An H. P. Lovecraft Encyclopedia  by S. T. Joshi and David E. Schultz. Westport, Connecticut : Greenwood Press, 2001. xx, 339 pp. ISBN 0-313-31578-7 $75.00

Lovecraft’s Library : A Catalog. Revised and Enlarged  by S. T. Joshi. New York : Hippocampus Press, 2002 175 pp. (981 items). ISBN 0-9673215-7-3 $15.00

Reviewed by Henry Wessells


To produce an Encyclopedia is essentially a political act : to strike a spark into the tinder-dry edifice of the ancien régime  (in the case of Diderot and his contemporaries) ; to assert the sum of learning with the elegantly phrase, patriarchal arrogance of empire (here I'm thinking of the eleventh edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica ) ; or, in more recent memory, to throw open the doors of the labyrinth and propose a complex new way of approaching the literature of the fantastic (in The Encyclopedia of Fantasy ). The consequences of these acts are not to be disputed ; what differs is chiefly a matter of scale or scope. It is not unreasonable to look to these three instances as benchmarks for examining different aspects of another encyclopedia. Other criteria will also suggest themselves.
The appearance of An H. P. Lovecraft Encyclopedia  with the imprint of a noted scholarly publisher is an event that might still have seemed impossible a decade ago. It is cause for celebration in Lovecrafty circles, no doubt, but this must not preclude a clear-headed assessment of how well the book achieves its stated aims and how useful an encyclopedia it is.
In their introduction, Joshi and Schultz note the “ marked rise in Lovecraft’s literary recognition as a writer, thinker, and man of letters ” as a result of the scholarship of the past decades : “ it is in the hope that a gathering of widely dispersed information on Lovecraft will engender even more penetrating scholarship and also provide Lovecraft’s many devotees with the tools for a more informed appreciation of his work that the present volume has been assembled. ”
The Encyclopedia provides main entries on Lovecraft’s literary works and brief biographical sketches of persons who figured in his private and literary life (also a handful of writers whose work influenced Lovecraft : Bierce, Dunsany, Machen, Poe, Blackwood). “ Lovecraft is best known for his tales of horror and the supernatural ; accordingly, the compilers have provided detailed plot synopses of every fictional work — stories, sketches, collaborative works, ‘ revisions ’ or ghostwritten tales — written by Lovecraft from the age of seven until his death.” Entries also include story length, dates of composition and publication, and citation to the corrected text. When a manuscript exists, its institutional location is cited. Poetry, essays, and letters are given more selective coverage. In each entry, discussion of critical articles follows the synopsis.
The book shows its strengths in representative entries on stories and persons familiar and less well known : tales such as “ The Music of Erich Zann ”, The Case of Charles Dexter Ward , “ The Shunned House ”, “ Polaris ”, or the decidedly minor “ Reminiscence of Dr. Samuel Johnson ”. Ranging in length from a third of a page to more than three pages, these entries outline the events and imagery of the tale, record observations on Lovecraft’s literary and biographical sources or his own opinion of the work, and then include citations of critical writings. A similar wealth of information is found in biographical entries for such figures as Mrs. Lovecraft (Sonia H. Davis in later years), Frank Belknap Long, Harry Houdini, Lord Dunsany, childhood friend H. B. Munroe, or James Blish, who as a teenager fan corresponded briefly with Lovecraft. Again, these vary in depth with the substance of the relationship. Citations are given for memoirs of Lovecraft and biographical studies of the individual. The biographical entries are authoritative for the Lovecraft circle but somewhat thin for other figures.
There are main entries for selected subjects from Amateur Journalism to Poetry to World War I. There is a very good index of names, essential to the proper function of a work like this.
Joshi and Schultz note, “ Only brief critical commentary is supplied, since we feel it is not our place to enforce our own judgments or evaluations upon readers .” This is more than somewhat disingenuous, since the decision of what to include in a synopsis, and how it is phrased, necessarily reveals the compilers’ views and predilections.
An H. P. Lovecraft Encyclopedia  is an invaluable introductory work, a succinct ready reference to the stories and many of the persons who figured in Lovecraft’s life. This is coupled with an extremely useful thematic grouping of citations to critical literature — the most useful feature of the book. The Encyclopedia should be in every college library and in high school libraries, too, where it may serve to unleash a whole new generation of Lovecraftians upon the world — as future scholars instead of mere scribblers of pastiches and slavish imitations. (As an impartial arbiter, too, it will become a standard part of the bartender’s kit in every lodge of the Esoteric Order of Dagon, etc., etc.)
Returning, however, to the benchmarks described earlier — Revolutionary, Imperial, and Opening the Labyrinth — a careful reading shows the that this Encyclopedia falls somewhat short of the line in each case : the colorless writing style (and its prim cousin, the ostensibly high-minded evasion of controversy) is sharply at odds with its subject matter. Joshi and Schultz chart no new terrain for scholarship and offer only the briefest recapitulations of earlier critical insights, while the plot summaries occupy a substantial portion of each entry and the thematic elements are sometimes repeated in separate entries on principal characters in the stories. Far more problematic are the curious imbalances in the type of information the work contains. What, for example, is gained by the inclusion of a two-line entry on “ Jack ”, the narrator of a ghostwritten story (“ The Man of Stone ”), when the editorial omission of entries for “ real persons ” reduces Cotton Mather to four largely redundant passing citations ? Similar examples of such a skewed measure of relevance abound.

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Turning now to Lovecraft’s Library, the library catalogue has an entirely different history as a genre and demands a different set of measures. To attempt to understand the mind of the writer through the books on the shelves is as old as Montaigne’s marginalia and no doubt much older ; it is also, instinctively and spontaneously, one of the first things anyone does in entering a room of books. There are lists of books compiled by living authors, the auction catalogues when their libraries are sold (before or after death), and variations on these forms. Swift’s own lists and library catalogue have fascinated scholars for decades and are the subject of a new massive four-volume compendium ; in more recent times, the Peter Hopkirk sale (Sotheby’s, 1998) of central Asian travel literature was the reference library that the author of Quest for Kim , The Great Game , etc., had collected when no one else was interested in such books. The list is nearly infinite Johnson, Dickens, Moskowitz . . . .
Lovecraft’s Library  is a expanded revision of the 1980 compilation by Joshi and Marc Michaud. Michaud was founder of the Necronomicon Press where the first seeds of Lovecraft studies were sown ; the press seems to have fallen dormant after a last, excellent crop : Joshi’s exhaustive Life  (1996) and the collection Mosig at Last , gathering the pioneering and still compelling essays of Dirk W. Mosig (1997).
Even though the mainstreaming of Lovecraft proceeds apace, the grassroots activity is greener than you know. Hippocampus Press publisher Derrick Hussey seems to have stepped in to fill the small void created by Michaud's inactivity. The improved production values and general legibility of the new edition of Lovecraft’s Library  (hereafter LL) reflect a different, post-mimeograph aesthetic as well as advances in publishing technology.
The first edition of LL (including the fugitive Addendum #2) listed about 930 items, mainly from a handwritten inventory of books prepared after Lovecraft’s death, with the briefest of annotations (principally citations to the Letters or collections of stories. The new edition has added more than 50 new titles and the annotations are more substantial, identifying the basis for inclusion (the Mary Spink inventory list and those prepared by Lovecraft and his literary executor Robert Barlow, a few booksellers’ catalogues). For inscribed copies or books bearing Lovecraft’s ownership marks, Joshi indicates when the book survives and has been examined by him.
LL is of interest for a variety of reasons and in different ways. What reader could fail to be moved by LL 443, A Magician Among the Spirits  (1924), inscribed by the author : “ To my friend Howard Lovecraft, Best Wishes, Houdini, ‘ My brain is the key that sets me free. ’ ”
To leaf through the book is to find that Lovecraft’s fascination with the eighteenth century was indeed rooted in family copies of books from that period, both major and minor. There are turgid volumes of miscellaneous verse and books of rhetoric at every turn. So, too, there are enough astonomy books to see how the youthful Lovecraft turned his gaze to the stars. From an antiquarian perspective, the single most valuable book in his library was certainly LL 598, a first edition of Cotton Mather’s Magnalia Christi Americana ; or, The Ecclesiastical History of New-England . . .  (London, 1702), “ the most famous American book of colonial times and the indispensable source for colonial social history ” (Streeter 658).
But Lovecraft read all manner of literature, from Walter Scott to Frederick Rolfe to LL 954, the Modern Library Fairy Tales and Poems in Prose  of Oscar Wilde (1918). Joshi notes that Colin Wilson considered “ The Birthday of the Infanta ” to be an influence of “ The Outsider ” (composed in the summer of 1921). From his satire of T. S. Eliot, “ Waste Paper : A Poem of Profound Insignificance ”, it is evident that Lovecraft read “ The Waste Land ” in The Dial  for November 1922, which figures as LL 238. (Lord Alfred Douglas, on the other hand, despised “ that impudent jackass ” sufficiently to scrawl his verdict in a copy of Eliot’s Collected Poems.) The range of Lovecraft’s reading of contemporary and near contemporary anthologies and short story collections is impressive and fully documented here.
Lovecraft’s library was his gateway to the infinite universe. In terms of usefulness, importance of content, and concision of relevant detail, LL is a successful reference book, genuinely improved in this new edition.

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Of all the millions of words Joshi has published about Lovecraft, the single most interesting passage for this reader remains the annotation of LL 400, The Lock and Key Library : Classic Mystery and Detective Stories  (1909), a ten-volume anthology edited by Julian Hawthorne (son of that Hawthorne). The books are small drab things, easily overlooked on the shelves of a used book store or library book sale (where they are usually encountered lacking one or more volumes), but the contents are not to be dismissed.
Joshi’s annotation to The Lock and Key Library  cites the specific stories in these books that figure in Lovecraft’s essay Supernatural Horror in Literature , first published in LL 723, The Recluse  (1927). In essence a roadmap of the essay, LL 400 sheds light on the essay’s strengths and clarifies its sometimes curious omissions. It is no exaggeration to say that Lovecraft essentially defined a new genre and a new way of looking at literature through his careful selection from these volumes. Until that act, the stories were viewed as a subset of the mystery field ; but to paraphrase Borges in “ Kafka and His Predecessors ”, it is no longer possible to do so. Lovecraft was not the first nor the only critic to point to supernatural aspects of literature, but the impact of Dorothy Scarborough’s The Supernatural in Modern English Fiction  (1917) is miniscule — within the genre or without — in comparison to that of Lovecraft’s book. LL 400 is where it started.
Joshi also cites the relevant portions of Lovecraft’s correspondence to demonstrate that Charles Brockden Brown’s American Gothic, Wieland ; or the Transformation  (1798), was known only from the excerpt “ Wieland’s Madness ” in this anthology. Sometimes the Recluse of Providence just couldn't be bothered to track down the original or complete text.
So, two reference works on Lovecraft, the Encyclopedia  nearly essential, if flawed ; and Lovecraft’s Library  indispensable and of even greater interest. And today, in the ealiest days of 2004, the milestones of canonical acceptance — The Norton Critical Edition of H. P. Lovecraft ! The Cambridge Lovecraft ! — to which I alluded in jest in these pages (in a review of the Joyce Carol Oates Lovecraft  in 1997) no longer seem so distant.


Henry Wessells, author of Another green world  (Temporary Culture, 2003), lives and reads in Montclair, New Jersey.

First published in The New York Review of Science Fiction , March 2004. All rights reserved