Archive for the 'Lovecraft' category

The Shadowy Thing, by H.B. Drake

May 06 2010 Published by under Horror, Lovecraft

I've been having a lot of good luck with my fiction reading lately, and have a backlog of really good (and weird) fiction to blog about.  One that actually gave me a pleasant surprise is The Shadowy Thing (1928), by Henry Burgess Drake (1893-1964):

The Shadowy Thing is another in Hippocampus Press' "Lovecraft's Library" series, reprinting rare works of weird fiction that Lovecraft owned and thought highly of.   Though I've generally been very satisfied with books Lovecraft loved (The Metal Monster, The Place Called Dagon), it hasn't always been the case (The Dark Chamber); I admit that I wasn't particularly optimistic about Drake's book.

My apprehensions were misplaced!  Once I started reading, I could hardly put down The Shadowy Thing: it is a compelling story with unrelenting tension that builds to a truly ghastly climax.

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Sesqua Valley and Other Haunts, by W.H. Pugmire

Feb 11 2010 Published by under Horror, Lovecraft

One of H.P. Lovecraft's enduring legacies as a writer is the creation of a cosmology that could and would be imitated by his followers.  Many great authors of horror fiction got their start writing Lovecraft pastiches, such as Brian Lumley and my absolutely favorite horror author Ramsey Campbell.  It is almost a tradition for all respectable horror writers to write their own Lovecraft homage; Stephen King, for instance, wrote the short story Crouch End (1980).

So many authors use Lovecraft as a starting point to find their own voice and interests; there are other authors, however, who find themselves a comfortable niche writing in and adapting Lovecraft's Cthulhu mythos to their own ends, and they stay there.  The natural question to ask: do authors like these stay with the mythos because it stimulates their creativity, or because they lack it?  I was very curious to see if any of the modern mythos writers were any good.

My Amazon "favorites" page brought the work of W.H. Pugmire to my attention, in particular his compilation, Sesqua Valley & Other Haunts:

I had heard Pugmire's name before, as super-Lovecraft scholar S.T. Joshi had some kind words about Pugmire in his history/commentary The Rise and Fall of the Cthulhu Mythos (2008).  I was in the mood for some mythos writing, so I gave Sesqua Valley a try.

I didn't really know what to expect, but I was pleasantly surprised!  Pugmire draws insipiration from Lovecraft's ideas and settings, but he bends and twists them to his own ends to present genuinely unsettling stories.

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Lord Dunsany's Pegana

Jul 21 2009 Published by under Fantasy fiction, Lovecraft

A bit over a month ago, I decided to read a few of Lord Dunsany's plays after reading Lovecraft's glowing review of them in Supernatural Horror in Literature.  The plays are wonderfully eerie and capture the spirit of ancient myths and folktales, in which people sin against the Gods, and the Gods, in a pissy mood, bring divine justice against the sinners.

Dunsany's most influential works relating to ancient myths are his Pegana1 stories, within which a complete fictional pantheon and its associated mythology are constructed.  Below is the cover of the Chaosium edition, which collects all of Dunsany's tales of Pegana:

pegana

The Complete Pegana combines three of Dunsany's collections: The Gods of Pegana (1905), Time and the Gods (1906), and three later stories grouped as Beyond the Fields We Know.

In a word, these tales are magnificent!  There have been plenty of authors who have created their own fictional mythos, but I can't think of any other who so perfectly captures the spirit of ancient myths and bends that spirit to his own purposes.

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Herbert S. Gorman's The Place Called Dagon

Jun 08 2009 Published by under Horror, Lovecraft

As I've noted previously, H.P. Lovecraft had a voluminous library of weird fiction, and basically defined himself as the foremost expert on such tales in his time with his essay Supernatural Horror in LiteratureHippocampus Press, in collaboration with Lovecraft scholar S.T. Joshi, have been reprinting select novels that Lovecraft owned and thought highly of.  Up until now, I've read A. Merritt's The Metal Monster, which is now one of my favorite weird tales of all time, and M.P Shiel's The House of Sounds and Others, which has its own moments of weird awesomeness.   With those pleasant experiences in mind, I turned to Herbert S. Gorman's The Place Called Dagon (1927):

place_called_dagon

The name "Dagon" will jump out at any fan of Lovecraft immediately.  In fact, The Place Called Dagon clearly influenced a number of Lovecraft's stories, as I mention below.

What did I think of it?  Though I found the first third of the novel rather slow, it picked up quickly after that and I found it immensely enjoyable!

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William Beckford's Vathek

May 14 2009 Published by under Horror, Lovecraft

I've been working my way through a number of weird fiction tales that weird fiction writer and enthusiast H.P. Lovecraft was fond of.  Vathek, by William Beckford (1760-1844), is the type of story I find nearly irresistible: a proud, arrogant Caliph embarks upon a quest for power and wisdom which leads to unspeakable acts and, ultimately, damnation:

vathek

H.P. Lovecraft thought very highly of Beckford's work, and included a lengthy discussion of it in his celebrated essay Supernatural Horror in Literature (1927):

Meanwhile other hands had not been idle, so that above the dreary plethora of trash like Marquis von Grosse's Horrid Mysteries (1796), Mrs. Roche's Children of the Abbey (1798), Mrs. Dacre's Zofloya; or, the Moor (1806), and the poet Shelley's schoolboy effusions Zastro (1810) and St. Irvine (1811) (both imitations of Zofloya) there arose many memorable weird works both in English and German. Classic in merit, and markedly different from its fellows because of its foundation in the Oriental tale rather than the Walpolesque Gothic novel, is the celebrated History of the Caliph Vathek by the wealthy dilettante William Beckford, first written in the French language but published in an English translation before the appearance of the original. Eastern tales, introduced to European literature early in the eighteenth century through Galland's French translation of the inexhaustibly opulent Arabian Nights, had become a reigning fashion; being used both for allegory and for amusement. The sly humour which only the Eastern mind knows how to mix with weirdness had captivated a sophisticated generation, till Bagdad and Damascus names became as freely strewn through popular literature as dashing Italian and Spanish ones were soon to be. Beckford, well read in Eastern romance, caught the atmosphere with unusual receptivity; and in his fantastic volume reflected very potently the haughty luxury, sly disillusion, bland cruelty, urbane treachery, and shadowy spectral horror of the Saracen spirit. His seasoning of the ridiculous seldom mars the force of his sinister theme, and the tale marches onward with a phantasmagoric pomp in which the laughter is that of skeletons feasting under arabesque domes. Vathek is a tale of the grandson of the Caliph Haroun, who, tormented by that ambition for super-terrestrial power, pleasure and learning which animates the average Gothic villain or Byronic hero (essentially cognate types), is lured by an evil genius to seek the subterranean throne of the mighty and fabulous pre-Adamite sultans in the fiery halls of Eblis, the Mahometan Devil. The descriptions of Vathek's palaces and diversions, of his scheming soweress-mother Carathis and her witch-tower with the fifty one-eyed negresses, of his pilgrimage to the haunted ruins of Istakhar (Persepolis) and of the impish bride Nouronihar whom he treacherously acquired on the way, of Istakhar's primordial towers and terraces in the burning moonlight of the waste, and of the terrible Cyclopean halls of Eblis, where, lured by glittering promises, each victim is compelled to wander in anguish for ever, his right hand upon his blazingly ignited and eternally burning heart, are triumphs of weird colouring which raise the book to a permaneat place in English letters. No less notable are the three Episodes of Vathek, intended for insertion in the tale as narratives of Vathek's fellow-victims in Eblis' infernal halls, which remained unpublished throughout the author's lifetime and were discovered as recently as 1909 by the scholar Lewis Melville whilst collecting material for his Life and Letters of William Beckford. Beckford, however, lacks the essential mysticism which marks the acutest form of the weird; so that his tales have a certain knowing Latin hardness and clearness preclusive of sheer panic fright.

What did I think about it?

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M.P. Shiel's The House of Sounds and Others

Mar 16 2009 Published by under Horror, Lovecraft

H.P. Lovecraft was not only a writer of weird fiction, but a voracious reader of the genre, as evidenced by his classic essay, Supernatural Horror in Literature.  He collected a voluminous library of weird titles, many of which have not been available for almost a century.  In recent years, Hippocampus Press has been reprinting a selection of these in a series descriptively named "Lovecraft's Library" edited by the most awesome authority on Lovecraft, S.T. Joshi.  The first of these I read was the magnificent book by A. Merritt, The Metal Monster, and I've been curious to see what other members of the series are like.  The next one which intrigued me was M.P. Shiel's The House of Sounds and Others (cover of the Hippocampus edition):

house_of_sounds_and_others

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Is it worse, or better, than a creationist on the school board?

Mar 02 2009 Published by under Lovecraft, Silliness

Once again the folks at The Onion have demonstrated their satirical genius!  They 'report' on an Arkham, MA school board member who is pushing to add the unspeakable, sanity-shattering dark arts to the curriculum:

"Fools!" said West, his clenched fist striking the lectern before him. "We must prepare today's youth for a world whose terrors are etched upon ancient clay tablets recounting the fever-dreams of the other gods—not fill their heads with such trivia as math and English. Our graduates need to know about those who lie beneath the earth, waiting until the stars align so they can return to their rightful place as our masters and wage war against the Elder Things and the shoggoths!"

The article is very entertaining, even for those with only a passing knowledge of the works of H.P. Lovecraft.  (h/t Pharyngula)

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A. Merritt's Dwellers in the Mirage

Abraham Merritt (1888-1943) was one of the greats of pulp fiction, although up until recently his work was largely forgotten.  Recently, two of his novels were reprinted, The Moon Pool (1919) and The Metal Monster (1920), both of which I've blogged about in some detail.  I found The Moon Pool, on the whole, a rather ordinary pulp adventure novel punctuated by scenes of brilliant weirdness, while The Metal Monster was a truly unique masterpiece of weird fiction.

I wanted to see where other works of Merritt would fall on the mundane/genius scale, but the book that most caught my eye isn't currently in press.  Dwellers in the Mirage (1932) was too intriguing to pass up for me, though, as the cover will make clear:

dwellersinthemirage

That tentacled monster on the cover of the novel is the "terrible octopus-god Khalk'ru", who heralds from an area outside space and time.  If you read H.P. Lovecraft, Merritt's "Khalk'ru" will sound very much like Lovecraft's "Cthulhu".  Let's take a closer look at Merritt's interpretation of the Cthulhu mythos...

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A. Merritt's The Metal Monster

Feb 02 2009 Published by under Horror, Lovecraft, Weird fiction

Last week I discussed A. Merritt's book The Moon Pool (1919), an adventure/horror novel showing genuine flashes of weird brilliance but marred by some rather stereotypical pulp conventions.  Merritt's next novel, The Metal Monster (1920), is something else entirely!  Perhaps the best place to start is with the assessment of H.P. Lovecraft, from a letter to James F. Morton dated March 6, 1934:

Other recent items on my calendar are Dunsany's new book -- The Curse of the Wise Woman -- Weigall's Wanderings in Roman Britain, and A. Merritt's old yarn The Metal Monster, which I had never read before because Eddy told me it was dull.  The damn'd fool!  (nephew -- not our late bilbiophilick friend)  Actually, the book contains the most remarkable presentation of the utterly alien and non-human that I have ever seen.  I don't wonder that Merrittt calls it his "best and worst" production.  The human characters are commonplace and wooden -- just pulp hokum -- but the scenes and phaenomena... oh, boy!

Just as with The Moon Pool, I find myself in complete agreement with Lovecraft's assessment (excepting that I have no opinion on the foolishness of Lovecraft's nephew).  Though the protagonists of the novel are essentially generic pulp heroes and heroines, the weird and horrific elements of the novel are truly jaw-dropping in their beauty and utterly unique.  The Metal Monster has catapulted to near the top of my list of all-time favorite weird tales.  Let's take a loving look at it below the fold...

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A. Merritt's The Moon Pool

Jan 21 2009 Published by under Horror, Lovecraft, Weird fiction

Occasionally my random impulse buys at the bookstore turn out to be unusually fruitful!  After Christmas, I was looking to spend some of my gift card money and happened across a copy of A. Merritt's The Moon Pool (1919):

moonpool

I had never heard of Merritt's work before, even though he was an enormously successful author in the pulp era that I'm most interested in!  I've corrected that oversight, and I'm glad I did: his work is fascinating and well worth looking into.

The Moon Pool itself is billed in the Overlook Press edition of the book I have as "A forerunner to ABC's Lost".  We take a look at that claim, as well as the book itself, below.

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