Bestselling horror novelist Peter Straub took on the job of editing the Library America edition of H.P. Lovecraft's Tales. Here, Straub talks about Lovecraft's influence and how he compiled the collection.
Why do you think Lovecraft, a horror writer, deserves inclusion in the Library of America series?
Peter Straub: He's a great American writer. His work has proved very durable. I think people will be reading him for as long as people read. He's completely personal, with his own made-by-hand-voice. He also has a point-of-view and way of seeing that's unmistakably his own. And he was remarkably influential.
On a writer named Peter Straub, for example?
Actually, he probably had only a minimal influence on my own work.
When did you first read Lovecraft?
I first read Lovecraft in the Modern Library giant Great Tales of Terror and the Supernatural when I was 13 and was sort of stunned by "The Dunwich Horror." The writing seemed amazingly mysterious and powerful to me. Later, in my 20s, being very literary and self-conscious about it, I dismissed him. Still later, when I was living in London, I talked a lot with [horror writer] Thomas Tessier about Lovecraft. Thom was very knowledgeable and convinced me of Lovecraft's value. After that, I became a snob all over again, but then the opportunity to edit a collection of his tales came up, and my respect grew as I went back and reread Lovecraft.
How did you come to edit Tales?
I was invited by Geoffrey O'Brien, the editor-in-chief of the Library of America. It didn't take me more than a couple of seconds to agree. I'm by no means a Lovecraft scholar, but I had a window of time between my own books, and I was able to do the work within a couple of months.
How much editorial guidance did you have?
I had lunch with Max Rudin, the publisher of the Library of America, and Geoffrey O'Brien. Geoffrey is a writer himself, and a very smart and astonishingly well-read man. He spoke at masterful length on Lovecraft. He later sent me a complete list of Lovecraft's stories with those marked in bold face that he thought should be included. So there wasn't much editorial guidance, but they were very helpful after I'd finished, sharpening things up and making sure the details were right.
Why didn't you include "The Silver Key" or any of Lovecraft's dreamland fantasies in the manner of Lord Dunsany?
Just because they're Dunsanian and off the main line of his work, and thus less significant. I was given a pretty strict page limit—800 pages.
What would a hypothetical second Library of America Lovecraft volume contain?
Besides the mature stories not included in the first volume, I'd put in a lot of poems, even though they're not as remarkable as his fiction, some of his essays, particularly that crazy travel writing, like his history and description of Quebec. Most important, I'd put in a long selection of Lovecraft's correspondence, because his letters are part of his real achievement. They're not like anyone else's. They represented his only outlet for real, unfettered, freewheeling expression. One of my favorites is his account of trying to buy a suit in New York, where the mongrel citizens fail to dress with the decent sobriety of the gentlemen of Providence.
Do you have to be a horror fan to appreciate Lovecraft?
I don't think you have to be a horror fan to be pleased and thrilled by very evocative writing, to be intrigued by the mythos that he gradually developed.