he has seen on the battlefield.
Most of these stories will make you shiver and leave you in shock at the end with a horrible twist. It doesn’t matter which of these stories you start with, though.
The Shadow Over Innsmouth
In the Weird Stories anthology, both of these next two entries are included. But because they are longer novellas (and important Lovecraftian works), they deserve their own entries on their own.
The Shadow Over Innsmouth is the story of Robert Olmstead, a man who becomes fascinated by the mysterious New England hamlet of Innsmouth. When Olmstead goes on a tour of the town, he notices that there is something unusual about the people there. He had heard vague, superstitious warnings from people who didn’t live there. Most of them walk in a weird way and have weird facial features, like flat noses and “bulgy, stary eyes.”
Olmstead meets an old townie called Zadok Allen, who explains why the town is so weird. The “Deep Ones,” a brutal race of fish-like humanoids, have forced humans to breed with them, and the town is full of them. Innsmouth’s residents are the offspring of the Deep Ones. As they grow up, they will look like the Deep Ones and join them in their underwater cities.
Olmstead, of course, doesn’t pay attention to Zadok’s talk. However, soon after, our hero comes to realize that he could be the next one. Even though he can’t be sure what will happen to him if he’s in the hands of humans or monsters. It’s also a big part of Lovecraft’s mythos. It introduces the idea of the Deep Ones, which are a subset of the Old Ones, and the “Esoteric Cult of the Dragon,” which started the worship of the dragon in Innsmouth.
The Whisperer in Darkness
The Whisperer in Darkness isn’t as scary as Shadow Over Innsmouth, but it’s still scary. He changed the way he wrote about horror and science fiction in the 1930s, which is why people think this book is a mix between the two genres.
In this short story, a literature professor named Albert A. Wilmarth (you’ll notice that many of Lovecraft’s protagonists have formal names and scholarly occupations, which is likely a nod to the characters of M.R. James) gets caught up in a debate about strange, seemingly extraterrestrial sightings. Wilmarth is a person who thinks logically, so he usually sides with people who think the “sightings” are just local legends that don’t have any evidence behind them. Even though Henry Wentworth Akeley sent him a letter, it opens Wilmarth’s mind to the possibility of extraterrestrial life. Then, he learns it was the wrong move.
The chilling meditation on science and belief certainly says as much about humanity than it does about about any possibility of alien life, and Wilmarth’s revelations are sure to leave you reeling. As a person who likes to read Lovecraft stories that have a lot of important messages, this one is for you. Many disturbing images can be found in this book. One of the first “brains in a jar” stories (we’ll let you figure out who it is) is found in this book.
The Dunwich Horror
Lovecraft was a big fan of a fictional New England town that was full of strange things. We see how Wilbur Whateley grows up in the Dunwich Horror. He grows up so quickly that he becomes a full-grown man in a few years. He takes care of Wilbur because his mother is disabled and his father is mysteriously absent. It’s not safe for the people in the town where Old Whateley lives to learn about dark sorcery or witchcraft, so they avoid them. However, they do pay attention to the Whateleys’ cattle, which go missing from time to time.
One thing runs through all of this weird and horrible stuff: a single thread. Readers might not expect something as bad as this. In a few years, Lovecraft would write The Shadow Over Innsmouth, which would make his ideas about human-monster spawn come to fruition. This short story is a rattling precursor. The “Necronomicon,” a critical text in H.P. Lovecraft’s books, is also a big part of the Dunwich Horror. The Old Ones are often mentioned in connection with the “Necronomicon.”
At the Mountains of Madness
At the Mountains of Madness is another classic Lovecraft novella, and it’s probably his best-known work after Cthulhu. It tells the story of a failed Antarctic expedition by Professor William Dyer. When Dyer and his team arrive at their base, they are excited to find the remains of a previously unknown prehistoric species. Some specimens are in perfect condition. It turns out that these “specimens” may not be as dead as they thought they were at first.
At the Mountains of Madness is one of the main books that talks about the Old Ones, which the explorers call “Elder Things.” As they find more and more evidence, they call them that. For example, Dyer and another person find the ruins of huge, inhuman buildings, as well as etchings that show how the Elder Things evolved and suggest that they will move into the ocean.
Indeed, this story is a great example of Lovecraft’s skill at worldbuilding. It creates a sense of vivid dread through this mythos that is so detailed, it must be true.
The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath
This is the “Dream Cycle,” which is a series of works by Lovecraft in which he looks at the supernatural through the eyes of dreams and the mind. Randolph Carter is a scholar and antiquarian who wants to find out more about the “Dreamlands,” an alternate dimension that can only be accessed through dreams.
Carter has already dreamed about a beautiful city on the horizon that he hasn’t been able to get near. So, he’ll have to find the place where the dream gods live in order to ask them for help. It’s hard for Carter to figure out who wants to help or hurt him when he’s in the Dreamlands, where there are so many different people and places.
In Kadath, there are cities full of cats, like Ulthar, where the only law is that no one can kill a cat. There is also the onyx nation of Inganok, where the only law is that no one can kill a cat. Lovecraft wouldn’t be Lovecraft if he didn’t give Carter a lot of ominous warnings about abandoning his quest. But overall, this novella is more fantasy than scary. I think you’ll like this book as much as you did A Wrinkle in Time or Prince Caspian.
The Silver Key and Through the Gates of the Silver Key
Both stories in Randolph Carter’s story are in the Dream Cycle, and we’ll put them together because they both keep the story going. It is some time after the events of Kadath, when Carter realizes that he no longer has a “key to the gate of dreams.” Carter used to have vivid and whimsical dreams every night, but his recent scientific knowledge has left him completely unmotivated. Carter wants to be able to dream again, so he goes looking for an ornate silver key that he thinks will open the gate of dreams.
Family and friends meet to deal with Carter’s estate in the book Through the Gates of the Silver Key. Carter has risen to a higher level than the Dreamlands, says a new person called Swami Chandraputra. He says that Carter has passed through the “Ultimate Gate” to learn more about the universe and the bigger gods. Chandraputra, on the other hand, is the only one who knows the whole truth, which is even more unbelievable than he’s letting on.
The whole Dream Cycle sequence is a sign that H.P. Lovecraft’s books have moved into a new kind of book: one that isn’t just about imagining things and more about thinking about them. Freud’s book, “The Interpretation of Dreams,” is a great read even if you don’t believe in his psychology. These works go well with that book.