Saturday, April 10, 2010

Herbert West: Reanimator by H.P. Lovecraft

Herbert West: Reanimator
by H.P. Lovecraft

Once again, a nameless narrator recounts a personal tale of terror, as is the norm for Lovecraft's work. However, this is not your typical Lovecraft story--not in the least. There are no alien gods here, no primordial races, and no hint of black magic. Lovecraft here gives us his first mad scientist in Dr. Herbert West, and with it the first instance of a character bringing the horror upon themselves. It's also a very human horror...or at least it used to be.

The story begins with our narrator and Herbert West as medical students at Miskatonic University, where West has been conducting a series of unnatural experiments behind the backs of his advisers. The narrator has been assisting him out of some strange sense of hero worship, thinking that West's powerful mind must surely lead to great scientific breakthroughs.

If the title of the story didn't clue you in (and if you somehow missed the film adaptation), the two med students are using a chemical formula that West created in order to reanimate the dead. And almost right off the bat, it works.

Sort of.

The results are both promising and disheartening. Obviously, the formula hasn't been perfected yet, but more than that, the corpses available to medical students just aren't fresh enough. So how do two enterprising young upstarts procure fresh corpses? Oh, there are plenty of ways.

This tale could practically be called an epic, as it spans nearly two decades of this ungodly partnership, taking the dastardly duo from Miskatonic U, to practitioners during a time of plague, and even into the trenches of World War I. And as time goes on and the chapters flip by, the experiments continue, growing more grotesque and more perverse each time.

Were this story written somewhat later, during the days of WWII, it would have seemed strange for West to be on our side--his nasty experiments would seem right at home alongside the Nazi scientists. West would have seemed right at home as well, as this not-so-good doctor was of the blue eyed, blond haired Aryan persuasion. And Lovecraft isn't about to let you forget it, casually tossing this tidbit of information into the pot whenever the opportunity presented itself, as if it were a crucial plot element. I understand that each of the six chapters required a recap of the one before it due to its original serialized form, but the fact that West was a tow-head didn't need reiterated quite so much.

In fact, its only these recaps (a necessary evil--this tale was serialized from the February-July 1922 issues of Home Brew) that slow things down. The rest of the story was a non-stop thrill-ride (to quote every Hollywood critic known to man), and I loved every minute of it. Well, almost every minute. Just when you thought Lovecraft might make it through an entire story without letting his racist views shine through, he goes and disappoints you.  "Product of his time," blah, blah blah.

I hear that Lovecraft wrote this as a parody of sorts of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, and that he was unhappy with the final product. I find that difficult to believe, even if it is the truth. While he may not have been exorcising any personal demons with this story, it read like, for the first time, he was actually having fun while he wrote. This is Lovecraft at his wildest, absolutely unhinged.

Fans of the movie series should definitely give this one a peep, and let me know what you thought. In my opinion, this is his best work yet.



  1. Absolutely agree! I love that some of the weirder moments in the movie came not from the screenwriter's adaptation, but HPL's story itself.

  2. Will: Have you noticed that a lot of articles about the film mention something along the lines of how director Gordon inserted scenes of dark humor and gore that were not present in the source material? Which is a big fat way of them saying, "I haven't actually read the story...but I'm going to pretend that I have".


  3. I had not read that, unless it was years ago, and it's odd because on the Dagon DVD commentary he really knows his HPL stuff.

  4. Oh, no, I'm not saying that Gordon doesn't know his HPL. I'm referring to the film critics who say that the movie has humor and gore that wasn't present in the original story...which it definitely was.


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