Book Review: The Horror in the Museum

Horror in the Museum cover

H.P. Lovecraft wrote a lot.  Didn’t publish so much (in his lifetime), but he wrote a lot.  He did some ghostwriting and other work for hire along the way.  The stories in this collection are sometimes called ‘revisions’ or ‘collaborations.’  I’m really not sure just what name best fits, but each one now credits both Lovecraft and an additional author.  Some have the feel of a typical story from Lovecraft, while others feel distinctly different.

The best stories are The Horror in the Museum, The Curse of Yig, and The MoundThe Horror in the Museum (co-authored by Hazel Heald) would have made a great American International film, with Vincent Price playing the madman Rogers.  It has the feel of one of their Poe films, for sure. The Curse of Yig (co-authored by Zealia Bishop) is probably the story from the book I was most familiar with.  I’d read it before in a different collection and I think it might be one of those that gets reprinted a lot.  When I say some of the stories seem less ‘Lovecrafty’ than others, I kinda mean this one, not just because of the setting being the American Midwest, but because it features at least one female character in an important role and seems to be aware that human sexuality exists.  The Mound (again with Bishop) is the longest and most involved story in the volume and seems like it’s reaching for some of the lost world, deep time exploration of some of Lovecraft’s best (At the Mountains of Madness and The Shadow Out of Time).  It deals with super-powerful alien beings, pre-human rulers of the Earth, ancient corruption, and definitely references a bunch of what would later become the basis of the Cthulhu Mythos.

Something that I have to bring up when talking about this book is the racism.  It’s in here. In one story, Winged Death, you could pass it off as being the opinions of an evil character.  He’s a bad person and has racist views. If that was all there was, OK.  But it’s not. In various stories there are bits here and there. The Mound is pretty packed with it.  The idea that Europeans are the only civilized people, and when you get down to it the only people who do or should matter is writ large on almost every page.  It borders on the most extreme of Victorian attitudes.  I mention all of this for multiple reasons. I enjoyed the book and I recommend fans of the genre read it. So I want to make sure you’re warned that it features some racism, not just on the part of characters but on the part of the writer(s).  I also bring it up because there’s been a frequent catch phrase being used by a lot of younger book fans and critics. I keep seeing the phrase, “Lovecraft was racist, even by the standards of his time.” I think this is at best a well intentioned but mistaken statement and at worst a dangerously misinformed one.  Saying it paints a simplistic, black & white picture and removes the possibility of a teachable lesson. The scary thing about Lovecraft’s racist ideas isn’t that he had them or that they were extreme (he did and they were). It’s that they were mainstream. His ideas, which are reprehensible, were quite common. He was very much a product of his time.  Hand-waving and painting him as an anomaly is wrong-headed.  The racism and other bad ideas of our ancestors should be remembered and learned from so that we can be better than they were.

OK.  Rant over.

As I said above, if you’re a fan of the genre, I do recommend giving this volume a read.  And for all its racism, The Mound is a cool lost world story (it’s way better and less overtly racist than The Purple Sapphire, for example) and has a ton of material to raid for your Call of Cthulhu game, if you’re so inclined.  I’m actually surprised it doesn’t feature more in scenarios for the Tabletop RPG. 

 

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