Ghoul – Michael Slade

ghoul michael sladeGhoul – Michael Slade
Signet – 1989 (Originally published 1987)

I bought this book at a library booksale last year because it had a spooky name and it only cost 25 cents. I don’t think I have ever made such a fortunate purchase.

After a prologue which describes a gang of teenage boys burying their friend alive while listening to Black Sabbath and talking about H.P. Lovecraft, I put the book down and took a deep breath. A novel about teenage mischief, heavy metal, and classic horror? This had to be awesome.

I read a few chapters more. After some remarkably graphic violence, the narrative moves to a rock club in Vancouver that is “Situated on the main floor of a rundown skid row building” with “no sign to mark its presence for those not in the know”. Now, most of my readers won’t know this, but aside from reading and reviewing spooky books, my other main hobby is attending and playing concerts in unmarked, rundown buildings on Vancouver’s skid row.

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At this point, I wondered how a text, written by another person, could be so specifically relevant to my interests. I first considered if the author had stalked me and then gone on to write a book tailored to my tastes. I was only one year old when the book was written though, so this seemed unlikely. No, this book was not written for me to read. I was born to read this book.

The rest of the novel is a fast paced thriller about a collection of insane, depraved murderers, at least two of whom play in a Lovecraft themed rock band named Ghoul. The horror here is of the bloodthirsty, slimy, two-headed freak locked in a cage variety. I’d be afraid to call anything splatterpunk because I’m not really sure what that means, but this book defines itself as such, and the label seems quite fitting. It has guitars, mohawks and a lot of blood and guts. I’ve read books that describe horrendous acts of violence before, but don’t think I’ve read anything quite as grossout gory as this. One scene describes a man disemboweling another individual, cutting a hole in his skull, debraining him, and then proceeding to fill the victim’s cranial cavity with his own internal organs. Cool.

Just because a book is about cool things doesn’t mean it’s going to be a good read. Ghoul, however, is a mighty enjoyable novel. It’s extremely well researched and plotted out. The authors are a pair of lawyers who specialise in the criminally insane. They are also clearly fans of classic horror. One wouldn’t have to be a horror buff to enjoy this novel, but I was glad to be able to understand the bits about Lovecraft’s stories. The only aspect of the book that I felt the authors could have researched more thoroughly was rock and roll stuff.

First off, Ghoul’s music and how it sounds isn’t very important to the book at all. Whether it’s punk rock, goth rock, heavy metal or some other genre of cacophony is unclear. I’m going to refer to it as heavy metal based on other bands that are mentioned in the book.

Iron Maiden, Alice Cooper, Motley Crue, Twisted Sister, Black Sabbath, Grim Reaper and AC/DC are Ghoul‘s musical influences. Aside from Grim Reaper, these bands are all household names. Heavy metal fans might listen to all of these groups, but within any underground metal scene, it’s standard practice to champion lesser-known bands. Bands who play in the venues that Ghoul play in and who act like Ghoul usually make a point of letting people know how esoteric their tastes in music are. I know this book was written more than 30 years ago, but even at that stage Venom and Mercyful Fate had put out several albums each and been brought to the attention of the public by the PMRC, the Misfits and Grave 45 had put out a bunch of horror themed punk records, Metallica had recorded and released several songs about Lovecraftian entities, and Death and Black metal were starting to take off. Instead of researching and referencing this stuff, the authors chose to go backstage at a Motley Crue concert for their insight into rock’n’roll. The novel was presumably written to appeal to lots of people and referencing bigger bands might make it more accessible to the masses, but seeing that the authors worked pretty hard to make the detective stuff believable, I thought they should have put a bit more effort into the rock’n’roll side of things. The version of rock that they present is the imaginary rock of which evangelical parents are afraid.

At one point, they refer to Highway to Hell as a Grim Reaper song. Grim Reaper have lots of songs with Hell in the title, and I wouldn’t hold it against anyone for getting them mixed up, but confusing Grim Reaper and AC/DC is a sin against rock.

That being said, some of the trends in heavy metal that these authors imagined soon became reality. It was only a few years after the publication of Ghoul that the shit hit the fan in Norway’s Black Metal scene and heavy metal band members started murdering people and burning buildings down. Also, Lovecraft’s mythos has become an extremely popular topic for death metal bands to write songs and albums about. Most prophetic of all though, would be the authors’ idea of a band called Ghoul that put on elaborate stage shows and sing about death and violence.

Ghoul (the real ones) are a metal band from Oakland that have been together since 2001. Like the Ghoul of the novel, this band also have a hyper-violent horror theme going on. I can’t say for certain how deliberate their choice of name was, but I can’t help but presume that at least one of the members has read the book. Their song lyrics are about sewer dwelling maniacs (Sewer Chewer), axe murders (Maniaxe, Bury the Hatchet), catacombs, crypts, graveyards (Into the Catacombs, Forbidden Crypts, Graveyard Mosh) and torturing freaks (Mutant Mutilator). These are all important motifs in the book. The band even have an album (and song) called Splattertrash. A few years ago, I actually saw the real Ghoul playing a show in a rundown building on Vancouver’s skid row, almost exactly like the Ghoul in the novel.

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Written in the era of Video Nasties and the PMRC, Ghoul’s stance on rock music and horror is a bit confusing. One would think that the authors of an extremely gory, horror novel would do what they could to defend their creation, but the text seems to imply the potential culpability of both horror and rock. Not only are the dangers of reading horror fiction and attending rock concerts discussed at length and demonstrated by the characters, but a list of actual rock’n’roll-related acts of violence is given at the end of the book. Were the authors just trying to give their novel an extra edge by making it seem dangerous, or did they actually write it in an attempt to encourage violent acts? The latter option might seem ridiculous, but remember that the authors were both criminal lawyers. By encouraging acts of violence, they’d be setting themselves up to get more work.

I have never been so pleasantly surprised by a book. Ghoul is an awesome, awesome book, and I recommend that you read it immediately.

Trapped in a Dream of the Necronomicon

dead names necronomicon simon
Dead Names: The Dark History of the Necronomicon – Simon

Avon – 2006

Before reading the Simon Necronomicon, I had never entertained the idea that it might be an authentic text, and I was quite surprised when I discovered that many individuals believe that it is truly an ancient spellbook. I gave the matter some consideration, and the only real evidence that I could see for the book’s authenticity was “how much it sucks”. Despite the title and the framing story, there’s very little Lovecraftian material in here. Sure, it’s really only a few oul’ sigils and a muddle of Babylonian mythology. If somebody was going to hoax out a Necronomicon, literature’s most infamous book of twisted black magic, you’d think that they’d make it a bit nastier. As it turns out, Simon, the chap who edited the Necronomicon feels the same way.

Dead Names begins with the expanded story of how the Necronomicon was discovered and published. This tale involves the Kennedy assassinations, the Son of Sam murders, warring covens of witches, mysterious suicides and a bizarre gang of questionably consecrated priests. We’re lashing conspiracies onto conspiracies here, but A) Simon provides evidence for some of his claims, and B) I love conspiracies. This part was pretty good; it felt like reading a more sinister version of the Da Vinci Code. Really, the most disappointing part of the story was getting to the end and realizing that I was only halfway through the book.

You see, unfortunately for everyone, Simon is not just expanding the mythos of the Necronomicon in Dead Names, he is also trying to prove its authenticity. Approximately half of this book is taken up with Simon’s arguing that the Necronomicon is a legitimate ancient text. I could go into explaining his reasoning, but ughh, who fucking cares? (If you do care and you want to witness Simon getting pwned, I strongly suggest checking out the blog of Simon’s arch-nemesis.)

The story of an ancient Babylonian manuscript showing up in New York is unlikely, but it’s totally possible. The story of an ancient manuscript with the same name as a fictional book invented by a horror writer, a text that has clearly been written by a “Mad Arab” who perfectly fits the description of the author in the horror writer’s stories, is far less likely, especially when said writer repeatedly claimed that the manuscript was entirely fictional. Simon says that Lovecraft had read the Necronomicon; Lovecraft said the Necronomicon was “fakery”, “fictitious”, “100% fiction” and “merely a figment of my own imagination”.

Simon has tried to keep his identity secret for the past 40 years because he supposedly came by the book illegally and doesn’t want to deal with the consequences. Why would Lovecraft have repeatedly denied the existence of the same book? Had he come across it illegally too? Why did he write so much about it if he didn’t want people to associate it with him?

Unfortunately, there are no good reasons to believe that the Necronomicon is real. Simon’s arguments are lame, selective and unconvincing, and reading the latter half of this book felt like Chariots of the Gods or some other wishy-washy work of pseudo-academia. I mean, to prove his points, Simon repeatedly references a book by one of the author’s of Holy Blood, Holy Grail, perhaps the most infamously debunked book of conspiracies ever written. Come on Simon, you’re fooling no-one.

Much like the book that its about, Dead Names would have been far better if the author had gone all out horror show. The origin story of the Necronomicon given here features all the shady ingredients necessary to make a truly entertaining weird tale, but Simon constrains himself with a set of unconvincing arguments that do nothing but make him look like a fool. By the end of the book, you start to feel embarrassed for the lad. I mean, nobody over the age of 15 believes the book is real, and Simon himself knows better than anyone that it’s not real, yet he gets into petty squabbles with people over its authenticity. At a certain point it seems to become more important for him to appear smarter than his critics than it does for him to provide evidence that the Necronomicon is real. It’s like watching an internet troll forget that they’re trolling.

Necronomicon – Abdul Alhazred/Simon

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Avon – 1980

Well, I finally got around to reading it; the purported Necronomicon of the mad Arab, Abdul Alhazred.  If you haven’t heard of the Necronomicon, that means that you haven’t seen Evil Dead or read Lovecraft. It makes me sick to think of the uninitiated reading my blog, but luckily enough, this book contains a Most Excellent Charm against Hordes of N00bz:

Turn around, go, arise and go far away!
Your wickedness may rise like heaven unto smoke!
Arise and leave my blog!
Be commanded by Shammash the Mighty!
Be commanded by Marduk, the Great Magician of the Gods!
Be commanded by the God of Fire, your Destroyer!
From my blog depart in shame!

Now that only the adepts remain, let’s have a look at this ancient text of necromancy and forbidden ritual!

Well, it’s not really ancient, and the rituals aren’t as much forbidden as they are silly. There’s a million accounts of the story of this book online, but I’ll summarize for my readers. In the mid 70s, a lad calling himself Simon claimed that he had come across a copy of the Necronomicon, a fictional book that had appeared several times in the short stories of H.P. Lovecraft. Simon managed to get the book published, but he refused to ever go public, and nobody has ever seen the actual manuscript. Despite this, lots of people did and do think that this is the real deal. (There are some really embarrassing youtube videos of people defending the book’s authenticity.) I think the strongest evidence for the book’s legitimacy is actually how much it sucks; if I was going to write a fake Necronomicon, I would make it far, far nastier. This is basically a version of the Babylonian creation myth with a few Kutulus and ridiculous sigils thrown in to make it a bit spookier. One part of the book lists the 50 names and Seals of Marduk, and some of them are fucking ridiculous looking.

Asaru looks like a little nerd.
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And Shazu both looks and sounds like a magician’s pet gorilla.
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“Tutu” is another one of Marduk’s aliases. Yeah. Tutu.

The thing that really gives it away for me is the fact that the book reads like a Lovecraft story. It begins with a lad talking about how afraid he is of the horrors that he has awoken and proceeds to give a detailed account of how he awoke those horrors. He speaks passionately about how dangerous it would be for anyone else to read the information that he has been writing down. The manuscript is compiled of several different texts, all of which relate to each other and further the narrative, and the book ends with the narrator describing the evil things that he can see approaching him as he finishes writing the manuscript… Come on lads, that formula seems a little familiar doesn’t it?

Don’t get me wrong; I liked the fact that it was Lovecrafty, and I think that this is a quaint little addition to my weird fiction collection, but I’m definitely glad that I didn’t pay very much for my copy. The book is more than 200 pages, but about half of it is taken up with silly squiggly pictures. The testimonies of the Mad Arab were definitely the funnest parts. Were I out to cast some spells and summon some demons, I would probably be fairly disappointed with this. Then again, there is the very valid argument that this text is as “authentic” as most other grimoires. You’d have to be a bit of a wanker to take it seriously either way.

I’ve been watching that new Ash Vs Evil Dead series, and I have to say that it’s awesome. Opening the series with a Deep Purple song was utter genius! I’m going to go and watch the latest episode now. I’ll probably end up annoying my wife with some of my recently acquired Necronomicon trivia.

 

I found this post-it note tucked between pages when I opened it. Kutulu, enlightenment and Diana Ross; I’ll bet there was a story behind this one!!!

Obligatory Lovecraft Post

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Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories – Penguin – 2002
The Thing on the Doorstep and Other Weird Stories – Penguin – 2001
Dreams in the Witch House and Other Weird Stories – Penguin – 2005
These are the only Lovecraft books that I own. I’m interested in buying more, but I don’t want to spend a bunch of money on a book if it only contains one story that isn’t included in these. I would love to hear from anyone who could recommend other collections that are worth buying for somebody who already has the penguin editions.

I’m not going to waste much time talking about how great the stories are. There’s not much I can say that hasn’t been said a million times before. These collections are nice though. I liked Joshi’s introductions and notes. Dreams in the Witch House and Other Weird Stories is definitely the weakest of the three, but I still really enjoyed it. That one contains more fantasy stories than the other two, and while the fantasy stories were pretty great, I definitely prefer the darker stuff.

Lovecraft is one of my favourite writers. I remember going to a LAN party when I was 16 years old, and one of the guys there shared a folder of .txt files that were stories by ‘a cool horror writer who influenced Metallica and Quake’. No further persuasion was necessary.

Apart from his wordiness (which I completely adore), the main complaint that people seem to have about Lovecraft is that he was a nasty racist. Well, I don’t want to to defend him; the fact that he lived in a different time and place doesn’t justify his shitty opinions. However, I don’t feel the need to disregard his entire body of work because it contains a few parts that I don’t agree with. In honesty, I thought some of the racist parts were pretty funny. To clarify: I don’t think racism is funny; I think Howard’s delusions of grandeur are funny. (He wasn’t exactly a fine specimen of humanity himself.) Anyways, I don’t really care if an author of fiction is an asshole in real life; I read lots of books by people who I would absolutely hate if I were to meet them. Lewis Carroll was a paedo, Dennis Wheatley was a loyalist, Montague Summers was a boy-toucher, and I certainly don’t read the Marquis De Sade because he was a nice bloke. It helps that these lads are all dead though. I wouldn’t buy something if I knew that my money would go to a shitty racist.

It’s a shame that I spent so much time discussing what it is only a minor point in Lovecraft’s writing. The positive aspects of his work more than make up for some of his unpleasant ideas. The atmospheres that he creates within these tales are unique and genuinely exhilarating. If you haven’t read Lovecraft before, I would recommend any of these three collections as an introduction. The worst of these stories are pretty good, and the best of them are the best stories that I have read. 9.5/10