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Courting Cthulhu:
Recommended Modern Anthologies of Cthulhu Mythos Fiction
by William P Simmons

Tales of the Cthulhu MythosThe New Lovecraft Circle
Shadows Over InnsmouthCthulhu 2000

There is no arguing the literary influence that Lovecraft exerted over supernatural, horror, and dark science fiction. Combining symbols of archetypal terror (embodiments of mythic, religious, and cross-cultural societal significance) with scientific extrapolations, materialistic concerns, a cynical intellect, and themes invested with philosophical speculation, he sought escape from the natural world in which he so devoutly believed -- and a glimpse of an unknown existence that he longed for -- in his fiction, often refuting reality from within, making the cosmically weird believable by situating his explorations of it just outside the limits of possibility. Fiction was an emotional and intellectual tool of momentary escape from natural laws, where Lovecraft imagined that which he couldn't believe.

Lovecraft's unique themes and distinct approach to the outré remains influential, far surpassing the importance of his earlier Dunsanian and more traditional supernaturalism. His universal motifs and themes, which favored overt cosmicism over the traditional static horrors of the supernaturally-based Gothic tradition, were brought to forceful and convincing life by his nihilistic, uncompromisingly bleak vision of an ignorant species fumbling around in an unknowable cosmos. A universe void of empathy, at best simply unconcerned with humanity, at worst capable of unimaginable destruction, was his canvas. The cosmos according to Lovecraft lacked the conservative moral postering of "good" vs. "evil" once emphasized by the proper Gothic or the Victorian ghost story. There is no moral significance in Lovecraft's fiction, and rather than hampering the emotional effects of his visions, this lack of moral postering makes them more disturbing.

Changing the face of fantasy in the Twentieth century by emphasizing the terrors and awe of the sublime unknown, Lovecraft and a select few of his circle brought fantasy to an unsurpassed level of maturity, particularly by his insistence on employing devices of modern scientific thought and mechanicalism as means to help achieve the horrid, using such as components of a dark aesthetic rather than depending on the supernatural to refute materialistic thought. Lovecraft may be longest remembered for his fragmented creation of the Cthulhu Mythos, that body of belief -- and aesthetic approach -- which he emphasized when courting the unknown. Both a primal sense of outré awe and a more surface representation of certain Gods, myth-cyles, and corresponding symbols, the Mythos suggested a chaotic unknowable truth hidden behind our fragmented exterior sense of "reality." A reality that our feeble minds were unable to perceive. Interrelated gods, alien beings/civilizations, locales, books, and folklore were invented bit by bit by Lovecraft (and not always in order or in a clearly connected fashion) for the purpose of imbuing his work with disturbing believability, using purposely fragmented glimpses and traces of lore and supposition to suggest a greater universal mystery/order in the universe. The Cthulhu Mythos may refer to the superficial external appearances and properties of Gods or, more importantly, signify an internal feeling -- an artistic approach -- to the infinite than only the wisest writers of his time (and those later, such as Fritz Leiber and Ramsey Campbell) sought to include in their continuation of Lovecraft's basic ideals.

Lovecraft encouraged his protégés and friends to borrow, expand upon, and alter his basic principles and characters to fit their own fictions, while he himself occasionally borrowed and fit into this growing pantheon, such as Tsathoggua" the toad-god, which he lifted from Clark Ashton Smith. Whereas such authors as Robert E. Howard, Frank Belknap Long, Henry Kuttner, and Smith used/invented elements of Mythos elements to lend resonance and a mysterious sense of connectedness and Mythos to their original work, intending them primarily to stand alone, as it grew and aged, the Mythos, under diverse hands, became a more rigidly defined tapestry of figures/conventions, losing something of its principle cosmic flair in the process. Whereas a writer like Robert E. Howard may have employed a characteristic of the Mythos for his own purpose, later Mythos authors approached the Mythos as a fixed set of conventions/rules to which they could contribute an element rather than a smorgasbord of ideas from which they could pick from to add spice to their own concoctions.

The Mythos as a defined set of conventions was further cemented by August Derleth, whose protectiveness and misreading of Lovecraft's purpose/ideology altered forever the course that the Mythos would take as it grew. Whereas Lovecraft found no meaning in the universe, and had little use for humankind, Derleth's conservative Christian mind-frame perceived the chaotic old gods and aliens of Lovecraft's Mythos as representative of clearly defined Good and Bad, fighting for a cosmic order/balance, and wrote his own homages to Lovecraft in suit. Inviting selected authors to treat the Mythos in similar fashion, Derleth erred by instilling his own personal prejudices into Lovecraft's framework. By inviting authors to concentrate more on the superficial elements of the Mythos rather than the true spirit of the cosmic unknown which lends Lovecraft's work such primal awe, he, in fact, created two branches/schools of Mythos fiction, one devoted primarily to Lovecraft's undefined principle of cosmic awe, the other working from Derleth's reading/organization of key elements.

Arkham House co-founder August Derleth actually coined the term The Cthulhu Mythos, and while guilty of the above, it should be remembered that he's also responsible for keeping Lovecraft in the cultural eye. This mingling of myth, science, and antiquity with celestial decadence is surly one of the most burrowed, stolen, and influential themes of modern weird fiction, continued by writers whose works attempt to capture or expand upon Lovecraft's initial dark cosmic philosophies (or in some cases to simply ape them). Used to instil greater tradition, realism, and interwoven consistency into like-minded creations, the Mythos as such wasn't recognized as we know it today until after Lovecraft's death when, with the help of Derleth, those writing in a Lovecraftian milieu were granted a thematic and stylistic umbrella beneath which to create.

While demonized and reviled of late by scholars, critics, and fans eager to hop on the bandwagon, August Derleth did more in his personal life and writing -- not to mention his publishing and editing enterprises -- to preserve Lovecraft's writings than anyone then or since. While S. T. Joshi runs a close second (and certainly foremost in scholarship of Lovecraft, not to mention the correction of Lovecraft's texts), it must be remembered that Derleth himself preserved the materials used by audiences/professionals for study. It was Arkham House that first sparked and kept burning the interest in Lovecraft as an author and man. As such, Derleth has long been a convenient figure for attack. While there is no doubt that he took liberties as an editor and publisher, using his power and influence to shape Lovecraft's Mythos a certain way, and while his so-called collaborative works were more often personal revisions of Lovecraft's ideas with little of the latter's work in them, he in turn also created an aesthetic springboard from which the Mythos could grow.

While this oversimplifies (and taints the original) Mythos, and brings to it an earthiness that Lovecraft would have disapproved of, Derleth's responsibilities as a researcher, publisher, and editor demanded an easier method to catalogue the diverse aspects of Lovecraft's imaginings. Choosing to simplify a complex system, Derleth mingled some deities together into single figures, and, worse yet (to the minds of purists), created a simplified 'good vs. evil' symbolic system of opposites similar to the lethargic traditions of Christianity to represent Lovecraft's aliens! He also grouped together the works of several authors using references from the Mythos into Lovecraft's literary web. This, as well as the fine writing and imaginative scope of the Mythos itself, revised and reworked by generations of authors, has weathered criticism and the passing of time. The Mythos, be it perceived from Lovecraft's initial exploration of the cosmic unknown, or the more regulated territory of Derleth's establishment of stricter conventions, is still a potent literary force -- a fact easily discernible in the depth of feeling and creativity exposed in the many anthologies and collections still finding issue from specialty and major publishing house.

What better mid-wife to eldritch horrors and a continuation of nameless fears than Arkham House, one of the oldest (and finest) publishers of Cthulhu Mythos material and supernatural/science fiction in general? Lovecraft's power, infleunce, and scathing originality can best be seen -- outside his own work, of course -- in the lasting seeds he planted, and which continue to be harvested, by disciples of his initial disciples! Arkham House bulges with a hoary wealth of weirdness by authors old and new drawn not only to his eldritch terrors of space, time, and the unknown but, even more importantly to his ethic of courting the primal power of the unknown. A good thing, when you consider the wonderful tomes we'll explore below, books which range from the loving depth of pastiche to the vibrancy of true invention.

After Derleth's death Mythos fiction became increasingly cliché, focusing on catalogues of characters and place-names instead of evoking the awe and wonder that only the alien can truly inspire. The very novelty of Lovecraft's initial concepts -- and the dreadful larger universe that they suggest -- as well as our own unsure, insignificant place in it, were swallowed by a lazy emphasis on minute elements of text, until, for a long while now, 'Mythos' has signified anything but great storytelling. This was particularly troubling when new generations of writers began to homage not only Lovecraft and his primary circle of associates but the later efforts of still younger -- and further removed -- authors. Now the field was crowded with homages of homages, even further removed from Lovecraft's cosmicism. Thankfully, through the efforts of editors like Jim Thompson, Stephen Jones, and the powerful influence of Arkham House, this lacklustre menage of clichés copying off of even older clichés has been replaced by an inspiring trend of authentic artistry. Storytellers in the later part of last century (and in the early part of the 21st) have begun to explore the Mythos as a powerful thematic and stylistic means for evoking terror and wonder and cosmic awe, focusing more on Lovecraft's basic tenet of the unknown rather than the simplistic (and tiring) rehashing of Beings and motifs which he did better.

Occasionally called "the Lovecraft Mythos" by purists, and despite the fact Lovecraft referred to his figures/pantheon as Yog Sothery when he referred to it at all (often he mentioned it with disdain!), the Cthulhu reference has stuck. While claimed by some, such as scholar S. T. Joshi, to have moved far beyond its initial thematic scope and principle aesthetic effect, the Mythos continues to exert a lively power over the imaginations of our brightest fantasists. And while much of this specialized sub-genre is hack-work disguised as homage, having lost much of its originality and wonder -- the very principles and emotions which Lovecraft reached for -- continuations of the master's characters, motifs, and principle symbols of outré mystery and awe still have a worthwhile place in the language of the unspeakable.

Tales of the Cthulhu MythosTales of the Cthulhu Mythos (Arkham House, 1990; 529 pgs; $24.95; 0-87054-159-5) is perhaps one of the leading volumes of Dereleth-inspired Cthulhu literature, its original publication serving to both identify and preserve editor Derleth's conception of the Mythos while likewise encouraging a wave of follow-up efforts. Having the honor of being one of the foremost collections to gather gather the thematically linked works of Lovecraft, Kuttner, Long, Howard, and Smith, this original collection of dark miracles has found a new, revised incarnation assembled by editor Jim Turner.

Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos is something of a mixed bag in selection. A few titles from the historical original have been dropped to make way for newer, in some cases less interesting pieces. Gone are "The Haunter of the Graveyard," by J. Vernon Shea, "The Deep Ones," by James Wade, "Cement Surroundings," and "The Sister City," by Brian Lumley. Included are fresher interpretations of terrifying realities hidden within our construct of false-logic and dependability, including "The Terror from the Depths," by Fritz Leiber, "Rising with Surtsey," by Brian Lumley, "Stickes," by Karl Edward Wagner, "The Freshman," by Philip Jose Farmer, "Jeruslamen's Lot," by Stephen King, and "Discovery of the Ghooric Zone," by Richard A. Lupoff. While you may not approve of these substitutions, and the exclusion of the original pieces for updates casts the former into undeserving oblivion, you can hardly argue with the diversity, quality, and sheer quantity of the material, nor with the intriguing manner in with which each scribe approaches such themes as hidden revelations, space-and-time bends, and celestial terror.

Combining commonly shared symbols with distinct personalities and emotional histories, these stories cease to become homage and establish their own identity. The individual revision of shared elements helps create a literary web of symbols, settings, and beliefs that lend already pleasing fictions an organic, united quality approaching life. This collection is nothing less than a celebration of the awe and mystery inherent in the best examples of the Cthulhu (kuh-tool-ew) Mythos. A mere glimpse of true nature/reality -- of the universe -- stripped of its illusions, inspires madness in several of these frightening fables. Featuring 22 pieces, this generous volume begins with Lovecraft's torrid tale and follows the horrors of oceanic madness with the dizzying excess poetic jewels of Clark Ashton Smith, the action pot-boiling heroics of Robert E. Howard (Conan), Arkham's co-founder August Derleth, and the pulpy perversions Robert "Psycho" Bloch.

Representing both long-dead and contemporary word-smiths, newer visions of terror are represented by Lovecraft detractor Colin Wilson, Richard Lupoff, Karl Edward Wagner, Ramsey Campbell, Fritz Leiber and Stephen King. Bound more by attitude than well worn convention, these stories, as discussed in an illuminative introduction by editor Jim Turner, are more concerned with cosmic uncertainty and the truly visionary than with the deadly dullness of pastiche. As such, the terrors are original while honoring their thematic debt to a cherished dark past. Originally published as a celebration of the golden anniversary of Arkham House, this morbid mingling of the 1969 past and present is a delectable feast of foul invention indeed!

"The Call of Cthulhu" and "The Haunter of the Dark," by H.P. Lovecraft, are the best tales, followed by the weird excellence of such staples as "The Return of the Sorcerer" and "Ubbo-Sathla" by Clark Ashton Smith. While the first piece is lacklustre when compared to other selections the editor could have made considering the versatility of Smith's literary cannon, the latter piece more than makes up for it. The marvelously outré "The Hounds of Tindalos" and "The Space-Eaters," by the criminally under-appreciated Frank Belknap Long, evoke fear and wonder even thought the language is horribly purple and truly entrenched in the pulp sensibility of the time. August Derleth is himself represented by "The Dwellers in Darkness" and "Beyond the Threshold," emphasizing his penchant for instilling his own moral sensibilities into his late-friend's larger cosmic frameworks. Robert Bloch, Lovecraft's young protégé, is served well by the hoary homages "The Shambler from the Stars," "The Shadow from the Steeple," and "Notebook Found in a Deserted House." Rare macabre masterpieces include "The Salem Horror," by Henry Kuttner, "The Terror from the Depths," by Fritz Leiber, the wickedly entertaining "Rising with Surtsey," by Brian Lumley," and "Cold Print," by ghost-story specialist Ramsey Campbell. Less satisfying are "The Return of the Lloigor," by Colin Wilson, "My Boat," by Joanna Russ and "The Freshman," by Philip Jose Farmer. "Sticks," by Karl Edward Wagner, stands out as one of the pinnacles of the volume, while "Jerusalem s Lot," a wonderful story by Stephen King, at first glance may have little in common with Mythos fiction but whose mood, atmosphere, and fine writing evoke precisely that reach for dark aeons which Lovecraft himself so favored. "Discovery of the Ghooric Zone" is a fun imaginative dive into dark lore by Richard A. Lupoff, bravely interweaving sexuality with Yog-sothory.

The New Lovecraft CircleProgressing from a celebration of the old to an aesthetically chilling look at the new, The New Lovecraft Circle, edited by Robert M. Price (Fedogan & Bremer, 1996; 389 pgs; $27.00; 1-878252-16-x) is a shoggoth's brew of supernatural implications and scientific possibility, interweaving traditional approaches to Lovecraft's aesthetic principles with daring (and at times more satisfying) innovation. Edited by long-time editor/author/Mythos champion Robert Price, the stories comprising this volume prove the diversity in approach and subject that Lovecraft's initial aesthetic direction can be taken in by writers willing to instil cosmic subjects with a personal, intimate approach. Better yet, Thomas Ligotti, Richard Lupoff, and Ramsey Campbell illustrate how pleasurable Mythos fiction can be when it resists copying elements of Lovecraft's concepts and develops their own vistas of timeless time and un-measurable space. These stories are connected by mood just as much as by subject.

A symbiotic mingling of Lovecraft's thematic interests, these twenty-five tales offer new heights of maturity. Veering from homage to brazen new interpretation, such authors as Lin Carter (superior editor if somewhat cliché writer) and Peter Cannon stand comfortably beside the surprising quality of contributions from James Wade and David Sutton. J. Vernon Shea injects a different perspective into hoary horror, while writers like Mark Rainey and Richard L. Tierney inject fresh enthusiasm into Lovecraft's legendary explorations of supernatural menace with stories as much their own as they are worthwhile continuations of tradition. This collection highlights such themes as the interconnectedness of other realms with our own, the problems of perception, and, of course the barriers of space, time, and expectation which are broke by the mingling of ancient mythological learning and folklore with pure imagination and a distinct leaning towards scientific horror.

The best pieces in this collection are those that filter paranoia in unexpected ways: "The Horror on the Beach," by Alan Dean Foster, for example, transplants his eldritch monsters to a sunny coast. "The Stone on the Island" by Ramsey Campbell, is a masterpiece of understatement, all the more terrifying for its low-key, economical prose. "The Kiss of Bugg-Shash" by Brian Lumley, is more in the classic Lovecraftian vein of disgusting, slimy, implacable enemies, and satisfyingly chilling for all of that! Less successful are entries that ape Lovecraft's dated, somewhat obscure writing style, or that stick too closely to his original concepts and geographical settings, offering slavish re-writes without any of the spirit of Grandpa. Nevertheless, as a whole this collection offers plenty of revolting revelation, appealing to our love of mysteries old while ushering us into new shadowlands where past and present, realism and fantasy, science and superstition overlap and question our faith in preconceived depths of logic and faith.

Acolytes of Cthulhu, edited by Robert M. Price (Fedogan & Bremer, 2001; 390 pgs; $32.00; 1-878252-47-x.), is yet another intelligent, exciting example of Cthulhu creativity, mingling the archetypal with a bleak, existential modernity that makes the stories both timely and timeless. Like a chilling wave of ice from a darkened shore, these stories, with few exceptions, frighten and provoke philosophical inquiry in equal measure. Such literary artists as Gustav Meyrink and Jorges Luis Borges -- names you wouldn't usually connect with Mythos fiction -- are joined by the creative fruits of Peter Cannon and Dirk W. Mosig. Macabre masters Edmond Hailton, Manly Wade Wellman, and Joseph Payne Brennan instil a breathless life of a never-ending cosmos into story-constructs that reflect and lend credibility to the more fantastical elements of their dreaming. Again we explore the existence of an ancient, evil race of beings outside the logically defined dimensions of space and time, hinting at a reality lurking beneath our own good fabric representation of such, waiting until time, tide, or the ignorance of humankind makes it possible to reclaim their dominance.

Whereas much dark and fantastic fiction does little more than shock with effect while reaffirming a pre-planned framework of conservative religious and moral values, this collection avoids such matters almost completely, suggesting instead awesome alien powers, unknown vistas of space and time, and broken scientific myths whose cold sense of a bleak unexplainable existence becomes in itself a new mythology. Imbuing the weird tale with stark visions of cosmic alienation, these pieces focus on 'the outsider' motif both metaphorically and literally. Structured by the editor to focus more on "feeling" than a simplistic obeisance to Lovecraft's subjects or specific textual elements of the Mythos, this bold collection invites admirable new perspectives to the genre's most complex and well-worn mythology, resisting cliché (for the most part) with thematic revisions of ancient impulses. The book as a whole captures the resonance of cosmicism and the delicate emotion of awe, allowing the award-winning authors to explore fresh pockets of darkness alongside newer voices.

Several of the texts honor Lovecraft's motifs, from the terror and dangers of cultural degeneracy through inbreeding to the horror of mating with alien creatures: science is a gateway to magic just as thought is a doorway to dreams. Outsiders are emphasized as characters and/or anti-heroes -- isolated and wise if withdrawn and morally bankrupt professors, professional men, and assorted wandering loners -- alienated from their society and the normally held laws of space and time. When confronted by Ancient Ones and their own fears/ inadequacies, mankind is depicted as an insignificant insect in the black cosmic waters of infinity, unable to comprehend let alone defy alien gods and beings from other realities. Going even further,these authors suggest that we are unable to even properly perceive ourselves let alone a mysterious ungovernable ultimate reality.

Cthulhu 2000Cthulhu 2000 (Arkham House, 1995; 413 pgs; $24.95; 0-87054-169-2), edited by Jim Turner, is a refreshing update on ancient themes and primal impulses reprinting 18 entries ranging the gauntlet from unapologetic pastiche to fiercely original, unapologetically revisionist nightmares that find new moves for old tentacles. Rooting a majority of their horrors in the seeming banality of the everyday, these stories contradict the tenets of realism from within. Far more than a tribute to Lovecraft's mythically inspired creatures or subversive concepts, the stories herein share the master fantasist's emphasis on the unearthly and universally impossible while draping such terror in the 'good fabric' of the everyday.

In an introduction as intriguing as it is informative, whetting your appetite for the slithering things to come, editor Turner tells us that Lovecraft considered himself outside and beyond the common scope of the average man, often referring to the species as "another collection of molecules." Wedding his disdain for the human race and his realization of the insignificance of the species in general (in the cosmic order of things) with forces and moments of space and time reaching beyond the influence or provability of the everyday, he, in effect, transcended natural order -- a phenomenon practised in turn by the authors assembled between these covers.

From T.E.D. Klein's "Black Man with a Horn," which honors Lovecraft's belief in the unnamable horrors of beings/events kept hidden, only partially revealed by letting slip horrid glimpses of shadowy flipper-beings and obscure glimpses of black men with horns to Poppy Z. Brite's "His Mouth Will Taste of Wormwood," set in New Orleans, and something of a satire on Anne Rice, from F. Paul Wilson's "The Barrens," wherein a monster writhes as horribly as basic tenets of decency that are slaughtered, to terrors of no known origin and devious goals only hinted at, this volume delivers the fright and philosophical inquiry its assemblage of respected names and presentation promises. Unlike so much Lovecraft/Cthulhu-inspired fiction, the editor focuses on stories that describe neither a wholly good nor evil universe, but, in fact, one in which there is neither good nor evil, only an unknown vista -- a cold universe which knows or cares little for humanity. While horror fiction, it is horror fiction with a difference, operating on a principle of frail humankind destroyed either mentally, physically, or spiritually by facing the unknown as symbolized by space, time, or science without parameters.

"The Last Feast of the Harlequin," by Thomas Ligotti, features an anthropological researcher who specializes in studying clown folklore, traveling to the town of Mirocaw during the Winter Solstice said to feature an unusual performance by a clown. Perhaps the most unique expression of outré terror and dismay in the collection, this piece also summons the universal mystery of Lovecraft. This book is filled with similar odious odes and malicious mementoes. From the obviously pulpy to the poetically painful, such texts as "The Shadow on the Doorstep," by James P. Blaylock, which depicts an author's encounters with aquarium shops in various shadowy places and a terrible evil on his doorstep, mirror the horror of the cosmic inflicted upon a domestic sense of 'reality' not worth an ounce of beans. At best, these stories examine the insignificance of a meagre human species defenseless against the amoral, unknowable powers of an existence which we had very little knowledge of.

There is no God in Lovecraft's universe, nor is there purpose to our sufferings, struggles, and petty triumphs. Lovecraft's primary themes (as well as the beliefs informing them) crafted/discovered poetic borderlands between the past and the future -- such matters that these authors continue to mine with sensitivity, timeliness, and wonder. The present is often the center of our attention in these tales, albeit a present formed by the eldritch malignity of the past (often pasts outside of human conceptions of time or space), emphasizing issues which are themselves un-measurable or timeless, belonging to entities or celestial forces outside of man's finite understanding/ability to comprehend.

Weird fiction as both a literary genre and an emotional response to basic driving needs allowed Lovecraft -- and likewise allows his followers -- to better study and understand the natural world, a world of cause-and-effect in which we may believe but choose to look beyond in our art, refuting the laws of physics by grounding horrors not in complete contradiction of natural law but just outside the believable boundaries of time and space. This penchant for interweaving the realistic with the outré in such a close proximity, and in settings both believable and supportive of Lovecraft's atmospheric needs, is one of the major reasons why the long short story "The Shadows Over Innsmouth" is so very effective, inviting belief, awe, and terror not so much by contradicting reality so much as by inviting readers to envision those circumstances/settings where the truth could be stretched. In similar fashion, this device allows writers like Basil Copper, D. F. Lewis, and David Langford to add Shadows Over Innsmouthauthenticity and emotional fervor to ideas which in less skilled hands would seem outlandish in Shadows Over Innsmouth (Fedogan & Bremer, 1994; 339 pgs; $27.00; 1-878252-18-6), edited by world-fantasy award winning Stephen Jones.

Innsmouth is a setting that invites ingenuity and literary friction. Favoring an overt cosmicism over the traditional static horrors of the Gothic tradition, which themselves depended on outdated religious values and symbols representative of a medievalistic faith in the supernatural, these stories honor Lovecraft's penchant for finding more terror in the stars and the limitless gulfs of space than in British supernaturalism. Just as his emotional stance and intellectual training provoked him to concern himself more with events and phenomena rather than people, these stories are lent convincing life by a nihilistic, uncompromisingly bleak vision of an unknowable cosmos, revolving around haunted "Innsmouth" -- itself both a physical location and state of mind. A provoking conflict occurs between science and the occult, mystery and awe, in practically every narrative line. Starting off the anthology with lovecrfaft's seminal piece, editor Jones follows Lovecraft's seminal title story with continuations of deviant thinking and ancestry as disturbing as they are challenging to concepts of good and evil, natural and the outré. Undeniably enjoyable, this anthology is likewise a refutation to the suggestion that Mythos inspired fiction is all derivative or losing its sickly splendor. These selections prove otherwise, offering fresh interpretations of Lovecraft's time-crushing perspective. Stories by Ramsey Campbell and Basil Copper are particularly chill-inducing, and moments of undeniable awe, terror, and transmutation are reached by Michael Marshall Smith, Guy N. Smith, and Neil Gaiman, whose sense of bitter-sweet humor in "Only the End of the World Again" proves an effective accompaniment to more devastating traumas.

Using as its principle theme and orginizational pattern Lovecraft's seminal novella, editor Jones invited writers to expand/build upon the latter's cursed inhabitants, unsuspecting visitors, and malevolent setting (both physical and emotional, the later of which is just as crucial to the successful friction of fear evoked herein as the physical decay wrapping around characters like great, wet tentacles). While many pieces do dwell overmuch on the infiltration of Innsmouth by such outside agencies as the government and military, seeming to draw primary inspiration from mention of the sweeping investigation of Innsmouth mentioned in the original novella, and its little surprise when several characters find to their surprise (if not our own) that they share Lovecraft's narrator's fate, than these less than original approaches are more than made up for in the care of structure and honesty of voice apparent in just about every story. Of special interest is the inclusion of one of Lovecraft's earlier drafts of the novella. This unfinished fragment, found on the back of a manuscript, sets the mood for the foul fishy revelations within. A welcome return to one of genre fiction's most compelling, decadent realms, Shadows Over Innsmouth breaths new, horrible life into one of Lovecraft's most enduring literary legacies, and does so with wit, a sense of adventure, and obvious craftsmanship.

Innsmouth as a physically and spiritually moldering seaport setting is clearly a character unto itself. Its presence is both the defining spirit and inner pulse of these stories, all of which surprisingly add to Lovecraft's initial perception of fishy chaos without overburdening it. Of course characterization plays a stronger part in the works of Adrian Cole and David Sutton than they did in Lovecraft, who himself admitted his disinterest and disdain in humanity. What's more important is the fresh perspective brough to bare on such a cliché subject. While the Deep Ones, sexually perverse matings between fish-like deities and degenerate humanity, abound in these works, authenticity is exhibited in the plots and approaches taken by a wealth of diverse approaches and POV. In a sub-genre where one can easily fall prey to the temptation to imitate rather than create, Shadows is thankfully absent of imitation.

The stories in these collections are both artifacts and continuations of a literary and aesthetic tradition. As such they are both literature and cultural history. At the very least, they make damn fun reading, taking us away to uncharted vistas of possibility and inner reality, making possible thoughts and feelings that so-called realistic fictions lack either the tools or willingness to explore. These anthologies offer, at their best, ways of looking deeper into alternative realities of imagination, psyche, and possibility, all granted strength by the power of the written word. A fresh sense of aesthetic vastness, mystery, terror and awe are to be found in modern additions and celebrations of Lovecraft's themes and approaches. Whether the Cthulhu Mythos of Lovecraft or August Derleth, these denizens of the deep and the thrilling mystery and potential madness that they represent continue to arouse and terrify, welcome and transfigure all those who come in touch with them. Surely this is something we may be as thankful to Derleth and Arkham House for as Lovecraft, for without each other both would have been less poignant than they are, and a generation of elegant nightmares wouldn't exist.

 


availability

Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos The New Lovecraft Circle
Cthulhu 2000Shadows Over Innsmouth

Order online using these links and infinity plus will benefit:

Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos: Golden Anniversary Anthology by HP Lovecraft et al (Arkham House, February 1990; ISBN: 0870541595) ... from Amazon.com / from Amazon.co.uk

The New Lovecraft Circle by Robert M Price (Del Rey, March 2004; ISBN: 034544406X) ... from Amazon.com / from Amazon.co.uk

Acolytes of Cthulhu by Robert M Price (Fedogan & Bremer, April 2001; ISBN: 187825247X) ... from Amazon.com / from Amazon.co.uk

Shadows over Innsmouth by Stephen Jones (editor) (Del Rey, August 2001; ISBN: 0345444078) ... from Amazon.com / from Amazon.co.uk

Cthulhu 2000 (Del Rey, May 1999; ISBN: 0345422031) ... from Amazon.com / from Amazon.co.uk

 

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© William P Simmons 2006


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