Donald Wandrei’s Cthulhu Mythos and Horror Fiction

H.P. Lovecraft is celebrated as one of the greatest horror writers of all time, but his fame has been almost entirely posthumous. It wasn’t until after Lovecraft’s death that two of his friends set up Arkham House to publish a collection made up entirely of Lovecraft’s own work. These men were August Derleth and Donald Wandrei. While Derleth wrote a whole bunch of second rate Lovecraftian fiction after his friend’s death, Wandrei only contributed two tales to the Cthulhu Mythos, and both were published long before Lovecraft died.

Don’t Dream: The Collected Fantasy and Horror of Donald Wandrei
Fedogan & Bremer – 1997

While Derleth’s Cthulhu Mythos tales are scattered throughout several volumes, absolutely all of Wandrei’s horror fiction can be found in Don’t Dream: The Collected Fantasy and Horror of Donald Wandrei. This is a companion volume to Colossus: The Collected Science Fiction of Donald Wandrei. At first I thought the completeness of these collections was pretty cool, but even the introduction to Don’t Dream notes that its comprehensive nature “may not be the best way to showcase a writer”. This is EVERY horror story the dude wrote. Some are really good, but some are not. Also, this collection does not include “The Red Brain”, one of my favourite stories by Wandrei. That one is entirely set in space, so it got included in the science fiction collection instead. In retrospect I would have enjoyed a “Best of Wandrei” collection more than a “Collected Horror” collection. Again though, I do love the idea of a nice complete collection. If you are a diehard Wandrei fan, this is definitely the book for you. I don’t know though; are there any diehard Donald Wandrei fans out there?

My primary motivation for reading Wandrei was his “Cthulhu Mythos” fiction. The two tales that are officially considered to be part of the “Cthulhu Mythos” are The Tree Men of M’bwa and The Fire Vampires. Both of these were pretty good. This collection also includes When the Fire Creatures Came. This is an early version of The Fire Vampires. The stories are actually very different, but they share the same antagonist. He goes by “Fthaggua, Lord of Ktynga” in the latter version. I really enjoyed reading both of the Fire Creature stories and would suggest you read both instead of assuming the newer version is better. Neither The Tree-men of M’bwa nor The Fire Vampires mention any of the entities from Lovecraft’s own fiction, but they’re both about a buncha Kansas City Fthagguas (malevolent aliens) coming to Earth and ruining our fun. I’m not really sure who canonized these tales as “Cthulhu Mythos”. One other story, The Lady in Gray, actually mentions the call of Cthulhu, the old ones and the colour out of space in a dream sequence. That story itself is more Poeish, than Lovecraftian, but it’s also worth a read.

Don’t Dream contains lots of other good stuff. There’s a bunch of stories about people turning into slime, one about a rifle wielding jaguar (The Witch-Makers), one about giant amoebas killing everyone (The Destroying Horde) and another about an idiot dwarf growing out of man’s leg (It Will Grow on You). The title story, Don’t Dream, is about a man whose thoughts become reality regardless of whether he wants to them to or not. Is this where the writers of Ghostbusters got the idea for the Mr. Stay-Puft scene? Uneasy Lie the Drowned was really good too. That one creeped me out.

There’s also a section at the back of this book that collects some marginalia and fecky bits and pieces. I skimmed through most of this section. You probably will too. I recommend the essay that finishes the book though. It’s an interesting look at Wandrei’s role in the story of Arkham House.

This collection was a bit much for me, but I really liked it. It contains plenty of entertaining stuff. Donald Wandrei wrote some good stories, and I recommend you read all those I mentioned above. If you’re interested in the Cthulhu Mythos fiction of Lovecraft’s close friends, you can check out my other posts on the Yog Sothothery of Clark Ashton Smith, August Derleth, Frank Belknap Long and Henry Kuttner.

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