On an idiosyncratic caprice, I endeavored to read all of Lovecraft's fiction and revisions in chronological order. This dream-quest proved, on occasion, quite detrimental to my constitution--I recall being overwhelmed with a desire to shoot myself after reading Medusa's Coil--but after I turned the last page of The Night Ocean, I ruminated with fondness over the whole preceding journey. My Lovecraftian forays had left an indelible impression upon me, and despite my shaken semblance of sanity, I was happy to have read him.
Other tales of horror and phantasy, however, were soon exhausted of thrills; and in an attempt to find respite from my devastating ennui, I decided to revisit Lovecraft with Dr. Burleson's book as my Silver Key.
Dr. Burleson's fine study expatiates brilliantly on notable works in Lovecraft's oeuvre. The finished product proves an engaging and elucidative exegesis. The contents run as thus:
1. H.P. Lovecraft
His Life in Brief
His Philosophy as an Artist
2. Stirrings: Emergence of a Dark Talent
The Tomb and Dagon
First Dunsanian Tales
3. Early Years: Beginnings and Foreshadowings
The Terrible Old Man and The Picture in the House
The Outsider and The Rats in the Walls
The Music of Erich Zann
4. New York: Writing in Exile
The Shunned House
The Horror at Red Hook and He
In the Vault and Cool Air
5. Homecoming Bust of Creativity: The Lovecraft Mythos
The Call of Cthulhu
The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath
The Case of Charles Dexter Ward
The Colour out of Space
The Dunwich Horror
6. Sporadic Inspiration: Growth of the Mythos
The Whisperer in Darkness
At the Mountains of Madness
The Shadow over Innsmouth
The Dreams in the Witch House and The Thing on the Doorstep
7. Final Years: Powers Undiminished
The Shadow out of Time
The Haunter of the Dark
8. Major Literary Influences on Lovecraft
Poe and Hawthorne
Dunsany and Machen
Epilogue: General Conclusions
Fairly comprehensive story synopses are given, with Dr. Burleson's highly conversant analysis throughout. The author demonstrates an erudite and intuitive knowledge of Lovecraft's thematic abstrusities and modus operandi, and the reader cannot help but be imbibed with a deep appreciation for Lovecraft's art. All this, also, is presented swimmingly to the reader.
However, Dr. Burleson's does, from time to time, pipe away on curious little tangents that I perceived as specious. It may very well be from ignorance that I say this, but on occasion, I felt that the doctor's interpretations were a bit too overanalyzed and sophistic. For example, some of the explicitly Jungian elements he adduces come across a little too pat. Dr. Burleson avers that, in The Dream Quest of the Unknown Kadath, the carven face of the gods on the side of Mount Ngranek represents Randolph Carter's Jungian counter-ego, and that by confronting the stone face on the far side of the mountain, Carter therefore confronts his "Dark Brother" à la Analytical Psychology. This seems, to me, a wayward wandering of Dr. Burleson's prodigiously intuitive mind.
Dr. Burleson also downplays, I believe erroneously, Lovecraft's racism, claiming Lovecraft was more of an ethnic purist who "got along well" with other races as individuals. The doctor supports this thesis somewhat cogently with his analysis of The Doom that Came to Sarnath, but one cannot help but condemn a man when he writes a poem entitled "On the Creation of N**gers" and takes the time to print and distribute it himself. It may be true, however, that Lovecraft's racism did assuage later in life, and his merit as a human being must not cloud our judgment of his art.
Despite a few moot conceits, the work remains an impressive and insightful lucubration Lovecraftian; a valuable asset to fans and scholars; and also, a wonderful guide to the mythos neophyte. Dr. Burleson's book successfully throws open the gates to Lovecraft's cosmically awesome spheres.