Top Ten HP Lovecraft Stories
Written By: Angela DiLella
Edited By: Grave Reviews Staff
H.P. Lovecraft holds a unique spot in the world of horror. Often imitated, but never duplicated, he created—or at the very least, refined—the subgenre of speculative fiction known as “weird” fiction, which often falls into the realm of horror. Although difficult to describe what “weird” fiction is, exactly, Lovecraft’s stories blended sci-fi, fantasy, and horror elements into unforgettable pieces that are still rather powerful today. As such, here are our Top Ten HP Lovecraft Stories.
Top Ten H.P. Lovecraft Stories
Originally Published: 1920, The Vagrant
The first outing of recurring Lovecraft character Randolph Carter sees the man attempting to explain the disappearance of his friend Harley Warren. Warren believed he had discovered ways to pass between the mundane, human world, and the underworld, and he had enlisted Carter’s assistance.
This story was inspired by a dream Lovecraft had about his friend Samuel E. Loveman. Although the dream certainly frightened Lovecraft and the story is intended to be frightening, there is something oddly comical about this story’s conclusion.
Originally Published: 1937, Weird Tales
This story is an account from one Daniel Upton, who is trying to prove that although he has killed his best friend, he did not murder him. Upton and his best friend, Edward, have been friends since childhood. However, after Edward’s marriage, he begins acting strangely: for one thing, he drives from time to time, although he doesn’t actually know how. He seems to have fugue states. And he is upset about something his wife has done to him…
Although “The Thing on the Doorstep” is apparently unfavored by the professional critics, it really is an enjoyable story and a good introduction to Lovecraft’s style of writing and favored subject matter. It definitely has potential to be a favorite for lovers of gore and grime.
Originally Published: 1927, Amazing Stories
When a strange meteor crashes in Arkham, Massachusetts, things seem positive at first: the crops become larger and more abundant, as do the animals. However, both become nearly inedible, and the strange color on the meteor slowly begins spreading into the life and vegetation in and around the farm.
If this story sounds somewhat familiar, it’s probably because it has been suggested that that many others have borrowed from it. Perhaps most famously is “The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verrill,” a segment in the movie Creepshow (1982), or “Weeds,” the short story by Stephen King the segment is based on. In King’s story, however, it is a creeping fungus that spreads over the farmer’s land and the farmer himself. “The Colour Out of Space” has also been adapted for film many times in the last decade or so, though faithfulness to Lovecraft’s original story varies from adaptation to adaptation.
Originally Published: 1924, Weird Tales
Following World War I, a single man named Delapore leaves America for his family’s ancestral home in England. The estate and family seem to have a bad reputation, and Delapore becomes haunted by both horrible nightmares and the incessant scratching and chewing of rats in the walls. The secrets of his ancestors’ past are a little worse than a rodent infestation, however.
Personally, I think the climax of this story is one of the best Lovecraft ever wrote—Delapore travels backwards through time mentally, and his speech begins to run backwards as well: his patterns and manners of speech take on the characteristics of eras long past.
Unfortunately, this is also one of the most discomfiting of Lovecraft’s stories as well. In some senses it has aged very badly, the most obvious way being the name of Delapore’s black cat. Lovecraft was a noted racist, so it probably isn’t too difficult to guess the name of the cat, which is repeated many times throughout the course of the story.
Originally Published: Serialized from May through July 1941, Weird Tales
Charles Dexter Ward was from an important family in Providence, Rhode Island, but when he began to descend into madness he was quickly shut into an asylum. He was forgotten about, more or less, until he disappeared from the asylum. His doctor is on a hunt to uncover the reasons for Ward’s descent into madness which was so complete it began to affect Ward physically. This sends him into the deep rabbit hole of Ward’s ancestor’s unseemly past that eventually sealed Ward’s own fate.
This story was not published until after Lovecraft’s death, as Lovecraft did not find it up to his own personal standard. However, it has been a popular piece of Lovecraft’s work since then, with both fans of the author and professional critics lauding it.
Lovecraft’s inspiration came from a story about the Halsey House in Providence that had him conclude that the house was haunted. The house can still be visited today and can even be lived in, as it is now divvied up into apartments. Although the idea of living in the home that helped inspire such an iconic tale seems intriguing, you may find your tune changing after you’ve actually read The Case of Charles Dexter Ward.
Originally Published: Serialized from February through April 1936, Astounding Stories
At the Mountains of Madness might very well be Lovecraft’s most famous novella. During an exploration of the Antarctic, mysterious ruins and fossils are found which can’t be identified as plant or animal in a previously unknown site. They predate and indeed don’t match up with the known timeline of life on Earth at all, and the fossilized remains drive the expedition’s dogs into wild furies. Things only get stranger—and worse—the more the team investigates their strange find.
The basic story was many years in the making for Lovecraft, who had been fascinated by Antarctic explorations from an early age. Because so little of the continent was known to that point, it was an ideal spot for fictional geography and alien ruins. The story and what the explorers uncover also build off of previous Lovecraft stories, and connects in different ways to almost all of the stories presented on this list.
Originally Published: 1936, Visionary Publishing Company
In Massachusetts, there’s one town that outsiders avoid by any means necessary, and that is Innsmouth. Although outsiders avoid the place, our narrator, Robert Olmstead, at first finds it to be just a rundown port town. The odd-looking locals shun outsiders, but Olmstead soon finds one that is willing to trade information for a drink or two. His pursuit of knowledge both in this realm and genealogical matters reveal some alarming truths.
This particular story breaks away from many of Lovecraft’s comfort zones in his writing, relying more on long periods of action than others. Despite this, Lovecraft rejected the story, calling its elements “hackneyed.” Difficulties during the publishing process didn’t help his opinion of the story, either. Despite Lovecraft’s own feelings on the book, it remains a favorite with Lovecraft fans, and has been adapted for film and videogames many times over the years.
Originally Published: 1936, Amazing Stories
William Peter Blatty wasn’t the first to explore possession in horror literature with The Exorcist (1971). Lovecraft approached the idea with his own mythos: what appears to be possession is actually a sort of mind-switching. Beings called Yiths switch their minds with human and other hosts to record knowledge of different times and places. Our narrator fears he is losing his mind—until his travels bring him to the great subterranean vault in Australia that he knows from his time in a Yith’s body…
This theme of mind- and body-switching appeared to fascinate Lovecraft towards the end of his life. Lovecraft’s attempt to connect it with various points in history brings it to a step above previous attempts, citing ancient Romans, monks, future wizards and non-human entities as other victims of boy-switching. Rooting his ideas in time like this is fascinating, and leaves behind its own kind of quiet horror.
This story has had quite a life in comic book and graphic novel adaptations. One of the best is Matt Howarth’s in Graphic Classics: H. P. Lovecraft.
Originally Published: 1927, Weird Tales
In “Pickman’s Model,” a friend of the Bostonian painter Pickman relates a story of his talented friend. Though clearly skilled, his paintings of horrific monsters gnawing on human bones and actively attacking humans. Pickman is shunned from the local art scene but his friend does not forget him. However, when the narrator goes to visit his friend, he finds much more than he could have bargained for—and the reader learns why he hates taking the subway.
Although not the most popular of Lovecraft’s stories, it packs quite a wallop and it would certainly be nice if it was acknowledged more. It has been adapted for the screen once, in an episode of Night Gallery, Rod Serling’s television show following The Twilight Zone. Fallout 4, which is set in Boston, also uses the story in a portion of the game.
Originally Published: 1943, Arkham House
The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath isn’t necessarily a horror story through and through. Rather it features Randolph Carter in his longest venture yet (and possibly Lovecraft’s longest writing venture, period). After dreaming of an amazing, inhuman city, Carter descends into a kind of dreamland to find it on his own.
What is interesting about this story is how blatantly it connects to Lovecraft’s other works. There may be offhand references between other Lovecraftian stories, but this lengthy tale takes readers through familiar dream lands like Ulthar, the setting of “The Cats of Ulthar” (1920), and to familiar characters like Richard Pickman, the painter who disappeared mysteriously during “Pickman’s Model.” The horror is more subtle, as Carter digs himself deeper into the dreamscape around him. Carter may not always be aware of the danger around him, but the reader who is well-versed with Lovecraft’s work certainly will be. A particularly creepy scene comes during Carter’s interactions with Pickman, who has changed somewhat from the man described in “Pickman’s Model.”
Although one of Lovecraft’s lesser-known works, perhaps because it isn’t a part of the Cthulhu mythos or because it is too strange, even for fans of the author, it certainly has been influential in the realms of videogames and comics. Though tastes will vary, it is recommended that you read the original story hard copy at night, just before bed. That is why we consider this work to be number one of the Top Ten HP Lovecraft Stories.
If those Top Ten HP Lovecraft Stories don not haunt you all night, then you are made of sterner stuff than us. Of course, everyone has different tastes and different fears, and these may not bother you as much as they bother us. Do you have any favorite Lovecraft stories that make your blood run cold? What are your Top Ten HP Lovecraft Stories? Let us know in the comments below!
Do you like our Top Ten HP Lovecraft Stories? Comment below.