H.P. Lovecraft is perhaps best known for his common themes involving cosmic horror, even coining the term “eldritch” in popular science fiction.
Lovecraft developed Cosmicism, the idea that humanity is but a small and insignificant part of the cosmos—and that, at any moment, it could be swept away as easily as dust from a table. Before that happens, be sure to dig into the best Lovecraft stories of all time.
- The Colour Out Of Space (1927)
- The Dunwich Horror (1929)
- From Beyond (1934)
- The Cats of Ulthar (1920)
- The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath (1943)
- At the Mountains of Madness (1936)
- The Shadow Over Innsmouth (1936)
- The Call of Cthulu (1928)
- The Shadow Out of Time (1936)
- The Doom That Came to Sarnath (1920)
The Colour Out Of Space (1927)
One of Lovecraft’s recurring themes is the horrors of nightmares and insomnia. Considering he believed his father had died of insomnia (it was actually syphilis), that’s no surprise.
This short story explores what would happen if a comet were to touch down on Earth containing colors that had never been seen, and which could not be described by any sane mind. Everything that witnesses the meteor becomes irrevocably changed—in some truly loathsome ways.
The Dunwich Horror (1929)
Every wonder about the descendants of those “witches” executed during the Salem Witch Trials in the seventeenth century? Well, Lovecraft sure did.
In this story, he explores how those supposed magic powers might corrupt people in the 1900s, and what lengths they might stoop to. Lovers of Lovecraftian lore will appreciate the appearance of the Necronomicon, the evil book written centuries in the past.
From Beyond (1934)
Like most scientists in Lovecraft’s tales, Tillinghast has the unfortunate trait of insatiable curiosity. The more he learns in his arcane research, the more he wants to know—even though his findings might be driving him insane.
The Cats of Ulthar (1920)
One of the few creatures that Lovecraft neither feared nor hated, cats make frequent appearances in his stories as rescuers and omens of good fortune.
Unlike the majority of Lovecraft stories, “The Cats of Ulthar” reads more like a fable: a clear moral at the end, and stark retribution for the people who dare raise a hand against the inscrutable felines of the world.
This story is surprisingly pleasant, and only features a few elements of cosmic horror.
The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath (1943)
Randolph Carter is a recurring protagonist throughout Lovecraft’s stories. He often finds himself in strange situations, and this story is certainly no exception.
In “The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath,” Carter continually visits Kadath—a strange and unimaginably ancient city, built by creatures that Carter can only begin to guess at.
Every time he wakes up, he must begin his journey anew to find the city’s elusive center.
At the Mountains of Madness (1936)
Possibly one of Lovecraft’s most widely-known stories, “At the Mountains of Madness” chronicles an exploration venture to Antarctica gone terribly wrong.
On their seemingly straightforward journey, humans are confronted with the horrors of deep space and primordial Earth. Lovecraft frequently speculated that humans were not the first species to develop complex civilizations on Earth. The dawning understanding of the explorers as they stand in those creatures’ shadows is described in loving detail.
The Shadow Over Innsmouth (1936)
“The Shadow Over Innsmouth” follows a young historian who learns the secrets of a rural town called Innsmouth, and divulges that information to the U.S. government. These revelations lead the government to annihilate most of the town—and its residents.
The Call of Cthulu (1928)
By now, even people who have never read anything by H.P. Lovecraft know Cthulu. This tale follows a protagonist who discovers old notes about a terrible ritual. A ritual used to call forth the dark, tentacled beast and launch humans into an era of darkness and despair.
The Shadow Out of Time (1936)
Startled and amnesiac, a man wakes from a stupor to discover he’s lost five years of his life.
He’s shocked to learn from his companions that he wasn’t asleep during this time. Instead, he was researching bizarre, arcane subjects and behaving as a shadow of his former self.
Despite waking from that living nightmare, his dreams are full of what he did and discovered during his research—including some disturbing truths he desperately wishes he could forget.
The Doom That Came to Sarnath (1920)
In “The Doom That Came to Sarnath,” people are punished for their xenophobia and intolerance towards others.
Of course, their original suspicion towards the group turns out to be justified, since they are magical in certain ways and therefore inhuman, but still: the xenophobes are utterly punished for their behavior.
It’s difficult to know whether this story was the result of Lovecraft, known for holding racist beliefs himself, realizing the steep consequences of racism and xenophobia…or a simple lapse in self-awareness. Nonetheless, it’s entertaining.
While much of his portfolio perpetuates harmful ideologies, many Lovecraft stories still serve as a time-tested foundation of modern horror, fantasy, and sci-fi. His works even inspired musicians such as Black Sabbath and Metallica, along with religious cults and tabletop board games, for instance. Strange developments certainly, but perhaps perfectly fitting for the Lovecraft legacy.