Robert E. Howard’s Cthulhu Mythos and Horror Fiction

The Horror Stories of Robert E. Howard

Del Ray – 2008

I have long wanted to read Robert E. Howard’s Cthulhu fiction. On April 15th, 2015, I added Nameless Cults: The  Complete Cthulhu Mythos Fiction of Robert E. Howard to my goodreads to-read list. I knew Howard had created Conan The Barbarian, and while I hadn’t read any of Howard’s stories, I had seen and loved the 1982 Conan movie. I assumed the rest of Howard’s fiction would be similar. Unfortunately, the Nameless Cults collection has been out of print for a long time, and copies are fairly expensive. Also, I have read a few books put out by Chaosium, and while the contents are usually pretty good, the presentation is quite bad. I didn’t want to spend lots of money on a book that would probably be crap. Fortunately, Del Ray books also published an extensive collection called The Horror Stories of Robert E. Howard.

This book is 523 pages long, and it includes 40 stories and 20 poems. As far as I understand, it is not a best of collection. These are all (or at least most) of Howard’s horror stories. I haven’t read his other stuff, but I would be surprised if at least some of his other stories didn’t have elements of horror. The 40 stories in here were enough for me though. I don’t have any desire to read more Robert E. Howard. This collection does not include all of the stories in Nameless Cults, but the ones it leaves out are mostly “collaborations” that were published long after Howard’s death. The prospect of reading a story that Robert E. Howard left for somebody else to finish does not seem at all appealing to me.

Honestly, a lot of this book is absolute crap. Howard was a hack. He wrote whatever would sell, pumping out horror, fantasy, adventure, sword and sorcery and westerns. There’s some good stuff in here, but at least half of this book was a chore to read. Anyone writing as much as Howard did was bound to get lucky now and then. A 200 page Robert E. Howard’s Best Horror Fiction collection would have been far, far more enjoyable.

I read this book because it seemed to contain Howard’s Cthulhu mythos fiction. The stories in here that are considered part of the Cthulhu canon are of mixed quality. The Fire of Asshurbanipal and The Black Stone were pretty good. Howard’s main contribution to the mythos seems to have been De Junzt’s Unaussprechlichen Kulten (Unspeakable Cults), a book of heinous black magic. Howard references this book in several of his stories, and Lovecraft went on to borrow it for a few of his.

Aside from the Cthulhu stuff, I quite liked Pigeons from Hell, Casonetto’s Last Song and Old Garfield’s Heart. The Dwellers under the Tomb was probably my favourite story in the collection:

“Spawn of the black pits of madness and eternal night! Crawling obscenities seething in the slime of the earth’s unguessed deeps–the ultimate horror of retrogression–the nadir of human degeneration–good God, their ancestors were men!”

The Dwellers under the Tomb

Robert E. Howard’s writing seems fairly notorious for the unfortunate way with which it deals with race. I’ve come across similar approaches with Lovecraft, Wheatley and others, but the tale in this collection called Black Canaan may well have the highest n-word count of any story I’ve read. I don’t know if Howard was a truly hateful person, but some of these tales are very likely to offend the modern reader.

There was definitely some decent stuff in here, but a lot of it felt like uninspired, poorly written garbage that was only put on paper so the author could pay his rent. After reading 40 of his stories, I have absolutely no interest in reading anything else by Robert E. Howard. I skimmed through his poems, and I had even less interest in them. I’m not a poetry kind of guy.

As I read the stories in this collection, I kept a spreadsheet with my thoughts or a brief synopsis on each one. I am including that spreadsheet here for my own reference, but it may be of mild interest to some of my readers:

TitleSynopsis/Thoughts
In the Forest of Villefèretraveler meets werewolf in forest. cuts off head
A Song of the Werewolf Folkpoem
Wolfsheadsequel to forest of villefere, man who fought w.wolf ends up in africa at a party in a castle. Is now a werewolf.
Up, John Kane!poem
Remembrancepoem
The Dream Snakemad old man dreams of being trapped inside a house on a hill because there is a mean snake outside.
Sea Cursea pair of scoundrels rape and kill a young girl. Her witch aunt curses them, and they die at sea.
The Moor Ghostpoem
Moon Mockerypoem
The Little Peoplean unruly sister goes walking on the moors at night to be attacked by a group of elfish fairies. She is saved by a mystery disappearing druid.
Dead Man’s Hatepoem
The Tavernpoem
Rattle of Bonessolomon kane story. Goes to an inn, but his accomplice turns on him then innkeep turns on accomplice, then magician’s skeleton turns on innkeep.
The Fear That Followspoem
The Spirit of Tom Molyneauxboxing story. Coach shows boxer picture of his fave boxer and helps him come back and in fight. Bad story.
Casonetto’s Last Songa devil worshipping singer sends a cursed record to the man who gave evidence at the court case that got him executed.
The Touch of Deathman sleeps in room with corpse. When candle goes out, he touches a pair of rubber gloves hanging from shelf and dies of shock.
Out of the Deepan evil mermaid pretends to be a sailor’s corpse and starts killing a bunch of people. Same place as in Sea Curse
A Legend of Faring Townpoem
Restless Waterspirate sells his niece to an older gent, kills her fiancee so he can make the sale. The dead lad shows up in a window and gives him a heart attack
The Shadow of the Beastfairly racist. A black lad shoots a white man and promises to kill his sister. He hides in an abandonded house that is haunted by a gorilla. He dies. Wtf.
The Dead Slaver’s Talepoem
Dermod’s Baneawful ghost story set in ireland. A bad ghost pretends to be a good ghost to kill a guy, but the good ghost saves the guy.
The Hills of the Deadsolomon kane story. Solomon goes to the jungle and kills an entire tribe of vampires with a witchdoctor. Awful.
Dig Me No GraveCthulhu cultist sells his soul for 250 of life. Time is up. A weirdo appears in his death parlour. Ok.
The Song of a Mad Minstrelpoem
The Children of the Nightman hanging out with mates briefly discuss horror fiction. Then one takes an axe off the wall and accidentally hits another lad in head. This causes him to go back in time to a time where the picts, small little goblin people had attacked his warrior clan. He is pure blooded, so he kills them violently. He awakes and tries to kill his mate who has slanted eyes. violent, racist and bad. Not really cthulu mythos.
Musingspoem
The Black Stonething in hungary. Pretty Good
The Thing on the RoofLad wants copy of de junzt to find about mummy’s jewel. He takes jewel so monster kills him.
The Dweller in Dark Valleypoem
The Horror from the Mounda man digs into an indian burial ground despite his neighbours warnings. A black vampire comes out and tries to kill him.
A Dull Sound as of Knockingpoem
People of the Darkman follows his rival into a cave to kill him but gets hit on the head and remembers a past life in which he did the same thing but he was conan. A race of goblins inherit the cave and him and his rival fight them. Then he comes back to modern day and shoots the degenerate ancestor of the goblins before they kill his rival and his girlfriend.
Delenda EstHannibal the historic figure, comes back in ghost form to tell a pirate of a mutinous shipmate. Shit.
The Cairn on the HeadlandAwful story set in ireland. A FOOL uncovers the grave where odin was buried after fighting irish army
Worms of the Earthbran mak morn witnesses a pict die, so he summons the worms of the earth, gross mutants, to kidnap the Roman soldier who killed him. P. good.
The Symbolpoem
The Valley of the LostDeadly story. Cowboy gets stuck in pet cemetary cave with enemies corpse. Finds snake peoples’ lair underneath. sees their history. Comes out and dynamites entrance, then shoots himself in head.   Harsh story. Cool
The Hoofed ThingCREEPY OLD NEIGHBOUR BREEDS WEIRD BLOOD THIRSTY LIFEFORM IN HIS BEDROOM. Eats him and then man kills it with a sword.
The Noseless Horrortwo lads visit their friend who has found a mummy. He also has an indian servant with no nose. The mummy is actually a lad the master killed. It comes back to life and kills him. The indian is blamed until they figure out what happened.
The Dwellers Under the TombEnjoyable story about lads who go into a tomb that leads to series of caves inhabited by degenerate murderous dog people. Last few paragraphs are delish.
An Open Windowpoem
The House of Arabua warrior goes to land of dead to find out who cursed him. Lots of babylonian mythology – absu and tiamat. Kinda interesting.
The Man on the GroundBiercish western about a cowboy realising he’s a ghost
Old Garfield’s HeartListened to audiobook version while going to sleep. Old man doesn’t age. Has a heart from a native american witch doctor. They cut it out of his body and it still beats. Not bad story. Weird
Kelly the Conjure-Manreally just a character sketch
Black Canaanstory about a black guy who tries to start a rebellion of blacks against whites by voodoo. Turns men into frog creatures in a swamp. Half of the text is just the n-word. No audiobook version of this one on youtube, LOL
To a Womanpoem
One Who Comes at Eventidepoem
The Haunter of the Ringa vampire’s dodgy ring turns a wife into a murderer
Pigeons from Hell2 wanderers go to sleep in abandon house. One dies. Second looks guilty of murder. Sheriff comes and believes him. P. good.
The Dead RememberCowboy murders black couple. Woman curses him. Ghost shows up and hidden gun explodes killing him.
The Fire of AsshurbanipalLads break into a tomb in middle east in search of a jewel. they find it but its guarded by a demon, kin of cthulhu and yog sothoth. Pretty good.
Fragmentpoem
Which Will Scarcely Be Understoodpoem
Golnor the Apeincomplete fragment about an really stupid, ugly freak
Spectres in the Darkcouldn’t be bothered reading this properly. 2 crimes, ghosts?
The Housea genius poet lived in a weird house. Mystery unsolved by the end.
Untitled Fragmentvery briefly mentions von junzt’s book. Not interesting. 2 explorers about to dig up egyptian site. Nothing happens.

Well, there we go. I think I have got around to all of the main members of the “Lovecraft circle” now. I have written posts on the Cthulhu mythos fiction of Robert E. Howard, Clark Ashton Smith, August Derleth, Robert Bloch, Donald Wandrei, Frank Belknap Long, and Henry Kuttner. I know that Lovecraft corresponded with lots of other people (Fritz Leiber, James Blish…), but the guys listed above were the main ones, right? I was fairly thorough with most of them, but I think I may take another look at Clark Ashton Smith. I’m sure I’ll get around to the second generation of mythos writers at some stage in the future too.

Robert Bloch’s Contributions to the Cthulhu Mythos

A few years ago, I decided to read all of the Cthulhu Mythos fiction written by the Lovecraft Circle. I did posts on August Derleth, Henry Kuttner, Donald Wandrei, Frank Belknap Long and Clark Ashton Smith. The plan was to move on to Robert Bloch and then to finish with Robert E. Howard.

Before starting on Robert Bloch’s mythos tales, I decided that I should first read his best known work and its sequels. I enjoyed the first Psycho book, but I hated its sequels so much that I decided to hold off on reading Bloch again. I waited about a year and then started on Mysteries of the Worm, a collection of Bloch’s Cthulhu Mythos stories.

The Mysteries of the Worm

Chaosium – 2000 (First, shorter, version published in 1981)

The first two stories were run of the mill Lovecraftian pastiches, nothing special. The next story, The Shambler from the Stars was deadly. This is the story in which Bloch bases the protagonist on Lovecraft and then kills him off, a favour Lovecraft repaid in his The Haunter of the Dark. I really liked this one. It reminded me of that Frank Belknap Long story where he kills off a fictional Lovecraft. Murder seems to have been the highest form of flattery with these guys.

The standard of most of the stories is pretty decent. There’s a bunch towards the middle of the book that incorporate Bloch’s fascination with Ancient Egypt. I found these a bit tedious, but that was probably because I read all of them in one sitting.

I really liked the longer stories towards the end of the collection. Black Bargain, Notebook Found in a Deserted House, Terror in Cut-Throat Cove, and The Shadow from the Steeple, a sequel to Lovecraft’s The Haunter of the Dark, were all great. These were written more recently than the others, and they feel a lot less like somebody simply trying to write like Lovecraft. Based on the quality of these stories, I would be willing to read more Bloch in the future.

I’ve long known that Lovecraft and Bloch were penpals, but I didn’t realise Bloch was only a teenager at the time of their correspondence. It’s pretty cool that Lovecraft was so encouraging to some pesky kid that kept writing to him.

Strange Eons

Pinnacle Books – 1979 (Originally published 1978)

The premise of this novel is that Lovecraft’s stories were true, and the Old Ones are about to destroy the world. This book will be an absolute waste of time for anyone who isn’t familiar with Lovecraft’s best known stories. It’s pretty silly, but I enjoyed it in a mindless way. There are entities and characters who reappear in Lovecraft’s work, but Lovecraft never tried to codify his mythos. Bloch does. Strange Eons features elements from The Call of Cthulhu, The Rats in the Walls, the Shadow over Innsmouth, Cold Air, Pickman’s Model and several more. I read through it, enjoying the references but deliberately not spending too much time thinking if they worked to create a cohesive whole. This is clearly a homage to Bloch’s old mentor, and I don’t think he meant for anyone to take it too seriously. At one point it discusses the history of the Haunter of the Dark, the story in which Lovecraft kills off a fictionalized version of the author.

This is mastubatory, fanboy trash, but it was entertaining enough. I liked it just fine.

Ok. I guess I’ll start on Robert E. Howard soon.

Asamatsu Ken’s Kthulhu Reich

Kthulhu Reich – Asamatsu Ken
Kurodahan Press – 2019

This is a book of short stories by Asamatsu Ken, a Japanese horror author who specialises in Lovecraftian horror. I had intended for Robert Bloch or Robert E. Howard to be the next Cthulhu Mythos I read, but saw this and could not resist the promise of a Cthulhu Nazi crossover. Although the book was published in 2019, I believe all of the stories were written in the late 1990s.

The first story in here is a fairly straightforward reincarnation tale. I wasn’t super impressed. It wasn’t very Lovecrafty. The second story was about some some Nazis looking for the Mask of Yoth Tlaggon. This had an evil wizard and some spirits. It was better than the first story. I really liked how the author uses footnotes to include information on real historical events, occult theories and his own fictional characters. I enjoy the blatant disregard for the boundary between fact and fiction. The next story was basically At The Mountains of Madness with Nazis. It was pretty good.

Things got really interesting for ‘April 20th, 1889’, the 4th tale in the collection. It’s about Jack the Ripper teaming up with Nyarlathotep to summon the unborn Hitler. This is an utterly ridiculous combination, but it works. The next two stories are about Nazis getting attacked by Dracula and Dagon. I loved them. The final story, ‘Dies Irae’, is a mixture of historical fiction and the weird crustacean creatures from the The Whisperer in the Darkness.

I really enjoyed this collection.

The first story is not awful, but I reckon it’s the weakest. As I was reading it, I started thinking about why I enjoy Lovecraftian fiction. I like the pessimism in Howard’s writing, but I also enjoy his style. I know some people hate how long winded and archaic his writing is, but I don’t. This style is altogether absent in Kthulhu Reich, a translation of a modern mythos writer, and I needed the author to make up for this somehow. Fortunately, these ludicrous stories that weave in different historical figures, aspects of occultism and Lovecraftian entities were quite sufficient. You have to be careful with modern Cthulhu Mythos fiction. I know there’s lots of kitschy, cutesey Cthulhu stories out there right now. Fuck that. Ken’s stories are bonkers, but there’s a darkness behind them that keeps things legit. I would be happy to read more of Asamatsu Ken’s books in the future.

Sorry for the recent lack of posts. I have a few big articles I’m working on, and I’d rather work on those than pump out quick reviews of shit books nobody cares about.

Peter Levenda’s The Dark Lord: H.P. Lovecraft, Kenneth Grant, and the Typhonian Tradition in Magic

The Dark Lord: H.P. Lovecraft, Kenneth Grant, and the Typhonian Tradition in Magic
Peter Levenda
Ibis Press – 2013

Imagine your kid’s birthday is coming up. You go to the dollar store and buy one of those premade piñatas. You take it home and spend several days drawing intricate occult symbols all over it. The big day comes. Your kid can’t wait to smash the shit out of his piñata to get some sweeties. He notices the crap you’ve drawn on the outside, but he doesn’t really give a shit. He gives it a few good whacks and the piñata breaks open. Nothing falls out. You didn’t bother to fill it with sweets.

You are Peter Levenda, the piñata is this book, and I am the son who will never forgive you for this. The Dark Lord is 340 pages of meandering, pointless twoddle.

The book’s full title is The Dark Lord: H.P. Lovecraft, Kenneth Grant, and the Typhonian Tradition in Magic. I thought this was going to be an in depth look at how the eldritch entities of Lovecraft’s mythos have infiltrated modern occultism, not a fucking treatise on magical pussy juice. Admittedly, Levenda does address Lovecraft’s influence on Kenneth Grant, but despite the title, this book is far more concerned with Grant’s work than it is with Lovecraft’s. Although I had read one of Grant’s books before this one, I was not aware that he was so interested in vaginal discharge.

Maybe I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s lay out some facts before I discuss the contents of this book further.

  • Howard Philips Lovecraft wrote a whole bunch of horror stories.
  • Aleister Crowley wrote a whole bunch of bullshit.
  • Lovecraft and Crowley never corresponded with each other. There’s an oft quoted reference to an English magician in one of Lovecraft’s stories, but no definitive proof that either man was aware of the other.
  • Kenneth Grant noticed that if you compare the vast amounts of writing these two guys left behind, you will find phrases and words that could be addressing the same events, ideas and entities. Grant wrote a series of books that argued that this is not coincidental.
  • Grant’s writing is notoriously difficult to read. Levenda himself compares it to the rambling of a person suffering from schizophrenia, so Levenda wrote a book trying to distill the parts pertinent to the motifs used in Lovecraft’s horror fiction from the kabbalistic, numerological fiddle faddle that takes up so much of Grant’s writing.
  • It’s not really fair to say that The Dark Lord is a book about Lovecraft’s influence on Grant. It’s more a book about similarities in their ideologies. Both were fascinated by the idea of a dark, chaotic gods that will drastically alter the course of human history. Lovecraft put these in his stories. Grant tried to devise ways to communicate with them.
  • The book goes into detail on different forms of magic and how these forms of magic are focused on the darker aspects of human nature. According to Grant, the ultimate goal of all forms of magic is to communicate with alien entities.
  • The best way to communicate with these entities apparently requires gallons of magical vaginal discharge. It turns out that there’s 16 different types of gee juice, each one having its own purpose in magical rituals. If you want to get the Dark Lord to assist you in your mystical endeavors, you’re going to need your wife or girlfriend to allow you to collect samples of her vaginal moisture every evening for a fortnight.

I’ve tried to be fair with this list. In the context of this blog, I don’t think any of the above statements are unfair or misleading.

I think I’d be a lot more polite when reviewing occult books if their authors didn’t have their heads stuffed so far up their own arses. At several points Levenda mentions how Grant references the “Schlangekraft recension of the Necronomicon“. Just in case you didn’t know, the book being referenced is an infamous hoax, and Levenda is widely believed to be the person who cobbled it together. Think about that for a moment. Levenda knows better than anyone in the world that one of Grant’s sources is bollocks because he himself made it up, yet he still writes a book about Grant’s teachings. Whenever I think of Levenda from now on, I’ll imagine him hunkered over on himself with his head between his knees trying to inhale his own farts.

The weirdest thing about this book was that I kinda enjoyed it. It’s been a long time since I had to power my way through a book with big sections on chakras and Kabballah. Knowing that I’d get to express the resultant frustrations on here made these parts tolerable. I’ll probably never read occult books at the rate I was getting through them three years ago, but I’m already planning on a few more in the near future.

One other thing before I go: There’s a part in this book that mentions a form of yoga that teaches men how to suck sperm back into their dicks after it has been ejaculated. It’s called Vajroli Mudra. I couldn’t find any proof that this is possible, but I truly hope it is. I want to transform my willy into a little elephant’s trunk.
slurp slurp slurp

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.

Frank Belknap Long’s Cthulhu Mythos Fiction

Frank Belknap Long was a good friend of H.P. Lovecraft. Before I talk about Frank’s stories, I want to clear up some confusion about the different collections of his early short fiction. You can probably skip the next paragraph if you’re not an anally retentive book nerd like me.

In 1946, Arkham House put out a collection of 21 short stories by Frank Belknap Long. This collection was titled The Hounds of Tindalos. A second edition of this collection was published by Museum Press in 1950. In 1963, Belmont Books put out a collection with the same title, but this collection only contained 9 stories. The next year, they put out another collection of the remaining tales called The Dark Beasts and Eight Other Stories from the Hounds of Tindalos. The two Belmont collections added no new tales, but neither of them contained ‘A Visitor from Egypt’, ‘Bridgehead’ or ‘Second Night Out’. In 1975, Panther books did something similar. They put out two collections, one called The Hounds of Tindalos and one called The Black Druid. The tales in these two collections add up to the contents of the original Arkham House collection. That same year, The Early Long was published Doubleday. This is a collection of Frank Belknap Long’s best tales from the early part of his career. Although this collection adds author’s introductions to each of the tales, it only contains tales from the Arkham House collection. It omits ‘Bridgehead’, ‘The Golden Child’, ‘The Black Druid’ and ‘A Stitch in Time’. To make things more confusing, the third edition of The Early Long was retitled The Hounds of Tindalos. Reading back over this paragraph, I believe I’ve done a good job explaining the confusing history of the different books titled The Hounds of Tindalos, but just to make it perfectly clear, there are 4 different collections of stories with the same title, and while some of their contents are the same, none of them are identical. The only complete versions are the the Arkham House or Museum Press editions.

The Early Long – Frank Belknap Long
Doubleday – 1975

I read The Early Long. While it doesn’t contain all of the stories, it has those introductions, and the author seems to have considered these tales to be the best of the original collection. It starts off pretty strong. The second tale, ‘The Ocean Leech’ is gross. It’s about a guy who feels pleasure while being digested alive by a disgusting slimy sea monster. Cool. Most of the other stories are fairly forgettable though; some are outright dull. There’s one called ‘Dark Visions’ that I liked. It features a man looking around at his fellow humans and being shocked to discover that their “minds were cesspools of maggoty hate, carnality and revolting spite”. Talk about naïve! The author’s introductions are mildly interesting, but he comes across a bit of a ding-dong boasting about how he had read Salammbô three times by age 15. Nerd!


There are two tales in this collection that are considered part of the Lovecraft mythos, ‘The Space Eaters’ and ‘The Hounds of Tindalos’. These were pretty good. ‘The Space Eaters’ features a Lovecraftian protagonist in the literal sense. His name is Howard and he is a horror author. ‘The Hounds of Tindalos’ is probably Frank Belknap Long’s best known tale. I didn’t hate it, but it wasn’t anything special either. A lad takes drugs that give him the power to see a gang of interdimensional hungry mutts.

New Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos – Edited by Ramsey Campell
Grafton – 1988(originally published 1980)

The Internet Speculative Fiction Database categorizes 3 of Frank’s short stories as Cthulhu Mythos tales, the 2 from the above collection and a story called ‘Dark Awakening’ that Long wrote for Ramsey Campbell’s New Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos collection. I tracked this story down too. It’s alright. A strange statue from the sea starts controlling people. Classic.

While many believe that ‘Dark Awakening’ is Frank’s last mythos story, that’s not quite accurate. He wrote ‘Gateway to Forever’, basically a short sequel to ‘The Hounds of Tindalos’, for the 25th edition of Robert M. Price’s Crypt of Cthulhu fanzine. It can now be found in Price’s The Tindalos Cycle collection.

The Tindalos Cycle – Edited by Robert M. Price
Hippocampus Press – 2008

‘Gateway to Forever’ isn’t very well known. It’s not very good either. I read it a few days ago, but I can’t remember much of it. The dogs come back. Wuff wuff.

Price’s Tindalos collection also contains a few chapters from Ghor, Kin Slayer: The Saga Of Genseric’s Fifth Born Son that feature the hounds. Ghor was a written by several famous authors in collaboration. This is a cool idea, but I’ve read the story is pretty crap as a whole, and I had no interest in reading a few chapters from a rare and notoriously disappointing book. I’ll read the whole thing if I can get my hands on it for a small amount of effort and a smaller amount of money. I had orignally planned to read the rest of the stuff in the Price collection, but I had read the Robert W. Chambers and Ambrose Bierce stuff before, and a lot of the rest is supposed to be rather dull.

The Horror from the Hills – Frank Belknap Long
Arkham House – 1963 (Originally serialised in 1931)

Without doubt my favourite thing that I read by Long was his novella The Horror from the Hills. It’s about a statue of the abominable Chaugnar Faugn, basically a cross between an elephant and a mosquito, being brought to Manhattan from Tsang. Once he ends up in the museum, Chaugnar starts mangling, mutilating and murdering everyone in sight. Hell yeah.

Part of the reason I wanted to read Long’s stuff was that I had read that the protagonist from T.E.D. Klein’s ‘Black Man With a Horn’ was based on ol’ Frankie. I adored that story when I read it last Christmas, and reading The Horror from the Hills made it pretty clear where Klein had gotten his ideas. Slogging through all this mythos stuff is time consuming, but it feels pretty cool when you start to notice the patterns running through it like this. Klein didn’t rip Long off. He built on what the elder author had created.

I read two other stories by Long that are not technically considered part of the Cthulhu mythos but are Lovecraftian in their own ways. ‘The Black Druid’ was included in the original Hounds of Tindalos collection but it was omitted from The Early Long. It’s another tale in which the protagonist seems to be based on Lovecraft. Again Long treats his friend cruelly, poisoning his coat and turning him into a slimy monster. This story was alright. At one point in The Early Long, the author says something to the effect that this collection only contain his stories that avoid pure gross-out horror. ‘The Black Druid’ is not a classy tale, but gross-out gore fans shouldn’t get their hopes up either.

‘The Man with a Thousand Legs’ is about a man who turns into an octopus like creature. It’s set near the sea and felt quite Innsmouthy. I thought this one was pretty damn good.

Frank Belknap Long wrote a lot. I enjoyed much of what I read by him, but there was lots of filler too. If you think I have missed anything crucial, let me know.

Alright. At this point I’ve written about the Lovecraftian works of Clark Ashton Smith, August Derleth, Henry Kuttner and Frank Belknap Long. I’m already a few stories into Donald Wandrei’s collected horror and fantasy, so he’ll be up here in a few weeks.

Henry Kuttner’s The Book of Iod


The Book of Iod – Henry Kuttner
Chaosium – 1995


Last year I set out to investigate the expanded mythos of H.P. Lovecraft’s small circle of friends. I had read Clark Ashton Smith’s most Lovecraftian tales before, and my next step was to examine August Derleth’s Cthulhiana. Unfortunately, Derleth’s stuff was pretty boring, and I decided to give the ol’ Yog-Sotothery a break for a while. I recently read T.E.D. Klein’s awesome Dark Gods collection, and his Lovecraftian tale ‘The Black Man with a Horn’ convinced me to get back into the mythos.

Henry Kuttner was 25 years younger than H.P. Lovecraft, and the two only made friends shortly before the elder’s death. Kuttner was clearly a big fan of Lovecraft’s fiction, and he wrote several Lovecraftian tales himself. Lovecraft, ever the supporter of young writers, read these tales and provided feedback to Kuttner.

Chaosium’s 1995 edition of The Book of Iod contains 13 stories, 10 by Kuttner, 1 by his friend Robert Bloch and 2 by Kuttner’s fans. Later editions only contain 10 stories. (I don’t know which are omitted, but I’d hope it’s the non-Kuttner ones.) This book was pretty good.

Honestly, after reading Derleth, I was expecting the rest of the expanded mythos to be boring crap. Derleth was a cool guy in a lot of ways, but his writing was horrendously formulaic. It would be a complete lie to to say that these stories Kuttner are hugely original, but they are least varied. One, ‘Bells of Horror’, is about a cursed set of bells that make people try to blind themselves. Another aptly titled tale, ‘The Frog’, sees an undead witch that has turned into a frog go on a violent killing spree. ‘Spawn of Dagon’ is a swords and sorcery type of thing about a hero named Elak, but it was one of my favourites in the collection.

Some of the stories are so shamelessly Lovecraftian that they almost read like rewritten versions of Lovecraft’s work. ‘The Black Kiss’ comes directly from ‘The Shadow over Innsmouth’. ‘The Salem Horror’ is ‘The Dreams in the Witch House’. ‘Hydra’, ‘The Secret of Krallitz’ and a few of the other tales also felt remarkably familiar. Still though, Kuttner was about 21 when he was writing these tales, and after he wrote them, he’d send them to Lovecraft in the post. Pretty damn cute if you ask me.

My favourite story in this collection was ‘The Invaders’. It’s a fairly standard “Oh no! I have opened up a rift to another dimension and bad things are coming through!” story, but there’s one scene in which a man returns from the rift after being dragged through against his will. It ain’t pretty.

Zuchequon, Vorvadoss, Iod and Nyogtha are the four scary entities that Kuttner contributed to the mythos. There’s also the Book of Iod, Kuttner’s addition to the profane library of eldritch arcana. Aside from couple of stories added on to the end of this book, I don’t know if these monsters and this text show up in many other places.

Kuttner stopped writing Lovecraftian horror a few years after Lovecraft died, but he continued to write for another 20 years or so. I know Ray Bradbury thought very highly of his writing. Also, my favourite horror novel, Matheson’s I am Legend, is dedicated to Kuttner. I don’t think that the tales in The Book of Iod were considered his best work when he was alive, but I thought they were highly enjoyable. I am thinking about tracking down the rest of his Elak stories next.

The Cowboys of Cthulhu and Riders Where There Are No Roads – David Bain

Earlier this year, after finishing every scrap of fiction that H.P. Lovecraft wrote, I planned a series of posts that would look at Lovecraft’s peers and successors who extended his Cthulhu Mythos. I started with August Derleth, and I planned to continue with the other big names like Howard or Bloch. Then I found a free audiobook of a book named The Cowboys of Cthulhu

the cowboys of cthulhu david bainThe Cowboys of Cthulhu – 2011

I enjoy a good Western movie from time to time, but I don’t think I’ve read any Western books. (Blood Meridian doesn’t count, right?) I’m not against the idea of reading a Western, I’d just never felt the desire to do so until I heard the title The Cowboys of Cthulhu. I knew it was probably going to be awful, but for one second I imagined the relentless American masculinity of John Wayne facing off against the oblivious chaos of the Great Old Ones, and on the tiny possibility that that’s what this book might contain, I knew I’d have to give it a go.

It turns out that The Cowboys of Cthulhu is only a short story. It serves as a prequel to David Bain’s ‘Riders of the Weird West’ series. It’s basically the story of a shootout between a pair of outlaws and some octopus-headed freaks in a geometrically challenged canyon. It doesn’t really add anything to the Cthulhu Mythos, but it was decently entertaining. The audiobook narrator did some pretty dodgy accents. While it did not feature a burly old cowboy addressing the Sleeper of R’lyeh as “pilgrim”, The Cowboys of Cthulhu was still good fun.

riders where there are no roads david bainRiders Where There Are No Roads – 2014

When I started Riders Where There Are No Roads, I was looking forward to an explanation of what happened in The Cowboys of Cthulhu. I was expecting the protagonists to go off in search of Cthulhu’s acolytes. I was totally mistaken. This novel has nothing to do with the Cthulhu Mythos. It’s the story of a lad who enters another dimension with a bunch of ghost-cowboys to save his son from a demon. I was disappointed by this, but I guess that’s more my fault than David Bain’s.

I kept going with the story even after I realised that the High Priest of the Great Old Ones wasn’t going to make an appearance. It was a weird mix of cowboys, Easy Rider and Lord of the Rings, definitely more fantasy than horror. It wasn’t what I wanted, but it wasn’t too bad. It was imaginative, and the characters were fun.

The ‘Riders of the Weird West’ series is supposed to be a trilogy, but as of right now, only the first novel has been released, and that came out more than 6 years ago. I messaged David Bain on Twitter and asked if the other books were ever going to come out, but he hasn’t responded. If you like Westerns and fantasy, you might really like these books. I didn’t dislike what I read, but I probably won’t be reading the next entries in the series. This stuff is fine; it’s just not.really my thing.

 

August Derleth’s Cthulhu Mythos Fiction

After finishing up my recent series of posts on Lovecraft, I started to feel a giant shoggoth shaped hole in my life. I’ve read and then reread Lovecraft’s stories twice within the last few years, and as much I enjoy them, I reckon I should wait a while before going over them again. Fortunately, the Cthulhu Mythos did not die with Lovecraft, and there’s lots of Yog-Sothothery left to be read. Many, many horror writers have done their best to emulate Lovecraft’s style and expand the mythos he created. I’m planning to do a few posts on this stuff to see how it measures up to Lovecraft’s own writing.

From what I have read, August Derleth seems to have had more of an influence on Lovecraft’s mythos than anyone other than H.P. himself. After Lovecraft died in poverty and obscurity, two of his friends, August Derleth and Donald Wandrei, became determined to get a collection of their pal’s tales published. When they failed to find a publisher, they made their own, Arkham House. If it wasn’t for Derleth, it’s possible that Lovecraft would be practically unheard of today.

On top of being a publisher, Derleth was also prolific writer. He wrote many stories that borrowed characters, places and books from the works of Lovecraft. Lovecraft did this himself. His tales often referenced monsters and books from his other stories, but there was never any real attempt to make these things fit together. (Nyarlathotep, for example, pops up everywhere but often in different roles/guises.) Derleth set about to work these different elements into a cohesive framework. He is credited with creating the term “Cthulhu Mythos”.

With this in mind, I decided that Derleth would be the first of Cthulhu’s Disciples to be featured in this series of posts. Here are 4 of his books of Lovecraftian fiction.

 

lovecraft derleth watchers timeThe Watchers out of Time
Carroll and Graf – 1996 (Originally published in 1974)

Wait, you said this post was about Derleth! That book looks like it’s by Lovecraft himself! Well, yeah, that cover is a disgrace. It’s common knowledge that Derleth wrote 99% of these stories, occasionally borrowing a phrase from the notes that Lovecraft left when he died. Other publishers were cheeky enough to list Lovecraft with Derleth on their covers of this collection, but this one brazenly lies. This contains the following tales:

  • The Ancestor
  • The Dark Brotherhood 
  • The Fisherman of Falcon Point 
  • The Gable Window 
  • The Horror from the Middle Span  
  • Innsmouth Clay
  • The Lamp of Alhazred
  • The Peabody Heritage
  • The Shadow in the Attic
  • The Shadow Out of Space
  • The Shuttered Room
  • The Survivor
  • The Watchers Out of Time
  • Wentworth’s Day
  • Witches’ Hollow

In truth, this isn’t great. Half of the stories in here are about descendants of the Whately family who inherit houses in Dunwich, only to find that their grandfathers were evil wizards. The houses all bear terrible secrets. Some of the other tales are very obvious Lovecraft rip offs. Every time I’d sit down and read one, I’d think, “Oh yeah, I remember this bit.” Some of it’s blatant too; ‘The Watchers out of Time’ is only a variation on Lovecraft’s ‘The Shadow out of Time’.

These are Lovecraft knock-offs, and none of them reach the quality of Lovecraft’s best work. That being said, I personally enjoy Lovecraft’s middle tier stuff, and some of these tales aren’t far from that. ‘The Dark Brotherhood’, perhaps the most original tale in the collection, was pretty good. I liked ‘Witches Hollow’ and ‘The Horror from Middle Span’ too. This collection is not essential reading, but if you read it over a few weeks it’s not a horrible experience.

 

derleth lurker threshold

The Lurker on the Threshold
Arkham House – 1945

(The original Arkham House editions of The Watchers out of Time included this novel, but later publishers omitted it and printed it separately.)

See my complaint in the above review of The Watchers out of Time? The part where I said that a bunch of these stories were about lads inheriting houses in Dunwich and then moving in and discovering their grandfather was a wizard? I swear, I wrote that before starting this novel. This is basically the exact same as those stories except it’s far longer and more repetitive. There’s a part at the end where an anthropologist reels out a huge explanation of the relationships between the of the different Elder Gods and Great Old Ones that is kind of interesting, but otherwise this was horribly dull. There’s sections in here that were actually written by Lovecraft, but again, this is Derleth’s story. It’s dumb to have Lovecraft’s name above his on the cover. I was looking forward to finishing this pretty soon after getting started. It made me not want to read anything else by Derleth.

Also, the name of this tale and the entity in it are very similar to Lytton’s ‘Dweller of the Threshold’ from Zanoni. I wonder if that was intentional.

 

derleth mask of cthulhu
The Mask of Cthulhu

Arkham House 1958

At least half of the stories in this collection are about lads who inherit houses in Dunwich/Arkham/Innsmouth and then discover that the previous owner (usually one of their distant relatives) was a devotee of the Cthulhu cult.

  • The Return of Hastur
  • The Whippoorwills in the Hills
  • Something in the Wood
  • The Sandwin Compact
  • The House in the Valley
  • The Seal of R’lyeh

I honestly don’t know if this collection is any worse than The Watchers out of Time, but the stories in here are so similar to the ones in that already remarkably repetitive collection that I gained little to no enjoyment from reading this book. These tales are so dull that I actually started to wonder if I any longer had an interest in Lovecraftian horror.

In these stories Derleth pushes to organise different entities and elements of Lovecraft’s tales into his cohesive mythos. He distinguishes between the benevolent Elder Gods and the malevolent Great Old Ones like Cthulhu, Shub-Niggurath and Nyarlehotep. Derleth is reverting to pre-Lovecraftian good vs. evil horror. For me, a huge part of the appeal of Lovecraft’s monsters is their utter disinterest in morality, and the the binary structure of Derleth’s system makes his villains here a little too similar to Dennis Wheatleyesque black magicians, doers of evil for evil’s sake. There’s a time and a place for that kind of thing, but it isn’t in Lovecraftian horror.  Derleth also classifies the great Old Ones by their elemental force. (The three I mentioned above are linked with water, earth and air respectively.) This is dumb. I want crawling fucking chaos, not a god damned overgrown pokemon.

 

derleth trail of cthulhu
The Trail of Cthulhu

Arkham House – 1962

After finishing The Mask of Cthulhu, I was loath to begin another book by Derleth, especially one with a similar title to that piece of crap. Fortunately, The Trail of Cthulhu turned out to be a significantly more enjoyable book.

This is a collection of 5 short stories that combine to form a novel. They’re about a collection of men who come into contact with Laban Shrewsbury, an eyeless academic who needs their skills in hunting down the mighty Cthulhu. These stories were written over the course of 8 years, and they weren’t compiled until almost 20 years after the first one was published. In each tale, Derleth has to lay out the background information for his readers. All of these stories contain very similar passages explaining the conflict between the Elder gods and the Great Old Ones, the separate Lovecraftian deities, and the forbidden books. While I have already complained about repetition in Derleth’s other books, it was far easier to stomach here. Remember that these stories were originally published years apart. A bit of a reminder would have been necessary for the original readers, and I’m glad the stories weren’t edited or abridged for this collection. Also, these 5 tales have almost identical plot structures, but this isn’t as annoying as the similar plots in Derleth’s other books.  The tales in The Trail of Cthulhu form a cohesive whole. They are part of a series. A certain amount of repetition in a series makes sense. The repetition in the other books is annoying because it makes it seem like Derleth only had one idea.

These are the stories:

  • The House on Curwen Street 
  • The Watcher from the Sky
  • The Gorge Beyond Salapunco
  • The Keeper of the Key
  • The Black Island

This is not a great book. I wouldn’t even say it’s a good book. It’s horribly overwritten, and I had to force myself to get through it. All that being said, this is Derleth’s best book of Lovecraftian fiction.

 

Throughout this post, I tried to refer to Derleth’s work as Lovecraftian fiction rather than Lovecraftian horror because at no point during the 1000 or so pages I read by him was I afraid or even remotely creeped out. These stories have none of what made Lovecraft great. When I was slogging through these books, I kept wishing I was reading ‘The Shadow over Innsmouth’ or ‘The Whisperer in the Darkness’ instead. Honestly, even the best of Derleth was pretty boring. Derleth wrote a lot, and he might have written other books of Lovecraftian fiction. If he did, I don’t want to read them, but I probably would if they weren’t too hard to track down.

 

August DerlethThe man himself

I have been very critical of Derleth’s writing, but I want to acknowledge that I have been comparing him to one of the most important horror authors of all time. (It’s hard not to do so when you’re looking at work that Derleth tried to pass off as having come from Lovecraft.) While his fiction may have been second rate, fans of modern horror owe a lot to this man for bringing Lovecraft’s work to a far bigger audience. August Derleth, I salute you.

I’m hoping that the other authors of Lovecraftian horror are going to be better than this crap. I’m considering looking at either Robert E. Howard or Robert Bloch next. I was going to do Clark Ashton Smith, but I realised as I was writing this post that I actually did a post on his Cthulhu mythos stories a few years back. I seemed to have a real bee in my bonnet about the poor quality of the physical book when I was writing that post though, so maybe I’ll do a more level headed post on Klarkash-ton’s Cthulhu mythos tales soon.

Lovecraftian Rarities and Howard’s influence on Houellebecq: Lovecraft’s Legacy Part 5

lovecraft

About a year and a half ago, I started rereading the tales of H.P. Lovecraft. I had previously read the three Penguin Classics editions of Lovecraft’s work, so this time I read through the four Wordsworth editions of his fiction. The Wordsworth editions, while lacking the footnotes included in the Penguins, present a more complete collection; in fact, one of these volumes is comprised exclusively of collaborative works omitted from the Penguin versions. I wrote a series of posts on these books (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4), pairing each one with a work of Lovecraftian Occultism, but as I was reading through them, it became apparent to me that while the Wordsworth editions of Lovecraft’s work are more complete than the Penguin editions, they do not contain all of the fiction that Lovecraft wrote/contributed to. In this post, I want to list and examine the short stories of Lovecraft that are contained in neither the Penguin or Wordsworth editions of his work.

There are four tales that Lovecraft wrote by himself that are not included in the aforementioned collections. These tales are Ibid, Sweet Ermengarde, The Reminiscence of Dr. Samuel Johnson and Old Bugs. ‘Ibid’ is a parody of academic writing about history. It’s not funny, amusing or worth reading. ‘Sweet Ermengarde’ is a farcical comic romance. ‘The Reminiscence of Dr. Samuel Johnson’ is a boring story about an old man talking about his friends, and ‘Old Bugs’ is a fairly predictable story about an old drunk. None of these stories contain any horror, and I can’t recommend checking them out.

There are also still extant several stories that Lovecraft wrote as a child between ages of 8 and 12.  These are The Mystery of the Graveyard, The Mysterious Ship, The Little Glass Bottle and The Secret Cave. These are pretty impressive for a kid of that age, but there’s no need to read them unless you’re a completist dork like me.

There are also handful of other stories that Lovecraft contributed to that are not included in the Wordsworth book of Lovecraftian collaborations. These are The Battle that Ended the Century, Collapsing Cosmoses, Bothon, The Challenge from Beyond, The Hoard of the Wizard-Beast, Four O’Clock, The Slaying of the Monster, The Sorcery of Aphlar, The Tree on the Hill, Satan’s Servants, Deaf, Dumb and Blind, The Ghost-EaterAshes and The Loved Dead. These are not included in either the Wordsworth or Penguin collections for one of two reasons. Either we don’t know how much (if any) influence Lovecraft actually had on the tales, or else the tales are absolutely shit.

Both ‘The Battle that Ended the Century’ and ‘Collapsing Cosmoses’ are collaborations between Lovecraft and his friend R.H. Barlow. These stories are jokes where they make fun of their friends, and they don’t seem to have been written very seriously. ‘The Hoard of the Wizard-Beast’ is another collaborative fantasy between these two. It’s ok. They also wrote ‘The Slaying of the Monster’ together. It’s barely worth mentioning.

‘The Sorcery of Aphlar’ and ‘The Tree on the Hill’ are collaborations between Lovecraft and Duane W. Rimel. These are ok, definitely better than the Barlow crap, but it’s not certain how much Lovecraft had to do with the composition of ‘The Sorcery of Aphlar’.

‘Four O’ Clock’ is a tale by Sonia Greene, Lovecraft’s ex-wife. He apparently made some suggestions on how to improve it after reading an early version of the story. ‘Satan’s Servants’ is a story by Robert Bloch, and Lovecraft also supplied a few suggestions for this one after reading a draft.

‘Bothon’ is a collaboration with Henry S. Whitehead. It’s another one of those ‘man wakes up in an alien’s body’ stories that we’re all used to. ‘The Challenge from Beyond’ is similar, but this one is a collaboration between several authors. C.L. Moore, A. Merritt, Lovecraft, Robert E.Howard, and Frank Belknap Long all contributed sections. This one is cool for what it is, but it’s not really essential reading.

‘The Loved Dead’, ‘Deaf, Dumb and Blind’, ‘The Ghost-Eater’ and ‘Ashes’ are all tales that Lovecraft revised for C.M. Eddy. ‘The Loved Dead’ is a story of a necrophiliac, and it was contained (as the title story!) in the original versions of the Wordsworth book of Lovecraft Collaborations. It was later removed. ‘The Ghost-Eater’ is a straightforward ghost story. ‘Ashes’ is pretty crap. ‘Deaf, Dumb and Blind’ is a bit more Lovecrafty than the others, but it’s not all that great to be honest.

‘Through the Gates of the Silver Key’ is included in the Penguin editions of Lovecraft’s work, but it isn’t in any of the Wordsworth ones. I reread this one too. It’s not great.

I am glad to have been able to find these stories online, but I can’t say any of them were very good. I don’t think I’ll bother with them on my next Lovecraft reread. I believe there might be another few tales that Lovecraft is rumoured to have had some input in, and I’ll read those if I ever come across them. My plan now is to read the weird fiction of Lovecraft’s contemporaries, Derleth, Bloch, Howard and the likes.

 

For the other posts in this series, I looked at a collection of Lovecraft’s tales alongside a work of Lovecraftian Occultism. Most of those spellbooks were utter nonsense, and for this post I’m including a book about Lovecraft’s literary influence instead.

lovecraft houellebecqH.P. Lovecraft: Against the World, Against Life
Michel Houellebecq
Gollancz – 2008 (Originally published 1991)

Most of the books that I read end up getting reviewed on this blog, but recently I read two books by a Frenchman named Michel Houellebecq that don’t really fit in with the crap that I review here. Houellebecq is a respected author, but he has been critical of Islam and accused of misogyny in the past. Submission, the first of his books that I read, is about a sex-hotel in Southeast Asia being bombed by Islamic terrorists. The other one, The Elementary Particles, is about a scientist and his pervert brother. I enjoyed both books, and while they certainly contain some inflammatory passages, they are novels. Houellebecq has also written an article in defense of Donald’s Trump’s presidency, and I get the impression that he’s not really concerned with coming across as woke and progressive. I don’t agree with his outlook, but it was interesting to read something that was written by a person who clearly doesn’t give a shit.

While one of these novels has a slight touch of science fiction, Houellebecq’s thing is nihilistic, pessimistic realism. The general negativity of his books made it easy for me to swallow their nastier passages. Unhappy people have shitty outlooks. When Houellebecq’s narrators say stupidly racist things or perform acts of misogyny, it’s at least clear to the reader that these narrators are supposed to be fuck-ups.

So how does this dodgy Frenchman relate to the writings of H.P. Lovecraft? Well, while these authors’ fictional outputs are very, very different, both contain strains of nihilism, pessimism and misanthropy. There are no ancient tentacled atrocities in Houellebecq’s writing, but it didn’t surprise me to discover that the Frenchman was a fan of Lovecraft. In 1991, Houellebecq wrote a book called Against Life, Against Nature about Lovecraft’s writing.

It’s a fairly interesting read if you like both Lovecraft and Houellebecq, but I doubt it will be of much interest to everyone else. It’s basically just Michel talking about how Lovecraft’s work is groundbreaking. It contains an introduction by Stephen King.

The most contentious element of Lovecraft’s writing is his attitude towards race. While Houellebecq acknowledges Lovecraft’s blatant prejudices, he isn’t nearly as bothered by them as many modern readers seem to be. In fact, he actually seems to think that Lovecraft’s close-mindedness makes his fiction more effective. I get what he’s saying. Just because a person is shitty, that doesn’t mean that their art is shitty. Horror fiction isn’t supposed to be comfortable and pleasant for everyone, and if it’s racial prejudice that stokes the flames of fear, that doesn’t make that fear any less fearful.

Of course, it’s easy for Houellebecq and I to accept such statements. The prejudice in Lovecraft’s tales isn’t directed at us. I understand that my white privilege makes it easier for me to enjoy some of Lovecraft’s writing,and I would understand why people might deliberately avoid his writings on principle; however, I would be very surprised to meet a horror fan who has read Lovecraft and failed to find entertainment in his work.

For convenience sake, I’m just going to conclude with the links to all of the posts in this series for anyone who’s interested. (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5) This series is complete, but I assure you, there’s plenty more posts on Lovecraftian fiction and occultism to come.