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A Haunted Mind: Inside the Dark, Twisted World of H.P. Lovecraft Reviewed By James Broderick of Bookpleasures.com
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James Broderick Ph.D

Reviewer James Broderick, Ph.D: James is an associate professor of English and journalism at New Jersey City University. A former newspaper reporter and editor, he is the author of six non-fiction books, and the novel Stalked. His latest book is Greatness Thrust Upon Them, a collection of interviews with Shakespearean actors across America. Follow Here To Listen To An Interview With James Broderick.







 
By James Broderick Ph.D
Published on August 1, 2012
 

Author: Bob Curran (with illustrations by Ian Daniel)

Publisher: New Page Books

ISBN: 978-1601632197


Follow Here To Purchase A Haunted Mind: Inside the Dark, Twisted World of H.P. Lovecraft

Author: Bob Curran (with illustrations by Ian Daniel)

Publisher: New Page Books

ISBN: 978-1601632197


This past March marked the 75th anniversary of the death of Howard Phillips Lovecraft. My guess is that this is news to just about everybody reading this. For all the productivity of his relatively few years on the literary scene (he never lived to see age 50), Lovecraft remains something of a well-kept secret – or perhaps “guilty pleasure” is a better term – for those initiates into his cult of admiration. Despite his influence on succeeding generations of horror and suspense writers, he’s never really broken through to popular acceptance. Too weird for mainstream readers, too early for anthologists of “modern horror,” too pulpy for academics, and too obscure to compete with the likes of today’s best-selling horror titans, Lovecraft occupies a shadowy chasm between presence and absence – much like his fictional creatures.

Yet he endures. New collections of Lovecraft’s work continue to be issued, and a cadre of dedicated disciples still mine his work, adding their own spin and giving new life through publication to the menacing creatures of the so-called “Cthulhu mythos.” Lovecraft is the rash some readers and writers can’t resist scratching.

The man himself remains every bit as enigmatic today as he was when he was causing pulp fiction readers to shake their heads a century ago as they wrestled with such puzzling and profound masterworks as The Call of Cthulhu and The Dunwich Horror. Hermitic, secretive, and famously insecure, Lovecraft is as much a mystery as the insoluble cosmic riddles that whirl about his fictional world.

A new book aims to clarify the swirling, speculative miasma enshrouding Lovecraft’s work: Bob Curran’s A Haunted Mind: Inside the Dark, Twisted World of H.P. Lovecraft. Fans of the reclusive writer will find some of their questions answered, though the promise of the title remains as elusive as the elder-god Cthulhu.

The book is divided into distinct sections, each dealing with a different aspect of Lovecraft’s work: the creatures that inhabit his world, the places where the stories are set, and the arcane books that often appear in his fiction, usually with imaginary-but-esoteric titles. There is also a brief biography that begins the book, and a conclusion wherein Curran seeks to connect his findings to the life and work of the man himself.

Curran has certainly done his research. His work is filled with the voluminous and prodigious result of his esoteric excavations. But Curran faces two significant problems in writing a book about someone whose methods and motives remain so little known. He must frequently resort to speculation, such as “It’s impossible to say if Lovecraft knew of this particular work, but if he had read it….” Or “There’s no evidence Lovecraft himself ever visited, but had he gone there, he would have found….” Curran’s book often reads like a lengthy game of “What if?” The other problem with the book is the way Curran chooses to present his findings, often in lengthy lists of historical names, titles of books, names of places, etc., that go on for page after page after page. I was frequently reminded of those travel guides that take you through neighborhoods, block by block, pointing out every building a tourist might come across.

There’s almost no narrative momentum – in fact, the deluge of laundry-list information encourages one to simply skip through the litany of data to the next section. For instance, he dedicates about a third of the book to exploring various “dark works” – historical books of black magic and spells that are known to actually exist. Never mind that Lovecraft himself made no use of these books – or even likely knew of their existence – but we are treated nonetheless to dozens and dozens of pages that read like those old library card catalogs: Name, Title, Date, Place of Publication, Abstract. It gets a bit numbing. And for a researcher of his depth and breadth, Curran inexplicably gets some key information wrong: in a book about Lovecraft, you can’t repeatedly misspell Edgar Allan Poe’s name. And you’ve got to get the name of his most famous short story right. It’s not “The Call of THE Cthulhu” as he repeatedly asserts (there’s no second article; simply “The Call of Cthulhu”). These texts are sacred to Lovecraftians. You’ve got to get the essentials right.

Curran acquits himself admirably, however, in his brief conclusion, when he puts aside the lists and simply shares his thoughts about Lovecraft’s work. The conclusion is personable, insightful, and reader-friendly.

So we end up getting a glimpse of Lovecraft, but not really his “dark, twisted world” as the title promises. Mostly we get an inventory of other dark worlds, many of which Lovecraft never visited (though he didn’t get out much). Curran’s book will present the diehard Lovecraft fan with some promising leads, but as an anniversary present, it comes up a bit short.


Follow Here To Purchase A Haunted Mind: Inside the Dark, Twisted World of H.P. Lovecraft