Help Me Plan My English 102 Class

lovecraft These past few weeks have been crazy.  Things are finally settling back down, and I hope to be able to get back to a regular blogging schedule sometime soon.  One of the last details that needs to be finalized within a few days are the reading lists on my syllabi.  For the most part, they’re done.

However, I’m having a hard time figuring out what H.P. Lovecraft story I want my students to read.  I went with “The Call of Cthulhu” last year, and got a miserable response, so I’m thinking of changing it up.  Personally, I’m leaning toward an excerpt of “Herbert West: Reanimator,” but I’m not sure if it’s better than teaching some of his other, more influential works.

So I want need your input.  If you were a freshman in college, having never been exposed to H.P. Lovecraft before, which of the following stories would you most want to study during my horror-themed October classes?  Thanks!

[polldaddy poll=3661127]

By B.J. Keeton

B.J. KEETON is a writer, teacher, and runner. When he isn't trying to think of a way to trick Fox into putting Firefly back on the air, he is either writing science fiction, watching an obscene amount of genre television, or looking for new ways to integrate fitness into his geektastic lifestyle. He is also the author of BIRTHRIGHT and co-author of NIMBUS. Both books are available for Amazon Kindle.


  1. I voted for “The Shadow Over Innsmouth”. Personally, I liked “At the Mountains of Madness” – but maybe it is too long.

    But I also liked Call, so well, let’s try to get into the mind of a student. I think you should give them a lecture. At least for one session. About all his works in general. And then go into detail with one book. Maybe they need some scope… dunno.

    Dagon… only one short story of the whole Call? I think that’s not enough stuff, so yeah, my vote goes to Innsmouth! 🙂

    I do not know Reanimator…

    1. Reanimator is very pulpy and unlike anything else he ever wrote. I love At the M0untains of Madness, but I have to stick with a short story. It’s a comp 2 class where we’re studying literature for the first time, and we just don’t have room for novels/novellas.

      1. You could just start the course with a few quick sessions of CoC: the game. There’s nothing like playing “Horror on the Orient Express” to put one in the mood for a little HPL. 😉

        (As an aside, I voted for Shadow over Innsmouth. I’m extremely fond of that one and I like its Lovecraftian feel — for me anyway.)

  2. I read Lovecraft for the first time last summer. Of all the stories I read, The Call of Cthulhu was my least favorite. I found it very dense and the narrative style was difficult to get into compared to the rest of his work. My personal favorites are The Dunwich Horror and The Music of Erich Zann. Of the options listed in your poll, I’d go with The Outsider (Herbert West is the only one on the list I haven’t read). I think it’s a good introduction to Lovecraft and your students with short attention spans will appreciate the length.

    1. I’d give West a shot. I read it in a film adaptation class, and it stuck with me. I think The Outsider may win, too, just because of length and how it’s pretty easy to stand on its own, outside of being versed in a lot of his mythology. But we’ll see how the poll goes!

  3. Given that “The Call of Cthulhu” met with such an anaemic response, I voted for “The Outsider”. It’s relatively snappy, and has a great — if a little predictable — twist which should appeal to your students.

    My favourite of all Lovecraft’s stories is “Nyarlathotep”; the horror is so brilliantly understated, and the breathless pace is incredibly engrossing, in my opinion. “The Festival” and “Celephaïs” are also really memorable; I’ve always wondered if the latter had an influence on “Pan’s Labyrinth”.

    Finally, I agree with Longasc: a preliminary lecture giving an overview of his work, particularly with emphasis on his influence on pop culture would really entice your students to read his body of work. Open with “That is not dead which can eternal lie, yet with stranger aeons, even Death may die,” and I’m sure you’ll get, at the very least, the attention of the Metallica fans!

    1. I thought about using Nyarlathotep, but the reason I didn’t is because of how wordy it is and ties back to the Elder Things’ mythos so much that the students might be lost.

      I plan on giving the overview of him and his work, but since it will likely only be a single class-period we get to spend on him (yay for survey courses), I have to be pretty choosy with what we read and discuss.

  4. /puts on flame retardant suit. I don’t like lovecraft personally. never did (husband, who is a huge fan, tried to get me to read it, but I just couldn’t get into it and that was on my own – whenever a story is a part of curriculum for most students its even less appealing, being required reading and all). part of it is because i don’t like horror genre in general. so does it have to be lovecraft, or are the other options?

    1. I can completely understand not liking Lovecraft. I just think he’s too important of a figure in horror literature (and American literature) to not introduce the students to his library.

      I do want it to be Lovecraft, though, since it’s a survey. I’ve got a lot of just about everything else on there, including Stephen King and Chuck Palahniuk and Joss Whedon as well as a bunch of the classics and greats.

      1. in that case (and I asked aforementioned husband for advice 😛 ) – The shadow over Inssmouth. Its almost a mystery story in some ways.

  5. Yeah, I picked Shadow Over Innsmouth as well, even though there are a ton I would recommend. What about Pickman’s Model? Is that one too steeped in his mythology as well? Also, a good one could be Rats in the Wall.

    Of course, if you had the time, then Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath is the ONLY choice. That would require weeks, though.

  6. The Colour out of Space. I haven’t read it for many years, but I remember what a huge impression it made on me when I read it as a teenager. One of the creepiest stories I’ve read, but in a very sublte way. I can still recall the atmosphere and it makes me shiver.

  7. I’m not sure you can actually “get” Lovecraft when reading any single book of his. A single book probably just appears strange to somebody not knowing Lovecraft yet. It is after reading several of his books that the Lovecraftian world slowly develops in your head and his stories begin to make more sense when seen in a larger context.

    Not ideal for teaching a class, Lovecraft.

  8. I ended up going with Innsmouth, though Tobold is right. It’s going to be very hard to get them a good grasp of Lovecraft with just one story, no matter what it is.

    Hopefully, my horror class will be better next semester; we have a whole lot of Lovecraft. Going to do non-fic, Cthulhu stuff, and Reaninator (the film, too!).

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