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!

2018, The Year in Review

In 2018, I reviewed books about Satanic Communists, intergalactic Nazis, Trump voting necrophiles, sodomaniacal vampires, Sado-shamans, and an another Alien Jesus – and that’s not mentioning the fiction. I published more posts, wrote more words, reviewed more books and saw more traffic this year than any year previous. I did best-of posts for 2016 and 2017, but for 2018 I’m going to go all out and indulge myself with a full post on this blog and its upkeep. I’ll post a new review early next week, so come back then if you’re only interested in the books.

paperback wall horror occult.jpg
Most of this year’s acquisitions have been trade paperbacks.

I read and reviewed far more fiction this year than ever before.  There’s two reasons for this. I became sick and tired of reading long, boring occult books. They’re expensive, they take ages to read, and they’re usually absolutely awful. The second factor was Grady Hendrix’s Paperbacks from Hell. I’ve been reviewing horror fiction since 2015, but Hendrix’s book opened my eyes to the realms of trashy horror. I’ve long known that books like these existed, I just wasn’t sure which were worth reading. It turns out that it’s most of them.

Some of the Paperbacks from Hell I read this year.

I already had a few of the books featured in PFH on my to-read list, but PFH’s popularity made some of these books scarce, and I ended up shelling out quite a bit of cash to grab copies before they were impossible to find.

satan series brian mcnaughton starI had been meaning to buy copies of these for ages. Their inclusion in Paperbacks from Hell has made them rather difficult to track down for a reasonable price.

After enjoying the transition from classic Gothic horror to modern trashy paperback horror, I allowed myself to go even further and visited the strange world of Bizarro Fiction. I wasn’t sure if those books belonged on a blog like this, but whatever. I’ll post whatever I want. I’ve enjoyed wallowing in the trash swamp recently, but I’m planning on reading some more high-brow horror in the near future to even things out. (I’ve actually been rereading all of Lovecraft’s work since shortly after publishing this review. I didn’t think it was anything special, but it’s been one of my most popular posts this year. Expect more Lovecraft posts in 2019.)

Magical Books from the internet.

The past few months have seen me returning to occult literature. Instead of paying ridiculous money for awful books, I’m downloading pdf copies online, and instead of slogging through dense, arcane tomes of esotericism, I’m breezing through idiotic pamphlet length grimoires. It’s the same crap; it’s just easier to stomach when I’m confronted with 50 pages of nonsense instead of 500. This has allowed me to publish 2 posts per week for the last few months, but I’m not sure I’ll be able to continue at this pace. I have a few ideas for multi-book posts for the near future that will probably slow things down considerably. They’ll be worth the wait.

I usually do a top 10 posts of the year list around this time. It’s harder to choose this year because there’s more posts than ever before. I’ll just say that my reviews of Raped by the Devil, Marx and Satan, Ghoul, Space Gate, The Veil Removed, Masks of the Illuminati, Psychopathia Sexualis, Nox Infernus, Satanicon, and Don’t Make Me Go Back, Mommy are pretty good. Also, my short “splatterpunk” story, Kevin is worth a look.

Best of 2018

All that being said, the most important post of the year was doubtlessly on Spawn of the Devil by Aristotle Levi, an exceedingly rare work of occult erotica. If you haven’t read this post, please take a look.

spawn of the devil - aristotle leviDefinitely not a book that you’d want to judge by its cover.

Running this blog can be quite frustrating. I put in a lot of effort and often don’t see much of a response. You won’t find reviews of some of these books on any other sites, and lots of them aren’t even listed on Goodreads. Search engines don’t bring much traffic to these posts because nobody ever googles the names of these books. I could probably do a better job promoting this stuff on social media, but I’d far prefer to spend my time reading and writing about weird books. If you could share this blog with somebody you know who’d be interested, it would be super appreciated!

Happy new year!

 

Paperbacks from Hell – Grady Hendrix

paperbacks from hellPaperbacks from Hell – Grady Hendrix
Quirk Books – 2017

Most of the horror novels that I have read have been rather old. I have nothing against modern horror, but I’ve felt that I should read the great works of the genre before indugling myself with the newer ones. At this stage, I’ve read quite a lot of the classics, and I’ve recently been allowing myself to dabble with some more modern stuff.

I haven’t put much effort into how I choose the modern horror fiction that I’m going to read. I did a bunch of Stephen King stuff last year because he’s the obvious starting point, but apart from that most of the modern horror novels on my book shelf are books that I got dirt cheap at library booksales or saw on the toomuchhorrorfiction facebook page and bought because they had cool covers.

I’m not the only person taking recommendations from toomuchhorrorfiction. Grady Hendrix used it to direct his research for Paperbacks from Hell, winner of the 2018 Stoker Award for non-fiction. Will Errickson, the guy who runs toomuchhorrorfiction, even wrote the book’s afterword. Paperbacks from Hell explores the history, scope and magnificence of the pulp horror novels that were churned out in the ’70s and ’80s.

horror paperbacksThe only thing that I don’t really like about this book is the fact that it has caused some of the featured texts to skyrocket in price. There was one text that sounded particularly appealing to me, but the only copy I was able to find online was $15,000. (I also found a pdf of that text online, for free. I’m not sure which I’ll go with yet.)

I read Paperbacks from Hell in one afternoon and enjoyed every page. The layout, tone, and information are all fantastic. The book has 8 chapters, each one looking at a different theme of trashy horror. Lots of the books you’d expect to see are in here, but much of the focus of this book is on the forgotten gems of the genre. Well, “gems” might not be the perfect word here as some of these books sound absolutely terrible, but that doesn’t make me want to read them any less. It doesn’t matter how awful a book is; if it features a woman giving birth to the Antichrist through her anus, I’ll want to read it! Obviously, I made a list of the books mentioned in here that I’ll have to read, but I’m not sure if that was really necessary. This is not a definitive list of the best horror fiction from the ’70s and ’80s; it’s more a sample of the stunning range of material that was published during those decades.

michelle remembersMy old friend shows up!

I don’t normally gush like this, but this book was really cool, and I picked it up at just the right time. A few weeks ago, I read Ghoul by Michael Slade and absolutely loved it. I’m a busy man, and the experience of reading that book was so much more enjoyable than some of the crap that I’ve reviewed on here recently that I’ve decided, at least for a while, to only bother with books that I’ll enjoy reading. Sounds mad doesn’t it? Well, Ghoul, the book that changed my perspective, is literally the type of book that Grady Hendrix is writing about – it’s featured on page 213. (I thought this was a bit odd; page 213 of this book only features books about serial killers. 213 was also the number of Jeffrey Dahmer’s apartment. Coincidence? I doubt it.) Anyways, thanks to Paperbacks from Hell, I now know that there’s lots more similar stuff out there. In general, if a book makes me excited about reading more books, I can probably say that I enjoyed reading it. Reading Paperbacks from Hell has got me absolutely pumped to dive into the slimy, toxic swamp of trashy horror fiction from the ’70s and ’80s. I just hope Grady Hendrix and Will Errickson don’t get annoyed when I review lots of the books they’ve already written about.

devil finds work satans disciplesI thought this was cool. The caption under the book covers reads:
“Satan sold, whether it was new covers slapped on old books (The Dowry, 1949; To the Devil a Daughter, 1953) or an occult cover applied to a mystery about antique collectors (The Devil Finds Work, 1968).”
The cover for The Devil Finds Work was actually taken from Robert Goldston’s 1962 book, Satan’s DisciplesI’m considering tracking down a copy of The Devil Finds Work because I love that cover so much, but Mr. Hendrix has made it sound rather shit indeed.

It’s a Long Way to the Top…

…and this book isn’t even halfway there.

shock rock - jeff gelbShock Rock – Edited by Jeff Gelb
Pocket Books – 1992

Shock Rock is a collection of horror stories about rock music. I love horror stories and rock music, so this book seemed very appealing to me. Unfortunately, out of the twenty stories in here, maybe four are interesting and only two of these are really good.

The longest story by far, and probably the book’s biggest draw, is Stephen King’s You Know They’ve Got a Hell of a Band. I read this in Nightmares and Dreamscapes when I was a kid and again a few years ago. I didn’t bother reading it a third time. It’s basically a second rate version of Children of the Corn but with dead rock stars instead of creepy children.

The only two stories in here that I really liked were Richard Christian Matheson’s Groupies and Thomas Tessier’s Addicted to Love, neither of which feature any supernatural elements. And while I did quite enjoy reading Tessier’s story, it’s a blatant rip off of American Psycho. (Tessier’s copyright is from 1992, Bret Easton Ellis’s novel had been published in 1991.)

The rest of the stories aren’t absolutely horrible to read, but they were mostly pretty forgettable and fairly similar. They are nice and short though (they’re more like music videos than films in their scope), so this book made good reading for my commute to work.

I reckon it’s fairly difficult to overestimate the power of music; it changes the ways in which people think and act. It’s is a very elusive force though. A song that brings a person to tears might have no effect on that same individual at a different time. Also, unlike a painting, which exists as a physical object, music isn’t something you can point a finger at. Trying to use text to describe the way that music sounds is absolutely futile, but without its sound music can have no effect. Novels or short stories about music can never really deliver what they seem to promise. I suppose that the only way around this would have been to have put out an accompanying soundtrack with the book.

I actually think a book of short stories with a prescribed musical soundtrack could be really cool, but I don’t think this would would have saved Shock Rock. There’s a pretty wide range of stories in here, covering several genres of rock music, and the musical accompaniment for the collection would be too discordant and jumbled to be enjoyable.

And maybe I’m just an annoying jerk, but my complaint about Michael Slade’s Ghoul can be applied here too. The music discussed in this book is largely inappropriate for the subject matter. Why would anyone write a horror story about Jimi Hendrix or Bob Dylan? Neither wrote scary music, and neither of these stories’ plots actually rely on their featured rockstar; the authors could have replaced Jimi with Jim and Dylan with Kristofferson with minimal effort. The editor of the book, Jeff Gelb, thanks the following bands, singers for their inspiration: The Beach Boys, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Led Zeppelin, Genesis, Tangerine Dream, Vangelis, Kate Bush and AC/DC. While those bands (or at least most of them) are cool, I probably wouldn’t include any of them on the soundtrack to a horror film.

I suppose that the line between commercial appeal and a worthwhile product is a tricky one to walk. A book of stories about a living Glenn Danzig fighting off werewolves in an attempt to track down a copy of a cursed, unreleased Morbid Angel demo might not have had the same appeal as Shock Rock, but I guarantee it would have been a better book.

I’m discouraged, but not defeated. My search for the perfect blend of horror and rock’n’roll continues. Coming soon:
horror rock novels