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I've always been interested in the Cthulhu mythos and I wanted to get into HP Lovecraft's books. What is the best book to start with? I know that Cthulhu was first mentioned in Lovecraft's Call of Cthulhu in 1928. Is that the best book to start with? Should I just start reading Lovecraft's books from his first publication onward?

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Up-voting because there way too little discussion of H.P. here. :) –  Keen Mar 10 '11 at 4:40
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I don't know about the best order to read them in, but from personal experience, the best way to read them is all by yourself in a very old and creaky house by candle light on stormy moonless light. ;-) –  Zeke Hansell Mar 10 '11 at 14:34
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@Zeke and if you can do it in an old abandoned sanatarium its even better. –  Chad Aug 18 '11 at 15:22
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6 Answers

up vote 31 down vote accepted

HP Lovecraft only wrote 1 or 2 novels, most of his works are short stories and novellas. I believe Lovecraft wrote in this manner because he used to write for the pulp magazines of the time (early 20th century).

As far as the order, I don't know that there is a particular order because the stories often have little to do with one another (other than featuring insanity, profound horror, and usually a timeless unstoppable evil entity). Though there are some references to the same dark gods and New England locations in some stories. The Necronomicon is a collection of most of his best stories, that's not a bad place to start. I could recommend some good stories, but not a particular order that would have any relevance.

Necronomicon: The Best Weird Tales of H.P. Lovecraft: Commemorative Edition

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Nice. Another "fake" edition of a book that doesn't exist (or so THEY would have you believe) –  Jürgen A. Erhard Mar 10 '11 at 11:16
    
To be picky, three novels, not particularly connected. "Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath" was a dreamland book, although one of the darker ones. "The Case of Charles Dexter Ward" isn't particularly tied into the Cthulhu stories, except by the mention of Yog-Sothoth and the atmosphere of horror. "At the Mountains of Madness" is firmly in the Cthulhu mythos. –  David Thornley Mar 13 '11 at 3:45
    
@David Thornley - "At the Mountains of Madness" is technically a novella rather than a novel. –  Mark Rogers Mar 13 '11 at 4:02
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I would recommend reading them in pretty much the order he wrote them. While his stories all stand alone, Lovecraft's later tales do refer to characters and incidents from earlier ones; he even went so far as to have characters re-appear later (Richard Upton Pickman of "Pickman's Model" has a minor but important part in the later "The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath"; the narrator of "At the Mountains of Madness" shows up briefly in "The Shadow Out of Time"). Parts of "The Thing on the Doorstep" will make more sense if you've first read "The Shadow Over Innsmouth".

You can find a chronological list of his work at http://www.hplovecraft.com/writings/fiction/chrono.asp.

Reading everything Lovecraft wrote might not really be necessary, though. I don't find much value in his writings before 1920; and he did not reach his peak until 1926 ("The Call of Cthulhu", "Pickman's Model", and "The Silver Key" all date to that year, and much of "The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath" does as well). It wouldn't be entirely wrong to read everything he wrote from 1926 on, while picking and choosing among the earlier stories. But if you do, I would recommend reading all of the following pre-Cthulhu tales:

"The Statement of Randolph Carter", which introduces Lovecraft's alter-ego Randolph Carter "The Terrible Old Man", a rare amusing tale from the horror virtuoso "The Picture in the House"; I think the reference to Arkham in this story was the first "The Moon Bog" "The Hound" "The Festival" "The Shunned House" "The Horror at Red Hook"

Several of Lovecraft's other early '20s stories also repay reading, but I think anybody wanting to get a handle on Lovecraft should make a point of these.

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The Cthulu Chick recently put together an eBook of the complete works of Lovecraft. This may be worth checking out!

Free Complete Lovecraft

The order she chose:

  • The Tomb (1917)
  • Dagon (1917)
  • Polaris (1918)
  • Beyond the Wall of Sleep (1919)
  • Memory (1919)
  • Old Bugs (1919)
  • The Transition of Juan Romero (1919)
  • The White Ship (1919)
  • The Doom That Came to Sarnath (1919)
  • The Statement of Randolph Carter (1919)
  • The Terrible Old Man (1920)
  • The Tree (1920)
  • The Cats of Ulthar (1920)
  • The Temple (1920)
  • Facts Concerning the Late Arthur Jermyn and His Family (1920)
  • The Street (1920)
  • Celephas (1920)
  • From Beyond (1920)
  • Nyarlathotep (1920)
  • The Picture in the House (1920)
  • Ex Oblivione (1921)
  • The Nameless City (1921)
  • The Quest of Iranon (1921)
  • The Moon-Bog (1921)
  • The Outsider (1921)
  • The Other Gods (1921)
  • The Music of Erich Zann (1921)
  • Herbert West — Reanimator (1922)
  • Hypnos (1922)
  • What the Moon Brings (1922)
  • Azathoth (1922)
  • The Hound (1922)
  • The Lurking Fear (1922)
  • The Rats in the Walls (1923)
  • The Unnamable (1923)
  • The Festival (1923)
  • The Shunned House (1924)
  • The Horror at Red Hook (1925)
  • He (1925)
  • In the Vault (1925)
  • The Descendant (1926)
  • Cool Air (1926)
  • The Call of Cthulhu (1926)
  • Pickman’s Model (1926)
  • The Silver Key (1926)
  • The Strange High House in the Mist (1926)
  • The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath (1927)
  • The Case of Charles Dexter Ward (1927)
  • The Colour Out of Space (1927)
  • The Very Old Folk (1927)
  • The Thing in the Moonlight (1927)
  • The History of the Necronomicon (1927)
  • Ibid (1928)
  • The Dunwich Horror (1928)
  • The Whisperer in Darkness (1930)
  • At the Mountains of Madness (1931)
  • The Shadow Over Innsmouth (1931)
  • The Dreams in the Witch House (1932)
  • The Thing on the Doorstep (1933)
  • The Evil Clergyman (1933)
  • The Book (1933)
  • The Shadow out of Time (1934)
  • The Haunter of the Dark (1935)
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That list seems to just be in chronological order. On her blog, she does actually provide a recommended order, here: cthulhuchick.com/lovecraft-recommended-reading-list –  Pieter Müller Feb 19 at 15:49
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Let me shed a little light on this discussion thread.

Technically, Lovecraft only wrote one novel: The Case of Charles Dexter Ward. At The Mountains of Madness, The Shadow Over Innsmouth, A Shadow Out of Time, etc., all of them are technically novellas.

If you want to thoroughly enjoy Lovecraft's writing, in my opinion, you should purchase two books: Necronomicon: The Best Weird Tales of H.P. Lovecraft and Eldritch Tales: A Miscellany of the Macabre. Both books encompass 99.99% of Lovecraft's fictional work, including a handful of collaborations with other of HPL's contemporaries.

The reality is, coming straight from the mouth of the Father of Gothic Horror himself, that NONE of his stories are connected. PERIOD. He simply used his "mythos" as a backdrop for his stories. And make no mistake; he was selling these stores simply to put food on the table. He simply used the same names and themes OVER AND OVER again.

But...

...if you'd like to enjoy these stories in the sense that I personally do, read the stories out of the sequence they are collected in, and read them in BIBLIOGRAPHICAL ORDER.

HPL's writing, critically, can be divided into three sets, or "cycles":

  1. Macabre Stories: All his writing up until The Call of Cthulhu, beginning with The Tomb. These stories have little or nothing to do with his future writing.

  2. The Cthulhu Mythos: Pertaining to Cthulhu and his corresponding Ancient Ones, Deep Ones, or Elder Gods.

  3. The Dream-lands Cycles: Having to do with an imaginary world that exists in and interconnects in people's dreams.

Occasionally, all three of these cycles may loosely overlap and interconnect, but unintentionally by the author. All three "cycles" were written in the order previously described.

Now, if you want to have a little extra fun with his writing, try reading this: the "Simon" Necronomicon; a fictional grimoire published in the late '70's, written by an unknown author, claiming that the writings of HPL were subconscious manifestations of the writings of Aleister Crowley. The book is basically a fictitious version of the Necronomicon depicted in HPL's writing. Complete bullshit, but fun to read.

Hope this helps.

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you should read "the tomb" last, after "the call of cthulu" or whatever and finish with the necronomicon which is very rare and less than 200 made with alot omitted from original its said. Our library has it and people say it may not just be a work of fiction but a mix of but at the least. Though most people that bought the book returned it saying it tainted or cursed them seriously so they stopped print due to the onset of calamities after its release. True Story not internet regurgitation though i am sure you may find something supporting that perceptive veiwpoint. Bill Schnobelen knows alot about it. Worth Taking the time to see what he has to say about lovecraft and his associations......

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The Neconomicon is no more real than the Blair Witch. It's a fictional device invented by HPL, but loosely based on several other rare grimoires of the middle ages banned by the church and burned. –  John O Jan 2 '13 at 5:36
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I figured I'd put up a list just for laughs.

The Colour Out of Space

The Rats in the Walls

Pickman’s Model

The Picture in the House

The Case of Charles Dexter Ward

Cool Air

From Beyond

The Haunter of the Dark

The Music of Erich Zann

The Moon-Bog

The Hound

The Diary of Alonzo Typer

The Lurking Fear

Facts Concerning the Late Arthur Jermyn and His Family

The Shadow Over Innsmouth

The Thing on the Doorstep

The Call of Cthulhu

The Whisperer in Darkness

The Horror at Red Hook

At the Mountains of Madness

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