Friday, January 21, 2011

Review: Herbert West - Reanimator by H.P. Lovecraft

The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories:
by Howard Phillips Lovecraft
Penguin Classics (1999), Paperback, 448 pages

‘They knew, indeed, that West had been connected with activities beyond the credence of ordinary men.‘ (p.76)

Herbert West - Reanimator contains six short stories narrated by West’s friend from the years of medical school until West’s disappearing.
Lovecraft wrote these short stories between October 1921 and June 1922. He tells for the first time of zombies.

From the Dark
West and his friend / narrator met in medical school, and the last one is fascinated by West’s theories about dead bodies that could be restarted. ‘Holding … that all life is a chemical and physical process, and that the so-called “soul” is a myth …” (p.51)
After several attempts to restart a dead body, they manage with a fresh corpse. Hearing an inhuman scream West and his friend have to flee: ‘vaulting madly into the starred abyss of the rural night.’ (p.54) ‘... burst the most appalling and daemoniac succession of cries that either of us had ever heard. Not more unutterable could have been the chaos of hellish sound if the pit itself had opened to release the agony of the damned’ (p.54)
The Plague-Demon
A typhus epidemic breaks out and although West and the unnamed narrator are not allowed to dissect human cadavers, they are called to help the dying victims. West injects his serum in each body, but without appreciable results. Dean Halsey, chief of the university dissection lab succumbs to typhoid; so West steals his corpse. After the injection, Halsey reanimates but becomes violent.
West: ‘Damn it, it wasn’t quite fresh enough!’ (p.60)
Six Shots by Midnight
West and the narrator purchase a house near the town’s cemetery (of course!). They also buy a corpse of a black boxing champion. West injects the serum but nothing happens, so he and the narrator bury the corpse.
A child is missing and parts of his body reappears at the West’s door house: the courier is the black boxing champion (Ups?).
The Scream of the Dead
The narrator after a visit to his parents, returns to the house who shares with Herbert West. The latter shows to his friend a corpse perfectly preserves. West explains that he has invented an embalming fluid and he has waited the narrator’s return to reanimate the corpse. They manage to reanimate the corpse but before dying again, the corpse screams revealing an horrible truth.
The Horror from the Shadows
Five years after the last reanimation, West has joined the army in the WWI. West means to procure bodies for his experiments. West befriends another medic sharing with him his theories about reanimation. After a while West’s new friend is killed: the body is decapitated. West injects the serum in the trunk and in the head, so the head begins to speak, telling the last moment of his life.
The Tomb-Legions
Herbert West-Reanimator’s last story tells about zombies as we know from movies.
West and his friend return from WWI and move into a house which is directly connected to an ancient system of catacombs. West reads in a newspaper an article telling a series of strange events involving a man with a wax head. This man is West’s friend from WWI, he seeks revenge helped by other zombies.
Zombies come out from the catacombs and take West with them. ‘Detectives have questioned me (the narrator), but what can I say?’ (p. 80)

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