HP Lovecraft: A Cthulhu Mythos Beginner’s Reading Guide

HP LovecraftA frequent request that we get here at Dice of Doom is “We are intrigued about this HP Lovecraft and Cthulhu business, but we don’t know where to start. Can you recommend one or two of his stories to begin with?” After writing a number of these for people, I figured, why not put it up on the site so that I can redirect people as required. What follows is a simple guide to getting you started reading the Cthulhu Mythos stories by HP Lovecraft. It is by no means authoritative, and it’s not really going to go over some of his other works like his ‘Dreamscape’ stories. More, this is a guide to getting you started with reading the Cthulhu stories that started the modern horror genre and give you enough of a background that you could participate in a Call of Cthulhu game.

Where to get his writings

The first place you can start is online. The vast majority of HP Lovecraft’s works are out of copyright depending on where you live. In the US there are a few stories that may still be in copyright, but in other countries his complete works are available for free. There is a list of everything that HP Lovecraft wrote that is in the Public Domain along with the actual text of the stories as well here on the Wikisource website. You will find LOTS of his stories there that you can read online or print yourself if you are so inclined. We have, when introducing players to Call of Cthulhu, printed out a series of his stories so that they can follow along and have a good idea of how the setting works on numerous occasions.

Another resource that I can highly recommend is Cthulhu Chicks collection of the entirety of HP Lovecraft’s works as a single ePub file. She has painstakingly collected all of Lovecraft’s writings from the Australian Gutenberg Project’s (amongst others) collection and put them into a singe e-book in the order that they were published. Even better, you can download it for free. The ePub file will work on your Kindle, iPad, iPhone, computer, eBook reader, or Android tablet. While you are checking Cthulhu Chicks site out, you may also want to have a look at her crocheted Cthulhus. They are very cute…

If you want a more traditional read, a book that I have in my collection (and I have multiple Lovecraft collections) is this one: The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories (Penguin Twentieth-Century Classics) from Amazon (as of writing, it was listed at around $10). [Note: If you buy it through the link you help support Dice of Doom buy books to review at no extra cost to you]

There are other Penguin editions of Lovecraft’s work that are also good and would round out your collection if you were interested. At the end of the day, the majority of the books out there will have the same content and stories. Mountains of Madness tends to be its own book as it is quite long, but the others will collected in anthologies. The Penguin ones are good as they have been corrected and annotated, but you may find another collection with a larger selection more to your liking.

With the growing popularity of HP Lovecraft’s writing, Amazon have created a page dedicated to finding his works here: Amazon HP Lovecraft Page

What to read

In order to get you started, the stories that I would recommend starting with (in order) are:

  1. The Call of Cthulhu – this story sets up the Cthulhu Mythos and introduces the reader to the mythology and premise.
  2. The Shadow Over Innsmouth – this is a creepy and dark story that is, in my opinion, one of his best
  3. At the Mountains of Madness – this is his longest story, and also one of his best (nearly made into a movie by James Cameron)
  4. The Case of Charles Dexter Ward
  5. The Dunwich Horror
  6. Herbert West: Reanimator – the basis for so many horror movies and a classic (if not strictly in the Cthulhu Mythos)

While HP Lovecraft wrote many other stories not connected with the Cthulhu Mythos, I would hesitate starting with anything from his ‘Dreamscape’ series as they are not, generally speaking, as accessible to new readers as his Cthulhu Mythos stories, but if you discover that you enjoy his writing, they are worth adding to your collection later.

This introduction to reading within the Cthulhu Mythos has only focused on HP Lovecraft. There are numerous other Mythos writers that I haven’t included, like Lovecraft’s friend Robert E. Howard (the creator of Conan), Brian Lumley, August Derleth, etc. We may cover these writers later, but as they often ‘re-interpreted’ the premise of Lovecraft’s original work, they tend to not be as good place to get started. If you have not read anything by HP Lovecraft and are interested in doing so, we hope that this guide makes it easier for you to find a place to get started.

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About RupertG

RupertG has been playing roleplaying games ever since he discovered Dragon Warriors at the age of 12. Since those days he has played many different RPG's, collected not insignificant Dwarf and Tomb Kings armies for Warhammer Fantasy Battles and even worked as a games designer in the heady days of the late 90's building a CCG. Now he runs a gaming blog and is a participant in the Grand Gaming Experiment
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  • Mardo

    Is good to read all this so you can get all the other Cthulu in jokes… or wacth CALLS FOR CTHULU on you tube :E

  • Dog-Sothoth

    You included 2 stories tangential at best to the Mythos. In a list of  15, that wouuldn’t be such a big deal, but in a list of six that you specifically titled as a Mythos list, it’s pretty lightweight.

    As alternate suggestions to Ward and West, I would recommend instead

    The Colour out of Space (the Mythos stripped to its bare essence of cosmic dread)

    The Whisperer in Darkness (soon to be a Minor Motion Picture!) 

    • Anonymous

      I personally found The Colour out of Space to be so “stripped to its bare essence” as to be dull and confusing. It’s a bit of a turn-off for a new reader.

    • Dog-Sothoth

      YMMV