The other day I met a man who has devoted the past several years to a singular literary project. His aim is to produce a bowdlerised version of the complete works of H. P. Lovecraft, in which all reference to the spine-tingling and the spooky, the eldritch and the uncanny, is expunged. I was able immediately to grasp the value of this scheme. Lovecraft is a fascinating writer, but there must be many potential readers who are deterred from his work because, quite frankly, they do not wish to get the collywobbles. Excise the spine-tingling and the spooky, the eldritch and the uncanny, and an entire new constituency of fans will be created.
I asked my new friend how he went about the creation of an expurgated Lovecraft. He explained that he began by simply deleting all the terrifying adjectives, adverbs, verbs and nouns. This had the unintended consequence of rendering much of Lovecraft’s prose “bitty and near-incomprehensible”, as he put it. Whole passages were reduced to strings of prepositions. Though commendably brief, the resulting text lacked heft. So then, he said proudly, his real work began. He realised that he could reinstate a certain amount of readability, and up the word-count, by replacing, for example, Shoggoth with a pretty vase of flowers, or hideous tentacles with gambolling bunny rabbits. I pointed out to him that some people – not least myself – found rabbits utterly frightening, and he promised to look again at his revisions.
Then he bid me farewell, and I sat alone at the café table, mercilessly correlating all the contents of my mind.