Friday, October 3, 2014

Beagle Books' Lovecraft Boxed Set (1971): The Polished Black Jewel of Ultimate Horror

Here's an item I've never seen till now when it's being sold online: the 1971 Ballantine/Beagle/Boxer Books boxed set of five Lovecraft titles, The Arkham Edition of H.P. Lovecraft. I own a few of the Beagle/Boxer imprint editions, the various Cthulhu mythos works from August Derleth. Now I know that in the 1980s scholar S.T. Joshi began correcting all of those Arkham House editions of Lovecraft, restoring and editing them according to the Gentleman from Providence's original intent and manuscripts as much as possible. These Ballantine paperbacks are what have been replaced, as apparently they were riddled with editorial inconsistencies and whatnots. Still, they'd look great on my shelves!

I can't even begin to describe the feelings that these book covers evoke in me: starry nights of reading late with a small desk lamp for illumination, their black cover art glinting darkly hinting at the untold horrors hidden within, the spice and dust in the books' moldy scent that spoke of ages immemorial, of  secrets known but to a few brave, mad souls willing to go to strange, far places.

And I don't even like a lot of these covers! I mean, this one for At the Mountains of Madness? Ludicrous, silly, absurd. The others have their charms--Charles Dexter Ward is probably best--but it wasn't until the surreal Michael Whelan covers beginning in 1982 that readers really had a paperbacks of HPL where cover and content aligned.






Still, I dig the crazy creepy weirdo early-'70s vibe of these editions, hearkening back to the day when only the most devoted of horror and fantasy fans knew of ol' E'ch-Pi-El, trembled before dread Cthulhu, marveled at the many-columned city of Y'ha-nthlei, and pondered while deep in shag carpet the bubbling blasphemous mindlessness of Azathoth at the center of infinity...
 

7 comments:

Andrew Green said...

There was also a later box set with some of the Gervasio Gallardo cover printings, though it seems to even less common than this Beagle set.

Will Errickson said...

Yep, I'm looking into it now, thanks!

the night watchman said...

The Del Rey editions with those wonderful Michael Whelan illustrations were my first HPL books but still, yes, I totally understand how the image of a book cover can evoke discovery. Granted, my personal discovery of HPL wasn't exactly "Lovecraftian" -- sneaking a paragraph or two in class when the teacher wasn't looking -- yet, for the time and place, it felt like I was being exposed to dangerous and alien knowledge.

Will Errickson said...

Yes! I had pretty much that same experience.

aycorn said...

Hmmm, while I agree the ATMOM cover is a bit absurd, I always liked the one for "Lurking Fear" - it reminds me of the cover art for The Who's "Tommy" album.

I liked the Ballantine HPL covers - the weird faces and the later Adult Fantasy images. I never really liked Whelan's covers (though I like Whelan a lot in general) and felt they never really evoked HPL for me.

Unknown said...

I didn't know Michael Welan did those grey-toned covers. I like them slightly more now, but still prefer the Ballantine faces and the Gallardo covers.

gef the talking mongoose said...

Cool. Just discovered this entry while Googling "beagle lovecraft." I owned all of these except for the Lurking Fear volume, the cover of which I've somehow never even *seen* till now. Infinite thanks to whoever the heck dumped all those HPL titles (not only the Beagle editions but also several Ballantines as well, including Lin Carter's "Lovecraft: A Look Behind the Cthulhu Mythos," not to mention my first ever HPL volume, Lancer's Dunwich Horror) at my used bookstore of choice in Texarkana in the early '70s.