Noah Soudrette's Reviews > The Dreams in the Witch House and other Weird Stories

The Dreams in the Witch House and other Weird Stories by H.P. Lovecraft
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Aug 28, 2009

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I'm going to break my reviews down by story, with some notes on this edition at the very end.

A short little vignette that it is often credited as channeling Dunsany's fantasy style. However, Joshi reveals in his introduction that this story was written before Lovecraft ever read Dunsany. Other than that interesting tidbit, this tale focuses on a story seed that Lovecraft will use over and over again: the idea of mind swapping (in this case, ancestral). He explores this further in his later tales, most notably The Case of Charles Dexter Ward. As I said earlier, the fantasy element here is very heavy, and might surprise some readers. The final revelation of the story, that of the dreamer believing the dreamworld to be the true reality, and his waking life a dream, is another common, Lovecraftian concept and handled excellently here. Still, most will probably find this (outside of its scholarly interest) a bit of a throwaway.

The Doom That Came To Sarnath
This is very much a fable and one of the earliest Dunsany inspired pieces he wrote. He had only been introduced to Dunsany's work two months earlier and most similarities are superficial in nature. After a paragraph or three, it is obvious what is going to become of the city of Sarnath. Actually, it's pretty obvious from the title, isn't it? So, don;t expect a shocking twist ending. This story is more like a portrait. Lovecraft spends the bulk of it painting a picture for us of this wonderful, and great city of Sarnath. Similar to Polaris, this then feels a bit like an exercise.

The Terrible Old Man
This is Lovecraft's shortest story, and concerns a creepy old man who everyone knows better to avoid. Except, three immigrants of varied European decent come to town and see the old man as an easy mark for a theft. You can see where this is going. The conclusion is extremely ambiguous and leaves the horrific and mystical elements entirely up to the reader's imagination. Think of a child's scary bedtime story.

The Tree
An odd tale, and Lovecraft's only tale set in ancient Greece. The style mimics that of a parable. Honestly, I felt the ending too ambiguous and didn't feel like it had a very clear thrust. Still, it's well written, and perhaps others would enjoy the ambiguity.

The Cats of Ulthar
One of my very favorite Lovecraft stories. I've always been a "cat person", and Lovecraft's love and respect for cats shows through here. Obviously Poe inspired on a certain level, and a good example of Lovecraft's ability to turn the everyday things and experiences we take for granted and turn them terrible. A wonderful cautionary tale.

From Beyond
As far as Lovecraft's concept driven stories go, this is a good one. The idea of a machine which allows us to use a vestigial sensory organ to experience the "things" that live around us in the space between, is nothing short of brilliant. The story's only flaw is the hammy ranting of Crawford Tillinghast.

The Nameless City
This story is notable for containing the first mentions of Abdul Alhazred and his famous couplet, "That is not dead which can eternal lie, / and with strange aeons even death may die." The plot concerns a wanderer in the Arab lands happening upon a mythical ancient city so old that it's name is lost. There are some fantastically claustrophobic passages that take place in some ancient tunnels, that managed to make me catch my breath. Other than that, the final reveal is not terribly surprising, but does manage to cap off a history of the strange race that once lived in the nameless city.

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message 1: by Jesse (last edited Aug 29, 2009 12:36PM) (new)

Jesse I'd have to agree. It was interesting, but more as a sample (as you said) of a concept he would later use more, and as a kind of literary doodle if you will. I can't discount anything that demonstrates his skill with imagery (disturbing and/or wonderous) but the story is so tightly focused on such an alien world for a very brief narrative, that most would as you said treat it as a throwaway.

P.S. Koodos for being like the only one of my goodreads friends thats given me an actual review of something in days (aside from some children's book done by Alex).

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