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The Top 10 Stories of H.P. Lovecraft

Updated on August 29, 2016

In His House at R'Lyeh Dead Cthulhu Waits Dreaming...

His name was Howard Philips Lovecraft, but to the world, he emerged as the dream-ridden soul: the one who spoke of the terrifying shadow in the corner. H.P. Lovecraft, was gifted with the subtle words that, even today, shake the foundations of the horror genre. Writers, new and old, pay him tribute for his timeless macabre and pitch of fascinating malevolence. Acclaimed author Stephen King once said of Lovecraft, "[he was] the twentieth century's greatest practitioner of the classic horror tale."

And few refute the claim.

Do you know of the Deep Ones, The Mad Arab, The Old Ones, or the Elder Gods? These monstrosities, and many more, were built through the grisly machinations of H.P. Lovecraft, including his most immortal creation, the sleeping god, Cthulu, upon whom songs and countless other references have been taken.

So venture now, into this bleak world; time will slow as the journey begins. Madness will fall upon you, creeping into your slumbering, numbed will as you pour through these passages. Presented to you are, arguably, his greatest works: ten of his most fear-inspiring pieces. Walk among them. Seek them out, if you dare. Learn what sparked from the dreary imagination of the man, the author.

Meet H.P. Lovecraft.

Dagon Artwork by Jeff Rimmer
Dagon Artwork by Jeff Rimmer | Source

10. Dagon

An Introduction Piece of Lovecraftian Style

A very short, maddening tale, Dagon is a great introduction into Lovecraft's writing style. The story centers around the written account, perhaps ramblings, of an unnamed man of seafaring background, now heavily addicted to the drug, morphine.

He begins by explaining how he fell into the sea as a passenger of a cargo ship during World War I. The ship is brought down by a German sea-raider, but he escapes and drifts across the Pacific Ocean. At that point, he is drained of strength and confused, unable to purchase his mental faculties until he winds up on some strange, "putrid" region with many fish carcasses. He speculates that a volcano may have raised the land from the ocean floor.

What he sees and experiences from thence on would spoil the story, but the detail is disturbing. As he observes some of his findings, something haunting emerges from the water.

Dagon is the reference of a Philistine fish-deity, which Lovecraft spins into a great work. While it does not directly tie into his Cthulu Mythos, there are some connections, which makes this a great first read.

Recommended Reading for Dagon: With Deep Insight Into the Author.

I highly recommend The H.P. Lovecraft Omnibus 2: Dagon and Other Macabre Tales—not only because it contains the story Dagon—but because it's an essential Lovecraft that has many stories, including fragments, and his non-fiction piece Supernatural Horror in Literature. This writing will give you insight into the very nature of the author, perhaps more than you'll wish.

The H.P. Lovecraft Omnibus 2: Dagon and Other Macabre Tales
The H.P. Lovecraft Omnibus 2: Dagon and Other Macabre Tales

This work is a huge compendium, featuring The Alchemist, Aurthur Jermyn, The Beast in the Cave, Beyond the Wall of Sleep, The Cats of Ulthar, Celephais, Dagon, The Doom that came to Sarnath, The Evil Clergyman, The Festival, From Beyond, He, Herbert West - Reanimator, The Horror at Red Hook, The Hound, Hypnos, Imprisoned with the Pharohs, In the Walls of Eryx, The Moon-bog, The Nameless City, The Other Gods, Poetry and the Gods, Polaris, The Quest of Iranon, The Strange High House in the Mist, The Street, The Temple, The Tomb, The Transition of Juan Romero, The Tree, The Unnamable, and The White Ship.

It also contains his fragment writings, such as Azathoth, The Book, The Descendant, and The Thing in the Moonlight.

 

9. The Outsider

One Level Deeper Into the Mind of Lovecraft

"Unhappy is he to whom the memories of childhood bring only fear and sadness."

- The Outsider

Another great introductory tale and short story, The Outsider gives the reader a further peek into the descriptive narrations that Lovecraft has mastered, putting the (anti)protagonist into a world of "vine-encumbered trees" and a castle of "infinitely old and infinitely horrible" theme.

Once again, there is no name given to main character; he merely stumbles through the story searching for an end to his discomfort and melancholy. As the plot continues, he explores the upper levels of his home, finding a way to escape his seclusion.

The Outsider twists the mind; up is now down, left is right. At the end of the story, it all makes sense, which is why this excellent writing is best at number nine, taking you one level deeper.

The Dunwich Horror
The Dunwich Horror

8. The Dunwich Horror

As This Journey Unravels, It Would Now Be Best to Explain the Cthulu Mythos

Within a majority of Lovecraft's works, there are re-occurring elements his fans have enjoyed and expected such as the Necronomicon, a horrible book of evil spells, Arkham, a fictional city residing in Massachusetts (If you are a Batman fan this might sound familiar.), and Miskatonic University, a fictional college within the area. Lovecraft created all these ideas. Within the pages of The Dunwich Horror, the reader can appreciably see the unfolding of these Cthulu Mythos elements and appreciably understand them.

...As did one Wilbur Whateley, of suspicious abnormality and birth, who attempts to steal the Necronomicon from Arkham University. In response, our protagonist, Dr. Henry Armitage, with the help of Professor Warren Rice and Dr. Francis Morgan, assembles to confront the horror rampaging across the countryside and culminating from the Whateley house. What transpires is unbelievable—an evil man's intent bent on a menacing ritual.

7. The Colour Out of Space

Lovecraft's Favorite

L. Sprague de Camp wrote that this story encompassed many of Lovecraft's viewpoints at the time, including his disgust of written and portrayed aliens from outer space. With The Colour Out of Space, once again set near Arkham, our nameless "hero" observes a dreadful well as he is surveying in a blighted area.

The hero then finds a hermit to tell him the tale of the Gardnur family, a falling meteor, and the despair to ensue. Be forewarned while reading: much of the description and detail can only be discerned as his idea of alien infestation.

The Colour Out of Space is clearly a classic, always mentioned and included among Lovecraft's best works.

The Lurking Fear
The Lurking Fear

6. The Lurking Fear

One of His Earliest...

Lovecraft went through three phases of writing; from horror, to his dream-cycle stories, to his mythos works. The Lurking Fear is a direct representation of his earliest efforts in the macabre, where the main character (again nameless) leads a team of men to investigate a series of rumors on Tempest Mountain.

It would belittle the writing to say it is gruesome at best, implying some facet of humanity as the darkened, stormy skies and claps of thunder and lightning causes his group to disappear or become murdered. And upon his discovery of a nest of underground tunnels, it only worsens.

Chosen as number six, it is important to remember that this is one of his earlier works (published in 1922) and nothing but monstrous. Still, it is highly valued, having a film adaptation of the same name.

5. At The Mountains of Madness

Pack Your Bags...It's a Good One.

This story fully embeds us in the Cthulu Mythos, centering on the Professor of Geology at Miskatonic University, William Dyer, who has returned from a horrifying expedition to the Antarctic. His only goal now is to prevent others from returning to that deadly place.

At The Mountains of Madness is vividly descriptive of the icy-wastes, dark artifacts, and fear-inspiring remnants of a lost civilization that rose before the coming of man. It also introduces the Shuggoth, a creature of some infamy to Lovecraftians. Throughout, though, there is something unspoken on the Professor's mind, something he cannot mouth, which lies beyond the ruins.

After the first paragraph, this story puts an Indiana Jones meets Hellboy twist on the reader, making it worthy of number five for Lovecraft.

4. The Shadow Out of Time

Lovecraft Also Thought About Alter-Egos.

Published in Astounding Stories (1936), this piece involves an alien race known as the Yith and their ability to take over or switch with host bodies. Lovecraft biographer, S. T. Joshi, suggests this came at the viewing of the movie "Berkeley Square" and a series of horror stories that implied the transfer of consciousness.

The main character is Nathaniel Wingate Peaslee, who believes he is on the verge of losing his mind. There are many Cthulu Mythos elements throughout—he references Miskatonic University, Nyarlathotep, and even Professor William Dyer—but the greatest achievement of this work is his level of detail to archeology, research, and investigation. The reader takes a dismal position finding the revelations as unbecoming as the protagonist.

Each step staggers closer to the truth: learning of the Yithians, their purpose, and what awaits those they choose. Lovecraft at his finest, The Shadow Out of Time is number four.

The Shadow Over Innsmouth
The Shadow Over Innsmouth

3. The Shadow Over Innsmouth

Enter: The Deep Ones

Set in the village of Innsmouth, Massachusetts, Robert Olmstead was only revealed later to be the narrator and main character of the story through notes presented by the authorized publisher Arkham House. Through his travels as a scholar of genealogy, he encounters the city and its abnormal resident, with traits that cause him concern. Later, he learns many nefarious rumors and gains insight from, perhaps, the only human inhabitant, a town drunk named Zadok Allen.

This is an excellent primer to the deity Cthulu and a masterpiece recognized by the Lovecraft-reading community. The architectural descriptives are a fascinating assemblage of images as well as the concept of an amphibious race, corrupting the human stock.

2. The Whisperer in Darkness

This Is Lovecraft; This Is Your Brain. This Is Your Brain on Lovecraft. Any Questions?

Picking The Whisperer in Darkness as number two was a really hard sell. First off all, there are numerous others stories with greater mention and accolades when referring to the author. Furthermore, this is a transition period for Lovecraft (published in 1931), moving more towards science fiction and less towards horror.

But this story has it all. The reader is introduced to the Mi-go, and alien race of "large, pinkish, fungoid, crustacean-like entities the size of a man," gory embellishments, and yes, a near complete compendium of Cthulu Mythos references. In one sentence, the attributions are numerous:

"I found myself faced by names and terms that I had heard elsewhere in the most hideous of connections—Yuggoth, Great Cthulhu, Tsathoggua, Yog-Sothoth, R'lyeh, Nyarlathotep, Azathoth, Hastur, Yian, Leng, the Lake of Hali, Bethmoora, the Yellow Sign, L'mur-Kathulos, Bran, and the Magnum Innominandum..."

~The Whisperer in Darkness

Aside from its contents, the plot finishes the recipe. Suffice it to say, Albert N. Wilmarth, an instructor at Miskatonic University investigates a disturbing letter, only to learn the truth of an alien race with malevolent morals and intentions towards humankind.

It's number two, because the story inspires great thought and imagination from the 1930's.

The Call of Cthulu
The Call of Cthulu

1. The Call of Cthulu

The Quintessential Lovecraft Story

That is not dead which can eternal lie,

And with strange aeons even death may die

-The Call of Cthulu

Every reader of Lovecraft pays tribute to this story, and therefore, it is number one. It has an instrumental by famed band, Metallica, numerous cartoons, comics, T-shirts, crossword puzzles—you name it. The roleplaying game, Dungeons & Dragons spawns a race (Illithids) based on the octopoid, human-like appearance of the dead god.

The main objects of the story are a series of manuscripts: a bas-relief depicting the creature created from the dreams of a student artist, and the ancient, esoteric being who came to earth millions of years ago. In setting, it moves from Rhode Island to St. Louis, finally resting in an uncharted ocean area in the Pacific near 47° 9' S, 126° 43' W. (Perhaps you will note the similarities between the ending of this story and the story Dagon.)

Ironically, Lovecraft thought this writing was only fair among his efforts; it was rejected originally by Weird Tales, but later published with Robert E. Howard (author of Conan stories) praising it. And ultimately, while the debate will continue among his fans, Call of Cthulu will forever be the single piece of literature that defines H.P. Lovecraft.

Conclusion

And so, you have been indoctrinated: educated in the reality that the author imparted nearly 80 years ago. When looking over these stories, understand the intent: It’s important to note the greatest, but it’s also, equally, of value to teach people how to read H.P. Lovecraft.

Agree? Disagree? What is your favorite story? How would you have listed them?

Your comments are welcome!

Favorite Cthulu Story: Have You Touched the Darkness Yet?

Your favorite Lovecraft Story?
Your favorite Lovecraft Story?

H.P. Lovecraft is a very profound read to those of us who love horror; his stories exist on a terrifying level, beyond the scope of many other writers. With that satisfaction, it's always of interest to learn which story stands out from the rest. And, in this poll, here's your chance.

Which story by H.P. Lovecraft is your favorite?

See results

Fear is a wonderful thing. No? Agree? Disagree?

Thanks for dropping by. If you have any comments or experiences and would like to share them, I'd be glad to read them. Also, feel free to list your favorite H.P. Lovecraft book.

Your Thoughts on the List. Don't fear.

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    • profile image

      Dan 10 months ago

      My favorite has to be The Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath. I know a lot of Lovecraft fans dislike this one, but it is so packed with Lovecraft's incredible imagination, and hot damn it if I don't love the ending. It's a rare story I can read over and over and never get sick of. The Colour Out of Space would be my second choice, a truly brilliant and imaginative piece of fiction. So many great stories to choose from. Love it.

    • profile image

      Juggerdan 12 months ago

      The Dunwich Horror will forever be my favorite Lovecraft story.

    • profile image

      Adronera 2 years ago

      Making a song in honour of H.P for a free downloadable compilation. It will be under Black Death Industri, a German Label. Enjoy my offering, "The Birth of Cthulhu" ! Invocation included !!!

    • profile image

      HPLHSmember 2 years ago

      I live the Dream Quest.I am surprised its' not #1.I've read it about

      10 times and will still get more out of it next time.I love to get stoned

      and read it slow,sometimes reading paragraphs over to take it all in.

    • BlackPharaoh2 profile image

      BlackPharaoh2 3 years ago

      I agree with most of your list. I would go...

      "HERBERT WEST - REANIMATOR" Unjustly maligned. While it is a parody of such horror stories, its very entertaining and actually introduced Miskatonic University and Arkham.

      "DAGON" Its a real chiller and a good intro to the Cthulhu Mythos.

      "THE WHISPERER IN DARKNESS" The Mi-Go are just so creepy!

      "THE COLOR OUT OF SPACE" A really creepy one. A treat.

      "THE DUNWICH HORROR" Whately is a classic character.

      "THE OUTSIDER" Just a creepy short story with heavy Gothic undertones and a Poe-esque style.

      "THE CALL OF CTHULHU" The story that gave us the name of the Cthulhu Mythos.

      "THE SHADOW OUT OF TIME" A tremendous piece of cosmic horror.

      "THE SHADOW OVER INNSMOUTH" What a great concept for such a great chiller!

      "AT THE MOUNTAINS OF MADNESS" Its creepy. Its cosmic. Its cool. It has shoggoths and Elder Things and human dissections and madness and Poe and a bleary setting and all you could want from Lovecraft.

      My personal favorite is the unfairly scathed "The Dreams in the Witch House." While the mathematics can get boring, I love the concept and telling so much that I'm making a movie of it with heavy metal (see witchhouserocks.com) and chilling props (see cryptocurium.com). Please support us!

    • BlackPharaoh2 profile image

      BlackPharaoh2 3 years ago

      @jesus-sotomayor-12: Its a really creepy story, to be sure. And Pickman also appears in "The Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath." It stands as one of his better short stories.

    • profile image

      jesus-sotomayor-12 3 years ago

      I've only read a few of Lovecraft's stories, but where does "Pickman's Model" stand among his stories? That's the story that really gave me the chills.

    • profile image

      Steingar 3 years ago

      Some well thought out choices here. Though this may be perceived as blasphemy, I actually found "The Call of Cthulu" to be one of Lovecraft's lesser works; possibly because the protagonist was so removed from the action, which didn't exactly make for gripping reading. "The Shadow Over Innsmouth", by contrast, I found to be exceedingly readable and entertaining. The idea of a person alone in a mysteriously degenerative community is fascinating, and you can certainly see echoes of this concept in such modern works as the (light-hearted) films of Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, which only goes to reinforce the influence of Lovecraft in modern popular culture. Other stories worthy of inclusion would be "The Rats in the Walls" (his best short story) and "The Curious Case of Dexter Ward", which while arguably his most conventional long story was certainly one of the most well crafted. Nonetheless, a fine list.

    • profile image

      Steingar 3 years ago

      Lovecraft was indeed an amazing writer. Although this may perhaps sound treasonous, I thought "The Call of Cthulu" to be one of his weaker efforts, perhaps because the protagonist was so removed from the action. By contrast, I found "The Shadow Over Innsmouth" to be his most immensely readable, with the focus on a whole secretive and degenerative community being fascinating. You can certainly see the influence of this idea in modern novels and films, particularly the (light-hearted) efforts of Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. Others I would add to the list would include "Rats in the Wall" (the best of his short stories) and "The Case of Charles Dexter Ward", which while arguably being his most conventional work was one of the most riveting as well. Regardless, an excellent list.

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      Wow, a tough list to make, thanks for putting it together (and not spoiling the plot to any of the stories). The Color Out of Space was the first Lovecraft story I ever read and I thought it was the best, until I read At the Mountains of Madness. I thought that was the best until I read The Lurking Fear. I haven't read the Whisperer or the Outsider...lets see if my list further evolves...or devolves.

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      Rats in the walls...awesome

    • colgrym profile image

      colgrym 4 years ago

      Great lens. Call of Cthulu being my all time favourite Lovecraft work, though all are good if you're looking for how to write atmosphere and mood. The only downside to any of the great man's work is the dialogue, which ranges from bad to awful. That aside, he deserves to be at the top of any horror fan's reading list

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      anonymous 5 years ago

      I think that Dream Quest should be on this list, the only story that rivals LOTR.

    • SarahB709 profile image

      SarahB709 5 years ago

      Now this is a great lens!! I love this author and I even got into trouble in high school for finding and reading an old tattered copy I found in the basement of my hometown library. Our librarian put books in the basement that she felt were dangerous. LOL Oh it was a perfect place to get introduced to Lovecraft. It was terrifying reading about his monsters by an overhead bare bulb, alone in the basement with the dust of the ages stinging my nose with every breath. Chills were constant but worth it. I'm glad to have found this lens because now I want to . . . no . . . I need to his works again. Thank you for a great lens and for bring up great childhood memories.

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      anonymous 5 years ago

      Good list. You have to have ATMOM, Cthulhu, Innsmouth, Colour for sure then maybe it's more personal taste. I've always had a fondness for The Haunter of the Dark. The atmosphere and visuals of that story are incredibly chilling and rich.

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      Dream Quest

    • mojoCNYartist profile image

      Dan 5 years ago from CNY

      I noticed when reading Lovecraft's works that he was a total fanboy for Poe's works. I like the list you had created although one story deserves to be on the list "The Shunned House". Plus my fave story was "The Outsider", because in the end the main character discovers that he is a zombie/undead. Lovecraft leaves you on the edge of your seat till the very end in that one.

    • cinefile profile image

      cinefile 5 years ago

      Wonderful.

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      anonymous 5 years ago

      Must say a good list... The Outsider is my favorite Lovecraft story. It has an excellent atmosphere but i guess that's not saying much every Lovecraft story has a lovely dark and twisted atmosphere . What really drew me in on this work was the sadness, I really felt for the main character. His loneliness at the beginning, his struggle to leave his loneliness and go among others, and then rejection.... Just sad and beautiful if you have never read it you really should... One other thing at least one story from the dream cycles should be on the list like Ex Oblivione, The Silver Key, or The Doom that Came to Sarnath.

    • kaposzta profile image

      kaposzta 5 years ago

      Excellent list of the best stories of Lovecraft, great job with this lens!

    • BlakeCzirr profile image
      Author

      BlakeCzirr 5 years ago

      @anonymous: Sorry for the late reply, David.

      No reading order for Lovecraft, but fortunately, it's unnecessary. The stories are all self-contained and won't infringe upon each other. Hope you enjoy them!

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      anonymous 5 years ago

      Is there a reading order to these stories? I have the books but I haven't read any yet (just a page of At the Mountains of Madness).

    • cbessa profile image

      cbessa 6 years ago

      Great to see Lovecraft's fans in here! As you can see on my avatar. Cthulhu for presidente!

    • Paul Ward profile image

      Paul 6 years ago from Liverpool, England

      Excellent introduction to LOvecraft, Angel Blessed

    • profile image

      NYThroughTheLens 6 years ago

      Yesss. Awesome, awesome lens.

    • profile image

      MaggiePowell 6 years ago

      enjoyed the lens... brought back some nightmare memories

    • Luminosity LM profile image

      Luminosity LM 6 years ago

      The Necronomicon of course.

    • BlakeCzirr profile image
      Author

      BlakeCzirr 6 years ago

      @Lemming13: Thanks for the comment. Wow! The Case of Charles Dexter Ward is a good story...I think I'm going to re-read it in the coming days. Loved that story!

    • Lemming13 profile image

      Lemming13 6 years ago

      Love the lens and the list, but personally I rate The Rats in the Walls and The Case of Charles Dexter Ward over The Outsider. Still, one man's space-mead is another man's poison, eh? You are definitely a Priest of the Starry Widsom, though. Ia you.

    • BlakeCzirr profile image
      Author

      BlakeCzirr 7 years ago

      If anyone comes up with a story they think should be moved into the list, let me know.

    • PRam1 profile image

      PRam1 7 years ago

      Well organized and researched lens. I voted up

    • hayleylou lm profile image

      hayleylou lm 7 years ago

      Good list, well set out, thumbs up :)

    • georgevtucker profile image

      georgevtucker 7 years ago

      Nicely thought out and well-written. I'm a huge HPL fan and it's nice to see his name here on Squidoo.

    • kimberlynapper profile image

      Kimberly Napper 7 years ago from U.S.

      Very impressive. *SquidAngel Blessed*

    • BlakeCzirr profile image
      Author

      BlakeCzirr 7 years ago

      @LadyLovelace LM: So that's what a lensroll does. Doh! Thanks LadyLovelace!

    • LadyLovelace LM profile image

      LadyLovelace LM 7 years ago

      Great list - lensrolled to 'Top Five Horror Novels'