The Old Ones were, the Old Ones are, and the Old Ones shall be – Lovecraft’s Legacy, Part 4

the book of old ones - scorpio.jpgThe Book of Old Ones – Scorpio
Finbarr – 2002

Truly, there are terrible primal arcana of earth which had better be left unknown and unevoked; dread secrets which have nothing to do with man, and which man may learn only in exchange for peace and sanity; cryptic truths which make the knower evermore an alien among his kind, and cause him to walk alone on earth. Likewise are there dread survivals of things older and more potent than man; things that have blasphemously straggled down through the aeons to ages never meant for them; monstrous entities that have lain sleeping endlessly in incredible crypts and remote caverns, outside the laws of reason and causation, and ready to be waked by such blasphemers as shall know their dark forbidden signs and furtive passwords. – from The Diary of Alonzo Typer

When I read a book on Lovecraftian magic, I want to learn about the aforementioned dark forbidden signs and furtive passwords. Unfortunately, this is never what these books contain. The one I’m reviewing today, Scorpio’s The Book of Old Ones, might well be the silliest of all the Lovecraftian grimoires I’ve read.

Imagine what a grimoire would read like if its author had absolutely zero understanding of magic. It’d probably contain powerful spells that are quick and easy to perform and unfailingly effective regardless of whether the person performing them believes in them or not – ‘say this magic word under your breath, and the girl beside you on the train will become your sex slave’ kinda crap. Take 20 pages of that garbage, add a few Lovecraft references and some stories about pathetic losers trying these rituals and then becoming rich, sexy and succesful, and you’ve got Scorpio’s Book of Old Ones.

Much like The Necronomian Workbook, this book shows little understanding of the total apathy of Lovecraftian entities towards human beings. The Old Ones are bigger and older than us. Their children made us for the sake of their amusement. Cthulhu is not concerned with the affairs of mere mortals. He’s plotting revenge on the elder things that imprisoned him. I doubt he’s interested in watching over you as you go on sea voyage, and I really struggle to imagine him helping you find a girlfriend.

cthulhu love spell.jpg
Seriously?

This book is stupid. The author understands neither magic nor Lovecraft’s mythos, but he has written a book combining them. This Scorpio guy seems like a real moron. Then again, this was published by Finbarr, so I’m not quite surprised.

I have made fun of the authors published by Finbarr Publications quite a few times at this stage, and I had initially planned this week’s post on two grimoires written by another of their authors. After doing a little bit of research though, I discovered that this guy actually has a learning disability and has suffered tremendously with his mental health. I’m not being facetious. I decided against reviewing his books, as he uses his real name, and I don’t want to cause any suffering for a person with serious mental problems. I mention it here only to highlight the remarkably low standard of stuff that this publisher puts out. I didn’t find out much about this Scorpio guy, but he’s clearly an imbecile too.

 

lovecraft horror in the museum.jpgH.P. Lovecraft – The Horror in the Museum
Wordsworth
This is the second entry in Wordsworth’s Lovecraft series, and it is comprised of works that Lovecraft worked on with other authors, only one of which I had read before. Most of the stories in the other 3 Wordsworth entries are included in the Penguin editions which I read and reviewed years ago, and after a year of rereading tales I had previously encountered, it was really cool to dive into a fresh batch of unread terror. The quality here is pretty high, and I enjoyed most of the stories in here more the fantasy stuff in Volume 3 and the odds and ends in Volume 4. Picking favourite stories from this collection is quite difficult. The tales in here are really good, and many of them flesh out the Cthulhu mythos – there’s references to Yog-Sothoth and Cthulhu every few pages.

This volume contains the following stories:
The Green Meadow, Poetry and the Gods, The Crawling Chaos, The Horror at Martin’s Beach, Imprisoned with the Pharaohs, Two Black Bottles, The Thing in the Moonlight, The Last Test, The Curse of Yig, The Elecrtic Executioner, The Mound, Medusa’s Coil, The Trap, The Man of Stone, The Horror in the Museum, Winged Death, Out of the Aeons, The Horror in the Burying Ground, Till A’ the Seas, The Disinternment, The Diary of Alonzo Typer, Within the Walls of Eryx and The Night Ocean
(Imprisoned with the Pharaohs appears in the Penguin collections as Under the Pyramids.)

Some of these tales are fairly racist. The word ‘nigger’ is thrown around quite a bit. One of the stories, Medusa’s Coil, is particularly nasty. It’s about a very evil woman. I was quite confused when I finished reading it. In this edition, the last line reads; “It would be too hideous if they knew that the one-time heiress of Riverside… was faintly, subtly, yet to the eyes of genius unmistakenly the scion of Zimbabwe’s most primal grovellers.” I wasn’t entirely sure what to make of this, so I looked up a summary, and it seems as though the editor at Wordsworth actually cut the final line of the story. The original text ends: “No wonder she owned a link with that old witch-woman—for, though in deceitfully slight proportion, Marceline was a negress.” The final revelation of tale is that the anatagonist is a bit black. This is not made very clear in the Wordsworth edition. In 1944, August Derleth anthologised this story and altered the final line to say “though in deceitfully slight proportion, Marceline was a loathsome, bestial thing, and her forebears had come from Africa.” At least Derleth’s version kept the meaning. The redacted Wordsworth edition makes the ending confusing rather than ugly. This is obviously a horribly racist ending to a horribly racist tale, but I’m pretty disgusted that Wordsworth thought it acceptable to censor it. I absolutely hate when publishers do that. If you choose to publish a dead racist’s work, don’t pretend he wasn’t a racist.

So why do I devote so much of my time to reading and reviewing books by and about this horribly bigoted individual? Well, it has a lot do with passages of writing like this:

These scribbled words can never tell of the hideous loneliness (something I did not even wish assuaged, so deeply was it embedded in my heart) which had insinuated itself within me, mumbling of terrible and unknown things stealthily circling nearer. It was not a madness: rather it was a too clear and naked perception of the darkness beyond this frail existence, lit by a momentary sun no more secure than ourselves: a realization of futility that few can experience and ever again touch the life about them: a knowledge that turn as I might, battle as I might with all the remaining power of my spirit, I could neither win an inch of ground from the inimical universe, nor hold for even a moment the life entrusted to me. Fearing death as I did life, burdened with a nameless dread yet unwilling to leave the scenes evoking it, I awaited whatever consummating horror was shifting itself in the immense region beyond the walls of consciousness.

Come on. That is brilliant. This is from The Night Ocean, the last story in the collection. Of all the stories in here, this one is the least explicit in its horrors, but the sense of gloom and despair that pervades the narrative is perfectly effective. Lovecraft may have been a horrible racist, but damn, his work does a damn fine job of expressing the futility of life. Interestingly enough, the author of The Night Ocean (Lovecraft was mainly an editor for this one) was gay. He was also an anthropologist, and was actually one of William Burroughs’ professors at Mexico City University.

There’s another curious little tale in here called Till A’ the Seas that I really liked. It’s about the last human on an Earth that has overheated. It’s set in the distant future, but by now it could believably be set 60-70 years from today. You should definitely read the full story (link above), but if you’re too lazy, just read this:

And now at last the Earth was dead. The final, pitiful survivor had perished. All the teeming billions; the slow aeons; the empires and civilizations of mankind were summed up in this poor twisted form—and how titanically meaningless it all had been! Now indeed had come an end and climax to all the efforts of humanity—how monstrous and incredible a climax in the eyes of those poor complacent fools of the prosperous days! Not ever again would the planet know the thunderous tramping of human millions—or even the crawling of lizards and the buzz of insects, for they, too, had gone. Now was come the reign of sapless branches and endless fields of tough grasses. Earth, like its cold, imperturbable moon, was given over to silence and blackness forever.

God damn, that’s beautiful.

Originally, the second collection of Lovecraft’s work put out by Wordsworth was titled The Loved Dead, but this story was removed from this collection after the people at Wordsworth decided that Lovecraft’s influence on that tale was only minor. Also, Through the Gates of the Silver Key is curiously absent from this collection despite being a collaboration between Lovecraft and E. Hoffmann Price. Through the Gates… is the only story to appear in the Penguin editions of Lovecraft’s work that is missing from the Wordsworth collections. I’m planning a fifth and final post in this series on the few tales by Lovecraft that are missing from this series, so keep an eye out for that in the near future.

Teatro Grottesco – Thomas Ligotti

teatro grotessco thomas ligotti.jpgTeatro Grottesco – Thomas Ligotti
Virgin Books – 2008 (First published 2006)

This collection of short stories makes most of the horror fiction I’ve read seem like a children’s cartoon. This isn’t bump in the night stuff; it’s black, oily, suffocating horror. It is the second book that I have ever read that actually gave me nightmares.

Nightmares are interesting things. While they always contain some kind of unpleasant element, they also have to be similar enough to our day to day lives to actually disturb us, and it’s this fact that gives this Teatro Grottesco a truly nightmarish quality.

This collection is truly weird weird-fiction, but while the scenarios it describes all contain an element of the fantastic, their reality is never far enough from our own to void the message they deliver. And there is a message in these tales. Ligotti is a philosopher as well as a fiction writer, and it is his takes on reality that make these stories truly horrifying. This will come as no surprise to anyone who has read his The Conspiracy against the Human Raceone of the most pessimistic books in existence. I read and enjoyed that one a few years ago, but my one complaint was that although the arguments therein are convincing, they didn’t hugely influence the way I was feeling when I read them. I was able to brush them off as somebody else’s bad attitude. For me, it was far more effective coming across these ideas in fictional narratives than in a treatise of philosophy. The final tale in this collection, The Shadow, The Darkness, is one of the most profoundly articulate discussions of the futility of human existence that I have encountered. It made me feel quite bad when reading it. Indeed, the horror of Ligotti’s prose is more directed at its reader than at its characters.

The characters in these tales are very strange. They appear more as shadows than as distinguishable individuals. They’re all artists or managers of boarding houses. The narrator of any one tale in this collection could be the narrator of any of the others. This might seem like a criticism to somebody who hasn’t read the book, but I strongly suspect that it was intentional. One of the key ideas throughout this collection is that the self is an illusion. Human minds and souls aren’t real; they are a symptom of the sickness of reality, and the attempt to distinguish between one person and another is a pathetic exercise in futility. In one of the tales, a character describes himself thus:

“My body – a tumor that was once delivered from the body of another tumor, a lump of disease that is always boiling with its own disease. And my mind – another disease, the disease of a disease. Everywhere my mind sees the disease of other minds and other bodies, these other organisms that are only other diseases, an absolute nightmare of the organism.”

Get the idea? What difference does it make who is narrating the story if every living thing is just a drastically diseased and deluded tumor? This book is horrible – horrible but also absolutely deadly.

Shout out to my mother in law for buying me this for Christmas. It’s probably my favourite book that I’ve read this year – I really, really liked this one. It’s also the third of Ligotti’s books that I’ve read, and from what I can see online, most of his books are fairly difficult to come by. This is unfortunate because he’s a brilliant writer. I’ve seen a bunch of stuff that talks about how Ligotti is like a modern Lovecraft, but I find his writing more similar to that of Samuel Beckett than to any horror writer I’ve read. (I think the similarity lies in how both writers present human relationships – maybe I’ll write an essay about this some day.) Anyways, I am going to try to find a copy of the Penguin edition of Ligotti’s first two books and review it in the very near future. This is the kind of horror I want to read.

Hacking the Necronomicon – Lovecraft’s Legacy, Part 2

In this series of posts, I’m reviewing books on Lovecraftian Occultism alongside the Wordsworth collections of Lovecraft’s tales. I’m finding it quite insightful to read through the bizarre works inspired by Lovecraft’s horrors while these horrors are still fresh in my mind. This post delves a little deeper into Lovecraftian Occultism, focusing on two books about the Simon Necronomicon, a book that is itself directly inspired Lovecraft’s work. I have previously reviewed the Necronomicon itself and Dead Names: The Dark History of the Necronomicon.

necronomian workbook necronomicon.jpgNecronomian Workbook: Guide to the Necronomicon – Darren Fox 
International Guild of Occult Sciences – 1996

This was written by Darren Fox, otherwise known as Brother Moloch. This is actually the same guy that published The Dark Arts of Tarantula, one of the silliest books I’ve ever read. His book on the Necronomicon isn’t much better.

He claims that Lovecraft astrally traveled to another dimension where Abdul Alhazred was real. This is where our boy H.P. discovered the Necronomicon, but he told himself it was all just a dream.

There’s at least 2 versions of the Necronomicon out there. Brother Moloch acknowledges that they might be fake, but posits that coherent forgeries can still give effective magical instruction.

necronomicon simonProbably fake, but who cares?

What follows is basically a bunch of tips on how to perform each of the different rituals and prayers in the Simon Necronomicon. Large quotations are taken from Simon’s book.

Although Moloch has warned his reader not to contact Cthulhu, he gives a ritual to do exactly that. This ritual mixes names from Lovecraft’s pantheon and quotes from Crowley’s Book of the Law into a ritual that sounds like it comes straight from a Solomonic grimoire.

Next, there’s a bunch of bullshitty grimoire styled spells with the names of a few Lovecraftian entities thrown into the mix. It’s mostly the usual stuff: to kill an enemy, to increase sexual potency, to hold back evil… but, there’s also a spell to get money that directly addresses Cthulhu. Yes, performing this spell involves asking the great priest Cthulhu for cash. In At The Mountains of Madness, Lovecraft explains that human beings were created solely for the amusement of a race that were in conflict with Cthulhu’s spawn. We are less than shit to Cthulhu, yet Brother Moloch suggests that we should ask him to help us make some money.

Moloch also describes his visit to Leng. He made a nice a cup of tea, had a warm bath, did some yoga exercises and then imagined himself walking down a stairs to the center of the world. He opened a door down there and walked into Leng, easy as that.

After this, there’s some poems that the author pinched from a 1903 book on the Devils and Evil Spirits of Babylonia, and some essays that he stole off the internet. One of these essays is called “The Aeon of Cthulhu Rising”. A quick google search reveals that its author was none other that Frater Tenebrous, the author of Cults of Cthulhu, the pamphlet I reviewed in my last Lovecraft post.

The other essay, “LIBER GRIMOIRIS: The Parallels of East and West: Termas, Grimoires and the Necronomicon”,  is by a guy called Frater Nigris. It basically says that the Necronomicon might be real. Searching the author’s name brings up other essays on Thelema and the like.

The book ends with a description of the author’s journey through Kenneth Grant‘s Lovecraftian Sephirot. It’s very confusing.

Overall, this book was utter rubbish. The spelling and grammar are utterly atrocious, and the author seems to have completely missed the distinctive and complete apathy of Lovecraft’s entities towards the human race.

Shite.

hidden key necronomicon.jpgThe Hidden Key of the Necronomicon – Alric Thomas
International Guild of Occult Sciences – 1996

This is a shockingly uninformative pamphlet on the Necronomicon. It was put out by the same publisher as the Necronomian Workbook. It’s only a few pages long, and most pages are taken up with diagrams from the Simon Necronomicon. Some of these images have been slightly edited. The author acts as if these edits will blow the Necronomicon open for the practitioner. Ugh. This is poorly written garbage. No effort was put into creating this piece of trash.

 

the lurking fear lovecraftThe Lurking Fear – H.P. Lovecraft
Wordsworth – 2013

This is the fourth collection of Lovecraft’s writings put out by Wordsworth Publishing. It contains the following tales:

The Lurking Fear, Azathoth, Beyond the Wall of Sleep, Ex Oblivione, Facts Concerning the Late Arthur Jermyn and His Family, From Beyond, Hypnos, Memory, Nyarlathotep, The Alchemist, The Beast in the Cave, The Moon-Bog, The Music of Erich Zann, The Outsider, The Picture in the House, The Quest of Iranon, The Street, The Temple, The Terrible Old Man, The Tomb, The Transition of Juan Romero, The Tree, The White Ship, What the Moon Brings, The Rats in the Walls, He, In the Vault, Cool Air, The Descendant, The Very Old Folk, The Book, The Evil Clergyman, and the short essay, Notes on Writing Weird Fiction.

The titles in green were not included in any of the Penguin collections of Lovecraft’s work, and so I hadn’t read them before. Some of them (Ex Oblivione, Azathoth, Memory) are very short, but also very cool. The essay on Weird Fiction is very interesting, and I plan to write more about it in the future.

Overall, this collection is quite a mix of stuff, both in terms of content and quality. A lot of these stories are quite short, and don’t really fit neatly in with either Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos or his Dream Cycle. (Most of those tales are collected in the first and third Wordsworth collections respectively.) What you’ll find in this book is a collection of odds and ends. It features tales that Lovecraft wrote as a boy (The Beast in the Cave), stories that were never meant to be published and originally only included in private letters to Lovecraft’s friends (The Very Old Folk), and horror classics that just don’t fit in with his other tales (The Rats in the Walls).

Some of these stories are fairly shit. I read The Tree a couple of times, and I still feel like I don’t get it. A few of the other stories (The Lurking Fear, In the Vault, Arthur Jermyn…) are fine, but don’t come close to the atmosphere or excitement of Lovecraft’s more famous tales. Some are absolutely deadly though. I had totally forgotten The Picture in the House. It is fantastic.

The Horror at Red Hook is the story that people usually point to when they want to show that Lovecraft was a horrible racist, but that’s a horror story that features racism. The Street is just a racist story and a shit one at that. If you want a clearer look at Lovecraft’s racism check out this vile little poem or his letters. In one letter he says of Adolf Hitler, “I know he’s a clown, but by God I like the boy!” I considered writing more about Lovecraft’s xenophobia, but the internet is already full of articles about it and I don’t actually care that much. If you’re triggered by some of the passages in his stories, just remind yourself that he died poor and lonely and keep reading.

I’m glad to have this book on my shelf. Even though it’s basically a leftovers collection, I really enjoyed reading it. This is the shortest book out of Wordsworth’s editions of Lovecraft’s work, and it’ll probably be a few months before I write parts 3 and 4 of this series of posts.

 

 

 

Echoes from the Darkness – Lovecraft’s Legacy, Part 1

While reading John L. Steadman’s H.P. Lovecraft and the Black Magickal Tradition last year, I decided that the time had come for me to reread Lovecraft. Too many of the books I read and plan to read reference his stories, and it was getting to stage where I was mixing up my Shoggoths, Yuggoths and Yog-Sothoths.  In order to remedy this embarrassing situation,  I started going back over Lovecraft’s tales, including the stories that aren’t included in the Penguin editions of his work.  I started on this collection during the summer, reading a story here and there, between other books. I haven’t strictly limited myself to the stories in this collection, but it’s the first of the Wordsworth series that I’ve completed, so I’m reviewing it first.

whisperer in darknessThe Whisperer in Darkness – H.P. Lovecraft
Wordsworth – 2007

All of the other entries in the Wordsworth series contain stories that are not included in the Penguin editions, but this collection was all stuff I’ve read before. It contains:

Dagon
The Nameless City
The Hound
The Festival
The Call of Cthulhu
The Case of Charles Dexter Ward
The Dunwich Horror
The Whisperer in Darkness
At the Mountains of Madness

These are obviously some of Lovecraft’s finest. The Whisperer in Darkness has long been my favourite of his, but I couldn’t remember what happens at the end. It’s fucking fantastic. There were gross parts in this story and in Charles Dexter Ward that I had also forgotten about. I was also very pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed the Call of Cthulhu. I have read an awful lot of horror fiction since the last time I read this classic, and I was expecting that it might not seem as effective to me now. If anything, I enjoyed it more than ever. There’s so many passages throughout that story that I paused to reread several times on account of their exceptional awesomeness. It took another half year to get around to writing this review though, so I’ve forgotten the specifics. In fact, the only story from this collection that I’ve read within the last 4 months has been At the Mountains of Madness. It’s only about 4 years since I previously read this story, so much of it was still in my head, but it still managed to give me a few chills. There’s one part near the end where he says, “It is absolutely necessary, for the peace and safety of mankind, that some of earth’s dark, dead corners and unplumbed depths be let alone; lest sleeping abnormalities wake to resurgent life, and blasphemously surviving nightmares squirm and splash out of their black lairs to newer and wider conquests.” Fuck yes. Please Sleeping Abnormalities, if you’re still out there, leave those unplumbed depths and destroy us soon!

It probably has a lot to do with the fact that Lovecraft was one of the only writers I had any interest in as a teenager, but I absolutely love his writing style. I adore Lovecraftian horror. I love how he took what he understood about the advances in modern science and used this not to spread hope for the future of humankind but to insist on the futility of all human life. We are nothing in even the minutest scheme of things. According to Lovecraft’s mythos, we were created by an ancient race of prawn-cucumbers to provide them with light entertainment. YES!

Although I own all of the Wordsworth editions of Lovecraft’s work, and these are the ones I’m using to order my rereading, I’m actually reading most of the stories from the Penguin editions because of the notes therein. I’m also using audiobooks and pdf versions. The Wordsworth edition are fine though; what they lack in commentary, they make up for in comprehensiveness. So important is Lovecraft to my reading habits that I need to have hard copies of all of his stories in my library.

wordsworth lovecraft

Anyone reading this blog should have read Lovecraft. His fiction has affected so many of the other books that I review here. Kenneth Grant’s The Magical Revival, Thomas Ligotti’s Conspiracy against the Human Race, Pauwel and Bergier’s Morning of the Magicians, Anton LaVey’s Satanic Bible, Simon’s Necronomicon, and Stephen Sennitt’s Infernal Texts are all heavily influenced by Lovecraft. His influence on horror fiction is unmeasurable. Some novels like Michael Slade’s Ghoul and Garret Boatman’s Stage Fright feature beings directly from Lovecraft’s stories, but his influence can be found in countless ways in countless other novels and tales.

Like I said, I’m rereading Lovecraft to refresh my memory so that I can delve deeper into the realm of Lovecraftian occultism. Here’s a review of an interesting little pamphlet on that topic.

cults of cthulu tenebrous.jpgCults of Cthulhu: H.P. Lovecraft and the Occult Tradition – Frater Tenebrous
Daath Publications – 1987

This short pamphlet contains the text of a lecture given in Leeds University in 1985. It’s credited to a lad named Frater Tenebrous who the internet is telling me is another name for Peter Smith. Peter Smith was a contributor to Stephen Sennitt’s Infernal Texts, and Sennitt actually dedicated the second half of that book to him and referred to him as “foremost scholar on the Necronomicon”. Only 123 copies of this were initially published, and they go for quite a lot of money these days. Fortunately, you can download pdf copies for free. This text contains a short biography of Lovecraft, descriptions of the major players in his pantheon and a very brief discussion of how Lovecraft’s fiction has shaped the rituals of a handful of occult groups (one of whom was led by Michael Bertiaux, yet another contributor to Sennitt’s book). I can’t say Cults of Cthulhu contained much information that I wasn’t already aware of, but it was only ever supposed to be “an introduction to the occult aspects of H.P. Lovecraft’s writings for potential initiates of the E.O.D.”. It made for pleasant reading on my commute to work one morning last week.

I’m gradually getting through the other stories and some even weirder texts of Lovecraftian occultism. Expect to see a few more posts on these over the next year.

Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn!

H.P. Lovecraft and the Black Magickal Tradition – John L. Steadman

h.p. lovecraft black magickal tradition - john lH.P. Lovecraft and the Black Magickal Tradition – John L. Steadman
Weiser – 2015

H.P. Lovecraft was a horror writer who did not believe in the supernatural. Despite his clear declarations of the contrary, some people believe that Lovecraft’s horrors were real. This book examines both the beliefs of those people and the beliefs of other occultists that have some similarities to the ideas in Lovecraft’s fiction.

Let’s start with the first group, the nutjobs that believed that Lovecraft was psychic. Both Simon and Kenneth Grant believed that Lovecraft had channeled his horrors from another dimension. I’ve talked plenty of shit about those lads before, so let’s just say that Grant was mental and full of crap, and “Simon” is a con-artist. Steadman, the author of this book, spends paragraphs defending the legitimacy of the Simon Necronomicon, but in a note at the end of the book he concedes that Simon might just be Peter Levenda. Also, Steadman, while discussing Simon’s work, refers to Michael Baigent as “a reputable scholar”. When I was reviewing Dead Names, the book in which Simon referenced Baigent, I called him out for referencing a bullshit artist. Dead Names might best be described as a work of pseudo-non-fiction though, so a reference to a bullshit artist doesn’t really make it any less enjoyable. Steadman’s book, however, is presented as an academic work. How could any person hoping to be taken seriously refer to the author of Holy Blood, Holy Grail as “a reputable scholar”? Come on.

lovecraftian occultistsThe authors of these occult texts were clearly influenced by Lovecraft. It’s a pity they’re all garbage.

There are also chapters in here on Chaos Magicians and LaVey’s Church of Satan. Like Simon and Grant, these lads deliberately brought Lovecraftian elements into their belief systems, and although I wasn’t hugely interested in the precise ways in which they did so (I’ve already read lots of the original literature being summarized here.), I can’t complain about their inclusion in this book.  This stuff on the Lovecraftian occultists was fine. The chapters on Wicca and voodoo were not.

Wicca and voodoo have nothing to do with Lovecraft, but Steadman spends chapters trying to show how these belief systems are similar to some of Lovecraft’s ideas. There is no reason to believe, nor has anyone ever suggested, that Lovecraft was responsible for the foundation of Wicca or Voodoo, and I thought that the purpose of these chapters was to show how Lovecraft’s ideas resembled parts of these foreign belief systems in an attempt to suggest that he was psychically in tune with their practitioners and/or spirits. However, in the conclusion to the book, Steadman claims, “I have shown that Lovecraft has had an indirect, though clearly definable, influence on current Vodou and Wiccan practices.” That’s not what I got out of what he has written at all. In saying that, I have to admit that I found it extremely difficult to pay attention to these boring, lame chapters.

Steadman goes into quite a lot of detail on the beliefs and practices of wiccans, voodoo practitioners, members of the Typhonian O.T.O., and Satanists. I’m so sick of reading this kind of rubbish that I found myself skimming large passages of it. I suppose it’s my fault for choosing to read another book on the occult.

lovecraft collectionsI’ve been meaning to go back over Lovecraft’s own work for a while. It has been about 10 years since I last read some of these stories. I’m going to use the Wordsworth editions next.

H.P. Lovecraft and the Black Magickal Tradition is not a good book; it’s actually quite unpleasant to read. It’s the literary equivalent of Nickelback writing an album about a Morbid Angel song. The academic presentation combined with the author’s willful naivety is infuriating. There was a part in here where Steadman tries to make it seem that it’s common knowledge that the Knights Templar were Satanists. If he’s trying to get away with rubbish like that, who knows what other falsehoods he has slipped in here. I’d be a bit meaner, but this book is only a few years old and the author has an internet presence, so he might see this review. John L. Steadman, if you’re reading this, I’m sorry, but your book is handicapped.

 

The Atlantean High Priest Klarkash-ton

klarkash-ton cycle clark ashton smith.jpgThe Klarkash-Ton Cycle – Clark Ashton Smith
Chaosium – 2008

Collecting books of weird fiction can be a frustrating hobby. Many writers’ short story anthologies are out of print, expensive and yet available online for free. Other collections are haphazardly thrown together by careless publishers only looking to make some quick cash. There are decent collections out there; I’ve read Penguin’s editions of Lovecraft, Blackwood and Machen, but these are generally just primers that include the 10 most famous stories by the writer. There’s nothing wrong with these, but I always feel that they might be leaving out some true gems. In a perfect world, a publisher would put out complete or at least exhaustive, annotated, multi-volume collections of the writings of Lovecraft, Bierce, Machen, Blackwood, Chambers, Smith and all the other lads.

Now, there’s a publishing company called Chaosium that had an idea to do something along those lines. Their Machen collections were a decent effort, although the tales in each volume get progressively worse. Their Robert W. Chambers collection claims to complete, but it’s not really.  From what I have read of Chambers, this is probably a good thing, but the collection shouldn’t claim to be complete if it’s not. This collection also includes isolated chapters from The Tracer of Lost Persons because those chapters are a bit weird. I’m sorry; I know I just complained because this collection wasn’t entirely complete, but I find the inclusion of isolated weird chapters from a novel to be really annoying. Give me the whole thing, or give me nothing at all.

The only other Chaosium book I own is a collection of stories by Clark Ashton Smith. I picked it up on a whim at a used bookstore a few years ago. It was one of those ‘I’m the only customer in this shop, so I better buy something’ situations. It sat on my shelf for a good while, but last week, I picked it up off the shelf and dove in.

Let me tell you something; Clark Ashton Smith is deadly. I don’t really want to analyze these stories too deeply. I’ll just say that they are exactly the kind of thing that I want to read: evil wizards, cosmic insect gods, infernal texts of black magic including the fabled Necronomicon, bodily dismemberment with a surgical saw… Holy Fuck, this stuff is amazing.  I need more stories like this in my life. Delicious.

Now that I have gotten my feelings about the writing of Clark Ashton Smith out of the way, I want to address my feelings about this book. It was quite disappointing on two counts.

The typos.
How was this book was allowed go into print. It is full of typos. They’re frustrating typos too. Normally, a typo will consist of a misspelled word, e.g. ‘horesradish’ instead of ‘horseradish’. Big deal, we can all figure that kind of thing out. However, the typos in this book are all incorrect words, e.g. ‘ton’ instead of ‘top’. It’s as if the person who typed the text allowed Microsoft spell check to do their proofreading for them. This is actually far more disruptive to the stories than simple misspellings would be. There was one point in which a character ‘picks up his face’ that had me rather confused. After rereading the passage, I realised that he had actually been picking up his mace. There’s at least 2 or 3 of these mistakes in each story too. I’ve seen several other people complain about this issue online, and I have to say that it was very frustrating. There is zero doubt in my mind that this book was not proofread before being published, and I think that reflects very poorly on Chaosium.

The Story Selection
The stories in here are great. Please don’t think that I am saying otherwise. My problem is with the way that the editor has split Smith’s stories between this and at least two other volumes. This collection supposedly contains the Klarkash-Ton Cycle. Klarkash-Ton was the author’s pen-name when writing to his friend, H.P. Lovecraft, and these are the stories that are most akin to Lovecraft’s own tales. (Incidentally, Klarkash-Ton and Lhuv-Kerapht briefly appear together in the last book I reviewed, Robert Anton Wilson’s The Sex Magicians.) Chaosium also published the Tsathoggua Cycle and the Book of Eibon, both of which are mostly comprised of tales by Smith. We have then Chaosium’s distinction between Smith’s Lovecraftian tales, his tales about Eibon, and his tales about Tsathoggua. But Tsathoggua also appeared in Lovecraft’s work, rendering him somewhat Lovecraftian, and Eibon appears in several of the stories in the Klarkash-Ton Cycle. Why the fuck didn’t they just issue 3 ‘best of Clark Ashton Smith’ collections and skip the silly attempts to separate the stories into cycles. I wouldn’t even care if the three collections contained the exact same sets of stories, just don’t give me this ‘3 cycles’ bullshit. Robert M. Price, the editor, addresses this categorization in the introduction, but I wasn’t at all impressed.

One other thing to note about this book, and I’m not saying that this is a bad thing, is that the versions of some of the stories in here are based on original, unpublished drafts of those stories. Also, the final story in here, The Infernal Star, is incomplete – Smith never finished writing it. This book, if it were not so full of spelling mistakes, would probably be great if you were a Smith collector. It’d also be a pretty good starting point if you hadn’t read Smith before. However, even though I haven’t read it, I would suggest buying the Penguin collection if you’re in that position. I’m sure the stories will be great, and the editing has to be better than this muck.

Smith’s writing is good enough to allow me to see past Chaosium’s weird categorization of his stories into three separate cycles, but the absolutely pathetic standard of this book really makes me want to avoid giving that company any more of my money. Their books, although all print-on-demand jobs, aren’t cheap either. Penguin have a collection of Smith’s work, and I’m sure it’s of a far higher standard, but it’s also much smaller. Maybe I’ll buy that one and try to track down the missing stories online.

drake penguin vs chaosium

Hail to the King!

Towards the end of last year, I wrote a long post about the work of Stephen King. I had read nothing but King for a few weeks prior to writing that, and so I decided to give him a break for a while. He has been showing up in the news recently due to his hilarious behaviour on twitter and for the record breaking new trailer for It, and so I decided to indulge myself with a smattering of his marvelous brand of trashy horror fiction.

it stephen kingIt – 1986

I’ve wanted to read this book for a long time. I remember being thoroughly creeped out by the video box of the 1990 movie version when I was a kid but being a little disappointed when I actually got to sit down and watch It. With the new movie coming out in September, I decided that I had better read the book now so that I can act cool and knowledgeable to anyone who mentions it to me in the coming months.

In some ways, It is a brilliant novel. The characters are great, the scary bits are very scary, and the transitions between past and present are really well executed. I also have personal reasons for enjoying the story of a gang of losers getting into rock fights with bullies, building hideouts in the woods, and breaking into abandoned houses. I was a little older than the characters in the book when I went a very similar, although significantly less supernatural, set of adventures myself.

Several scenes in the book involve the kids breaking into an abandoned house only to meet It in different ghoulish forms. When I was 18, my friends and I broke into an abandoned house and went rummaging through the cellar. When we were down there, we saw a strange light glimmering on the wall by the stairs. This was rather frightening as it was well after dark, and that set of stairs was our only escape route. We grabbed what we could from the debris on the ground (a stick, a rope, a rusty grill…) and prepared to do battle with whatever it was that was coming down the stairs.

We waited in silence for several minutes, but nothing moved and the light eventually went away. Afterwards, as we sat on some chairs that we had fashioned from old breezeblocks, we came up with a story to explain the peculiar glare. It had been the ghost of the former resident of the house, an old woman who was none too pleased with our presence in her home. We wrote a song about it that began:

In the hoose (sic), the times we had.
Our antiques (sic) made the Granny mad.
Her toilet, it was brown and crappy;
in the bin, her vaginal nappy.

shitty toilet
Her toilet was indeed both brown and crappy.

Anyways, there are several genuinely creepy scenes and ideas in here, but It is a very long book, and in truth, it’s a little incohesive. By 1986, Stephen King was the most popular novelist in the world. He could have written complete rubbish, had it published and sold a million copies. I’m not saying that this is rubbish, but I reckon it could have done with a bit of editing. Some bits aren’t really unnecessary to the lengthy plot, and some crucial plot elements (It‘s origin, the Turtle, how some adults can see Pennywise) are given scant explanation. This doesn’t detract too much from the book however; when a novel’s opening scene depicts a clown dragging a small child into a sewer to eat him, one aught to adjust their expectations accordingly. Don’t question the plot’s coherence; just turn your brain off and enjoy the trashy horror goodness.

When reviewing an extremely popular work, I try not to repeat information or ideas that will be available from thousands of other blogs and websites, but I will say that the infamous sex scene towards the end of this novel was damn weird.

I tried to rewatch the old movie version right after finishing the novel, but it’s very long and aside from Tim Curry, the acting is awful. I lasted about 20 minutes before watching a best-bits compilation on youtube. I will definitely be going to see the new version when it comes out.

 

cycle of the werewolf stephen kingCycle of the Werewolf – 1983

This story is packaged as an illustrated novel, but in reality, it’s shorter than some of King’s short stories. It’s about a werewolf on the loose in a small town. There’s nothing in here that you wouldn’t expect from the title and cover of the book. It’s not an unpleasant read, but I don’t think anyone would say that this is King at his finest. I read it on my commute to work one day.

 

carrie stephen kingCarrie – 1974

 King’s first novel, Carrie, is also one of his best. I started it one morning last week and had finished it by that afternoon. Obviously, this is a very popular work, one that has spawned 3-4 movie versions, and I was familiar with the plot before reading it, but that didn’t stop me from enjoying it immensely.

This is nowhere near as ambitious as a novel like It, but I reckon Carrie is actually the better book. The reader quickly comes to understand Carrie’s plight and to lust for her revenge, but this book also encourages its readers to consider how they treat the Carries in their own lives. It’s a simple formula, but it’s entertaining and effective.

 

I love Stephen King, but I’ll probably leave him alone for another few months. He’ll doubtlessly appear on this blog again. Oh, and sorry for the recent lack of posts; there should be a few new ones popping up fairly soon.