As I mentioned a few weeks ago, I watched the two movies produced by HPL HS: The silent Call of Cthulhu, and the black and white Whisperer in the Darkness.
These two stories rekindled an interest in Lovecraft and I dug up some of my old books (I hadn't read a lot of this stuff since 1989-90) and dug into some of my favorite stories. A few observations:
I don't think much of this would get published today. At least, not starting where they start. He has a lot (a LOT) of telling in all his stories. Although I'm not sure how you would do it any other way, to be honest, so that telling is a bit of a relief-- imagine if he somehow "showed" all the information necessary for "Shadow Out of Time", for example. Not saying it couldn't be done, and couldn't be done well, but that would be a very very unique stunt to pull off.
Thing is, the telling is a little off-putting, but there is a certain point in all his longer stories where things just begin to flow. You know all the history (or maybe history) and it just sweeps you along.
As a general rule the great old ones, or whatever you want to call them, don't really make us do anything we didn't want to do in the first place. The cult of Dagon doesn't MAKE the people of Innsmouth do anything, the people (certain people, at least) of Innsmouth decided that's what they wanted to do. And they seem to profit from it. Plenty of fish, plenty of gold (for the right people) and the immortality for your children is a pretty good deal. Yes, you look pretty bad from a human perspective, but since you lose your human perspective, who cares? You certainly don't.
Even in the Call of Cthulhu, the cults don't really do that much. Sure they kind of incompetently do some waaaay-after-the-fact murders (maybe...))but the brutal ritual sacrifice in the Louisiana swamps? Creatures! Creatures of the swamp. Again, we aren't MADE to do anything. WE want to do it.
Call of Cthulhu. Before I get into this, let me take a brief aside. When I was studying for the engineering test there was a woman in the class who constantly referred to differential equations as "diffy-Q". She did this kind of thing with a couple of other things. She also failed the test (several times, it turns out). Some quick googling and it appears that it is human nature to give pet names to things we fear, to infantilize them and take some of our fear out of them. We also do this with things we love, but fear to lose (pets, significant others, children) to deal with the fear of losing them.
I bring all this up because there is an awful lot of pet naming and infantilizing of Cthulhu out there in the world. Make of it what you will.
CoC is not really a scary story, at least not at first, but does take on a kind of creepy life of its own. It kind of takes root in your mind. The way the story is told is odd, notes about anecdotes which refer to things someone saw or read fifteen years before. In a way it's almost a ludicrous set of coincidences that lead to the big reveal-- which is of course the whole point of the blessed inability of the mind to not truly understand its contents. Also this is a unique story in that the narrator has zero control over the outcome of the encounter-- in fact, he learns about it all after the fact. He has no agency whatsoever, he has knowledge, but no power.
Of course, there is a hint, just the barest hint, that the narrator is not quite the doormat he appears to be. He does, after all, travel halfway around the world investigating this stuff. He is young yet, and wealthy, and who knows that he might not try to gain a little agency. He knows of the existence of the Necronomicon, for example, and has now gained a wide circle of acquaintances...
Also, it seems to me that most of our representations-- images! graven images!-- of Cthulhu are inaccurate. Cthulhu does not have eyes. Lovecraft never misses an opportunity to describe eyes in his work and there is a notable lack of descriptions of Cthulhu's eyes. Its face, its entire face, is described as a writing mass of tentacles. Plus, HPL uses a lot of 'blind' language in his descriptions. Cthulhu 'gropes' and he 'stumbles' and such.
Also, Chtulhu is not fond of the water. It hesitates at the water's edge before going in after the ship. So all of Dereleth's ideas that Cthulhu is a water-god are bunk. Bunk! It is the water that traps him.
Shadow Out of Time: I like this one, but at a certain point I feel that HPL actually had diminishing goals on it. All the odd things that happen to the narrator when the Yithian possesses him, there could have been a number of great subplots made out of that.
Thing is, this is one of those stories where HPL has a character learn of a gruesome impossible history that they don't believe, only to find out in the end that it is true, it's all true! Also, he uses the idea of an ancient race (in this case the Yithians) opposed to another ancient race (the Flying Polyps)-- these are themes that he leans on pretty heavily.
One thing is that on re-reading it I think the protagonist of this story is well past madness before he ever goes to Australia. Maybe madness isn't the right word, a kind of insane level of denial-- and that makes it that much more realistic story, in a way.
We tend to deny things that we don't like, that we fear, that we know are going to really sting if we admit them to ourselves, so that actually makes some of HPL's stories ring a little truer. It is also kind of cool that, again, the Yithians don't really make anybody do anything (yes, they forcibly posses your body, but you get theirs and free reign of the city, and you get your body back). I suppose you could say that the original inhabitants of the conical creatures got a really raw deal when they found their minds transported back to Yith just in time for the supernova... and I guess the beetle-creatures that are to be our inheritors probably felt the same way about waking up to find themselves face-to-face with the flying polyps. Omelets. Eggs. In the vast gulfs of space and time, these are pretty small potatoes.
Enough of this for now. To be continued!