Review by Sean Branney
June 5, 2017
As one might imagine, the library here at the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society contains a wide assortment of collections and editions of Lovecraft’s works. We have mangy, waterlogged paperbacks of dubious origins, we have a rare first edition Arkham House printing, and pretty much everything in between. Our interest was piqued when the Folio Society announced it was releasing a new high-end collection of Lovecraft’s works. Is such a thing needed when perfectly nice editions containing all of Lovecraft’s fiction can be picked up for twenty bucks or so? We were genuinely interested in the answer to that question. As most visitors to our site are likely to be familiar with Lovecraft’s stories themselves, this review focuses on the elements unique to this publication of them.
The Folio Society has been publishing high quality illustrated editions of some of the world’s great books for nearly seventy years and they believe that a book’s literary content should be matched by its physical form. Those of you who collect books are likely to be nodding in agreement, while the Kindle/download crowd may be scratching their heads at such a quaint notion. In terms of production quality, there’s no doubt that the Folio Society’s new edition of Lovecraft has the highest production values of any Lovecraft publication which I’ve seen. The volume measures 6 3/4” x 10” and its 472 pages give it a pleasing heft. It’s cloth bound in shot silk or something like it, so the cover's color appears to vacillate between green and purple depending on how it catches the light, with the title and decorations stamped in gold. The endpapers are printed with spot varnish and feature a design by the illustrator, Dan Hillier.
Somewhat predictably, the contents of the volume have been edited by S.T. Joshi, but as there’s no higher authority when it comes to textual accuracy in the works of Lovecraft, one really cannot object. Mr. Joshi has achieved a certain degree of ubiquity through his exhaustive scholarship on the subject. This volume is a subset of Lovecraft’s fiction and the stories have been carefully chosen to represent Lovecraft’s creative and artistic arc through his career. The collection begins with early works such as “Dagon” and “The Statement of Randolph Carter” and carries through to HPL’s final tale, “The Haunter of the Dark”. Mr. Joshi provides a thorough introduction which walks the reader through the key events of Lovecraft’s life which shaped his evolution as a writer. Fans of HPL won’t find much new here, but for those becoming acquainted with the story of his life for the first time, it’s a useful glimpse into his life and times.
UK artist Dan Hillier’s illustrations for the collection are beautifully executed and reproduced, including two double-page spreads. The images are richer and more thoughtful than mere depictions of a ghoul or a mi-go. Rendered in pen and ink with a tremendous level of detail, the images pull the reader further into the stories and invite investigations in their own right. My only lament would be I wish there were more of them (the volume contains six illustrations).
I can’t think of the last time I had much to say about a book’s preface, but The Folio Society engaged noted illustrated novelist Alan Moore to write one for this volume. His essay, while brief, is an insightful contemplation of the underlying power of Lovecraft’s writing. Somehow, despite the mass marketing of Yog-Sothoth slippers and Cthulhu Monopoly games, Lovecraft's works remain a potent force playing on our collective imaginations. And while Lovecraft’s personal ideologies may have been deeply flawed, those flaws (and fears) were the fuel for his unique creative vision. Moore’s extraordinary preface is well worth reading for fans new to Lovecraft or for those who can quote him from memory.
Ultimately, I suspect those who have a shelf with a collection of Lovecraft books will wish they could add this volume to it. It’s a book made by people who love books for people who love books. Its high quality comes at a high price but I’m pleased to say the Folio Society lives up to the adage “you get what you pay for”.
The good folks at the Folio Society sent over a copy of their Limited Edition of The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories. They have, quite readily, exceeded the tremendous production values of the volume described above with this edition. In a limited printing of 750 copies, this edition is bound in jet black faux leather (designed by the artist) resplendent with detail and craftsmanship. How so? Well, let’s talk about the hand marbled endpapers. The endpapers are handmade by Jemma Moss through an ancient marbling technique involving Carragheen Moss, and paints carefully selected by the artist to tie in with the green and purple fabric used on the solander box which encases the book itself. I mean… come on! This is a bibliophile’s dream edition of Lovecraft. Inside the magnetically sealed solander box is also a limited print, signed by the artist Dan Hillier. The entire package has the effect of making the book, and more importantly the words inside it, seem like an invaluable treasure. The cost? If you have to ask, you probably can’t afford it. It goes for US$575.